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What should I know about kitchen cabinets?

Yesterday when we went shopping for them, I learned things I never knew. I never paid attention to the details of cabinets. Framed or frameless? I had never given it much thought. But I do know all the photos in the binder I brought with me were framed. And inset.

More than a few times I thought to myself, "Fuck. I don't know. I wonder what Joni would do?"

Guess what was no help? The Domino book. Then again, I should remember it's a book about decorating, not remodeling. Nevertheless, I wish it had more detail on this sort of thing.

So, as always, I turn to all of you, the real (and real-life) experts.

What should I know about cabinets?
What do you splurge on?
Where can you cut corners (if ever)?
If we strip away all the snob appeal of getting totally custom cabinets, what is the difference between what you will order in a kitchen showroom or even Lowe's or Ikea?
What are you glad you did?
What mistakes did you make?
What advice do you have for me?


Anonymous said...

An Ikea kitchen can turn out really nicely if you go for a quality worksurface/countertop. Also, don't skimp on the doorhandles. Make sure they are nice, quality handles. Buy them one price category higher than the rest of your kitchen! :-)

Anonymous said...

I'm not a big fan of that empty space between the tops of wall cabinets and the ceiling - especially if your kitchen is open to other rooms.

Anything you put up there just seems to make the kitchen look cluttered (not to mention being a pain to dust), and it's odd to see that strip of wall color. If I were redoing my kitchen, I'd have the cabinets go all the way to the ceiling (or put in a soffit if that's more your thing). To me, it makes the whole kitchen look much more "built in," rather than just the cabinets hanging off the wall.

By the way, this really only applies to open kitchens - in a galley kitchen, it's not such a big deal.

Anonymous said...

Ummm...........where is this kitchen from. I am in love.

Decorina said...

What should I know about cabinets? Know what you like - the photos you've posted have tended toward cabinets that look custom built (or, as they used to say "site built") for the space by a carpenter. I love the look myself and find myself attracted to the same types repeatedly.
What do you splurge on? Splurge on heavy duty drawers and hardware. Splurge on glass in the doors if you are inclined and want to show the contents. Splurge on lighting - inside/under/above the cabinets (use LED for best color and cost to run).
Where can you cut corners (if ever)? Just don't, if you don't have to. It will bite you eventually.
If we strip away all the snob appeal of getting totally custom cabinets, what is the difference between what you will order in a kitchen showroom or even Lowe's or Ikea? Kitchen showrooms have a range of cabinet types and prices, as does Lowe's. Ikea's cabinets, being European are shipped KD and tend toward fairly modern styles and finishes. Your tastes seem more classic to me - and someone said they will (Ikea's) look dated; I agree with that.
What are you glad you did? I'm happy that I went with "Butler's Pantry" type of classic cabinets because they look custom made and could have been original to my 1940's home. They are painted white.
What mistakes did you make? No regrets
What advice do you have for me? Look through all the photos you've clipped/saved/posted and see what appeals to you every time. I live the marble and think you will love it - but consider another part of the counter with another material such as zinc. It also has its advantages (and isn't cheap either) but is also classic and timeless. I think Martha used zinc in one of her kitchens for counters.

Two books I'd recommend: Home Comfort by Christina Hardyment a history of domestic arrangements and The Elements of Style Ed.

Your instincts seem true and you will find the right way.

David said...

The cabinets the builder installed in our condo are flimsy, a drawer glide broke the first month we were here. Do NOT cheap out, you'll regret it. They get used daily, they need to be solidly built.

That said, I don't know that some of the offerings at Lowe's or the Depot are bad. They're certainly starting to make them with nice features and more contemporary finishes, and they're good looking.

I've also learned here that buying a quiet dishwasher doesn't make much difference when it's sandwiched between cheap cabinets. I can hear when the dishwasher tab pops out of it's compartment and lands on the dishwasher floor.

Do yourself a favor and spring for pull-out shelves or drawers, it makes getting things out and keeping things organized much easier.

There is much to be said for flat front doors and drawer faces besides their modern look. I went with the "shaker" door because it seemed clean and simple, and the flat front seemed too stark. Door moulding, no matter how simple, catches dust and splatters.

Finally, if it helps you stomach the cost, think of it as an investment. Kitchens sell houses, so should you decide to move the money you spend now probably comes back to you with interest.

The House of Beauty and Culture said...

I just finished an apartment with an existing Ikea kitchen. Because it had originally been installed well (about 2 years ago), the only thing that needed to be done was to replace the cabinet hinges. And, change the countertops, but that was just an aesthetic choice.

While I am not a fan of Ikea, I would certainly consider using some of their kitchen cabinet ranges. Here at least, from what I can see, the step up from there does not warrant the price difference (which is about 2.5 times as much). Veneered mdf is still veneered mdf no matter where it comes from.

CJP said...

Built in organizers. We got the pull outtrash/recycling bins - who needs to see a trash can? Drawers that slide out and pull out pantry shelving and pull out spice rack so nothing ever gets lost in the back again.

I was very dissapointed at the staff at Home Depot cabinet dept. The cabinets are the foundation of a kitchen. You need someone who's really knowledgeable to make sure
you have what you need and a smart layout. My local Home Depot person left me with no confidence that I would get the kitchen I wanted from them. It's fine if you just want a basic layout and no bells or whistles.

Alison said...

When it comes to your kitchen cabinets, you should splurge on shoes. Always.

I have gut-reno'd more apts than I'd care to remember (work, home, dinner, nap, home depot, sleep, work, repeat). I always went with the off the shelf home depot cabinets. Not the dorm room/bare bulb/I'm about to hang myself but I have no rafters damnit cheapest ones, but ones up a grade or two from there. I covet, drool, dream of Val Cucine (sp?) cabinets, but, you know, I think this comment has come full circle to the Ferragamo wedges.

Anonymous said...

Inset gives more of a historical look...the door has to be pre-fit into the frame so it usually costs more...depending on who you are going with it could be a little more or a lot more. IMO, inset looks better except in a very modern space.
Even custom is standard. They still come in standard lengths.
Quiet close drawers are worth their weight in gold. Slam the drawer and at the last few inches it quietly closes.
Don't do an appliance garage, waste.
Buy your own pulls, you will save.
Don't do thermafoil, whatever you do.
Consider buying high quality cabs that can be built w/ a carpenter on site.

Wanderluster said...

I just finished my galley kitchen renovation so I'll share what I know:
- What should I know about cabinets?
Generally, I think you get what you pay for. The more wood used in the construction of a cabinet, the better. Most cabinet interiors use melamine, which is easy to clean. Drawers, which get a lot of wear and tear, should be wood construction with dovetail joints and quality glide hardware. The parts that get the most usage (doors and drawers) are where you'd probably want to spend more of your money on.
- What do you splurge on?
I splurged on handles (make a big difference to the overall look) and lighting (a mix of undercabinet, tax, and potlights). I also upgraded drawers to wood construction, and had soft-close on all the drawers. Functionality is a high-priority, especially if you have a smaller kitchen, so incorporate slide out pantry shelves, and spice drawers where you can to make the most effective use of a space.
- Where can you cut corners (if ever)?
I went the semi-custom cabinet route and saved a bit of money. Doing work yourself (demolition, tile installation, painting) also can save you alot
- If we strip away all the snob appeal of getting totally custom cabinets, what is the difference between what you will order in a kitchen showroom or even Lowe's or Ikea?
Custom cabinets allow you to perfectly fit your space. With semi-custom, you are limited by some stock sizes, but the quality is still good. I would consider Lowe's and Home Depot semi-custom, though everything costs extra (ie. some lines don't have glass front doors available. You have to go source the glass yourself).
- What are you glad you did?
Incorporated a lot of deep pot drawers. Thought about sightlines (moved dishwasher so it wasn't visible from the dining room). Used ribbed glass door fronts. Got the handles I really wanted instead of using the stock ones. Incorporated lots of lighting. Stuck to a neutral palette with lots of texture.
- What mistakes did you make?
Could have managed the timeline better (we acted as our own general contractor).
- What advice do you have for me?
Think about how you use your kitchen, and set priorities. Do you keep a lot of supplies on hand, and so need a big pantry? Would you rather spend your money on a gas stove, or a high end faucet? Do you have a lot of pots and pans and small appliances that you need to store? Do you want to display all your pretty dishes? Think about all of this before you even go to meet a kitchen designer.

You can see pics of my kitchen and lots more about the process on my blog,

Anonymous said...

What I missed: I chatted with three different people after I paid for my cabinets. Each used a local cabinet maker and saved money while getting custom work. The cabinet maker installed the cabinets as well. Chat with people who own where you live.

What I didn't miss: I paid for plywood sides over MDF. I really hate MDF. The cabinets were sturdy enough for me to install, take back out, re-install, and shim, move everything to the left two inches, and then shim and finally install. It was my first time, so the structural strength helped.

I also chose a painted, solid wood, shaker-style facade. I grew up with scary varnished birch. I have too many different antique woods in the kitchen already. I wanted something to blend in with the background - something that could be updated with sandpaper and a coat of paint.

I splurged on pull-out trays for all the base cabinets. They offer these as DIY kits at most big box stores.

As far as pulls, I browsed Restoration Hardware for ideas, but purchased from ebay.

I tried to do the plumbing myself, but called in a plumber after my off-center dual sink drain collapsed on me for the third time. I now fix all plumbing by phone.

As far as counter tops, my area has hard water that makes stone look diseased or dirty. I chose 'stainless steel' gray formica - cheap ($890), easy to clean, and easy to swap out when I need a change.

Kwana said...

What do I know? Nothing much. But I will say go for quality in your hinges and pullouts. What we have came with the house and some of our pullouts are now giving way and it's a big pain.

jen said...

Kitchens and master baths make the house! Don't cut corners in these spaces. We ordered a higher grade cabinet from Lowe's - cherry in a shaker style. While they are nice, we wish we had better hinges. Hinges, drawer slides, drawer/door pulls - definitely slurge here. You won't regret it.

Ivy Lane said...

Spend the'll get pay back in re-sale...pull out drawers,deep drawers for pans.. framed and inset, quality wood, crown molding and tops, If you're going with the marble counters, then you can't go flimsy on the cabs..gotta go all the way!! :)

I like the idea of introducing a different material for the counters say.. on a island.. ie: the zinc that someone else mentioned..will add some interest and you can use that space for prep etc. and not worry about stains etc...

good luck!

Courtney said...

So funny that you posted this! We were just talking about this yesterday!! We really regret not going with the taller cabinets. We tried to save money with the shorter cabinets, and in the end, by now we probably wouldn't have missed the money. Go big! I think it's an investment you'll never regret.

Anonymous said...

Hi Decorno - Madrona Kitchen here again. I feel like I could write a book for you on kitchen cabinets. The most critical issue for us was fit - in our old place, there was a lot of "filler" between the cabinets - it drove me nuts that there was so much wasted space and I never thought the kitchen looked all that sharp as a result. So tht might be an issue with IKEA cabinets - I don't think you can get custom sizes so you just have to be sure to plan your layou carefully and measure extremely carefully. That being said, I have seen fantastic IKEA kitchens where the space just worked with their cabinet sizes. Also, if you end up going the painted cabinet route, the seams between the cabinets WILL show, and if you have a lot of filler, you'll see the seams. Just depends on how anal you are ;-). Be forewarned that painted cabinets are usually more expensive than stained ones, but if you are especially handy, you could get paint-grade cabinets and spray them yourself. I definitely agree that handles have a huge impact on cabinets. Eith regard to actual cabinets, I prefer drawers to cabinets - they are more useful when cooking/storing and I think they look nicer in banks than cabinets do. In Seattle, you should check out Villa Kitchens & Baths & Refined Woodworks -both in Bellevue on Main Street, International Kitchens in Bellevue or Seatttle, Canyon Creek (a step up from IKEA) in Monroe, Acorn Cabinets in Newcastle, Seattle Custom Cabinets in Ballard. All those places should be able to give you good advice about cabinets and let you test drive their cabinet lines. If you decide to go with one of those lines, make sure you see a kitchen they've designed in someone's home that looks like your dream kitchen (they should be able to accommodate that for you). Making sure you have a good working relationship with the folks selling you the cabinets is pretty important to making sure you get what you want ;-)

Anonymous said...

Decorno: save the bucks for the surfaces you touch...countertops, appliances and hardware, door and facuets.
Ikea kitchens can be great. Here's one done by my friend Michelle Love

Lowe's has some very nice cabinets. They will customize the plans for a nominal fee, refundable when you order the cabinets. Mine came from Expo,owned by home depot, but if I ever do it again, I will still get the frameless, but I will buy better ones. I like raised panel doors. Lowes has some with a great glaze called oatmeal which is very nice.
Full extension drawers ONLY. Enough deep drawers for all your big pots and pans.
My mistake was I built in the fridge, but it stuck out more than they drew, so my corner base cabinets are hard to reach into. I had to install lazy susans, so now they are ok.

Anonymous said...

Delurking to add my two cents. Wanderluster has some excellent points about the construction of cabinets. I am currently remodeling my house, including my kitchen, and I had the cabinets custom built. They are swoon-worthy and have every conceivable detail I wanted. I had mine built to the ceiling since I agree with an earlier poster that it gives a more polished look. I would not advise IKEA cabinets. I put them in a rental house of mine 2 years ago and they do not hold up.

I saved money by not hiring a kitchen designer. Not sure I would recommend this if you have never done a kitchen before, as they will help tremendously. Also, many kitchen designers will act as your contractor and hire all the subs for the job, as well as the actual cabinets (whether custom or not). The first kitchen I ever remodeled I used a kitchen designer and learned so much from him I have done all my kitchens alone since (this is my 5th kitchen to remodel). I also did not spend a fortune on my hardware: each knob/pull cost between $9 to $15, which is fairly middle of the price range. (Most of the tear sheets of kitchens I had featured Nanz hardware, soooo expensive!). Another way I saved money was by using paint grade wood for the exterior, instead of stain grade. I wanted white cabinets, so I was happy to save a few $. Also, instead of using Calacutta white marble for the counters, I used honed absolute black granite. This alone saved about $7,000, since the marble costs about $45 a sq. ft. compared to $13 for the granite. One last thing, I purchased as many things as I could for the kitchen online, such as my light fixtures and hardware, and saved a lot since many ecommerce sites are discounted, and have free shipping and no tax.

I read recently you should expect to pay about 10% of your home's value on the total kitchen remodel. Sounds like a very general formula, but I have in fact spent about 10% on every kitchen I have done. Hope this helps....

Cote de Texas said...

ok - you asked. I must say that I myself am in the middle of a kitchen rehab - tomorrow the marble is being installed. So I feel your pain.

Elaine - I can't tell you about the pros and cons of cabinets, etc. - because I just believe in spending money on what you can see and touch - like Halcyon said. I mean - plain shaker cabs. painted white - preferably inset - is good enough for me. you can spend a fortune on the insides of your cabinets, but I prefer to spend a fortune the outside.

BUT - if you have a huge budget - go for it all - cabs, appliances, surfaces. For a limited budget - I would splurge on the surfaces, less on appliances, and even less on cabinets. Get a hungry local man to build your cabinets and you'll be just as happy imo.

Most Important Feature of your Kitchen - design wise:

1. Range with custom hood - either wood or metal. The range should be the focal point of your kitchen, just as a fireplace is in your family room. Treat the hood like a mantel.

2. sink - A farm sink with a gorgeous polished nickel faucet.

3. White marble countertops.

4. windows - casement wood window over sink - no overhead cabinets on that side of kitchen.


GORGEOUS FAUCET - I spent over 1K on the faucet alone and it will be the jewlery - the necklace on the kitchen. It is polished nickel and soooo gorgeous it makes me weep to look at it and touch it. I doubt that drawer dividers and wipe-clean inserts or fancy cabinet insides would do the same for me. But that's not me.

A farm sink made by SHAW - gorgeous gorgeous gorgeous.

White calacutta marble HONED - the carrara marble coming out right now is gray with indescript veining. the calacutta is white with gorgeous veining - the more veining the better, BUT calacutta is very expensive. SO - again - I would rather have gorgeous marble than expensive cabinets or expensive over the top appliances.

IF white marble is really too expensive - go for black granite HONED, it will resemble soapstone and is a good alternative to marble. If you have an island - you could splurge with the calacutta on the island alone.

Appliances - stainless steel.

I ordered all my appliances online from Home Depot. Inexpensive ones too, again I went for looks. It's all in the handles. Get nice thick handles - try to have no black anywhere on the appliances - get PLAIN, clean-lined fronts with solid looking handles.

Range - the one appliance if you can splurge on (like a Wolf or an AGA)- do!!!!

Floors - I love the hex tiles - don't worry about clean grout and all that junk, just mop it with some bleach and the grout will be good enough. Or wood floors to offset all the white OR how about painted wood floors, creamy checkerboard - light and lighter cream painted checks - gorgeous.

NOTE: for a classic kitchen with contemporary touches - see Katiedid's new kitchen. Erika Urban Grace has some great looking kitchens in her portfolio.

Hope this helps!!! Remember, it's my opinion - with a limited budget - put the money in what you can see and touch - surfaces!!! good luck !!

Cote de Texas said...

Elaine - I just saw Stacy's house - and looking at her entry hall - that was exactly what I was talking about when I said - painted floors - checks, light and lighter cream. But you could also go bigger checks - her's look like maybe 12 x 12 or 18 x 18 - you could go 24 x 24. Love that look. disclaimer, I'm painting my dark hardwards light in a few months. hehe

alis said...

We loved a certain cabinet-door from Ikea, bought one door as an example and had the kitchen custo0m built by a local carpenter. It turned out amazing, for half the price of Ikea. We bought a wooden countertop also from Ikea. However despite the dimensions seemingly matching Ikea's standards, the built-in organizers we bought from Ikea didn't fit due to the difference in the width of the materials, so our carpenter went out to find new ones for us. Boy, those organizers are a blessing. Also loving the drawers with the no slamming feature.
For a start take exact measurements of your kitchen, diswasher, refrigerator, windows. Decide where each function (cooking, preparing, washing) will be placed, keep in mind the "working triangle". After that it's just a matter of fitting, a kitchen planner is downloadable from Ikea's website even though measurements won't be exact, it will be tremendous help during the what-goes-where process.

ps:1-We asked for the carpenter to produce the exact cabinet door before we hired him.
2-Me & boyfriend can do technical drawing so every measurement was layed out exactly for the carpenter to see.

tracey said...

I have a custom built kitchen that looks very similar to the ones you like. My friend has an ikea kitchen that cost a third of the price and looks just as nice! Honestly, save your money but make sure you splurge on the best trades people. Inexpensive tiles look great when tiled beautifully, but expensive tiles look terrible when laid badly. Also, I love my shaker style cabinets (we call inset doors with a frame shaker style in Australia)but they do get dirty in the nooks.
Love your blog,

Kate F. said...

Ugh, I just wrote a long post defending our choice of Ikea cabinets, but it got erased. Basically we went with Ikea for the cabinets and butcher block counters, and spent the money we saved on high-end appliances (white enamel Viking, Bosch dishwasher, etc.). Totally worth the trade-off in my book; we don't have upper cabinets and the Ikea options are awesome for us, especially the drawer with the cool quiet-closing system. I'd say if you're considering HD or Lowe's cabinets, you might as well do Ikea. But the price difference between that and carpenter-installed custom is so astronomical that it's sort of apples and oranges.
An outdated pic of our cabinets/counters:

Jane said...

I went with a Solar kitchen from Ikea last year and it is beautiful. The cabinets have integrated handles and go right up to the ceiling which makes such a difference - they blend in so cleanly to the wall and makes the room look higher. The only drawback that I found was the quality of the worktops - they looked very clickety click laminate so I had to get that elsewhere but other than that I have no complaints. The great thing about the ikea cabinets is that you can change the door fronts and completely change the look of the kitchen very cheaply down the line - all the cabinet frames are the same regardless of the style of door. My kitchen looks better than alot of others that cost a hell of a lot more and people are always really surprised when I say it's from Ikea.

GiltTrip said...

One thing that I have done with every kitchen is to have drawers for the lower cabinets. The house we are in now has beautiful custom cabinets but I can't wait to rip them out to work better ergonomically. Large drawers that let me access every corner for pots, baking sheets, mixmaster are worth the little extra money. I also prefer drawers for our dishware as well. My 5 and 7 year olds can empty the dishwasher. A huge plus but not something you could allow if your everyday dishes were in upper cabinets. The only lower cabinet we had in our last house was the sink base and I went back to retrofit the remaining space for dw liquid, sponges, etc.

Using a carpenter can be great for customization but blog after blog (and personal experience) will tell the heartache story of longer than expected fulfillment times. We spent a fortune on custom cabinetry and had the fellow disappear. He didn't bother to do the trimwork or address concerns because he had moved on to the next job. He had done 80% of the work and received 80% of the pay and that was enough for him I guess. When you work with a big box store, you do have the recourse to keep at them until everything is perfect.

IzzyLu said...

Tip - we ordered kitchenkraft semi made cabinets from a local showroom to build an island. The specs included self closing drawers that fully extend. We then went and cost the same cabinets at HomeDepot. HomeDepot was more expensive (just by $100 or so for two cabinets) and did not include the self-closing drawers and did not fully extend. So I would shop around and compare features and prices if you go semi-custom. Local showrooms might be cheaper and give you better customer service.

Anonymous said...

I don't have anything monumental to add, but we just moved into a new house, and it has the same problem as our previous place - shallow cabinets. I can barely shut the doors on our regular sized plates, so everything bigger has to go somewhere else. Make sure you get deep cabinets.

Also, adjustable shelves are a God-send.

I agree with floor to ceiling - unless you collect teapots or cat figurines, it's best to get more space for the cabinets, even if they're too high to reach. Who wants to dust that?

arroyo said...

We used a combination of IKEA stainless steel cabinets and custom white framed shaker style cabinets. I love the contrast of materials, and old/new. We have a large kitchen, so it was important to break up the uniformity.

Though I'm happy with their look, the IKEA cabinets are definitely lower quality. We don't cook much and we don't have kids, so they're serving us just fine. But if you really use your kitchen, you might want to think about that quality...

Some other things we learned:

---For custom cabinets: Work with a cabinet maker who will also install his/her own work. Critical.

---FYI: Most custom cabinets are delivered unfinished. It will cost MUCH more than you think to have cabinets painted properly (priming and painting multiple oil based coats). In our case, it cost almost as much as the cabinets themselves. You could do this yourself, but frankly most of us don't have the necessary DIY skills (custom cabinets and DIY paint job... forget it!).

---The IKEA cabinet frames are particle board, and could not support the weight of my sink (a fabulous German white ceramic single compartment unit that is huge and DEEP). The IKEA cabinet under the sink had to be reinforced.

---Get the deepest sink you can find. I had Snyder Diamond source exactly what I wanted, after being told numerous times it did not exist. They eventually found just what I wanted. Yet another example of the adage: The more simple your vision, the more difficult it is to execute! (I think farmhouse sinks look contrived, and will seem dated in a few years. This is obviously just my personal opinion... so do with it what you will.)

---Go with the best counter tops you can afford. We used caeserstone's Misty Carrera, in a polished finished. I LOVE IT. (I didn't choose it because it looks like marble. If you love the look of marble, get marble or you'll be disappointed). But if you want a great look and absolutely zero maintenance, go with the caeserstone or a similar product.

---Hire a professional lighting designer. I wish we had done this. I love our kitchen overall, but it would have been so much better with great lighting. Now I'm re-doing the lighting (and the ceiling) after 5 years.

---Since you are going for a classic or traditional look, consider something other than a plain drywall ceiling. One option is painted tongue and groove planks -- this is only a bit more expensive, but you'll get so much for the money.

HomeSavvi Team said...

Hello Decorno,
With kitchen cabinetry, there definitely are quite a bit of options available. Here are some tips for kitchen cabinetry that I'd recommend:

-Decide on what type of finish you would like on your cabinetry. Different finishes can prevent peeling/chipping. If you're going for "green", re-storing existing cabinets and touching up with finishes and glazes is the best to remodel your cabinetry. (cite:

-Stock vs. Custom: One big difference is obviously price. If you're budget-conscious, stock cabinetry is the best option (IKEA, Lowe's, etc.). You can also add certain premium construction features, such as steel ball bearing drawers or hidden drawer access with stock cabinetry. (cite:

-Cabinetry hardware: Cabinet knobs and pulls in a satin nickel finish can accent stainless steel appliances or you can use antique copper handles to bring out the beauty of heirloom furniture. Depends on the style you're going for.

-You can install glass-front doors. Some glass designs have the texture of linen, rice paper or even leaded glass, which you can use to showcase your dinnerware- This would be how I'd splurge!

- Check for warranties! Some cabinetry manufacturers offer a lifetime limited warranty. (cite:

There's quite a bit of info, and probably doesn't address all the questions you might have. If you have any questions that you'd like answered, I can ask one of our remodeling professionals to answer your cabinetry question in 48 hours. You can ask your question here: . Seriously, if you have any other questions you'd like to get answered, I'll make sure you'll get your answers asap.

Good luck!

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Anonymous said...

May I respectfully disagree with Halcyon, who in general knows way more than me about this stuff?

I would spend money on one thing that is invisible: good material for shelving, especially the shelves that hold heavy things, like dishes or canned goods.

There is nothing sadder than seeing crappy MDF shelving sag. And it will. Fast.

Use plywood or solid wood; the veneer they put over it I wouldn't care as much about, as long as it's easy to clean.

An Aesthete's Lament said...

My only advice is this: Plan for more storage than you need. Because believe me; you will need it.

erika @ urban grace said...

i like shaker style cabinet (with a bead) - always go inset if you can afford, and take your cabinets to the ceiling if you can!... if you like jewelry - try exposed hinges with ball finials. splurge on good cabinet hardware - restoration hardware or rejuvenation. on your floors go hardwoods (stained or painted), hex tiles are cute and vintage but hard to keep clean (and make for a much noisier kitchen), i think on your counters i'd recommend marble, honed granite, or wood butcher block... just helped a friend with a tight budget and we did all walnut counters (for less than $800!- now I want to re-do my kitchen with them) - i love a white sink (stainless is so hard to keep clean), and splurge on cool lights - whether vintage or new. definitely do undercabinet lights and when you pick your backsplash pick something that will age-well, classic and timless. don't freak about your "finishes" (ie appliances, pulls, plumbing fixtures) all "matching"... that gets boring - and matching is totally overrated. ;)
i hope you'll share some pictures with us once you get started!
good luck!

Anonymous said...

2: 09 is right - go as high as you can with the handles and countertop. In the past I spent a lot on beautiful custom cabinets but our latest project with IKEA cabinets and knobs & pulls from Restoration Hardware turned out even better. Except that Ikea's cheap laminate is terrible, don't get it! 2:09 is right! If you have to use laminate get some made with Formica or WilsonArt, not IKEA's. The drawers and dividers etc. from Ikea are also wonderful but be prepared, you will make MANY trips back for parts and pieces!
Another thing to spend your money on, if you aren't going with stainless steel, is the highest quality porcelain sink. The cheaper stuff will chip and/or lose its luster too quickly.

Anonymous said...

I remodeled our tiny kitchen a few years ago and I wanted one thing good cabinets with drawers under the counter. Not only is it easier on your back but you can store more and have it instantly available. It should be required in all homes.
Good cabinets means really good cabinets. I went with the best in the business Omega Dynasty. Good quality wood inside and out and well made (dovetailed) drawers that will not fall apart for a long time. Also make them go all the way to the ceiling. More storage and less dusting.

KatinkaPinka said...

just my 2 cents;

we live in a turn-of-the-century farmhouse and our kitchen has been a work in progress for the last few years but recently we started installing cabinetry. we went with the lowe's unfinished oak stock cabinets and plan to paint them a sage-y green. the doors are paneled but in a very simplistic style and upon closer inspection we discovered that we can pop the trim around the paneling off, remove the panel and replace with glass or screen at some point. we're total DIY'ers so maybe this isn't something everyone would want to take on, but easy for us.

i like that we can just go in on a saturday and pick out a few cabinets and pop them in the kitchen lickety split...we'll add crown moulding and all that good stuff down the road.

the cabinets, being stock and low-priced, are remarkably sturdy and well-constructed...they're frame-built, too.

we've topped them with custom galvanized aluminum countertops that, over time, fade to a rustic, frosty finish...perfect for a farmhouse and incredibly inexpensive. just find a local metal fabricator in your town and they'll whip one up for you in about a week.

hello gorgeous said...

I wouldn't skimp on appliances. Look at a frig (doesn't have to be Subzero) with a bottom drawer - it's a great feature. And a quiet dishwasher (Bosch or something).

I saw somewhere you were talking about hard surface flooring (stone tiles or something). Wood is more forgiving for the cook's back.

Cabinets to the ceiling.

I was looking for a kitchen I knew you'd love and it was Katiedid's and at the end she had a note to you so I'm sure you've seen it.

I also saw somewhere today marble tile that resembled basketweave. What is that? It's gorgeous. Probably traps all kinds of dirt and grease, but it's beautiful.

Anonymous said...

Buy Schrock cabinets! They are fabulous and meant to last a lifetime.

guineverej said...

Ikea cabinet look great - honestly. Especially if you splurge for fancy handles/knobs.

Anonymous said...

You might find some useful info here
Look for the posts about their kitchen reno.

Chris said...

I did a post about creating a dream kitchen without breaking the bank , I think that is more fun than spending the earth

I have a builder basic kitchen and by choosing simple recessed doors and adding trim work and details I have my dream kitchen , I would splurge on counters , mine would be soapstone , a beautiful backsplash{classic subway tile} , hardware , lighting and great floors{wood} and good looking appliances , you can spend $5000. to $50,000. and achieve the same look .
Have fun deciding .

Anonymous said...

Great blog btw. First post for me.

We're just starting a remodel, and hence my cabinet advice to you: before deciding you can't afford custom, get the job priced out by a local kitchen design/builder, agree that you want a "medium" price-point custom cab builder, get the quote, including all the hardware, and then NEGOTIATE. I cannot believe how rare it is for consumers to try and negotiate on this home remodeling stuff, but if you don't, the builder/GC/architect/you-name-it is going to make an absurd margin. Trust me, they won't be offended provided you do it right ("We really like you and your plan and think you'll do a great job blah blah, but you're more expensive than the competition and frankly out of our budget -- so here's what you'd need to get to win the work."). They'll either accept or counter but it ain't like they're going to walk away, especially in this market. As you've noted, there's very little work to go around.

We got four bids on the whole thing (design and build) and the high bid was 2.25 times the low bid. We didn't even bother to counter to that since it was so absurd but when that bidder found out how far out of the money they were, they dropped their price 40%, which in a way pissed me off b/c it made me feel like they were gouging me.

In the end, we went with one of the two in middle price-wise, and we got them to knock 12% off (including suggesting to him that he go back to the cabinet maker and push for a lower price).

In short, all of these contractors and suppliers have gotten a little fat and happy on the crazy margin they've been able to get in the housing boom insanity, but they all see that they're not going to make their monthly cash flows starting immediately and so they are willing to deal. I know this isn't exactly what you were asking, but where you have no bargaining power at Ikea or Expo, you do with the local guys, so don't overlook them.

PS - I thought we'd been pretty organized about locking down what we wanted and getting a price before starting our negotiations, but I forgot to say we wanted "soft close" drawers (which do a pretty good job of toddler-proofing your drawers due to resistance to open). So after we'd ground the guy down on price, I mentioned that we wanted the soft-close drawers (which had been quoted at, I think, $24 per drawer extra), and the kitchen guy threw them in for nothing. Another lesson of how ridiculous the markups are on all of this stuff.

balsamfir said...

No MDF ever. Get solid wood, whether custom or from IKEA. Things leak, surprises happen. Also, if you are torn financially between money on appliances and money on the cabinets, put the money all in the cabinets, but measure for the appliances you love. Then buy cheap cheap stuff that you'll wear out and replace in a few years when your budget recovers. You'll probably never replace the cabinets. Also, check the salvage companies. The NYT did a piece a few years ago on gently used kitchen cabinets from McMansions. Get 100k worth of cabinets for under ten, that sort of thing. A great carpenter is essential for this.

Anonymous said...

Wow - as a custom cabinet maker, anon 9:09's post was quite annoying. She's mistaken in thinking that the local cabinet maker has been making huge margins. Her post explains to me why you should avoid the middlemen/women and go right to the person who's directly adding value to your project. Getting the G.C. to "grind down" the cabinet maker will not create the best environment for your cabinets to be built in. Look at what vehicle the G.C./designer, Architect drives and what the cabinet maker drives. That's where a lot of your money is going! (Anon 9:09 sounds like the type of client that I gladly refer to someone else.)

I would recommend speaking to a few cabinet makers directly. They will often have more insight and creativity than the high prices of a designer, G.C., or interior designer - because the cab maker has seen many design ideas, and knows how they are achieved within each specific set of parameters, and we also know the latest materials and techniques available because the suppliers visit us first! Get straight, unfiltered advice directly from the person whose hands will create the pieces you live with. The cab maker knows what materials and hardware hold up over time. Remember that my fellow tradesmen/women make a living on our reputations. We can't afford to leave any muddy footprints behind in a clients kitchen - or bad hardware, materials either!

Talk to more than one custom cabinet maker. The shop rates, construction methods and styles of cabinets, and kitchen design philosophies can vary considerably.

I network with other craftspeople which enables me to offer pricing that is competitive with "semi-custom" big box stores. I advocate a "form follows function" philosophy and never start the design of a client's kitchen until I have a clear understanding of how my client will be using the kitchen. That is the starting point for the "bones" of the kitchen layout. The look or surface of the kitchen can be added later. Underneath the surface of a kitchen is a domestic shop - if it works efficiently, the tasks you perform there will be enjoyable.

Who's going to have the best advice to consult? Don't overlook the craftsmen/women in your own neighborhood that shop, pay taxes and create local commerce that stays in your community far longer than franchises and big box stores.
Also, don't use the "I thought we said we wanted soft close drawer glides, glass doors, inset drawers,etc..." Every caftsman has heard it and takes it for what it is. You don't want to spoil the relationship by trying to get something for nothing. It's a win for both parties to deal honestly with one another by having a clearly written contract that is understood by both.

And yes, I work with "clients", not "consumers".

Anonymous said...

"Get solid wood, whether custom or from IKEA."

Does IKEA cabinetry have solid wood? I know their doors are sometimes solid, but what about frames, or shelves?

Anonymous said...

One kitchen mistake that we made was not being specific with the countertop fabricator on the thickness of the countertop. We wanted 3 CM countertops (they look nice and solid) and just assumed they came this way. Turns out, if you don't specify the thickness of the stone, you can end up with 1 cm countertops which was an unwelcome surprise - we just didn't like it as much aesthetically ;-).

Anonymous said...

We went with Kraftmaid from Home Depot. There are a number of kitchen places that also sell Kraftmaid and sometimes offer better service. We actually had a very helpful designer at the Depot (although most of the other designers were not as good). I also had a pretty detailed plan of what we wanted before we got there. We upgraded to all plywood boxes (we did the install ourselves) and solid wood painted doors. I really love the large full extension pot and pan drawers as well as the self close feature on the drawers. We considered painting the cabinets ourselves (and did that on our island). I will say now that we have a toddler leaving his hand prints all over that the factory painted finish is great and wipes up really easily. It takes more work to keep the cabinets we painted clean. I would also agree with everyone who mentioned good lighting. We have undercounter lights, pot lights around areas with no upper cabinets and a pendant fixture over the island. We also have lights in glass upper cabinets. We put most of the lights on dimmers which offers us lots of flexibility for creating different moods. We splurged on soapstone countertops which we love. The only downside is that they scratch fairly easily, so I don't recommend them for someone who wants a perfect countertop. We also priced out custom cabinets with inset doors which for us worked out to be about 30%-40% more than the Kraftmaid.

Decorina said...

I don't think the mark ups are always ridiculous - these people are trying to make a living is all. If you think the price is too high then get another bid. You don't need to cast aspersions on the people giving you the bid, just say "Next" and get another price.

About the solid wood: You are mistaken if you think that solid wood is better than plywood. Plywood has more dimensional stabiility than solids and is better for cabinet sides, drawers, etc. There is nothing wrong with MDF for some surfaces, though for shelving it must be supported or it can deflect and sag. Solid wood has its place, but kitchen cabinetry isn't it.

Anonymous said...

Just a quick thought. When a ten by ten kitchen can set you back ten to fifty thousand before counter tops and hardware without trying to hard, moving a wall or creating a bulkhead can often be a cheaper alternative than custom cabinets.

kayduh said...

Pleas let us know what you decide! I am in the middle of planning my kitchen remodel and the decisions are overwhelming.

Anonymous said...

I would suggest the following website

Anonymous said...


dalila said...

I found this great website that is the same as Mill´s Pride. Their cabinets fit the same doors as the Mill´s pride brand that is no longer available. These cabinets are the same as IKEA cabinets but are far better and have a better selection. The brand is SKB kitchens and their website is

Anonymous said...

Granite is a natural stone which is quite unique since, unlike man-made materials, these natural stones will show a variation in colour and texture to be used as kitchen woktops. With this in mind, the grading process is based on the variation of colour and characteristics of the granite.

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