Differences in Cabinetry and Why Cabinets Cost What They Do

I have spent over thirty successful years in the kitchen & bath design business and am grateful to have held leadership roles in many trade associations through those years. In those years there have been many advances in manufacturing and varieties of cabinets that my company, HomeTech Renovations, Inc., has recommended to a number of clients.

Cabinetry generally represents the most significant portion of most kitchen projects and it is also one of the area’s that most homeowner’s have trouble in fully understanding the cost or added value in different lines. So, in this post I thought I’d help explain some of the differences in cabinetry and why they cost what they do.

Let me start by first identifying the more significant groups in which most cabinets fall, followed up by additional factors that affect the look and cost.

– Stock Lines: This term as “stock” is a bit misleading to start with. Most large manufacturer’s today are on a “make to order” system and may use standard sizes and methods of more simple construction based on industry and production standards. In other words, chances are your exact cabinet door style, exterior color/finish, interior options, sizing requirements, etc. are rarely found in some large warehouse awaiting contractor pick-up. For the most part, what may be readily available will be some very basic generic white foil or melamine cabinetry commonly used for a laundry room or a bath vanity. Due to the fact that there are far more consumer choices in door designs, finishes, etc., almost all manufacturing is done at the time a specification is developed and an actual order is submitted to the factory. Most of these orders generally take between 6- 8 weeks to produce. Standard sizing, usually in 3” width increments, is pretty typical for production lines. Most wall cabinetry is offered at a standard 30”, 36”, and 42” height limitations.

Production or stock lines generally are limited to the following wood species:

– Cherry (can be from South America or other foreign country)

– Red Oak (wide, deep grain patterns)

– Maple (hard wood, not always ideal for stain absorption)

– Alder Wood (cherry appearance, but much softer)


Many of these lines are made with computer programed machines using larger equipment set for fast production. These lines typically use hybrid construction materials whereas the face frames and doors may be of real wood with the cabinet boxes being made of vinyl coated flake board or MDF (medium density fiberboard). The exterior finishes may also be more limited and will utilize lesser quality, fast drying spray stains and quick dying methods, rather than hand applied wiping stains that will fully saturate the raw materials allowing for a higher quality result. More limited door designs will typically be offered. Most manufacturers will not be in a position to cost effectively make size alterations or any other specific retrofit issues due to the way they maximize production efficiency. To make up for inconsistent final room measurements, fillers or spacers are used to take up the space between adjacent cabinetry when the standard sizing cannot accommodate. Some manufacturer’s a better than others and can offer more flexibility; however these standard or stock lines are best for someone who is not looking to achieve a designer level project.

– Semi-Custom Lines: These lines offer some of the production values as with stock or standard lines; however there are some added advantages to achieve a better retro fit. The designer can detail an order to include:

– Some non-standard sizing

– Extended stiles or cabinet sides

– Finished interiors or cabinet undersides

– Semi-custom interior options

– Some higher level finishing such as glazing and antiquing can be available

– Addition door designs are also offered

The semi-custom line may also offer self-closing drawer glides as well as soft close door hinging. These lines offer some real solid lasting value and can offer real all wood construction and/or multiply layered shelves to prevent “hammocking”, etc. Not all lines are the same as some manufactures will have a greater selection of door and drawer head designs than others.

– Full Custom Lines: These lines allow for pretty much anything a designer and client can dream-up. Generally the best value here is when a homeowner can work with a designer to develop a very specific look and fit based on a longer term commitment to a home. In the past, I have used more exotic hardwoods such as Lyptus, quarter sawn white oak or American cherry, or reclaimed wormy chestnut, etc. to achieve that special look and feel. The actual hardwood selected is just as important as the stain or finish you apply to the doors and finished surfaces. Special finishes, glazing, antiquing, distressing, etc. are all “on the table” with a full custom consideration. Frameless or full framed cabinetry can also be offered giving the client more options for optimal aesthetic result and a higher quality fit and feel. Beaded and flush inset doors/drawers are also offered to yield a more period inspired look which is truly unique. The inset look is where the doors and drawer heads finish flush with the surrounding face frame. A variety of hinging types, cabinet hardware, and limitless cabinet interior options are also available. Cabinet interiors can even be automatically lit when a door or drawer is opened.

There are also framed and frameless lines of cabinetry offered in some of the categories mentioned above. A framed cabinet is very typical for the mid-Atlantic and New England areas of the country whereas a full 1 ½” wide frame is made and applied to the actual cabinet box, giving it a more traditional look. The framed lines are also better for older homes achieving better retro fit applications. A frameless line is usually constructed from ¾” plywood, particle board, MDF, etc. to make an actual cabinet box and then the door is hinged using some special frameless hinges. The frameless lines are more European and have a more modern or sleeker look.

For more information about differences in cabinetry, price quotes, and other inquiries, give us a call today!

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