Pros and cons of custom made cabs vs. manufactured brand?

farmhousegirlJanuary 31, 2012

Hey all,

Seems a lot of people have had their kitchen cabinets custom made. I'm curious what the pros and cons are to doing this vs. using a brand that has numerous options, etc.

Is is cheaper? more expensive? a dice roll since you are at the mercy of a local carpenter? issues with the paint since they are not factory fininshed? What else should I know about this choice? Thanks!!!

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I have had 2 custom kit cabs made. I absolutely wanted inset cabinets so they were less expensive. I had natural wood in first one & painted in my present. No fillers are used, you get to pick the hardware you want and I wanted hand forged wrought iron. To compensate for the little loss in space with inset I had stiles made small and no toe kick except at the sink.

    Bookmark   January 31, 2012 at 1:52PM
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Hi farmhousegirl,

This has been a topic of discussion in the past - you may be able to find those discussion threads by searching manufactured cabinets, custom vs mfg, etc...

There are many different opinions out there. I have gone all the way around from wanting manufactured cabinets to getting custom made.

In CA, where I live, the custom cabinets are usually cheaper than buying from the big manufacturers, but I don't think that's always the case. Maybe it's more accurate to say they are cheaper than the higher-end mfg. companies for the same features and quality.

The manufacturers sell their consistency and the reliability of their product. You know what it will look like. The finishes are very durable, and you can be comfortable that paint colors and stains will match the samples. With a custom made cabinet, there is more possible variation - maybe the stain won't come out exactly like the sample. Maybe it won't wear as well. Hard to know on the wearability question until after you've purchased. But the manufacturers have limitations in what they can (or will) do, and the lead times are longer. If anything is damaged in shipment, it usually takes 6 weeks to get replacements.

After doing a lot of research, we concluded that really good custom cabinet makers, with high quality finishes, were just as good (and durable) as the big cabinet manfuacturers. But, not all cabinet-makers can meet that standard; so it's hard to say overall which is better.

Good Luck!

    Bookmark   January 31, 2012 at 2:22PM
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The important thing isn't which is better, but don't rule out custom because you think it's more expensive. Seek some custom cabinet makers out and include them in your bid process. Everything is relative, so you never know what you might find.

Another thing to think about is your budget. Rather than just shopping for the cheapest, set a realistic budget that you can afford and then find the vendor who gives you the most for your money. I don't mean the most bells and whistles, but rather the best features balanced with quality. It comes down to value. And when you do compare, factor in installation. Many custom cabinet makers include installation in their pricing.

    Bookmark   January 31, 2012 at 3:40PM
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Fori is not pleased

I did custom in my last kitchen because it was a small space and I wanted to use every inch. BUT--and this was important--I had seen this guy's work and knew he was good. I'd be nervous using a guy out of the phone book.

I liked that the people who measured for the cabinets filled the order for the cabinets and then made the cabinets and then installed them. Less conflict that way. They don't all work like that though.

    Bookmark   January 31, 2012 at 4:35PM
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We had one kitchen gutted and had cabinets made because it was 1987 and the choices for manufactured in our area was slim to none. Sears as I recall.

Then, when we moved here, the cabinets were custom and we wanted to add a couple and wanted them to match so we had to go custom.

If I had it to do again, I'd look at both. There are some beautiful manufactured cabinets now.

    Bookmark   January 31, 2012 at 4:40PM
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In our case custom was significantly less expensive than manuf. We had the guy build us a sample cabinet so we could see what it would look like. Since they are made to fit exactly no filler pieces and you can ''customize'' them more than a manuf. For example, we have shaker style cabinets, I had him inset the panel further to provide more of a reveal on the door. I think it turned out really cool since it is a little more dramatic.

The custom guys can use a catalyzed finish that is supposed to hold up like the manufactured. The last home we built we also had custom but I am not sure what kind of finish he used. After two years the areas that water had dripped down the front and sat on top of the doors started to flake (the clear finish did not the stain of course!)

Also a big difference that we noticed is our custom guy didn't charge any more for frameless (less material) and going full height was a minimal charge, basically a few extra hundred for material. Had we used manufactured and still got all the pullouts with floor to ceiling cabinets and drawers we would have been looking at close to double what the local guys were offering.

    Bookmark   January 31, 2012 at 4:55PM
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Best of both worlds. Custom cabinets made and installed by local cabinet maker. Doors, drawer fronts and molding made and finished by Conestoga or Keystone wood specialties. There's always something that needs to be stained and finished that can't be done at factory. Conestoga has developed a stain and finish program that enables local shops to match the factory finish exactly. So you get the best of both worlds, a custom cabinet and a factory finish.

    Bookmark   February 1, 2012 at 10:31AM
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We are going with custom cabinets, and they are being put in as we speak. In my case, custom was cheaper because the cabinet maker makes them himself in his shop. Manufactured has a middle man that has to get paid, plus you have to pay shipping and then tax on the shipping so all the places I checked came out to be more. We didn't go with custom solely because of cost though. We knew the cabinet maker did beautiful work. It is easier to change things too because you are dealing directly with the guy building them. And if something isn't right, he can fix it himself. If the cabinets have been ordered and shipped from somewhere and there is a problem, they have to be reordered which is more time and money. Plus custom can obviously meet specific needs and unusual spaces. Other people, however, my have different experiences. This is just mine!

    Bookmark   February 1, 2012 at 10:56AM
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We did custom cabinets from a local cabinetmaker who was recommended by our KD. She was $8000 cheaper than semi-custom, and over 12k cheaper than the manufactured cabinets of similar quality. And I got EXACTLY what I wanted, no compromises. I have full-extension, soft-close, and tons of pull-outs. I got to pick the glass, too.

I have to reiterate what the pp said--repairs were quick and on-site, although only a couple of minor ones were required. I did not have to pay shipping, did not have to deal with salespeople or a manufacturer, did not have to pay a middleman or commissions.

Also, the cabinets were delivered as they were finished. This was huge, as I have 42 cabinets. I did NOT want them all stacked in the garage and living room! Both dealers said that they had to ship the whole order at once. Ugh. fillers. Every inch of space is utilized. Previous cabinets were Merrillat builder-grade. They were just NASTY. Tons of fillers, narrow drawers that weren't even full-depth, staples, and plastic fittings.

My cabinets are natural cherry. The glass-fronted cabs are solid cherry, the others have plywood boxes to save money. The drawers are dovetailed. I am SO pleased with the quality! I grew up with French 18th-century furniture, so I am disgusted by shoddy garbage like the Merrillat.

My heart sings when I walk into my kitchen :-)

    Bookmark   February 1, 2012 at 11:42AM
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A small voice here for fillers: some fillers are strictly functional vs filling up a space where the cabinets are a bit short. For instance, we have a 1" filler between the utility closet and the wall which allows the closet door to open more than 90 degrees. Not much more, but enough to be comfortable. Note that the door molding also comes into play here.

We have another planned filler between this upper cabinet and a tall pantry for the same reason:

I think we could have done without both of these, but at the expense of having doors that don't open quite wide enough.

    Bookmark   February 1, 2012 at 1:09PM
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I debated both and ended up going custom. My kitchen is small 11x13 . I as having a reLly hard time fitting is 30 " fridge, 30" sink, 24" dishwasher, trash pullout drawer plus a counter along one short wall. If I had gone semi custom I would have had to use a 24" sink. By going custom I was able to fit in a 30" full size sink as well as a full size DW. I had problems with my cabinetmaker which made the process very stressful. So I echo what others have stated-choose carefully.

    Bookmark   February 13, 2012 at 7:54PM
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We're working with a local custom cabinet maker. Previously, I'd gotten quotes from a semi-custom cabinet maker (local but ships around the country) and another local custom cabinet maker. The 1st custom cabinet maker we talked to was the most expensive of the 3 (but not the best quality of the 3). The semi-custom cab maker came in between them and our cab maker who is reasonably priced for well built cabinets. Oh, wait, there was another custom cab quote in there and WOW, were they expensive! $3000 for a 54" long, alder vanity cabinet with 3 drawers on either side of the sink cab. Gorgeous cabinets but way out of our price range and frankly, we don't feel that we're settling by going with our cab maker.

Going custom can save you money but IME, not always. Shop around, look at their product, read up about cabinet construction and ask questions, ask for references, check with BBB, Angie's List and your state's contractor's board.

    Bookmark   February 13, 2012 at 8:27PM
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I debated both and ended up going custom. My kitchen is small 11x13 . I as having a reLly hard time fitting is 30 " fridge, 30" sink, 24" dishwasher, trash pullout drawer plus a counter along one short wall. If I had gone semi custom I would have had to use a 24" sink. By going custom I was able to fit in a 30" full size sink as well as a full size DW. I had problems with my cabinetmaker which made the process very stressful. So I echo what others have stated-choose carefully.

    Bookmark   February 13, 2012 at 8:44PM
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We did custom for our rather large kitchen redo. Same comments as all the above re great fit, no fillers, great service well after the install when needed.

I will inject one note of caution though. After three years, our painted lacquer finish is already wearing away in heavily used areas like corners of trash can pullouts, some of the doors etc. I'n not shocked. There is no way that any custom cab builder can spray on a finish in his workshop that will come anywhere close to the kinds of "14 layer, triple oven finished, ultra durable" finishes that the high end factory built cabs can offer.

Would I do differently in retrospect? I'd think about it, but right now I'd say that I'm still 55:45 towards the customs, though if I have to extensively repaint soon, that might shift a lot.

    Bookmark   February 13, 2012 at 10:01PM
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I can't say if one is better or not, but just wanted to clarify (related to babuska) that at least one semi-custom line (Brookhaven) allows reductions in height,width and depth at no charge, maybe other lines allow this as well - from this regard it is pretty customizable. If you need a 31.25" wide cabinet, order a 33" cab and have it reduced. Also, related to Suzannes1... I agree about the necessity at times for a filler... with framed or inset cabinetry I think it is a little bit nicer (although not as easy for the installer) to order an extended stile and have it trimmed on site - then you don't have a seam. Just my two cents.

    Bookmark   February 13, 2012 at 10:52PM
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In our area, custom is about 10% more than manufactured cabinets. I tried to go with manufactured, but I just got tired of being told, "We can't do that." There are quite a few neat features and tweaks that manufacturers just don't do. My custom cabinet designer might give me a "no" (he actually hasn't yet) but he can give me a good reason for it, which I didn't get from the designer of the manufactured brand. I like that he can give me odd-width cabinets, not just 30", 33", 36", etc. That little bit adds up to a lot more efficient layout.

    Bookmark   February 14, 2012 at 12:37AM
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mamadadapaige is correct, depending on your scope and budget you can make some adjustments in semi custom line and you should check it out. you need to determine the volume of changes you require to see if it is feasible and a cost effective alternative.

for me it was so tight getting all of the stuff in along the one wall we were down to about 1/4" leeway. i could not get assurance from any semi custom dealer, that i could afford, that they could find a way to get in my fridge, standard DW, 30" rohl farm sink, trash drawer and back run of cabinets along the wall i needed.

i checked out brookhaven, they had some gorgeous cabs on display locally but they were far more expensive than i could afford. it was much cheaper to use a local custom cabinetmaker. the other line i was considering (dynassty) was closer to budget but i did not like either of their white paint color options and i could not fit in a 30" rohl farm sink.

some of the pros in my mind of going semi custom:

the design work is largely done for you - you only pick the door style, finish and determine the layout. with custom, every crazy nitty gritty detail needs to be worked out. it required a ton of my time to work through the details. i got exactly what i wanted but it required a large time investment.

as others have mentioned you get a factory finish with semi custom. i know mine will not hold up as well in that regard.

some of the pros of custom:

you can customize all aspects of them: things like feet or special end panels or molding trim that matches the rest of your house.

becuase my kitchen is small i was able to make a lot more of the storage space by going custom.

You are not limited by a color selection - you can specific the exact paint color and finish.

it depends on scope, budget and personal preferece. tons of tradeoffs - only you know what is right.

    Bookmark   February 14, 2012 at 12:54AM
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My experience is similar to babushka_cat. I had a difficult space and my primary goal was to maximize storate.

I ended up with custom cabinets, but that was not my original plan. As I started to sketch my designs, I realized that I was going to have a tough time with maximizing my storage space using standard sizing. I had odd angles to work with, meaning that I�d have to have several custom cuts to any standard cabinets.

I visited a lot of showrooms, and I was really interested in some of the European cabinets, mainly because they came in a lot of "standard" sizes. Those lines gave me many more options in depth and width, so I was strongly leaning to Scavolini or Snaidero (much cheaper than the German lines I liked.)

When I was talking to my contractor, he told me they work with a custom cabinet maker, and he said I should consider that route. I was weary because I didn�t know if the finish would be as durable or if the quality would be good. But, after looking at his work in other houses, and seeing that his price quote was cheaper I was convinced.

I am really happy that I went this route. This gave me flexibility to make changes at no additional cost. We also had a problem with the handle installation that hole in the door. No problem, the cabinet maker sent a new door the next day. I also added a couple of small, shallow wall cabinets to flank the sink once I realized I could better utilize what would have been blank wall space. No problem, the cabinet maker sent these two days later.

I got extra deep drawers in my island so that I could avoid a blind corner, I got custom cut outs to my drawers so that I could have a pop up socket, I got special cabinet cuts to accommodate a trash can in a shallow cabinet, I got an giant sink cabinet so that I could have a huge sink. Everything turned out better because I could work with the contractor and cabinet maker on-site and in real time. And it didn�t cost more.

That being said, custom may not be for everyone, but since I had really specific goals and a difficult floor plan, it was a great choice for me.

Take a look at how you work, how you approach the design and build process, and talk to your general contractor about his experience with custom cabinets. Having a general contractor who works well with the custom cabinet maker is critical to a successful outcome.

    Bookmark   February 15, 2012 at 2:12PM
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Once I visited a custom cabinet maker, I was sold on custom!

Here's my reasons:
Custom leaves very little or no wasted space, the cabs are built to fit your space, instead of in 3" increments. No fillers, unless you want/need them for functionality.

A local custom cabinet maker, has his name to keep clean or he's out of business. He's going to stand behind his work and his product. (IF he's a good business man). If you order mfg cabs, theres somebody on an hourly wage building your way you will ever know that THEY were the one to screw anything up. KWIM?

If something goes wrong with your cabinets, you know the 1st name of THE person to talk to, to get it fixed. And probably live close enough to go right there and figure out the situation face to face. (Another reason, he'll do a good job!) If you go with mfg cabs, you call the store you ordered/bought them from, they call the company, and its a weeks long process to get the issue(s) taken care of.

I've enjoyed being able to drive to their shop, and talk to them, and know that they know what I want. And they are more than willing to offer advice when I ask for it...they've seen alot of cabinets! They know what people are doing these days as far as design, etc.

I was always under the impression that custom cabs were going to cost us 3X as much as mfg. I had no clue. I was pleasantly surprised! I never got an estimate on mfg cabs, because the custom was well within our budget. BUT I did visit a couple places before I found a custom builder. Seemed at the stores, that oak was the cheapest, and any other wood was quite a bit more $$$. Every little thing was more $$$. Both custom places I went to (including the one we chose to build), gave us an option of 4 types of wood as 'standard', standard price, other woods were more, but not much more. We went with Alder (a standard wood/price), and to update to cherry would only have been another $900 for the whole house, kitchen and 3 bathrooms. Box stores made it sound to me that cherry would be ALOT more.

On the other hand...I noticed during my process of choosing cabinets, that the stores seemed to have more options as far as finish, door style, etc.

They both have pros and cons I guess. Good luck with your decision!

    Bookmark   February 15, 2012 at 10:01PM
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We decided to go with Thomasville, sold by HD for a few reasons.
- I am a bit contractor-phobic and am comfortable negotiating with HD if something is faulty with the cabinets.

- We got an 18-month same as cash payment plan, and that significantly helped us with the budget.

- Based on our design (which is very limited due to our space) we were not missing out on as many options as we thought we'd gain with a custom cabinets. (We did talk with 2 cabinet makers and their prices were higher than with HD..something that shocked me...).

- I was pleasantly surprised by all the adjustable options as we designed the space. I didn't feel as if I had to make any compromises. But again, that might be because our space dictates what can and can't be done.

- we were able to negotiate good discounts due to end of their fiscal year deals.

They will be installed next month, so the true test will be after all is said and done.

We'll see...

    Bookmark   February 15, 2012 at 11:12PM
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We've had our Thomasville cabs for just about a year now. So far, I really love them. We got an amazing deal, some pull outs, free sink base, etc...and I am amazed at how well the finish is holding up (we have four kids). I'm about to order the rest of my crown, baseboard, and a wine cubby since we had to take a budget break. I know all the custom cabinets are beautiful, but I bet you'll be happy with the TV. We are not doing a high end kitchen by any means, but wanted to get the most bang for our buck. Do post some pics once they arrive!

    Bookmark   February 16, 2012 at 5:41PM
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