We Asked the Experts If Custom Kitchen Cabinets Are Actually Worth It

We Asked the Experts If Custom Kitchen Cabinets Are Actually Worth It

From bespoke to builder-grade, the options are endless—and often expensive.

Whether the thought of opening a can of paint sounds daunting or your contractor is on speed dial for every fix, choosing when to go custom can be overwhelming. The pressure of this decision heats up in the kitchen—one of the more expensive rooms in a home to renovate. After you’ve settled on the installing new floor tiles, light fixtures, and decorative trim, making yet another decision about cabinetry is the last thing you want to do. Cabinetry can be pretty pricey and if you go custom, the process is time-consuming, as well. Sure, custom cabinets allow you to tuck units into difficult or awkward corners and offer endless aesthetically pleasing designs, but it’s a top-dollar commitment.

To help clear out the clutter and uncertainty on your shopping list, we asked the experts to help you figure out which kitchen cabinet works best for your space and when it’s absolutely worth it to go custom.

Hillary Cohen of HCO Interiors says, "Custom kitchen cabinets are an amazing luxury for a space that is going to be used and loved for a long time. I liken it to investing in a nice pair of jeans—they are the starting point for a design that is going to be used heavily and often." Cohen finds custom cabinetry as a flexible option that makes room for a great sense of creativity in the kitchen—any idea can be realized.  But before you get too swept away by the kitchen you fell in love with on your TikTok ‘For You’ page, you have to figure out which source suits you best. From custom, semi-custom, and ready-to-assemble cabinets, prepare to find out which option will threaten your security deposit or what will add value to your home.

Aim high for luxury with custom cabinets

Your accountant might widen their eyes but if you can afford it you won’t regret going custom. It ensures that your cabinets are durable, high quality, unique, and makes room for personalization. Your kitchen cabinets can be optimized for generous and functional storage as well. The cost of custom cabinets varies based on the materials used, the amount of personalizations made, and the availability of products.

Amy Elbaum of AE Designer, who is a huge fan of custom cabinetry, likes to make sure the cabinets are solid wood interiors with either paint-grade or stain-grade fronts (shaker, inset, slab). This ensures a great quality product. Custom cabinets can make an awkward space work in your favor if you’re renovating an older build. Or, if you’re designing your kitchen from the ground up, Elbaum believes it is the optimal way to create a detailed layout in the right sizes for all your needs like open shelving or decked out kitchen island. If you choose to go custom, you may want to reconsider your budget, as the majority of custom cabinets cost between $500 and $1,200 per linear foot. Your total costs will increase when factoring in the price of labor from the firm you hired to complete the job.

The best of both worlds

If a completely custom kitchen out of your very own HGTV fantasy is out of the question, consider semi-custom cabinets—design-forward manufactured units that offer a few customization options. The sizes are usually standard but you’ll be able to choose between multiple colors, styles, finishes, and more. Depending on the vendor (Semihandmade or Prime Cabinetry are some examples), customers can choose shelving styles and drawers. Pricing is at a midrange, ranging from $100 to $650 per linear foot. Semi-custom cabinets are a reasonable option for any sized home.

Kevin Kaminski and Alexis Pew of Kaminski + Pew believe semi-custom is the perfect way to toe the line. "Semi-custom allows for a bit more flexibility, more finish options, more styles, and more options for inserts. It carries a higher price point and also a longer lead time but allows for more design opportunities," the duo explains.

Add stock cabinetry to your cart

If budget is truly a concern, then stock cabinetry— prefabricated units that are limited in size and style—is the way to go. The cabinets are commonly made from particle board covered with melamine or plastic laminate, but they are not as durable. They are commonly found at home improvement stores or online, offering a speedy delivery time. It’s not as versatile but it’s a quick and effective fix that won’t break the bank.

"The only instance where I would suggest going with a store-bought brand is for a rental apartment or very temporary housing. The quality will not last and could also impact resale value as kitchens are one of the most important things to home buyers," says Elbaum.

But in a world of uncertain lead times and high prices, stock cabinetry is a lifesaver! This is a weekend project that you can have installed by Monday and even take it further by swapping out the original hardware for a chicer option. Stores like RTA Cabinetry or Lowe’s have fuss-free cabinets that will remain within your budget and go a long way in your space.

Head to the DIY super store

If a long-term investment isn’t in your budget or landlord’s contract, Cohen suggests making a stop at Ikea. "They provide the high design look for a fraction of the cost. Ikea is particularly appealing because it can be customized and there are a ton of online tutorials showing you how to get a custom look with the Ikea price tag."

As many DIYers can agree, Ikea kitchen cabinets are a great option when looking to stretch a budget but the hidden cost comes with assembly. Kaminski and Pew express, "If you expect a contractor to assemble the cabinetry, stock cabinets can offer a comparable price point. There are also third-party vendors, such as Semihandmade, that can add a layer of customization to create a great hybrid solution."

The final verdict

Does your rental need a major but expensive upgrade? While Ikea is more of a budget-friendly option, the setup process isn’t beginner-friendly if you’re without an extra hand to assist. Alternatively, a kitchen designer will be the guardian (and expensive) angel to take you through the process. Kaminski and Pew recommend stock or semi-custom cabinetry if budget or schedule is the priority. If creating a unique kitchen is the goal, custom millwork allows a solution tailored to the individual. Big box stores like The Home Depot are worth visiting for consultations and allow you to have an understanding of sizes, colors, wood finishes, hardware, and more.

Cohen advises asking yourself the following questions before unhinging your cabinet doors: How long do you plan on living in the house? How often do you entertain? How often are you cooking? This will allow you to make a decision that complements your lifestyle.

The cabinetry that works best for your kitchen is all up to budget, preference, and time. Not sure if you’re long overdue for a costly TaskRabbit date? Rethink if you need to refinish or reface your cabinets instead of removing the unit altogether. Pro tip from Kaminski and Pew to maximize your investment: Remember drawers are more expensive than cabinets, inset cabinets are more expensive than overlay, and consider eliminating upper cabinetry in favor of open shelving.

After you’ve completed this not-so-mini renovation in your kitchen, you’re on your way to infusing the space with your final touches like paint and decor. Regardless of your budget, the final result of the makeover will be worth it.

Top photo originally found in A Bibliophile Couple’s Brooklyn Apartment Finds a Smart Storage Solution for More Than 1,000 Books

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How to Replace Your Kitchen Cabinets 


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