There are three categories of kitchen cabinets you’ll hear about when you speak with salespeople, contractors, or when Googling for information about kitchen cabinets. The categories are: “stock,” “semi-custom” and “custom.” And, while no single category of cabinet will necessarily be “better” for you than another, the distinctions among them are important to know about because they’ll influence the choice you’ll ultimately make.

Stock cabinets

“Stock” cabinets, sometimes called “production” cabinets, are made in factories and distributed to the consumer via a variety of channels, including big box stores, kitchen supply stores and online websites. Stock base cabinets come in a standard height of 34.5-inches, 24-inches deep, with widths ranging from 9-inches up to 48 inches, in 3-inch increments. Stock wall cabinets are usually either 30-inches or 43-inches tall and 12-inches deep.

The “stock” category is itself subdivided into two groups: RTA (for “ready to assemble”) cabinets, and pre-assembled (or “boxed”) cabinets. RTA cabinets (such as those sold by Ikea) come in flat boxes and require assembly once they’ve been delivered. “Boxed” cabinets are assembled in the factory and delivered in large boxes to the worksite (which makes them more expensive to ship than RTA cabinets).

Should you choose stock cabinets? In years past, their quality often fell short because, aimed at the budget consumer, their components were often made of inexpensive particle board, often relied on cheap veneer for their facing, and often included only low-end hardware. In the past 15 years, however, stock cabinet quality has markedly improved, and so today it’s possible — if you’re careful — to buy stock cabinets whose quality is nearly equivalent to that provided by custom cabinet makers.

If you want to make use of every last square inch of space in your kitchen, stock cabinets — which come in a limited range of sizes — may not be the way to go. You’ll probably have “leftover” space in your kitchen — either between base/wall cabinet units or above/below wall cabinets – and these gaps will need to be filled with custom filler pieces that you (or a carpenter friend with a table saw) will need to make.

How about the “RTA vs. boxed” decision? If you’re handy and don’t mind spending many hours assembling RTA cabinets, you can save money by choosing this option because you’ll pay less to have them shipped, and, of course, are doing your own assembly. If you’re not willing or able to do this, boxed stocked cabinets will be a lot easier to install, but will be costlier to deliver.

Either way, if you’re in a tight remodeling timeline, stock cabinets can be a huge help because of their rapid turnaround: as little as a week between order time and delivery time.

Semi-custom cabinets
“Semi-custom” cabinets offer more flexible options for buyers than stock cabinets allow, but the range of options varies per manufacturer. For example, some semi-custom cabinet manufacturers will let you specify a differing cabinet depth, but not width or height. Others allow more extensive dimensional modification. In terms of other options, semi-custom cabinets provide expanded choices in terms of cabinet materials, door styles, finishes and hardware.

While not “built from scratch” to your specifications, semi-custom cabinets can be so extensively individualized that the results are often indistinguishable from true custom cabinets. These custom options add costs, of course, and because customization takes time, you can’t get them as quickly as you can stock units: delivery time for semi-custom cabinets typically ranges from 3 to 8 weeks. Also, because they’re pre-assembled, shipping costs will be just as high as for “boxed” stock cabinets.

Custom cabinets
As you’d expect, custom cabinets represent the premiere cabinet category, providing the highest quality, number of options, and, often, a lifetime guarantee against any defects.

Custom cabinet makers will build anything you can draw, using any material you specify, with whatever options you see fit to include. Fine custom cabinet makers such as Wood-Mode pride themselves at delivering cabinets of the highest possible quality, their work is often featured in interior design magazines, and any cabinets they build for you come with lifetime guarantees.

The only drawbacks of going with a custom cabinet maker are that you’ll be paying top dollar for your custom cabinets and, because they’re built from scratch to your specifications,  you’ll have to wait a longer time to get them; about 10 weeks.

Which kitchen cabinet level is best for you?
Your decision about which category of cabinet is best for you will be influenced by many factors, including budget, the degree to which you’re willing to do any installation (or at least assembly) yourself, your project timeline, and your expectations for the kitchen itself: for example, are you remodeling the kitchen for your own use, for a rental apartment, or perhaps for a summer home? Because of this, it’s often best to discuss your needs and expectations with a kitchen design expert before locking yourself into a decision, and that’s why we’d love it if you gave us a call, because – as you can guess – there’s nothing we like more than talking about kitchen cabinets!