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custom vs semi custom cabinetry

Simone Hill
October 2, 2013
We are remodeling our kitchen. Is the cost of custom cabinetry worth it? I understand the difference is mainly in 100% solid wood construction on custom vs solid wood only on fronts and doors. Please advise!

Comments (24)

  • PRO
    Sara Bederman Design
    Every company is different but the benefits if custom go beyond the materials used. Custom cabinetry will allow you to utilize every inch of space since there won't be any filler pieces used to bridge the gap between standard cabinet sizes and actual available space.
  • Brenda
    You know, I'm not really sure what people consider "custom" anymore. We hired a furniture/cabinet maker for our kitchen, and that's what I consider "custom". I spent a year designing the perfect kitchen for me (with a lot of help from Houzz and a great software package), and my cabinet maker never once said "that's not standard" or "we'll need to add a filler panel there" or "pick from one of these 10 styles of doors" .... some of my cabinets are painted and I gave him the exact Benjamin Moore color chip # that I wanted. Some of my cabinets are book matched horizontal grain slab front walnut, and I got to pick the actual sheets of veneered plywood from photographs that he had the mill send -- and when he built the cabinets he matched the grain from one door to the next. We wanted a pop up & swivel TV to service both the LR and kitchen, and our cabinet maker designed a custom cabinet around those needs (including all the communication with the pop up mechanism supplier). I found all kinds of drawer organizer and storage solution ideas on Houzz, and he figured out how to incorporate every one of them. I didn't want register vents in my floors so he incorporated them into my kickplates by routing out vent holes ....

    To me that is what you get with "custom" cabinets.
  • PRO
    Creative Cabinets and Faux Finishes. LLC
    There isn't much if a difference between the two. Semi-custom company's now make all the bells and whistles you can get with custom cabinets and if they don't a lot can customize moldings. The biggest difference is the price tag.
  • PRO
    JandB Kitchen Designs
    We always put a quick note to verify our experience: Brigitte and I have consistently designed between 70-90 kitchens/year for over 34 years. We've literally designed thousands of kitchens. We also design/build full structural including below-grade foundation plans.
    Anyway, we have just over 20 name-brand cabinet lines, primarily semi-custom. Our custom lines will allow us to cut boxes to much finer dimensions and will do virtually any finish matching. These are the MAIN things they do that make them stand out a bit more. In general, you're much better off with a semi-custom line. They'll usually cut boxes in 1/4" increments which should be good enough to eliminate filers. If you do have to use a 3" filler, make it a spice pull-out!
    Take a peek at our "page" and see the "Dado" kitchen's island to see what we mean. Hope this helps a bit.
    John & Brigitte
  • PRO
    Cheryl Khan
    To answer your question, it all depends on the purpose. If you have odd dimensions, it might make sense. Custom cabinets cost MUCH MUCH more than a stock vanity. You could easily pay over $2,000 for a small single sink vanity that is custom made.

    Another point, you're right that solid wood manufactured vanities are usually made with plywood drawers. This is common. However, it's not usually a problem as they won't experience the level of humidity as the drawer face and the exterior portions will.

    You may also want to consider semi-custom cabinets that are slightly less expensive. I created a guideline that will show you what you should expect to pay for custom, semi-custom, and stock vanities here:


    Hope this answers some of your questions. Oh and Brenda, you have to remember that craftsmanship varies from cabinet maker to cabinet maker.
  • PRO
    River Valley Cabinet Works
    @Creative-I disagree with your assessment: Semi-custom quality is not as good as true high quality custom cabinets. A true custom company uses better hardware, has better sanding and grain matching and a better overall execution of the product. I have sold a brand of "semi-custom" or what the manufacturer calls "modular cabinets" that blow away the quality of semi-custom cabinets and are actually better than some of the "custom" lines I have sold.
  • jacksonbeth
    There are good quality semi-custom line that meets all of your design and budget needs.
    We have been very happy with the look, quality and features of our semi-custom cabinets which we got from Carolina Heartwood cabinetry. Here's a link
    just in case you'll find that you'll like http://carolinaheartwoodcabinetry.com/our-products/
  • feeny
    Get estimates for both. We were extremely surprised to find that fully custom cabinets from a local woodworking firm recommended by our architect turned out to be less expensive than high end semi-custom cabinets from a local kitchen design firm. Both were made of the same materials (solid wood doors and drawers; furniture grade plywood boxes). I'm sure this is not the case in all markets, but it is worth getting estimates to see what the cost of both might be in your area.
  • PRO
    Cabinets 4U, Inc.
    I address this question with our clients all the time. I sell more framed cabinets, because we offer more lines of framed, but personally I am a fan of both. I wrote an article about this, in the hopes that it would make the differences clearer to my clients: http://cabinets4u.blogspot.com/2014/09/cabinets-101-framed-vs-frameless.html
    I have sold both for years, and I think as long as you sell a quality product, the construction is less important.
  • PRO
    Cabinets 4U, Inc.
    All the different “levels” of cabinets can be so confusing! Here is a great article comparing the 3 modes: http://bit.ly/1rWygrs
  • Mark Leach

    It is all subjective. If you feel like you would prefer the look of custom cabinetry then it would be worth it. Odds are that new, custom cabinetry would increase the resale value of the home as well. http://www.millbrookcabinetry.com

  • whocareswhoiam

    The local woodmaker builds the "bones" and has the drawers and doors custom made to fit the design. We were given options for whatever wood type we wanted; hard maple dovetail drawers with Blum undermount glides, soft maple for painting or other wood options for staining. There were many door and drawer styles to select from and whatever is selected is made to order to fit. There was no being told you are limited to this or that except when it came to "spice pulls". He provided an option of solid wood door and drawer fronts or a lower cost option for an MDF raised panel. He uses an experienced local cabinetry refinisher that will match any paint or wood stain color desired. The manufactured cabinetry sold by the local design firm had standard size drawers and doors, additional cost for anything that was not in the standard book. The manufactured cabinets were specific colors, these I am told are "baked on" varnish finishes that will hold up way better than those made by any local wood maker and finisher - per the salesman, these don't chip, fade, or crack. Some reviewers have mentioned problems, many love manufactured cabinets. Manufactured cabinets offer a "LIMITED" lifetime warranty which the warranty should be read as it it very clear what is NOT covered in the warranty. The local wood maker and finisher offer a one year warranty. The manufactured cabinets can not be refinished in the future, you can reface and purchase new doors and drawers again. The local guy can refinish his cabinets or you can buy a new style door drawer again if you wish. This is all I've learned. Pro's and Con's ... mainly, it comes down to this for us: 1. Choose within your budget, determine what you can afford and get the best bang for your buck 2. Get what you like/offers the best functionality and style for your personal needs and fast. 3. Go with your gut on who you think will offer better customer service/install 4. Do consider 10-15 years from now and how this selection will or will not affect those cost options should you want to change again... Good Luck. pro's and con's - but in the end, a new kitchen should make you happy.

  • PRO

    From 2013 -- OP never responded

  • Sylvia Martinez

    I spoke to my kitchen designer and he said the there is a con to choosing custom over semi-custom. Custom cabinets are normally finished once in the home. because of this a fast drying finish is used. This lasts a few years only. Semi-custom are finished in a controlled enviorment. What do you think? kitchen remodeling

  • Kiara Woodsland

    It's difficult to know what to put in your kitchen. Because there's a 90 percent chance that everyone that comes to your door will enter your kitchen. Which makes it even more stressful to find what you want to put in your kitchen. Right now I'm also looking for custom cabinetry. I would love to know what you ended up doing for your own kitchen! http://www.kurtsander.com/en/ 

  • Rob Allison
    What about a semi-custom box with custom doors? We are making sure to have dovetail drawers and the sizing will be handled by the architect to ensure no wasted space or gaps. In reality custom is about 2-2.5 times the cost for us. Nice to have maybe, but there are ways to make it look and perform just as well as custom IHOP.
  • info65139

    There are many custom cabinet companies that also use particle board, MDF or other types of engineered plywood. Many semi-custom cabinets are actually higher quality than custom cabinets. In my experience the biggest difference between a custom and a semi custom cabinet company is the shop. A custom cabinet shop is typically small in comparison to a semi custom cabinet factory. This has both pros and cons. A custom shop can get and shape any type of wood or color, a factory is going to limit those options. Semi Customs vary on what the limitations there are, but I have been building and designing kitchens for many years and have found that semi custom is much better. From a business standpoint, the semi customs are reliable in price and time frame. Custom guys are all over the map. Sometimes the turn time is 3 weeks, sometimes its 3 months. Getting pricing out of them is like pulling teeth. If you get into a good semi custom such as Yorktowne or New Leaf, there is not much you cannot do for a kitchen. Take a look at some of the kitchen remodels on my website and notice that i never use fillers unless adjacent to walls and many of the projects have high end custom looks that people assume are full custom.

  • clubbingseals2

    There is a huge difference between stock, semi-custom & custom. Stock cabinets you buy at menards, home depot or ikea. They only come in certain sizes and cannot be modified at all. The carcass is made out of cheap material and the doors/drawers are made out of laminate or another cheap material. They even go farther and not only use cheap material but skim on it also. Stock cabinets should last 5 to 10 years. Semi-Custom lines are bought at these same places but also are sold out of dealer showrooms. These lines have slightly better material and more options. Sizes can be made to order on higher end lines. Finishes & door styles are still limited. Hoods & crowns are limited and cabinets are still melamine and particle board construction with more expensive material then stock. Semi-Custom cabinets should last 10 to 20 years. Custom has a wide range. Some companies are barely better then semi-custom while others completely out shine them. Custom cabinets have been known to last 50 years. The ones that are at the top most people can't afford and never will be able to afford. There is nothing wrong with that. But don't under sell something to over sell another product or opinion.

    The question was "We are remodeling our kitchen. Is the cost of custom cabinetry worth it? I understand the difference is mainly in 100% solid wood construction on custom vs solid wood only on fronts and doors. Please advise!"

    Not only look for the wood factor but what species do they sell? What type of plywood are they using? There are different grades of plywood just like particle board. Are they making frame or frame less cabinets? How are they building them? Door & drawer face construction, mitered or mortise & tenon? Is carcasses of framed product tongue & grove or are they nailing the face frame? If frame less do they dado the carcass together? Do they have any patents? What organizations are they members of?

    In short, there is a huge difference. If you have the money and can afford custom cabinets they will last longer and look better.

  • info65139

    I found this article extremely useful. One of the most thorough explanations of the differences between custom and semi custom cabinets that I have come across.

  • clubbingseals2

    Custom Cabinets - www.arbormills.com


    Info65139 semi-custom cabinets http://www.nlpps.com

    This is the difference.

  • PRO
    Mike Schaap Builders

    Benchmark Wood Studio out of Holland, MI provides truly custom cabinetry. It is the primary custom cabinetry and millwork shop i use in all our custom homes. Clients have come to truly value the exceptional quality and reasonable price-point. Although they are a rather local shop, I know they also provide services all across the country as one of my fellow custom builders out of Charleston, SC is using Benchmark Wood Studio in his homes as well. Definitely worth a look if you are considering quality custom cabinetry.


  • Kathy Tobacco

    The semi custom kitchen is built from "boxes" fastened together, sometimes using of filler trim to make up for gaps left over when the space available can't be divided evenly in cabinets with no remainder. Your eye also picks up on the double width that occur when one cabinet is fastened to another. The effect is cookie cutter or like lego blocks. It can be a well made kitchen but it still is made of up of boxes. Custom cabinets are made like furniture. There is no double wood between each section or space filler trim. Your eye can spot the difference between a buffet made up of individual units and one made as one unit, but both serve as buffets either way. Custom cabinet makers use the same conversion varnishes that semi- custom cabinet companies use, and most custom cabinets are painted at the shop despite what one salesman told a woman commenting here. Like everything else, if you are a good steward of you money then you will get what you pay for no matter what you choose. It is worth the extra money?- only if the differences matters enough to you. Sometimes semi custom or stock cabinets are the right choice for a particular property and kitchen.

  • PRO
    MS Colours Inc

    Fiat vs Ford vs Mercedes. You may play like they are the same they are not. Custom offers the best cabinets and the most unique quality finishes available.

  • PRO

    From 2013 -- OP never responded

  • PRO
    Hankins & Associates, Inc. - Kitchens and Baths

    (A 962 Word Read to a 5-year old Post ... yet still a relevant question) :)

    Is the cost difference of custom cabinetry worth it? Depends on the homeowners’ design needs and criteria, their finish and styling wants and of course … their expectations.

    Where to start… First, there’s a misnomer that anyone’s cabinetry is “all wood”. Cabinet carcasses are typically plywood or an engineered product with a melamine layer in either white or a faux wood print. Many years ago, I was a dealer for a cabinet made in England and they DID offer an all-wood cabinet, yes… including the carcass, which was solid pine.

    If someone tells you “there isn’t much of a difference between the two”. He or she is either a dealer for only semi-custom, or a homeowner who’s not really been exposed or educated on “custom.” That said, there are individuals, be it dealers or manufactures who present themselves or their product as custom—but simply aren’t. Sort of like the “custom builder” who defines custom as what color carpet would you like, or “which [oak] cabinet would you like?” And yes, sometimes when cabinet brands are represented poorly … you really DON’T get what you pay for. Also… if you’re a professional “in the business” and you’re suggesting that Semi-Custom is Better than Custom. I submit that you’ve been working with the wrong Custom Shops <period>.

    Then you’ve got the “custom cabinet shop” vs the production manufacturers who offer “custom”. For many of them custom is allowing modifications that fall within their parameters. So, yes … custom means different things to different people and companies.

    Someone else mentioned that using a custom shop can mean better grain matching, sanding, hardware, etc. All true. I know the painted finish we produce here is much nicer than MANY semi-custom products … even ‘some’ custom. The preparation undertaken here, and many other quality shops is time consuming; sanding, priming, ‘cutting the finish back’, painting, etc. Not to mention some companies have dirt in their finishes. Look in the corners of doors—whoops! But … it’s all relative. Should the quality, fit and finish of semi-custom be as good as custom? Nope, and that’s Ok. It’s all about ‘getting that you paid for’.

    Someone also mentioned that they found fully custom cabinets from a small area shop less (in cost) than a high-end semi-custom product. That’s generally been our experience here as well. But the big guy generally has better purchasing power for raw goods … though, has a bigger mouth to feed with shareholders, executive salaries and marketing/advertising.

    I also read a post here about “baked on” varnish finishes and some other stuff “per the salesman”. Ok, the “baked on finish” … Better … Harder? It offers quicker cure time, allowing the manufacturer to produce more, more quickly. Many high-end Lancaster based custom cabinetmakers don’t have ovens and produce a top-notch product. Much has to do with preparation and the product they use; the “go to” cabinet finish for most is Catalyzed Conversion Varnish (CV). This product requires a mixing of Catalyst to the Paint, a period of cross-linking, then application. The product has a short shelf life once mixed and hardens quite nicely with or without an oven. Finishes, whether they’re catalyzed … or oven cured aren’t bullet proof. So “chip, fade, crack?” Let’s start with chip and crack. Sure, you can abuse your new catalyzed conversion varnish finished cabinets and chip them. If your home is humid with high humidity and the wood expands, the joints can crack too. Fade? That’s more a function of the actual product vs. how it’s dried. As far as “manufactured cabinets cannot be refinished in the future”. Not 100% true. While perhaps not ideal … and (doing it right) can be a bit of work … you can refinish “manufactured cabinetry”.

    Moving right along. “Custom cabinets are normally finished once in the home.” That is a regional thing. We’ve probably watched our fair share of TV home remodeling shows where the “custom” cabinets are receiving their new finish in the home. Never really understood “why” … but yeah, it’s a thing. But again, I think that’s a regional thing.

    So back to the Original question … "We are remodeling our kitchen. Is the cost of custom cabinetry worth it?” Honestly … it’s all about expectations. A Ford Explorer starts around $32k. An equivalent Mercedes about 60% more. Worth it? Both will get you from point A to point B, seating around the same passengers and offer cabin music. Fit, finish, quality of machining, the drive, etc. Those qualities could be lost on many, and not on others. “Expectations”.

    Someone touched on quality of materials. True, all materials are not created equal. We use formaldehyde-free “domestic” plywood. Better? Yes. Out of curiosity I purchased a few sheets of the “overseas import” (China) material. In a word … “garbage”. Ran a piece of ¾” through the table saw and we had two 3/8” pieces as it delaminated. We use BLUM slides and hinges. Better than the “off shore imports” (China)? In a word … Yes. I like to try different materials in my shop. When I educate a homeowner as to why something is more, I want to be able to show them … and back it up. Beyond materials, there’s the “how” they construct a carcass. Are they Hot Glue and Staples … or Glue, Screws and Dowels. There is a difference.

    There are some really good quality makers of custom cabinets from small shops. Ask around, search Google, go meet these small shop owners and see first-hand what sets them apart. Virtually every one of them will happily and proudly tell you about their cabinetry. Nothing more rewarding than getting something for your home that you love, that’ll last … while (where possible) supporting your local community.

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