Buying Kitchen Cabinets – A Big Investment

Without a doubt, the most exciting room in a new home is the kitchen. All at once it declares the interest that the new homeowners have taken in the whole project: dull kitchen, dull home; exciting kitchen, exciting home. The design of the kitchen will center around one main item: the kitchen cabinets; so buying kitchen cabinets should be an important part of your new home planning

Your budget is going to ultimately determine the quality of the kitchen cabinets you buy, but let there be no mistake, all cabinets are not the same; and you need to know the difference between quality construction and run of the mill construction so you can make an informed decision when buying. You need to know what types of materials are used in a line of furniture grade cabinets and what types of materials are used in a set of economy cabinets. Everyone cannot afford a kitchen that has been custom made, but everyone can and should know what makes a set of cabinets good and what makes a set of cabinets average.

Let’s talk about the types of kitchen cabinets available. Generally speaking, when you are buying kitchen cabinets, you are going to have a choice between box cabinets, those that have 4 sides and are individual, complete compartments, preassembled, and are attached to each other on the job-site to make up your kitchen design; or you can have your kitchen cabinets built at your construction site (or a shop) by a cabinet maker and then installed. The main difference between these two options is that the custom cabinet builder can make your cabinets “to size” and eliminate many unsightly filler strips that are needed when using manufactured kitchen cabinets built to standard sizes. Of course, the custom cabinet maker is also much more expensive!

There is also a third option that you might consider. A custom cabinet maker can make a cabinet face that is mounted to a sub-frame which gives the look of a complete set of box cabinets but with a smaller price tag. This might be a good option for you if you’re on a tight budget, but you are willing to spend a little more to get a custom look. The savings comes from the fact that only the face of the cabinet and the doors are furniture-grade wood or plywood. Everything on the inside of the cabinet is open with the exception of the rough framing needed to support the face and the countertop. This option gives you the ability to use high quality wood for the face and doors because of the money saved by not building the rest of the box. The downside of this method is the wide open look you get inside the cabinets because there are no walls, and you have to pay attention to the finish on the drywall that is showing inside the cabinets, because you will see them when using this type of cabinet construction.

When you consider price points in buying kitchen cabinets, you start at the entry level with box cabinets that are made of particle board sides and backs and the face is either an engineered wood product (glued and finger-jointed) or it’s made from particle board. The doors are made from either finger-jointed wood or particleboard. The shelving material will be made from particleboard or a low grade plywood with cheap filler that can’t be used for the structural parts of the cabinet. The construction of the drawers will be butt joints that are stapled or nailed and sometimes glued as with the rest of the joinery (where wood meets wood at 90 degree angle). Typically, these cabinets are only available pre-finished in solid colors as a stained finish or unfinished cabinet would show the imperfections in the manufacturing.

In the same price range as the entry cabinet mentioned above, is a product made especially for the DIY’er called RTA – ready to assemble. In a line by line cost comparison, RTA cabinets will actually be less expensive than most entry level cabinets of the same quality because there is no labor involved in the manufacturing of the product. This type of cabinet can make a big difference in the look of your kitchen because the money you save by doing it yourself will allow you to purchase a higher quality cabinet with the look of an expensive custom kitchen.

If doing it yourself is not an option, then the next step up is what we will call a midline cabinet; which is where most new home shoppers find a kitchen cabinet that meets their needs. This cabinet is recognized immediately by a larger selection of design styles and colors available. These are made possible because of the professional construction techniques employed in their manufacturing and the higher quality of wood used. The material used in these cabinets is generally wood – no particleboard, and quality plywood. The plywood will be used on the sides and backs of the cabinets and also for the shelving and drawers. The face and doors of the cabinets will usually be solid wood. Construction of the cabinet will be improved by using dado cuts to lock the back panel in and the drawers will have dovetail joinery that is glued. There should not be any vinyl covered “wood look” plywood used in the construction of these cabinets, though plywood with a laminated wood top layer (oak or birch) is frequently used in cabinet making.

The best value for most new home buyers can be obtained with a combination of a quality cabinets, careful selection of wood type, finish and cabinet style (such as Victorian, Country, European, etc), and the careful use of finish trims in matching or accent colors. Oak, Maple, Birch and Cherry are a great value and have given their owners years of solid performance. Hickory is a beautiful wood but in a larger kitchen the grain patterns can be difficult to match up. Pine looks great with many country styles, but the wood has a tendency to move. If you are going to paint your cabinets or use a solid stain, and want solid wood behind the paint, then consider using oak. The wood is stable, hard and reasonably priced.

Look for design opportunities when laying out your kitchen that will give you the custom look without the custom price. Consider using taller wall cabinets that go all the way to the ceiling. This eliminates that dust collecting area above most wall cabinets. Add glass doors in areas where the contents of the cabinet would add interest to your kitchen by being visible. Another great option is the use of rope trim, crown molding and spindles to accessorize your kitchen design.