Cabinets are one of the biggest showpieces in the kitchen.

Cabinets are one of the biggest showpieces in the kitchen. Credit: Getty Images/TNS/PixelsEffect

Whether you're building a new home or want to renovate your current space, one of the biggest showpieces in the kitchen is your cabinets. As you begin planning, you'll need to choose from stock or custom cabinets.

With stock cabinetry, speed of installation and cost are on your side, while custom cabinets allow you to add special features and detailed craftsmanship. "There are two major factors in distinguishing stock versus custom cabinets: product selection and pricing," said Eugene Makanev, president of RTA Cabinet Supply, a supplier of ready-to-assemble and pre-assembled cabinetry. Although custom cabinets can be significantly more expensive, they're not always of higher quality.

"Stock cabinets are pre-manufactured; they can be supplied as ready-to-assemble or pre-assembled. Custom cabinets are made to order; they can be customized to almost any color, size and shape," Makanev said. If you're ready to dive into cabinet shopping, here are tips to help you choose cabinets you'll love for years to come.

Installation time

Cabinet installation timelines vary by type. "Custom cabinets are normally more labor-intensive and time-consuming to install since they often come with additional accessories, unusual construction features and require a custom approach," said Makanev. "Custom cabinets are also more expensive and involve longer lead times." Be sure to factor in what type of cabinets you plan to use when outlining your renovation timeline.

Special features

If you're interested in adding one-of-a-kind features, such as an appliance garage or a coffee station to your layout, custom cabinets might be the answer. "Custom sizes, hardware and moldings are in-demand features, and the custom cabinet sizes will help to fully utilize all available kitchen space," said Makanev. 

According to David Steckel of home management website Thumbtack, other custom cabinet features can include hidden doors to adjacent rooms, ladders within a drawer to reach upper cabinets, charging stations, hydraulics and endless storage opportunities.

However, not all cabinet storage features are limited to custom installations. "These days, stock cabinets come with more features," Steckel said. For example, appliance garages are available in some stock cabinet lines, and a coffee station can be created on-site with the right carpentry skills.


Cost is a major factor when deciding between custom and stock cabinetry. "An average 10-by-10-foot kitchen with stock cabinets costs about $3,500," said Makanev. "Custom cabinet pricing is difficult to determine without knowing all project specifications and a homeowner's ideas, but custom cabinets with regular features will normally start at $7,000 for a 10-foot-by-10-foot kitchen. Usually, custom cabinets go in larger homes with larger kitchens and involve high-end features, which makes pricing even higher."

The Rule of Three

The Rule of Three dictates that in any given situation, you can only choose two out of three objectives: speed, cost and quality. "If quality is what is driving your decision-making process, stock cabinets are not for you," Steckel said. "If speed or cost is your main objective, you are going with stock," he said.

"There are amazing installers who solely work on stock cabinet installations and can perform magic with an Ikea kitchen who will cost more than others but will do an amazing job," he said. "There are also custom millworkers who produce kitchens that can fall apart but were 50% less in price than the next company. Whichever type of cabinetry you go for, make sure you choose a pro based on their portfolio of similar work, quality, reviews and price."

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