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You want new kitchen cabinets, but the number of choices for kitchen and/or bath is so huge it’s almost paralyzing. How can you decide among all the possibilities? You might think it’s all about price, but even with “bargains,” you have many options.

So, think of yourself as a student in Cabinets 101; the more you know, the better consumer you will be:

Learn the definitions — words like “custom,” “semi-custom” and “in-stock”.

“In-stock” and “ready-to-go” generally mean cabinets in boxes that you pull off the shelf at a big box or warehouse store and take to the cash register. You might think this is a do-it-yourself possibility, but generally it only works if you’re installing something small, like a vanity in a powder room. Even then, you need to know the exact dimensions of the space you are filling.

The next step up, “builder’s grade” offers more options on dimensions for cabinets. But drawers can be dovetailed with a “soft” close. Generally, you choose from standard boxes for the cabinets that can only change in size by 3-inch increments. You can order these cabinets through stores or remodelers or even off the Internet.

With “semi-custom,” you’re also ordering standard sizes. However, the manufacturer will make a box to fit your dimensions – like 12 ½ inches wide instead of a standard 12 inches. The quality of materials is better; there are more choices in wood species, door styles, colors and finishes. Even builder’s grade is offering more and more options all the time.

“Custom” cabinets have even more expensive materials and customized finishes. They can be ordered from manufacturers, but many custom shops in Arizona can also build cabinets for you.

Almost all grades of cabinets use some plywood and furniture board (sometimes called particle board) in construction, but generally, the more that you pay, the better the quality of materials and more long-lasting they will be.

Look at the advantages and disadvantages of “framed” and “frameless” cabinets.

Framed cabinets are found everywhere in older homes. Many cabinets are built with a face frame in front with doors hanging off the face frame or drawers built into that frame. While face frames are often used with traditional designs, European-style or contemporary cabinets are often frameless.

Cabinet companies say frameless construction is widely used on the East and West coasts and is growing rapidly in popularity everywhere partly because frameless can often be installed more quickly.

Frameless cabinets have larger drawers and doors that create a “full overlay” on the cabinet. When they are installed, all you see are the doors and drawer fronts. There are also no center stiles running down the middle between cabinet doors. So, you generally get more storage and accessibility.

In most cases, you can benefit from the help of a professional designer or remodeler

Complications with dimensions can be difficult; you want an experienced person to measure and help you make decisions. A designer or remodeler can also bring samples to your home for decision-making. What do you do if the cabinet isn’t wide enough; how do you fill the space between the cabinet and the wall; what about the countertops?

“A good example of a design problem that needs to be solved is how tall your base cabinets will be. The new, most popular height is 36 inches,” says designer Christine Cox of CC Interiors and BC Renovations in the Phoenix area. “But most electrical outlets are placed too low for that. A tall base cabinet could cover them up. What then?”

Even if you’re an experienced woodworker, what about the backsplash and the plumbing and faucets and sink?

Made-in-America is possible and may be desirable

Many outstanding cabinet companies are located in the United States. The many independent shops in Arizona can make cabinets at competitive prices, says another Phoenix area designer Ann Lyons, though a small local cabinetmaker might take longer to make your cabinets.

You can also buy foreign-made cabinets from large stores that could be cheaper, Christine Cox says. But sometimes their cabinet boxes come ready-to-assemble instead of all put-together, and your remodel becomes more labor intensive. You also want to check the quality of foreign goods carefully. Inferior materials and finishes can deteriorate quickly.

You can save money by skipping the extras.

The more elaborate the style of the doors and the higher the quality of the wood species, the higher the cost. Oak is less expensive; hickory, maple and cherry can be higher in price. When you buy pullout shelves or sliding drawers that can hold pots and pans, the cost goes up. Glass front doors and elaborate crown molding can add to the price. Using some open shelving might be practical for you and less costly.

A final note…

Obviously, you probably don’t need new cabinets unless the old ones are in bad shape or unless you want to change the footprint of your kitchen. After all there are ways to give cabinets a facelift instead of ripping them out. In a few weeks, we’ll be back with another installment of Cabinets 101 with basics on upgrades that take less effort and expense.


Photo Credits:

  • iStock 
  • Shutterstock


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