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The Ultimate Kitchen Cabinet Buying Guide

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Every year, over 7.5 million homeowners take the plunge into kitchen remodeling, and one of the top features to update is the kitchen cabinets. As an essential part of both the style and functionality of your home’s kitchen, you need to ensure that you are choosing the perfect cabinets for complementing your vision and meeting the needs of your busy household.

Unfortunately, choosing new kitchen cabinets isn’t just a quick, simple process. From deciding on your material and price point to choosing the size, style, finish, layout, and hardware that work best for your home, there are countless factors to consider with a cabinet purchase—and that’s where we are here to help!

When you’re ready to get started in replacing your old, outdated cabinets, you’ll need to breakdown the decision-making process into manageable parts. Consider the following:

  • Kitchen Cabinet Type — which option best meets your needs for budget and installation?
  • Cabinet Material — which cabinets offer the durability, maintenance, and beauty you need?
  • Style and Design — what features are most important for complementing your aesthetic?
  • DIY or Professional — Do you plan on hiring an expert to handle your cabinet installation?

While there is no one-size-fits-all style for kitchen cabinets, starting with the basics and working with the support of an experienced kitchen remodeler can make all the difference in how much you love the results of your project for decades down the road.

First Things First: The Basics of Kitchen Cabinets

Kitchen cabinets are made-up of three main components—the box, shelving, and drawers. While all cabinets share these features, that’s where the similarity seems to end when you start doing your research into the types of cabinets available! Two of the most common cabinets seen in a home kitchen include:

  • Ready to Install: Ready to install cabinets are exactly how they sound—put together, boxed-up, and ready for you to take out of the box and install in your kitchen. These cabinets come in standard dimensions with minimal customization options. While this makes them a budget-friendly option, homeowners with specific tastes might not find exactly what they’re looking for.
  • Ready to Assemble (RTA): Ready to assemble kitchen cabinets are packaged in pieces and require some work to put-together and get ready for installation. As the most affordable option for standard kitchen cabinets, you can find RTA cabinets in a range of styles and price points—just make sure that you do your research to get a quality product!

Stock cabinets from big-box stores and online retailers are the most common solution for the average homeowner looking for a cost-effective way to update their kitchens. For those with more specific style, size, and layout requirements, you can also find customized kitchen cabinets:

  • Semi-Custom: Semi-custom cabinetry gives you more options for detailing than stock cabinets, but they still have the same general features. With semi-custom cabinets, you’ll be able to dictate options like sizing and depth, while also enjoying more options in terms of style. As a “best-of-both-worlds” solution for replacing cabinets, semi-custom cabinets gives you more input into the design of your cabinets without breaking the bank.
  • Custom: Custom cabinets are built to order based on the specifications of each project, and this high level of customization comes with a high price tag! Full custom cabinetry can cost tens-of-thousands of dollars and take 12+ weeks to be ready after ordering, but the tradeoff is that you get high-quality, stunning new cabinets that perfectly suit the vision that you had for your space.

Deciding on Your Kitchen Cabinet Budget

Whether you are looking at RTA cabinets or dreaming about a custom cabinet remodel, the top factor that decides your direction is going to be your budget. Purchasing cabinets can be up to 40% of the entire cost of remodeling a kitchen—making them an important investment into your home.

To get started, ask yourself what your goals, vision, and needs are for your new kitchen. It’s important to separate out the needs vs. the wants that you have for updated cabinets so that you can see where compromises can be made to stick to your renovation budget. Remember, the more customized you go, the more it will cost, so weigh the pros and cons of spending your budget on fully customized cabinetry if you would be just as satisfied with a more conservative option.

Budget Cabinets—Starting at $70 per foot

Off-the-shelf cabinets all fall into the budget cabinet category. While the options are limited with these cabinets, you can still get a high-quality product from a reputable retailer that meets the needs of your new kitchen. Most budget cabinets feature frameless construction, which adds to a modern look, but you need to be aware that the lower cost generally comes with lower durability and a shorter overall lifespan for your new cabinetry.

Mid-Range Cabinets—Starting at $150 per foot

Mid-level cabinets typically fall into the semi-custom umbrella when it comes to style and design options. Benefits of this type of cabinet include solid-wood face-frame construction, options for size, finish, molding, and accessories, as well as their moderate price point. Quality variation is the biggest drawback to consider with these cabinets, so do your research before committing!

Premium Cabinets—Starting at $500 per foot

Not quite fully custom cabinets, but more customized than semi-custom, premium cabinets offer the most variation that you’ll find in new cabinetry without having your cabinets made-to-order. These cabinets feature high-quality boxes made of premium materials, with a much greater selection of widths and storage options.

Choosing the Right Material for Your New Cabinets

Custom hardwood cabinets can come in a vast array of natural wood materials, with options like oak, and cherry at the top of the desirable list. However, most cabinets that you will find at a standard retailer feature a combination of materials beyond hardwood—all of which have their advantages and challenges:

  • Particle Board: As the cheapest of the cabinet material options, the low price point is the main draw of particle board. This material is created by adhering pressed wood together and covering it with a veneer. Sensitive to moisture and lacking in overall durability, you’ll want to know what you’re getting into if you decide to go with particle board cabinetry.
  • Plywood: A more durable option than particle board, plywood is a material that is formed from multiple layers of wood that are laminated together and finished with a maple or birch veneer. This material typically performs well against moisture and heavy use, but it is a more expensive option than standard particle board cabinets.
  • MDF: Medium-density fiberboard (MDF) is a type of engineered wood that consists of thin panels composed of wood fiber, wax, and resin. Highly durable and often considered a step above plywood, MDF can perform as well or better than solid wood in many applications. It does have a smooth finish, however, which makes it more ideal for painted kitchen cabinets.

Checking for Cabinet Quality

Weighing quality vs. cost is one of the most important considerations in choosing kitchen cabinets and establishing your budget. To ensure that you are getting a quality product, look for cabinets that are certified by the Kitchen Cabinet Manufacturers Association. This organization puts their certification on cabinets that pass tests for humidity, extreme temperatures, staining, and wear and tear.

While it helps to see a certification on your cabinets telling you that they are high-quality, determining quality construction isn’t always that easy. When examining potential cabinets, take a look at a few key areas to see if you are getting a product that will hold up to daily use:

  • Drawers: The drawers of the cabinets should glide easily on its tracks, come with a full-extension drawer guide, and feature dovetail-joints.
  • Doors: Hinges on your doors should be adjustable, while the highest-quality doors feature sold wood or plywood construction.
  • Finish: The finish of your cabinets is what you will look at every day, and high-quality cabinets feature stain, coating, and color that is brushed-on rather than applied with a spray method.

Style Options to Perfectly Complement Your Kitchen

Once you have narrowed down your budget, layout, and material for your new cabinets, the fun begins! Now is when you get to start looking at all of the various style and design features available with modern cabinets, and the choices can run the gamut from shaker-inspired and simple to elaborate and high-tech.

A few of the main factors that you’ll need to look at when designing your new cabinets include:

  • Framed vs. Frameless Construction: With framed cabinets, there is a 1 ½ -inch frame at the front of the cabinet box, which adds dimension and gives the hinges a place to attach. Frameless cabinets are European-inspired, contemporary, and allow for greater accessibility with the elimination of the face frame.
  • Must-Have Features: A standard, swing-open cabinet isn’t the only option available on the market! From base cabinets that feature hidden solutions for hiding appliances and garbage cans to cabinets with spice racks, pull-outs, or lazy Susan’s, the sky is the limit if you have the budget to invest in custom cabinetry!
  • Finish and Color: For those on a tighter budget, you can still make a big impact on the style of the kitchen by choosing the perfect finish and color for your new cabinetry. Design trends are leaning towards sleek, stark cabinets in rich tones or a mix of dark and light, while beautiful woodgrain finishes are still a popular choice for elegance, warmth, and a rustic appeal.
  • Accessories and Hardware Options: An integral part of your cabinet design, cabinet hardware comes in a dizzying array of styles, including both cabinet knobs and handles. The options seem endless with cabinet hardware, and working with a professional interior designer or contractor can help you narrow down the choices to find the right look for your new space.

Weighing the Benefits of Hiring a Kitchen Cabinet Installer

Unless you are exceptionally handy or have done the job before, installing cabinets is a task that is best left to the professionals. Many homeowners consider a DIY cabinet installation to save a bit of money on the project, giving them more room for custom cabinet features, but this is rarely a wise decision. Kitchen cabinets needs to be installed properly to function safely, hold-up to wear and tear, and provide decades of use, and hiring a cabinet installer comes with benefits that include:

  • Lower Risk of Error: We’ve all heard the phrase “measure twice and cut once”, and a professional cabinet installer has the experience needed to minimize the risk of error and reduce waste in your project.
  • Increased Safety: Cabinets are heavy, and that means that they need to securely installed to ensure that they don’t come crashing down on you due to being improperly attached to the studs and drywall.
  • Easier Clean-Up: Kitchen remodeling is a messy task, and getting rid of old cabinets and cleaning up the mess left behind after demolition and installation can be challenging. A kitchen contractor will properly dispose of your cabinets and haul the mess away without causing stress.
  • Money Savings: It may seem counter-productive to hire a cabinet installer to save money, but it is one of the smartest investments you can make in the kitchen remodeling process. A DIY cabinet installation requires a lot of tools and materials to get the job done right—tools that you’d need to purchase and that a professional already has. Not to mention, better installation equates to a longer lifespan, which saves you money in the long run on a future remodel.

Kitchen cabinets are one of the best ways to make a bold statement with a remodel, but they are also necessary for having a usable kitchen that works with your needs and lifestyle. Whether you dream of sleek shaker cabinets or fully customized hardwood cabinetry, starting from the beginning and breaking-down the process can help you make sure that you get the ideal solution for maximizing the look and functionality of your home.

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