Cabinet Pricing: It's all about the context and options

live_wire_oakDecember 20, 2013

For those of you interested in a "price list", I thought I'd show you why my spec book for even a medium grade cabinet line is about 3" thick. It's all about the context and options for those cabinets. I haven't even really scratched the surface here, as this is only one line, in one wood and only 2 cabinets out of the thousands possible.


A maple mid priced door style right in the middle of the pricing spectrum. Partial overlay solid wood raised panel, with the option of a 5 pc drawer front instead of the standard slab drawer. Plain no upcharge stain. Standard soft close doors and drawers.

600.27 zero options, unfinished sides, furniture board construction.
634.68 add the 5 pc drawer
664.69 add all plywood construction
797.82 finish & flush L plywood side to match the front.
976.23 Integrated finished ends that match door on 1 side
1065.40 Matching interior and door cut for glass for upper
1338.42 Mullion door and antique glass instead of open frame
1527.01 Do a 3 drawer base instead of a door and drawer
1704.66 add toekick drawer
1816.12 add ext. stile so side against wall can be scribed
2028.55 add cutlery drawer and 4 safety glass shelves
2186.01 Do a painted finish instead of a std stain
2226.49 Do a full overlay instead of partial (solid wood center)
2401.68 add glazing and distressing to the paint
2521.09 go to the most expensive raised panel door in the line.

Pricing cabinets isn't like buying crackers off the shelf at the supermarket. It's beyond apples and oranges to even start comparing without the context that creates the option list. Think of it like you are shopping in a large urban produce market. You have to decide which orange you want for your fruit salad, and which one you want for tomorrow's juice, and which one you want for zesting, and which one you want as a snack in your lunchbox tomorrow, and which one you want for crafting the clove ball to go on your tree. Then there's the lemons.... and apples.........and 70 different kinds of melons.......and fruit you've never even heard of before and have no idea what to even do with!

There are so many details that even KD's have a hard time figuring out things some times. I haven't even scratched the surface of what's possible in this one mid grade cabinet line with those 15 different choices for only 2 cabinets. Multiply the average 20 cabinet kitchen times the 1200 different possibilities in a more upscale semi custom line and you have 24,000 options for one kitchen in one door style and one wood in one cabinet line. Who even has time to read the 24,000 different possibilities, much less understand them? Except for KDs.

Unless you are doing the absolute most basic of kitchen in a line that has no real options, you do not know what you don't know about the possibilities in front of you. And, it's why pricing "just" a couple of cabinets can be so difficult for everyone. It's not about just the cabinets. It's where they are in the design that dictates the options that they need. And it's what takes a "simple" 2 cabinet coffee station from $600 to $2500. In a medium priced line to boot!

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Thanks, LWO. Very interesting.

This just adds more to the recent discussions about budget and design work... chicken and the egg. How can homeowners be asked about their budgets if they don't have access to at least some of this basic information about pricing and options upfront?

    Bookmark   December 20, 2013 at 1:13PM
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Most cabinet lines will sell you a spec book if you want. Usually $30-$50. They just won't sell you the interpretive guide to the spec book (that's a KD), and it will have list pricing only. What you pay won't be list, and the multipliers will vary from dealer to dealer and location to location. A KD is your guide to getting it all figured out without having to buy a spec book and study the options for two years before you understand them.

    Bookmark   December 20, 2013 at 7:19PM
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Thank you for this information. It is helpful to hear a KD perspective on why just "giving an estimate" is such a complex process. And one of the reasons why KD are providing a valuable service both in helping design a kitchen and even just providing an estimate.

    Bookmark   December 24, 2013 at 2:32PM
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Oh, pish posh. Live Wire Oak, you've been around here way longer than I have and your posts are helpful and informative, but I feel like this is an instance of "look how complicated my profession is, see why you need me."

We downloaded Kraftmaid's spec book and did all the designing and spec-ing ourselves. Their 2013 Spec Book is 637 pages long. But, it's nothing to be intimidated by! It goes methodically through each item they offer and includes a little diagram. You choose all the variables such as height, width, depth and whether you want it to open right or left and etc and it gives you the model number.

We have nothing to do with the field but when we met with our KD to order our cabinets, WE told HIM the item numbers for each thing we wanted. The only things he helped us with were how to order the built-up double layer crown we wanted and a couple other details we weren't sure about. And he gave us his opinion about, for example, what size sink base cab to choose.

This is not rocket science! It just takes time, more time than most homeowners probably want to spend. But if anyone here is interested in doing it themselves I have spec books and even price lists from a few companies--Kraftmaid, Merillat, Medallion that I could email if you message me.

Oh, and Green Designs, the way we translated from the price list to the actual retail price a consumer would pay is we got prices from the KD for one or two items--compare that to the price listed on the Price List and get the multiplier. This is all stuff anybody with an internet connection and a couple of free weekends can do if they feel like bothering.

    Bookmark   December 26, 2013 at 9:43AM
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LTL, I challenge you to post your layout and the cabinets and options that you chose for it. If you don't need the free services of a KD, then your design should be perfect, right? Let's see how well you did doing your own design.

It's rude posts bashing professionals like this that are making pros disappear from these boards. If you didn't see any value to LWO's post, then you could have just passed it by and been silent. Instead, you chose to be deliberately insulting. Nice.

So, put up your design and let see it.

    Bookmark   December 26, 2013 at 10:18AM
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Oh, Green Designs, I'm not trying to insult anyone's profession, honestly, though I guess it came across like that. I could have done without my first sentence, I'll admit that wasn't nice to Live Wire, who does nothing but try to post helpful info on here. Sorry Live Wire Oak!

The fact that the majority of people do use KDs means they are certainly valued. I think my post reflects my frustration, which I posted about on another thread, with the "caginess" or secretive feel I got from talking with the several KDs we tried to work with.

The other annoying thing was that after we laid out what we wanted in the Kraftmaid line, we priced it twice--once at an independent shop, and once at Home Depot--the same exact door style, finish, cabinets and layout, everything, and the price differed by over 5000! That's just annoying especially since they both did the exact same amount of work. I found the whole process so secretive and difficult to get a straight answer from that we had to resort to doing it ourselves.. Since it DOES take a long time and a methodical personality, that should tell you how frustrated we were, that we resorted to doing it this way.

I don't think it's a bad idea to offer to share the online location of the companies' spec books for anyone else on here who would like the option to do it mostly for themselves, the way we did. GardenWeb is nothing if not a collection of detail-oriented people who care about their kitchens, so I'm sure that would be useful to others.

I do plan to share my finished kitchen, which should be done in a couple months. So far the cabinets fit right but the appliances are not in yet! I can tell you we got them mostly right. There is one thing we switched--we had ordered a 36 inch sink base even though the KD suggested 33 inch when we were placing the order. I had wanted as big a sink as possible bc I'm frustrated with how full it gets every day. It turned out the cabinet size didn't make a difference so we returned the 36 for the 33 inch he had tried to get us to buy. And he suggested a light rail we ended up using and he helped a little with the pantry design.

Anyway, I am not suggesting nobody should use a KD, because I will admit it was painstaking and annoying. And you have to of course start with super precise measurements if you're doing those yourself. I'm just suggesting for those inclined to do it themselves, it's not that bad and if I can do it, you can too.

    Bookmark   December 26, 2013 at 11:21AM
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I think the message here is KISS -- Keep it simple, stupid.

When we look at kitchen magazines, etc. it's easy to say, "Oh, yes! I want that lazy susan -- upper and lower, please. Yes to the spice pull-out. Oh, an integrated knife drawer! Of course I want glass-front uppers all around! Let's bump the island out a bit more. Who doesn't want the extra-tall cabinets?" And it's easy to add on more, more, more, more more 'til the price is outrageous.

On the other hand, if we plan simple, basic kitchens and incorporate just what we actually need, the prices aren't too bad. Personally, I'm looking at a simple L-shape with an island. Drawers, yes. One cabinet with a pop-up for the heavy Kitchen Aid mixer. The novelty of fancy wears off fast.

As for Kitchen Designers, yes, planning these cabinets is a very detail-oriented task. I'm willing to pay someone to double-check and see that I'm going to get the "finished end" on the cabinet that'll actually be on the end of my cabinet run. What I don't want is someone who'll push me towards something more expensive just because it's available.

I've enjoyed many, many of Live Wire Oak's posts, and this one is no different.

This post was edited by MrsPete on Thu, Dec 26, 13 at 19:13

    Bookmark   December 26, 2013 at 5:45PM
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Jeepers, it really doesn't take too long to get that price way up there, does it? Very eye-opening, LWO, thanks!

    Bookmark   December 26, 2013 at 6:39PM
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Thank you, LWO, for taking the time for posting the informative example. I am certain many people will benefit from the illustrative example.

    Bookmark   December 26, 2013 at 7:43PM
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Think LTL is on target. Over past 6 months, met with 6 different KD's. Gave them room dimensions and my (non-professional) design idea.

Very specifically asked for suggestions/idea's to improve the layout. What I got (after waiting 2-4 weeks) was just price quotes - NO new or creative ideas or suggestions.... wasted everyone's time.

Realizing KD's were not going to help, had to come up with my own improvement on my design. Did this by getting as many spec books as possible.

I don't mind paying for professional expertise. Wish I could find an independent KD in Chicago area - not tied to cabinet companies. Would like help with both design ideas and comparing different cabinet companies.

Planned to stay away from big box stores. Now looks like I can get the best prices from them and since I'm not getting any other help from KD's, might as well use big box.

Experience has been nothing like I expected it to be. Very disappointed.

    Bookmark   December 26, 2013 at 7:58PM
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One very General thing that I have noted is that an upper cabinet with a solid door quickly triples if you add a glass door, since matching interior and lighting and other things quickly add up. It more quickly triples or even quadruples in a basic cabinet line vs. a more customized cabinet line, because the original cabinet in the customized line may have qualities that are upgrades in the more basic line.

    Bookmark   December 26, 2013 at 8:39PM
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I'm sorry, but I find it a bit suspect when someone has to get Six opinions and none of them are suitable. Perhaps none of them did what you wanted, but I've got to wonder why a single one didn't come close.

It reminds me of the old joke where the man says "I really wanted children but you know I had four wives and they were All Sterile."

This post was edited by palimpsest on Thu, Dec 26, 13 at 20:49

    Bookmark   December 26, 2013 at 8:46PM
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@ palimpsest - I did not "get six opinions," I got 6 price quotes.... when I requested design ideas.

It's not that none were "suitable" - the price quotes were fine; however, it was designs I was looking for.

Am not going to pay for a designer - when they did NO designing.

My mistake was giving them my idea. If I had to do it over, I would just give them room measurements.

    Bookmark   December 26, 2013 at 9:00PM
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If you got six price quotes, all six people thought you wanted price quotes and you didn't communicate what you wanted well enough. Statistically it's just not likely that they completely understood what you wanted and All of them ignored you.

If even ONE of them had come up with better design ideas in addition to a quote, I would give you the benefit of the doubt in that five of them didn't listen and you just had bad luck. Or, maybe there is nothing wrong with your design and it really doesn't need to be changed.

I work primarily in a healthcare specialty and if I get a consult where a patient has not had success with one other specialist I am not concerned. If they come in with a list of practitioners and are disappointed in every one of them,then I usually tell them I am not capable of doing any better than the list of others they've already been to.

    Bookmark   December 26, 2013 at 9:15PM
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To have KD's design or even make a housecall, I had to pay for it. he exceptions were a local shop, but his plan offered no change to lay-out. Prices ranged from $50 for a visit to $1500 for plans.

    Bookmark   December 27, 2013 at 7:33AM
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Sophie Wheeler

Yeah, you get what you pay for. Design work is only free with the purchase of cabinets. Until you stop shopping around and settle on a designer, don't expect too many free actual design samples. Maybe a price quote on what you bring them. Maybe a few verbal ideas. But no actual detailed design work. Pay retainer if you want more detailed work.

    Bookmark   December 27, 2013 at 7:46AM
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Even though I have a background in design, I always enter a kitchen showroom as a Consumer. I don't have any affiliation with any cabinet company.

And even though I walk in with essentially complete plans, (lacking some technical details depending upon which cabinet company it is, maybe)--Most KDs are interested in having some input and will offer some suggestions. They don't just absently plug in my order.

They Don't however, release the full plan and specs unless a deposit is made. --With the exception of Home Depot, I think.

The only friction I've experienced with KDs is when we walk in and I say that I have plans that are almost complete. And this is mostly because people will walk in and say that but they have a sketch on a napkin. (This actually happened when I was with a KD once). Once they see that I do have complete plans, everything goes smoothly.

    Bookmark   December 27, 2013 at 10:37AM
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So just to clarify....what is the customer supposed to do? I have an idea of what I want but I won't have exact measurements for a while. Do I take a copy of my blueprints to Lowes or HD and say "This is the type of wood and stain I want, the type of door I want, the type of overlay I want and the set up I want." Or do I need to sit down and actually draw it all out to every little detail, every little thing I want, then wait on a price and then hack away at it until its in a price range I can live with? What if I get door samples and decide I don't like their cabinets at all? Is it wrong of me to then move on to someone else? Just how is this whole process done?

    Bookmark   December 27, 2013 at 11:54AM
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I actually had an appointment the other day with an interior designer who is doing her own personal kitchen. She gave me basic measurements and told me it was a blank slate, to have at it with the ideas, she didn't want to influence me. She wasn't interested in price so much as the possibilities for the space that she hadn't thought about.

I worked up 6 different possibilities that she could do. No real involved design work, just "what if we moved the doorway and then put the fridge across the aisle or what if we did a peninsula here" type of fast sketches. Maybe an hour of work. I arranged the sketches in the order of the least change to the space to the most change.

She sat down and immediately threw out 2 of the 6 (the one with no changes and the most changes) briefly considered 2 more, and then zeroed in on 2 definite possibilities. At that point, she paid the retainer because she could see that we could work together. I then more fully developed the 2 ideas with actual designs and prices. She didn't expect full designs and prices of 6 different possibilities. Nor did she expect to take any of the printouts of the ideas with her without paying a deposit. Even though she is a design professional, she valued my input as a specialist in the field who does 50x the kitchen projects that she does.

My design work is "free" in that my salary is paid by the cabinet purchase. It's not free to everyone who walks through the door to take and shop around. I own it until the cabinets have been paid for. If you do not purchase cabinets from me, you do not get the design.

Nor do I have unlimited time to do price estimates for those who are still shopping around. If someone brings me a cabinet list to quote, of course I will gladly do that, as my prices are more than competitive. (I beat the last HD price quote by 9K in the same cabinet brand, so don't expect box stores to be cheaper than a dealer on anything when you are talking actual like to like quotes.) But it gets NO design work whatsoever beyond maybe some verbal suggestions if they actually bring in a layout. Nor will it until the person shows that they are actually interested in collaborating with me for their kitchen.

Perhaps that explanation of my process helps with your expectations of what you should be getting from a KD. Remember also that communication is a two way street and it's just as important to talk about your own expectations to see if you are a good fit with the person across the desk.

MDLN, I'd suggest talking to Eka at ProSource West Loop, as she is extremely creative and knowledgeable, but only if you are willing to get engaged and stop dating. :)

    Bookmark   December 27, 2013 at 11:58AM
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It was my experience in KD 'dating' that without any sketches and just a conversation regarding measurements and a few general likes/dislikes you can tell who you can and cannot work with well. Out of the 5 that I spoke with 2 were heads and tails above-spoke knowledgeably and made SENSE and offered helpful suggestions, 1 was a complete run the other way, then the other 2 fell in the middle. When I finally chose I still felt bad re#2 because I thought she would have done an equally great job and I valued the time she spent in conversation and a rough sketch.

re GW - so much invaluable information and help I feel like you at least have a chance by knowing what to ask and what is important in cabinet construction, layout and KD's. It makes it easier to judge what is in front of you and reaffirm if need be.

mdln-I concur, I wish I would have done the blank slate thing instead of please quote this (although that is what I needed to start with to see if we were anywhere near our budget). It likely would have turned out nearly identical with the way our house is but still I think I boxed in maybe some of the ingenious creativity that they possess and I do not.

    Bookmark   December 27, 2013 at 12:29PM
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With any project, remodel or new construction, you need a basic set of measurements of the space to do a preliminary design with. That's just to get things rolling, not to do a final design that you order from.

When I have a customer with a new home, the first thing I ask is what their builder has budgeted them at, and the second thing is what is their "wish list" for the space. The two NEVER coincide well. The builder is always low, and the customer is always pie in the sky. :)

Once I explain that their wish list needs something beyond a basic cabinet brand that their builder has budgeted them at, and that it will be double to triple the builder's allowance for their wants, then we can usually zero in on what the "must haves" are for the space. I'd rather drop back into a less expensive line to get the customer more of their wish list, but you'd be surprised at how many people prefer a more expensive line and fewer upgrades.

Any KD can usually "ballpark" a space pretty easily. The reason we avoid doing so is that customers generally don't believe us when we tell them what they want will cost far more than they thought it would. I try to ease people into the sticker shock, but if I'm their first stop with their blueprints, they don't usually have a good sense of what their budget will actually buy.

That's why the showroom tour is so important. Questionnaire in hand, I give them the tour, talking about the 5 different levels of cabinets that I carry. We discuss the vignettes, and how the options in the vignettes influences the price. We also have a unique pricing estimator tool on the back of our doors that goes beyond the silly "linear foot" type of estimator that you see at box stores.

It's 15' of cabinet layout, with a basic and a loaded price. We have the larger sign showing the exact makeup of the differences between the two. That helps people dial in on which line they think suits their budget.

And that's the big point here. You need to communicate with your KD. It's my job to educate you and to help your budget to stretch as far as possible. I can make suggestions as to how to get what you want while you stay on budget, but ultimately, it's your kitchen, and the choices will be up to you.

    Bookmark   December 27, 2013 at 1:04PM
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LWO, I can't tell you how much I wish I'd read your last 2 posts on this thread before I started looking for someone to do my kitchen. I don't think I'm ever going to do another kitchen, but I've clipped this anyway. It might be helpful if I remodel my bath.

I think that most people want a win-win outcome when they hire a KD, but I'm not sure that is the most common result. I imagine that a vast majority of your customers are happy and would hire you again; would you also work for most of your clients again?
We hear a lot on this forum about what goes wrong between customers and KDs (and fabricators, cabinet installers, etc) but this is the best explanation I've read on how to get it right, from the beginning. Thanks!

    Bookmark   December 27, 2013 at 9:53PM
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@ LWO - never wanted to date, was expecting/hoping for an arranged marriage via my builder. I did not want to shop around - thus, my frustration.

Looked into ProSource West Loop; have to pay membership fee and join. I am willing to pay the fee if my builder is not a already a member.

Lesson learned - next time just bring in basic measurements.

THANK YOU, you are awesome! Hope the interior designer you worked with knows how lucky she is. I'd have loved someone showing me 6 different possibilities.

    Bookmark   December 28, 2013 at 9:16AM
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LOW, Thank you for the inputs, they are very helpful. I do have one question:

You said:
"My design work is "free" in that my salary is paid by the cabinet purchase. It's not free to everyone who walks through the door to take and shop around."

I understand your point that is fair. It seems your customers have already known for sure that they would purchase one of the cabinet lines you carry before working with you.

But what if customers do not know what cabinet features of what cabinet lines they need, or are not ready to decide what cabinet line they would be using yet, how should they get through this first step?

Thank you in advance for the response.

    Bookmark   December 28, 2013 at 10:12AM
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