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Kitchen and Bathroom Cabinetry....Custom or Prefab?

Posted 04-27-2009 at 05:27 AM by faucetman886

I have, in the past few weeks, written blogs about choosing floor surfaces, backsplashes, countertops, sinks, cutting boards and a myriad of other things to consider when remodeling a kitchen or bathroom. The one thing that I have avoided, until today, is cabinetry and I do so reluctantly for a couple of reasons. Although I don’t put myself forward as a true “expert” on anything I blog about I do carefully research most things so as to supplement the knowledge that I do have and that I have gained from some 30+ years of DIYing and of actually building a few of my own homes. The last home I built was in 1997 and at that time the cabinet choices were slim. Home Depot was just getting a major foot hold in the market and was selling prefab, broken down assemble them yourself cabinets, the first I remember seeing. There were some cabinet manufacturers with local showrooms offering beautiful cabinets, factory made and there was the old tried and true sole proprietor custom cabinet shop. After looking at the products available at that time and the labor and knowledge that it would take to install the prefab type, I immediately chose not to go with that choice. I did price the showrooms and although they offered some great options and ideas there was lead time, installation schedules, a built in factor for mistakes and an exorbitant cost. Thus it only took me 3 interviews with custom cabinet makers to decide that they were the way to go. I got the style of my own design, which happened to be a mix of natural pine frames and boxes with natural cherry doors and drawer fronts (imitating some classic antique furniture pieces I had seen) and every detail I wanted including some glass uppers, hardware, countertops and backsplashes all from one source and most importantly FULLY INSTALLED. If you have never installed cabinetry of any kind or watched it being installed you do not realize what an art it is to do correctly. Every room has its construction abnormalities and each cabinet has to be custom fitted to adjust for these faults. Prefab or preassembled cabinets ordered from a factory cannot account for these problems and even the custom cabinet maker may have the same problem he at least has the advantage of doing all of his work having actually seen, measured and worked in the kitchen or bathroom you are building. Needless to say I was happy with the experience and felt that I got more than my money’s worth from the cabinet maker I chose and a certain amount of pride in my design.
That brings us to today and man have things changed! As I said at first, when I sit down to write these blogs , if I don’t know enough about a subject I do research. Thus I spent a better part of the weekend “Googling” cabinet choices, reading other blogs and last but not least I read the discussion rooms and forums. The controversy can be summed up in the fact that just two forum threads, alone, had a total of over 100 responses of opinions and personal experiences. The latter provided a real eye opener on the state of the cabinet business today. The choices have broadened considerably in suppliers.
1. The big box stores now offer a wider selection of both prefab and broken down cabinetry with their primary brand being KRAFTMAID. The brand is well known and well considered for its quality and standard features that are options in custom shops. They are offered installed or ready for you to install and the store usually offers free design consulting. The down side is the installation if you are doing it yourself with little flexibility in sizing if your room happens to be one of those examples with rampant abnormalities of square and dimension.
2. The market is now full of products made in China and offered in all varieties from ordered, imported and fully assembled, to imported broken down and assembled by the dealer or by the customer. There are enough problems with these to cause me to NEVER consider this alternative. Although the price may be right if doesn’t offset problems with lead time for ordering, with getting replacements when errors are made or received quality is lacking (months if at all), and the most notable news of late of Chinese products being constructed of poor quality materials and sometimes containing downright dangerous chemicals. The latest in this vein is the thousands of homes that have been built in the last 5 years with sulfur contaminated sheetrock causing major health and corrosion problems, lead in painted products such as toys and furniture and tainted food products. The forums were full of these nightmares.
3. The custom design showroom is still flourishing offering the best in design, style and construction. This service is offset again with the need for built in timing for replacements and high costs. It just rubs me wrong somehow to pay premium prices for something and then to be told that we have to build into the pricing and scheduling the fact that some of the cabinetry will arrive damaged, wrong sized or just incorrect and will have to be reordered and you will have to adjust you building schedule to account for this inevitability. Additionally a word of caution that you make sure where they are getting their cabinets. Many have begun to get their cabinets from China also.
4. Lastly is the small businessman local cabinet shop. In this day and age and with economy the way it is and the competition from the above sources many of these small businesses have fallen by the wayside. Call me old fashioned but if I needed cabinets today this would be my first choice. I make this choice with many thoughts in mind, my perception of quality offered, value based on that quality, experienced design and installation expertise and the factor of supporting a local business.
As I did, do your own research, shop around, decide in advance what your priorities are i.e. Price? Design? Quality? Timing? Convenience? or a little of all of it. I’m afraid that what you will find is a confusing market filled with possible disappointments and because it can be the largest expenditure in your renovation or build out you should make your final decision carefully and well advised.
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  1. Old Comment
    I'd like to say your blog wasn't bad and I as a cabinet maker find it refreshing to have some one research their material instead of just quoting some response from a vendor.
    I can build custom cabinetry at a very competitive price to store boughts and have heard the opposite from vendors who are trying to slight a trade to gain the customer.

    Easily I have built cabinets to fit a room with no fillers and custom shapes to enhance a design. my site is available for anyone in Rockingham County NH and vacinity to contact me through.
    Posted 05-24-2009 at 10:11 PM by Baron Baron is offline

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