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Navigating Through the Sea of Options for Kitchen Cabinets

May 26, 2008
Kitchen cabinets are always the largest expense in a kitchen remodel. Because they are a major investment (and one that's not likely to be made again anytime soon), you'll need to sort through the hundreds of options and make choices with confidence. Not all kitchen remodels will require new cabinets, so step back and look at your kitchen with an open mind before deciding to just rip everything out.

FRESHEN UP
If existing cabinets are of good quality, are in excellent working condition and the layout functions well, the most affordable option is to freshen them up by restaining or painting. Another alternative, refacing, involves installing a new veneer on the exterior of the cabinet box and replacing the doors and drawer fronts, and should be handled by a professional. The process is much faster than installing new cabinets because the cabinets remain intact and the work is done onsite. It is important to note that when it comes to cabinets, doors and drawer fronts account for the greatest expense.

In reality, the doors and drawer fronts can account for as much as 70% of the cost of the cabinet. This is because most cabinets utilize plywood or particleboard for the cabinet box, which is significantly cheaper than the real wood used for the doors and drawer faces.

NEW AND IMPROVED
The decision has been made to install new cabinets, but there are other choices ahead. Are custom cabinets required, or will stock cabinets fit the bill? Custom cabinets are built to exact specifications and offer endless options with regard to materials, designs, finishes and accessories. Custom cabinets will require much longer lead times, and can be 2 to 5 times as expensive depending on the style of cabinet that you are looking at.

Semi-custom cabinets are just that: semi-custom. While the cabinets are made to the homeowner's size requirements, the manufacturer produces them in predetermined increments. Often a spacer may be needed to conceal unused wall space, and that sacrifices storage. The range of materials, designs, finishes and accessories will not be as broad with semi-custom cabinets, but they cost less than fully custom cabinets.

Stock cabinets, which are the most affordable of new cabinet options, are pre-made and come in standard sizes. In the past, stock cabinets had a stigma to them because of the quality of materials that were used. Today, manufacturers are using solid wood for the face frame and doors, and better cabinets will feature solid plywood cabinet boxes.

If you ask any industry expert, they will tell you that 8 out of 10 kitchens cabinet be built using stock cabinets. A 1/2" here or a 1/4" there can be easily made up by using filler strips which will not take away from the overall beauty of the finished product.

No matter what type of cabinet is selected, it's important to evaluate the quality of hinges, doors, drawer systems and finish. Don't be afraid to pursue companies that sell cabinets strictly on-line. They will have lower overhead and therefore can offer better prices. Even RTA (Ready-To-Assemble) cabinets are featuring the same quality materials as the big name manufacturers, but at a lower price.

CONSTRUCTION AND STYLE
Next, consider the construction type and door style. Framed cabinets, which are popular in traditional kitchens, have a front frame around the cabinet opening. The door attaches to the frame. Frameless, or European-style cabinets, have no front frame. The door attaches directly to the side of the cabinet. Frameless cabinets, which are often used in contemporary kitchens, offer an advantage over framed cabinets. Because there is no front frame, there is open access to the cabinet interior.

When it comes to door styles, there are several choices. Traditional-overlay doors cover some of the frame, full-overlay doors cover the entire cabinet frame and inset doors sit inside the cabinet frame.

ACCESSORIZE
While the overall look of the cabinet is important, anyone that is going to utilize the kitchen should be equally focused on the function of the kitchen and the use of the cabinets.

With all of the accessories on the market now, each cabinet can have a specific function, rather than being a spot to pile plates or pots. Pull-out drawers for pots and pans, oversized drawers for baking sheets and designated cabinets for trash and recycling are some examples. Accessories like lazy Susans, built-in spice racks, drawer organizers and other cabinet extras make the kitchen a much more efficient and enjoyable place.

HARDWARE
As a finishing touch, add pulls, knobs and handles to cabinets. Hardware comes in a wide variety of styles at all price points and contributes to a truly customized look. Depending on the style that you are going for, a well designed knob or pull can really make your kitchen stand out.
About the Author
I have been remodeling houses and rental properties for over 15 years. I have discovered the secret to saving thousands on kitchen cabinets. Find out my secret to buying kitchen cabinets at 30-40% below retail.
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