Selecting the right kitchen cabinets will not only set the design tone for the kitchen, it will also have the biggest effect on your remodeling budget. Choosing cabinets is an important step and is often the first decision a homeowner makes when setting out on a kitchen project.
Even if you are working with a kitchen designer, it pays to educate yourself on what is available in the world of cabinetry. Cabinets generally fall into four categories, listed here from least expensive to most expensive, although there is some overlap among the categories.
- RTA (ready to assemble). You will see them fully assembled online or in a display at a retailer, but what you buy are unassembled boxes that must be put together before installation. Although they are among the least expensive, some companies produce good quality RTA cabinets in distinctive and sophisticated designs.
- Stock cabinets. These are available in standard sizes with a limited number of options, such as door and drawer styles, finishes and hardware choices. Stock cabinets come already assembled.
- Semi-custom cabinets. Starting with a standard cabinet box, you can customize the cabinets by selecting from a variety of door and drawer styles, finishes, hardware options and other accessories.
- Custom cabinets. These are built from scratch and can include exotic materials and personalized designs.
Sources for Kitchen Cabinets
Cabinets are available from a variety of sources, including online outlets, home centers and other large retailers, kitchen contractors that are also cabinet dealers, local crafts people, and second-hand sources.
Online Cabinet Dealers
Even if you eventually get your cabinets from another source, it is a good idea to start your search online. With your tablet device or laptop computer, you will be able to see hundreds of cabinet designs much faster than traipsing from store to store. Many sites also provide an education on selecting quality cabinets.
Online sources tout savings of 20 to 40 percent when compared to brick-and-mortar stores. Some online sources are cabinet manufacturers that sell directly to the consumers and contractors—these retailers will offer their own lines. Other online retailers carry a number of cabinet lines. Depending on the source, you will be buying stock units or semi-custom cabinets that you can customize.
- If you are remodeling your kitchen on your own, look for an online retailer that offers design help. Not all do.
Before ordering, make sure you get samples so that you can see and feel the product you will be buying. Most online sellers will provide door samples for a small fee.
Home Centers and Other Large Retailers
The large home center chains carry a few lines of stock and semi-custom cabinetry. Some also have RTA cabinets. They offer in-store design help, which can help you avoid costly mistakes later. And most also have cabinet displays so that you can see the cabinets and accessories up close. They also offer countertops and appliances to go with the cabinets.
Home centers pride themselves on supplying one-stop shopping. So in addition to buying the cabinets, the store can also arrange for installation by local contractors. That means you don't get the opportunity to vet the contractor who will be working in your home, but the chains generally do a good job of qualifying contractors for licenses, insurance and the like. It also means a pro will come to your house to take the necessary measurements in order to provide an estimate. The estimate may require a fee that will be refunded should you choose to buy your cabinets from the home center.
Home centers hold a number of cabinet sales and specials throughout the year. And they have the resources to provide store credit cards. The cards are often tied to promotions that offer no interest payments for 12 or 24 months. And some let you finance both the cabinets and the installation costs. Just be aware that if you do not pay off the entire balance by the end of the promotion period, the interest charges that kick in can be very steep—much more than you would pay with a standard bank credit card.
IKEA is a large retailer that offers many of the services of home centers. IKEA sells its own line of RTA cabinets that offer a contemporary design. They are called out here because there is a niche industry of small manufacturers that sells cabinet doors and drawer fronts for IKEA cabinets. Youcan buy just the cabinet boxes from IKEA, then order the doors and drawers from another source. The doors and drawer from other sources generally cost more than the doors sold at IKEA, but they provide the chance to upgrade the look of the cabinets.
IKEA and many large retailers sell both online and in-store.
These are local retailers who offer their own cabinets or carry a number of lines. Some have very large showrooms and offer a wider selection of products than you would find at a home center. At these stores, kitchen- and bath-related products are all they sell. Some, but not all, can provide installation or can recommend installers.
These outlets are owned by local people who may be more willing to negotiate than the employees of a home center. And if you see something you like that is out of line with your budget, they may be able to offer an alternative.
These companies provide a design/ build function. An on-staff designer puts together the plan and an in-house crew installs the cabinets. These companies usually work with a few different semi-custom cabinet manufacturers so that they can provide a variety of price optioins to clients. They tout a level of personalized customer attention that a big chain can't provide.
Many of their projects are total kitchen remodels, in which case the company acts as a general contractor and subs out the plumbing, electrical, and other work.
For truly unique cabinets, you can work with a custom cabinetmaker. In the vast majority of cases, this will be the most expensive option. But a master craftsperson can provide you with exquisite cabinetry that mass-produced products cannot equal.
While modern production techniques produce consistent products, one-of-a-kind cabinets can be flawed. Be sure to check the references and previous work before hiring a cabinetmaker to build your kitchen cabinets.
You may be able to find cabinets at secondhand and thrift stores. Don't dismiss this source out of hand, since some second-hand cabinets are in very good condition, almost indistinguishable from new. Sometimes people move into a new home and remodel the existing kitchen even if it is in fine shape. At other times people simply want a new kitchen. By donating the old cabinets to a recognized charitable organization, the homeowners can claim a tax credit. And this means you can get great cabinets at an incredible discount.
Architectural salvage yards and local thrift stores are possible sources. Another are Habitat for Humanity Restores. Habitat is an international organization that provides housing for low-income families. Operated by local Habita organizations, the stores sell all types of household items. Check habitat.org/restores for a store near you.
Obviously, what you see is what you get when you purchase gently used kitchen cabinets. The store may deliver the cabinets to you, but it is more likely that you will need to pick up the cabinets yourself.
No one source will always give you the best value on cabinets. The best way to get the best price is to check all sources, solicit a number of estimates and compare them before making a decision.
Fran Donegan is a writer and editor who specializes in covering remodeling, construction and other home-related topics. In addition to his articles and blogs appearing in numerous print and digital media outlets, he is the former executive editor of the consumer magazine Today's Homeowner and the managing editor of Creative Homeowner Press, a book publisher. Fran is the author of two books: Paint Your Home (Reader's Digest) and Pools and Spas (Creative Homeowner Press).