Before you begin shopping for kitchen cabinets, the most important thing to do is establish a budget. Remember that cabinets are harder to change than anything else in the kitchen since everything else has to come out when you change the cabinets, so this is a decision that will affect your kitchen in many ways.
In considering your cabinet selection there are three general categories. These choices are referred to as stock, semi-custom, or custom. You will find a huge price range within all three of the cabinet categories so be sure to look at as many as you can until you are comfortable making a decision.
Stock cabinets are produced in large quantities on a mass production scale and usually available through a network of cabinet dealers or home improvement centers. Large quantities of cabinet parts that are always the same size are stockpiled by the manufacturer so cabinets can be assembled quickly.
This type of cabinet is only available in certain sizes and no modifications can be made. Some cabinet suppliers even keep the stock sizes on hand, so you can go to the store and pick out enough cabinets and trim pieces to build your kitchen immediately.
The advantages here are availability and low cost.
Semi-custom cabinets are a stock line of cabinets where the manufacturer will make simple modifications to cabinets at the time of production. These modifications are usually limited to height, depth, and width adjustments. A semi-custom line may also offer more trim and molding options to finish the project with, and there may even be a few more finishes available as well.
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Custom cabinets should mean just that. Draw a picture and we will build it. However, not all cabinet sources will define custom this way. If they do, be prepared to pay a hefty price.
In the world of manufactured cabinetry, custom cabinets can mean anything from slight modifications such as the semi-custom description to just about anything you want.
Almost every manufacturer starts out with a basic product line offering cabinets in standard sizes. When modifications are made such as height, depth, and width changes, the cabinetry becomes custom. The general difference production-wise between a semi-custom and a custom manufacturer is the number of changes they are willing to make to their respective product lines.
Most custom manufacturers will have a much greater selection of finish options, trims, and cabinet storage configurations available also.
Locally built cabinets are another custom option. You will find a wide range of quality, price, and options available.
The most common reason to buy cabinets from a large manufacturer is the quality of the finish. That is not to say that a local shop cannot provide a quality finish but there are a precious few that have the facilities to do so. It is also an expensive and highly regulated process and it takes a certain amount of skill that is hard to come by these days.
The advantage of using a local shop is availability. If a problem occurs, it is a much faster source for required parts to resolve the problem.
But, you would be wrong to think that only custom cabinets can create a beautiful kitchen. There have been many award-winning beautiful projects completed using stock cabinetry.