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Pre-fab or custom cabinets

Bryan Williams
February 10, 2019

I am in the planning phase of a new construction. I would like some advice on whether to purchase pre-fab cabinets or have a trim carpenter custom build. Also looking for recomendations where to purchase pre-fab.

Comments (24)

  • PRO

    No to any "trim carpenter". If you do custom cabinets, they should be made and finished in a cabinet shop. That is the only way that you can get the same high quality finishes that manufactured cabinets create in their factories.

    As for which to choose, there is not nearly enough information given. Is this an upper end home where quality furniture like built ins will be appropriate everywhere, not just in the kitchen? Is this an entry level first home? Is this a move up home? What's your Kitchen size? What's your budget? Double it. What's your expectations? Halve them. What's' your timeline? Double it.

    Who is designing ing this for you? Cabinet makers are not designers.

  • Bryan Williams

    This is an upper end build with higher end cabinetry in this house. Built ins large kitchen etc. we will have @25’ of running cabinets and 10’ island in the kitchen. My first thought is to have all of this custom built but am not sure of a resource for pre-fab. Locally i am limited. I can buy custom doors locally but would still have everything else custom built onsite.

    I am am not against having this done. Was just wondering if there is another way that might help on price and timeline without sacrificing quality.

  • PRO
    The Cook's Kitchen

    Good quality cabinets are not available with a short timeline from anywhere, locally or nationally built. Average lead times are 12-16 weeks from order to receipt. Then the whole remodel process is another 12-16 weeks. Plus the design time on the front end before ordering. That can take from 2-52 weeks.

    Finding the right Kitchen Designer can take even longer. But that is absolutely critical when doing a kitchen at that level. The construction techniques, design guidelines,and materials properties are just part of it. It’s the fact that someone does that for their job, and stays immersed in all of those thousands of details. That frees you up, and improves the results.

    For high quality national brands, look at Omega, Rutt, Woodmode, Mauser, Crown Pount, Plain English, etc.

  • cpartist

    Or if you're in Indiana, Ohio, PA or FL look to having Amish cabinets made. That's what I did.

  • kim k

    We did custom through a local custom cabinet shop. Their lead time was 7-8 weeks minimum... I didn't find them to be much more expensive than the Shrock line we got a quote from (through a local lumberyard). Bonus was their in house designer was amazing to work with and so knowledgeable and precise. The quality was exceptional and we could have cabinets made to fit our tricky space exactly. If you can find a great custom shop that's the way I'd go! Where are you located?

    Bryan Williams thanked kim k
  • Bryan Williams

    That is what I figured would be my best course of action. Thanks for the advice Kim.

  • Kirsten Eloise
    From a function perspective, a well-designed custom kitchen will virtually always be superior because it is tailored to your specific needs by definition. If you can afford it, both in terms of money and time, I’m not sure why you wouldn’t go custom.
  • live_wire_oak

    Custom is an overused word that doesn't mean what it used to. Many local guys are just woodworkers, that don't even finish the cabinets. Others order drawer parts and doors from different suppliers. They don't really build anything. They assemble parts.

    The big downfall is the finishes offered by many of them. They just aren't durable. Some use actual paint from a box store. Some use lacquer, which is not resistant to moisture damage. They don't like to spray a catalyzed varnish because it's expensive, and you have to have the right tools and skills. But if they don't use a post catalyzed varnish, you're not getting what you could have bought from even some of the cheapest of factory built cabinets.

    You aren't getting a good value unless the local maker can equal that Omega or Crown Point quality. If they cannot equal that quality? Why would you even consider them?

    Bryan Williams thanked live_wire_oak
  • M Miller

    ^^^This! I so agree with Live_wire_oak. There are also sometimes issues with a custom shop that they don’t have the latest developments in cabinetry. I remember it took many of them years to catch up just in putting soft-close on their drawers.

    If you want frameless cabinetry, you will be unlikely to get it with a custom shop. Mostly custom shops will do framed cabinetry. I wanted frameless, for the contemporary appearance, lack of stiles in the way, and a bit more interior space. If you want a more traditional look, then framed would be preferred, but I still would rather go to a top-notch manufacturer due to the ability to do catalyzed finishes.

    As to the Amish-made cabinets, they vary in quality like anything else. Though they are not the quaint old man with a rasp in a little woodshop that you might be thinking of. For me personally, the Amish are too associated with puppy mills, running more than 90% of them in the states they live, so I won’t go near them. Flame me if you must, but that’s how I feel.

    As has has been noted, your timeline is unrealistic. You will have to live with this kitchen for years, so better not rush it.

  • PRO

    Try something in the middle; semi-custom. These days, semi-custom cabinets such as those made by Shiloh are "almost" custom, and many actually are custom. I used these in my own kitchen. One cabinet was a peculiar size (I designed it for something I specially wanted it to hold), and they made it. The price for such is not exorbitant.

    I have an odd space here. It's not deep enough to have a standard depth kitchen cabinet - I knew this when I designed the custom bay window 34 years ago. I wanted it for my everyday glassware. I did not want it to go to the ceiling both due to it being out of balance if it had, plus I wanted a place to display my late mother's collection of old copper. I literally laid out the glassware on my DR table and measured it. It has Shaker doors to match my other cabinets in my kitchen.

    Take your time on these cabinets. They are not something one just rips out every few years - they should last a very long time. I've been very happy with Shiloh's quality. I did full-inset Shaker cabinets for all my uppers (no uncharge for full-inset!), and European frameless Shaker cabinets for the lower cabinets - I wanted every single inch of "real estate" possible as my kitchen is small (11x15). I used lots and lots of drawers in my lower cabinets. They also built a custom lower cabinet for me - cabinet door that opens to a pull-out drawer (for pot lids and pot holders), with slates below for trays. It's perfect.

  • artistsharonva

    Schrok, Shiloh, Thomasville, & J&K make good quality wood cabinets. Amish are amazing. Get thick plywood construction, wood or heavy duty MDF doors, soft close, dove tail joints. If getting painted, a factory paint job is usually superb & guaranteed. If getting custom, ask to talk to clients who have had them over 5 years to see how they're holding up after years of use.

    See the cabinets in person.

    Hope that helps.

    Bryan Williams thanked artistsharonva
  • PRO
    Jeffrey R. Grenz, General Contractor

    Custom is my preference. ^^^ Many of these above arguments rang true 20 -30 years ago but are sadly still used now when those issues are the exception. Sure, you can still get old school cabinets made and have them unprofessionally finished.

    In Northern CA, there is a wide selection of custom shops, using the latest CnC machines producing frameless, mini frame, full face frame with partial or full overlay or inset doors (some for over 20 years) with in house controlled environment paint facilities applying baked on finishes. Do you think we have to send our cars back to the car factory to get a decent paint job? Mine are 12 years old, surviving 4 kids and still nearly flawless with zero hardware failures..... but the color is telling me its time to change.

    Factory cabinets will always find their way into custom homes due to the convenience factors, especially for those who have little time to shop or prefer menu driven processes. Usually by the time this happens, they've made commitments I cannot reverse. I also used a high end factory for a couple of years in the previous decade prior to discovering the local resources.

    Some differences I've noticed:

    • Hinge robustness and variety.
    • Actual size of cabinets (heights and depths of boxes)
    • Materials used and thicknesses of sides, rear, bottom of cabinet boxes
    • Thickness of doors
    • Underside of upper cabinets or lack of finishes
    • Choices and versatility of design, versatility of wood and finish choices
    • Amount of materials and labor needed to install and prep cabinets for counters

    All the above is unconsidered in the factory cabinet pitch. I would expect this when cabinets are 30-50% of custom prices, but not when they're 80-120% of custom prices which is often the case.

    Regarding timeline - a good cabinet shop or designer should be measuring your project immediately after framing, prior to plumbing and electrical, marking cabinet centers for the plumber.

    My 2 cents.

    Bryan Williams thanked Jeffrey R. Grenz, General Contractor
  • artistsharonva

    Insets are attractive,but in a heavily used kitchen with many family members, may not be the best type of cabinet to use. I use insets more in less used cabinets.

  • PRO

    What is pictures is "abuse", not normal wear and tear. Children and adults in the household can be trained. I don't have things "sticking out" of my drawers. A well-organized drawer or cabinet should not, either.

  • artistsharonva

    Abuse...lol. Not really. If anything is not placed right when shutting can happen with inset. Accidents happen.

    Just sharing info so OP can choose the best for them.

    An article review of someone's experience with cabinets. Hindsight shared.


    I prefer full overlay in kitchens to avoid the possible mishap.

    plus, there's more storage within the drawers.

  • Shannon_WI

    @Jeffrey R Grenz - your post is really interesting. But this must be a regional thing, because in my area, the upper Midwest, the custom kitchen cabinet shops are not as you've described. They're probably more like what you said is more old school. In my area, it is often better to go with a national U.S.-made manufacturer of high quality if you are looking for a painted finish that will last and frameless cabinetry.

  • AnnKH

    Shannon, I'm in North Dakota, and our custom cabinet maker's shop is exactly as Jeffery described (in fact, our project got delayed by a week when the software for the CNC machines crashed). The owner gave me a tour of the shop during my first visit, and invited me out to see my cabinets in progress. My cabinets are stained oak, and the color was mixed specifically for my project - with 3 or 4 sample pieces for me to bring home.

    Every time I went over the plans with the cabinet maker, he said 2 things: "I don't want there to be any surprises", and "I just want you to be happy!" Lots of communication ensured that both things were true.

    Our cabinet maker has his own installers, one of whom has been with the company for over 20 years. He sent back a drawer front and asked for a new one before I even saw it, because he didn't like the way it turned out. He took a lot of pride in his work, and it showed.

    There were a few issues with our cabinets, but they were all taken care of to my complete satisfaction - and with a smile.

    Bryan Williams thanked AnnKH
  • doc5md

    Another vote for a GOOD custom shop. I happen to have one near me in PA. has been doing this for 20+ years. Great quality builds, top end components and finish. We discussed what DW and I were thinking with him after touring his shop. Over the next couple weeks, he built several different drawer fronts for us to look at and finished them differently so we could make a decision on what we liked best. Very happy with them. They do the cabinet install themselves as well.

  • Shannon_WI

    @AnnKH - that's great! Are you getting frameless cabinets?

  • PRO
    Charles Ross Homes

    We work with a variety of local custom cabinet makers as well as dealers for high-end national manufacturers that advertise in Architectural Digest and the like. We find most custom shops are employing CNC automation. The quality of their products is equal to or better than cabinets manufactured by the high-end national companies, but without the charges for corporate and dealer overheads, advertising, etc.

    If you're building a custom home, custom cabinetry is worth investigating.

  • Mrs Pete

    Good quality cabinets are not available with a short timeline from anywhere, locally or nationally built.

    Yeah, the only thing you're getting FAST is big box /off-the-shelf. Think twice about that choice. You're going to live with these cabinets for DECADES.

    From a function perspective, a well-designed custom kitchen will virtually always be superior because it is tailored to your specific needs by definition. If you can afford it, both in terms of money and time, I’m not sure why you wouldn’t go custom.

    Semi-custom can be tailored to your needs as well, especially if you're building new ... the difference in "your specific needs" can be only a matter of inches over the entire project. But projects vary.

    My random thoughts, somewhat contradictory:

    - I have custom cabinets in my current house. They are original to the house and are very close to 50 years old. In spite of being custom, I don't think they were ever top quality; or maybe it's more truthful to say that standards were lower 50 years ago. Some of the doors are warped, and they are out of style. The moral: Even custom cabinets will wear out and/or go out of style.

    - My mother remodeled her kitchen roughly 25 years ago -- I remember she was painting the beadboard ceiling blue the night I went over to tell her she was going to be a grandmother, so I'm pretty sure of the timing. Because she was remodeling an old, old house with odd dimensions (and had a chimney running smack-dab through the middle of her kitchen), she spent A FORTUNE on lots of unique sizes ... and she splurged on solid-solid maple and all the bells and whistles. They're absolutely gorgeous, they feel so solid, and they're made for a short person. In spite of my small nephew and niece living in that house now, those cabinets still look brand new. Quality is worthwhile.

    - I have already decided to go with semi-custom. Why? I'm building new, so I don't have to deal with the oddball dimensions in my Mom's old-old kitchen. I want the solid-solid wood like my Mom's kitchen, but I don't have any unique issues/sizes like she did, and the quality of the building will be just as good. The price difference is significant, and it seems that -- for my simple choices -- the only sacrifice will be the couple inches necessary to combine two cabinets (instead of having an 11' run of cabinets that're brought in in one piece).

    - Are you the person who wants top-quality and will still be happy once today's styles have changed? Or would you rather spend less today and accept that you'll replace it all in X number of years anyway?

    - How important are bells and whistles to you? No matter what type of cabinets you choose, simple box cabinets will be cheapest ... drawers will be mid-priced ... and specialty cabinets like spice pull-outs will cost the most. How many "special things" do you plan in your kitchen? Personally, my number is one. One Super Susan in the corner.

    - Remember that cabinets that are hidden on three sides are the least expensive ... islands, which must be finished on four sides, are the most expensive.

    - Other people have talked about types of cabinets. Definitely read up on Full overlay, partial overlay, and inset. Definitely consider frameless vs. framed. These things will affect your price.

    - Consider the size of your cabinets /drawers. Say you have a 6' space to fill ... you could choose two 36" cabinets or three 24" cabinets ... all things being equal, the two wider cabinets will cost less than the three smaller cabinets.

    - Insist upon the heavy duty hardware.

  • ILoveRed

    Artistsharonva has a good point. I had Woodmode cabinets in my last house which had a really nice finish. The frame above the cutlery drawer and utensil drawers looked beat up after several years and we did not abuse our cabinets. Touch up paint covered these spots only so well.

    one solution is to do inset on uppers and full overlay on lowers which i seriously considered. Full overlay covers the frame around the drawer and I think this combination is a very nice look personally.

    another solution...(which is what I did in my new house)

    - I made all of my top drawers and specifically the two problem drawers about an inch taller which keeps items in the utensil drawer from getting “caught” and hitting the upper frame.

    - I had my cutterly drawer designed with the cutlery dviders sideways which keeps the cutlery from hitting the frame when putting it away. Cutlery has to be put away more purposefully sideways vs tossed in which imo causes damage to the frame. Anyway that’s my theory, lol.

  • live_wire_oak

    In a framed cabinet, all other things being equal (the size of the stiles and rails, etc) there is zero difference in the drawer capacity due to overlay style. The face frames and drawers are all exactly the same size. Only the cosmetic drawer face size is different. Its a cosmetic difference only.

  • mca330
    My husband and I are in the beginning phase of a new construction home in south Alabama. We’re building ourselves with the guidance of my brother who is a licensed home builder, although he mainly does commercial. I entertained the idea of semi-custom cabinets upon my brother’s recommendation (I call them pre-fab but they called them semi-custom) from the cabinet design shop at the lumber supply store. I had custom in my last 2 builds, but this time in an effort to stick to the budget, I considered it as he said they’ve come a long way and what you many of the designers on HGTV use. I met with the designer at the place, provided my plans and what I wanted. Then decided to get a price from a local cabinet builder who came recommended (my last one is no longer working) just to see... well, they were almost dead even on price. $31k vs $32k for whole house (which has a ton of cabinets). For just the kitchen and 2 baths, in the event I have to wait on some of the other areas... they were $14,100 for semi-custom and $15,500 for custom..... and he said he’d match their price. So custom cabinets it is!!!!! What I preferred anyway. I don’t like being able to see seams between cabinets. I tried to layout the kitchen to where they would be avoided but it was impossible to not have a few. I suggest... price them both. Get 2 pre-fab prices and 2 custom prices just to see. I have been getting 2-3 on everything and sometimes it’s a huge difference. The framers, for example, one quoted $20k and another $27k. Of course, the lowest isn’t always the best. You have to get referrals. I’d used the one who quoted $20k for my last house so he was hired again.

    Isn’t building fun???!! Pouring our slab Monday. Can’t wait!! Good luck!- Melissa

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