Why Custom Cabinets Are Worth the Expense

 Custom kitchen cabinets built by a local cabinetmaker.

Custom kitchen cabinets built by a local cabinetmaker.

If you’re planning a kitchen remodel any time soon, one decision that’s probably in front of you is whether to get custom kitchen cabinets, or instead go with something a little more pre-packaged.

You might think this is just a simple cost-driven budgetary choice. And it’s true that there are some good, budget-friendly alternatives at a number of price points, most of which involve a stock or “pre-fab” cabinet purchase at some big-box home store.

But for our money, the kitchen cabinets that result in the happiest homeowners are custom cabinets. We’ll tell you why, but first, let’s make sure we define some key terms:

●      Stock (pre-fab, etc.) cabinet are just that - pre-made in assorted standardized configurations and sizes usually in 2” - 3” increments. If you find an acceptable color and material combination in your local home store, you can take them home and install them usually within a few days of purchase, if not the same day. Many homeowners choose them for remodeling because -- usually -- they’re the least expensive option.

●      Custom cabinets at the other end of the spectrum are hand-made to your specifications in almost every respect, including color, hardware, materials, sizes, and shapes. If you have an oddly-shaped space in your kitchen, a stock cabinet might not work in it. Time to installation from the date of your order will vary, as will your cost.

●      Semi-custom cabinets are something of a hybrid. You order them, and then they’re built, but you’ll choose from a predetermined list of sizes and styles. Price, lead time, and customization vary just as they do with custom cabinetry.

For you as the homeowner, the major practical differences between these three options come down to two key factors: cost and degree of customization/control.

In other words, you get what you want more precisely, but you may have to pay extra for that delight.

First, though, let’s put one myth to rest: You won’t get a “handmade look” with custom cabinets. Just because they’re crafted by hand, that doesn’t mean the people making them aren’t highly skilled professionals, using sophisticated equipment and techniques.

Custom cabinets won’t require you to sacrifice consistency of finish or feel, either. Your cabinets should look “of a set” with each other, no matter what type you select.

Another advantage of custom cabinetry over stock or semi-custom options is the maximization of your available space. Professional cabinet makers can craft your cabinets to fit the available space precisely, so your kitchen benefits from greater efficiency and a cleaner aesthetic.

For example, if you need a deeper shelf on one wall, or a slightly wider fit for a specific corner, you might not find what you need in a limited supply of pre-fab cabinets. If you do, you might have to settle for your second or third choice in color and materials.

By far, however, the biggest advantage a custom cabinetry job will yield for your home kitchen project is the degree of control and customization. With stock cabinets, you’re limited to what’s literally “in stock.”

But with custom cabinets you’re in the driver’s seat all the way. You get the exact color and “look” you want, in the material and hardware combination you want, with the specific sizes you need. Your options are much more extensive.

True, you’ll probably pay a little more for that much choice, at least when compared to stock and semi-custom options -- but maybe not nearly as much as you’d think. 

Depending on the size, number, and materials used, you could be looking at a relatively small increase in price for that custom cabinetry. The increase could be a few percentage points, perhaps ten percent or less.

In some cases, though, you might even wind up paying around the same amount as you would for a stock cabinet purchase, depending on the details.

So while you may luck out and find just what you’re looking for in a stock, pre-fab cabinet purchase, if you really want to get the best possible fit, with the look you want and sizing that’s tailored to your home specifically, it’s hard to beat well-made, high-quality custom cabinetry.