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A Comparison Review of the Differences between Stock Cabinets, Semi-Custom Cabinets and Custom Cabinets.

We all know that the kitchen is the most expensive room in most homes today, but what most of us don’t realize is that there are three main categories of kitchen cabinets to choose from, stock cabinets, semi-custom cabinets and custom-cabinets.  By doing your homework and learning a little about the different categories, you will enter the market place armed with the information you need to make an educated decision.  Let’s explore each category.  While this is a general overview of the differences, in reality many companies will not fit neatly into one category or another.  Make sure that you diligently research each cabinet line that you are considering and that you understand exactly what features are being offered and which ones are included in your quote. 

Hint: Just because the display on a cabinet shops floor includes a feature, such as plywood ends instead of particle board, that doesn’t mean that feature was included in your quote.  Most stores put their best foot forward and include all of the options on the display model. But, keep in mind that many of these are options and not standard features on the cabinetry.  Make sure that you ask what features are included in the quote. The best thing to do is to find an experienced cabinet designer that you feel comfortable working with.  They can help guide you through all of the different options and lines of cabinetry to find the line that is most suitable to meet your budget and needs.  The best designers are also educators who will show you how each cabinet line is made and what features are good investments and which features are hype.  These designers not only know their own cabinet lines inside and out, but also their competitor’s lines. Let’s compare.

Stock Cabinets

Although stock cabinets are sometimes inventoried by the retailer, it is more often a term that refers to a manufacture’s line of cabinetry that are available in stock sizes only. These cabinets typically start at nine inches wide and increase in three inch increments up to forty-eight inches wide (9, 12, 15,…42,45,48).  Stock cabinets are not generally stocked on the shelves at the manufacture, but instead made to order from pre-cut stocked pieces.  Factories that build stock cabinets are set up for mass production using templates and jigs to make every piece within their lineup quick and easy to build.  They will offer several door styles to choose from and a few color choices within each style.  Stock cabinet lines are usually more limited in styles and options for accessories, such as moldings, range hoods, and valances, than semi-custom and custom cabinet lines.

 

Most stock cabinet companies order their doors ahead of time from an outside source and store them until they are needed.  The doors are then mechanically finished by a machine that sprays the finish on the doors.  Lower grade finishes tend to have missing stain or light stain patterns on the sharp edges of the door.  Also, the machine may leave a light hallow pattern where the door frame meets the center panel.  This is particularly noticeable in darker colors. Make sure that you carefully inspect several door samples before making a decision.  Mechanically finishing the doors enables the cabinet company to fulfill their orders quickly and get them to the consumer in the shortest time possible. The down side is this makes customizing the door size improbable.  Many stock companies will let you alter the depths of the cabinets, but beyond that they give you very few options.  

These cabinets are available at “Big Box” stores and most retail cabinet companies include them somewhere in their cabinet lineup. Because of the limited choices available these cabinets are easily mass produced and tend to be the most affordable selections available.  If you are looking for a good cabinet and don’t need many custom options, stock cabinets are a great way to save money.  However, if you want a more custom look without the custom price read on about how semi-custom cabinetry compares.

Semi-custom Cabinets

Like the stock cabinets, semi-custom cabinets are generally offered in predefined sizes, but with a twist.  For a little more money they will alter their cabinets to fit your needs.  For instance if you need a 25 ½” wide cabinet, they will build it for you.  If you would like two cabinets stacked on top of each other and built as one, this is generally not a problem for a semi-custom line.  They offer many colors and door styles to choose from, making semi-custom cabinetry a great choice if you want custom options that are not available in a stock line.  In fact, semi-custom cabinet lines are all about choices, giving their clientele many different options, colors, and styles to pick from.  In addition, semi-custom lines will offer a wider product line including more molding options, range hood options, valance options and many other features that can be added to their cabinets. Choosing a semi-custom line is a great way to get a custom look without paying the cost for a true custom line.

Semi-custom cabinet lines again offer mechanically finished doors, but tend to pay more attention to the details and the finishing process.  They use better equipment and to the average consumer they will appear every bit as nice as a cabinet with a hand applied stain.

Semi-custom cabinetry is a bit more money than stock cabinetry, but offers more flexibility and custom options than stock lines do. They are available at many big-box stores, cabinet shops and higher end retail stores.  Semi-custom lines are limited to specific door styles and will not generally color match or let you design your own door style. If you are looking for more options and a semi-custom line just won’t do, than you will want to consider a custom cabinet line.  Read on about how custom cabinets compare.

Custom Cabinets

Unlike stock and semi-custom, custom cabinet manufactures let you choose your own color and door style.  If you want to match existing pieces of furniture or molding within your home, this is the best option for you.  If you can design it on paper they will build it.  This is a great option for someone who wants a totally unique kitchen built to their exact tastes.  Of course, this doesn’t come without a price tag.  Most custom cabinet companies charge 30% or more above a semi-custom line.

Custom cabinet manufactures come in all sizes, from your local handy-man to a large state-of-the-art facility processing hundreds of orders per month.  Be careful, custom cabinetry doesn’t always mean high quality.  More and more custom cabinet manufactures are using furniture board or particle board when building their cabinet components.  If you choose this option, make sure you do your homework and find out exactly how your cabinets will be constructed. 

But, for the most part, custom cabinet lines are all about fit and finish.  They will offer cabinets that are built around your kitchen producing a truly custom look.  With custom cabinetry there is little need for unsightly fillers or cabinets that are not symmetrically balanced.  The finishes are hand applied for a brilliant furniture grade appearance.  The storage options are almost limitless, so that you may make the most of your available space.

Whether you choose stock, semi-custom or custom cabinetry make sure that you shop around not just for the cabinets, but also a talented kitchen designer that can help you make a sound decision.  Ask friends and family members for recommendations and above all, make sure you understand what you are getting with each quote.  Don’t assume anything.  

 

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