What are “custom” cabinets? One of the most common misconceptions homeowners have regarding kitchen cabinets is that the term “custom” defines quality and price. This could not be further from the truth! There are three classifications of kitchen cabinetry: stock, semi-custom, and custom. These terms simply refer to the construction options available from the cabinet manufacturer and in no way define the quality of the product.
The fact is that with changing markets over the past decade and higher demands by homeowners and cabinet dealers, the majority of today’s cabinet manufacturers would be classified as semi-custom. Homeowners with a reasonable budget can get custom cabinets from most cabinet manufacturers.
So what exactly is the difference between stock cabinets, semi-custom cabinets, and custom cabinets?
When putting the Model T Ford into production, Henry Ford advertised that you could purchase his car in any color you wanted, as long as it was black! This statement generally describes the stock cabinet market too. Stock cabinet manufacturers offer their product one way, with no modifications from their standard offerings. This means purchasing cabinets in standard widths in 3 inch increments, standard industry heights, standard industry depths, and a limited selection of door profiles, wood species, and finishes. Most stock cabinets have only particle board box and drawer construction.
The most common example of stock cabinets would be the ones you walk into a big box home center and pick up off the shelf. There are a limited number of stock manufacturers who do offer their product in a plywood box construction.
This is the most common classification of cabinets today. A semi-custom cabinet is available with limited and specific modifications. Most semi-custom cabinet manufacturers will alter the depth of cabinet boxes but not width or height, which changes the size of cabinet doors. Most also offer construction options that allow you to purchase the same cabinet in a particle board or plywood box construction – and upgrade to a hardwood dovetailed drawer box with self-closing hardware.
As for wood species and finishing, there is a good variety. Most manufacturers still only offer the most common wood species (oak, maple, hickory, and cherry) but will offer upgraded spray-on finishes such as glazes and basic paint options. Inset doors are also an option, and some manufacturers will offer upgraded wood species such as alder, birch, red birch, pine, and knotty maple.
Specialized design options are available, such as recessed toe kicks, finished interiors on wall cabinets, corner clips, fluting, etc. – these allow for a more customized finished product. Bath, Kitchen and Tile Center offers many lines of semi-custom cabinets: Timberlake, Decora, Showplace Wood Products, and Yorktowne.
A true custom cabinet manufacturer should be able to build most anything you or your designer wants! The sky is the limit with cabinet sizes and construction options. They will offer color matching above and beyond their standard selection of finishes, and your choice of wood species should not be limited. Exotic specialty woods are available, such as zebra wood, bamboo, mahogany, and walnut. Antiquing options are a standard offering such as rub through, worm holes, and intentional distressing. Inset door beading will be on the face frames and not on the doors, and in most cases you will have the option of having a wood veneer interior and plywood shelving.
Cabinet finishes will most likely be hand wiped rather than sprayed. However, there are full custom cabinet manufacturers who will offer you their product and options in a less costly particle board box construction, and some that offer their product in a frameless construction with particle board or metal drawer boxes. Bath, Kitchen and Tile Center offers full custom cabinets by Crystal and Hagerstown Kitchens.