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Guide to Kitchen Cabinet Remodeling

Gorgeous kitchen cabinets that meet your functional requirements are a pleasure to own. Their beauty makes your kitchen an enjoyable place to be while providing a storage arrangement makes your work their easier and more productive.

This buying guide to kitchen cabinets provides an overview of your options for material or wood species, style, sizes and more. See below for additional information on leading brands, trends and refinishing or refacing old cabinets instead of buying new.

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Kitchen Cabinets

Stock, Semi-Custom and Custom Kitchen Cabinets

These are your three options when considering new cabinets for your kitchen remodeling project. Let’s see how they differ from one another.

Stock kitchen cabinets are pre-manufactured cabinets. They are available in a limited range of wood species, configurations, hardware and finishes. Sizes typically range from 9” to 48” in 3” increments. Base cabinets are 24” deep; wall cabinets are 12” deep. Stock kitchen cabinets are built prior to and without regard to any specific order.

Semi-custom kitchen cabinets are available in the same sizes and configurations as stock cabinets, but with a list of alteration options available. Some are also available in 1” and 1.5” increments, not just 3” increments in size. You’ve got more choices in terms of door panel styles, stain colors, finishes, toe space, hardware and more. Semi-custom cabinets are built for the specific order.

Custom kitchen cabinets are built entirely to the specifications of your kitchen. Most are built by local cabinet shops rather than large cabinetry companies. Every detail is optional. Depth and width is customizable, as is configuration, style, color and finish. Custom kitchen cabinets are built after the order; they are sometimes built on-site to achieve the best fit.

The majority of homeowners find exactly what they want in stock or semi-custom kitchen cabinets because the options really are quite extensive. However, if you’ve got a kitchen layout that is unique or oddly shaped, or you have a very specific style in mind and it’s not available, custom kitchen cabinets might be the right choice for you.

Pros and Cons of these Kitchen Cabinet Types

Let’s look at the advantages and disadvantages of stock, semi-custom and custom kitchen cabinets.

Pros and cons of stock kitchen cabinets: These are the most affordable of the three, and they come in a decent range of wood species, sizes and colors. However, you don’t have as many design options such as door styles, shelving, stains and finishes as you do with the other types.

No modifications are possible without significant expense, in which case semi-custom cabinets are a more cost-effective choice. Since stock cabinets are built and warehoused, you might receive cabinets not built in the same “batch,” and this can mean that finish colors are slightly different from one another. Stock cabinets are available unfinished. This might save you money, but it increases the effort you have to put into them. If you’re not going to finish them yourself, then buy pre-finished cabinets rather than hiring someone to finish them.

Pros and cons of semi-custom kitchen cabinets: These cabinets cost more than stock, in some cases, but are much more affordable than custom cabinets. Your choices for wood specie, width, depth, toe space, shelving, door style and other details are more varied.

All the cabinets for your order are finished at the same time, and this helps to ensure uniformity in color.

Pros and cons of custom kitchen cabinets: These cabinets will show a fit and finish in your kitchen that may not be possible with stock or semi-custom cabinets. In most cases, you’ll work directly with the cabinet maker, so your specific requirements will be better addressed. You’ve got full control over every detail.

Of concern is the high cost of custom kitchen cabinets. See our Cabinet Replacement Costs Guide for details. Also, if the cabinets are built onsite, your kitchen will be out of commission for a few days to several weeks.

An Overview of Base Kitchen Cabinet Options

Stock and Semi-Custom Base Kitchen Cabinet Sizes

Most cabinet manufacturers make units from 9” to 48” wide, though some base cabinets are produced up to 60”. Single-door cabinets are produced with doors opening either to the right or left, depending on where the cabinet will be placed. Here are some clues about the codes you’ll see when looking at cabinets.

  • Base cabinets are often designated with a “B” in their product codes while wall cabinet codes usually start with a “W”
  • Full-height cabinets might be designated with a “P” for pantry, “T” for tall, “U” for utility or similar designation
  • An “L” in the code typically means that the door opens to the left; an “R” means the door opens to the right
  • The first or only number in the code generally means the width of the cabinet
  • A second number in wall cabinets indicates the height of the cabinet, since wall cabinets are made in several heights
  • Single-door cabinets are typically 9” to 24” wide
  • Two-door models often start at 24”, so you have your choice at that width
  • Most two-door cabinet frames include a wood strip where the doors come together when closed

Example codes:

  • B18L/R – Base cabinet, 18” wide, left or right door options
  • W3018 – Wall cabinet, 30” wide, 18” high
  • U3084 – Utility or full-height cabinet 30” wide, 84” high

This list of options for stock cabinets will be very similar for most manufacturers. We put them in code as an example of what you’re likely to see. Additional letters will refer to style or design. The cabinet brochure or website should have keys to the codes used.

Standard base cabinet sizes in width:

  • Single door – B9, B12, B15, B18, B21, B24 all L or R
  • Two doors – B24, B27, B30, B33, B36, B39, B42, B45, B48, B60

Base cabinet notes:

  1. Standard base cabinets are 24” deep without countertops and up to 26” deep with them. Some manufacturers make deeper base cabinets – up to 36” deep – to be installed alongside today’s larger, deeper refrigerators. Keep in mind that while increased storage might be desirable, 36” deep cabinets take up more floor space, and reaching into the back of these deep cabinets is difficult.
  2. The standard height for base cabinets is 34.5” without countertops and about 36” with them. Some 30” base cabinets are available. They’re popular for work areas where a lower counter makes it more comfortable to knead or roll dough or chop vegetables.
  3. Base corner cabinets come in various sizes, and some have a face set at a 45-degree angle.

Base Kitchen Cabinet Styles

We’ve covered the dimensions of the base cabinets, but what is designed into that space is equally important. You’ve got a list of option:

  • Doors or drawers
  • A few large drawers per unit for large pots, many smaller drawers for smaller pots, pans and gadgets
  • Stationary shelves or pull-out shelves
  • Units with just shelves, no doors
  • Units with a combination of doors and drawers, stationary and pull-out shelves
  • Corner cabinets with “lazy Susan” rotating shelves
  • Sink cabinets in various widths to accommodate single and double sinks

An Overview of Wall Kitchen Cabinet Options

Stock and Semi-Custom Wall Kitchen Cabinet Sizes

Much of the basic information above regarding base cabinet sizes and codes applies to wall cabinets too.

Wall cabinet sizes in width and height:

  • W930, W933, W36, W939, W942, all L or R
  • Additional widths with same height options, W12, W15, W18, W21, W24

Wall cabinet notes:

  1. Most wall cabinets have one door with L or R option.
  2. Wall cabinets are available in even more dimensional options than base cabinets. The most common height is 36”. Those 12” to 18” in height are designed for installation above the refrigerator or range hood.
  3. Wall cabinets 48” in height provide maximum storage space and are most common in kitchens with ceilings higher than standard or when the cabinets extend all the way to an 8’ ceiling. Expect to need a step stool to reach the highest shelves of a 48” wall cabinet set 30” above the countertop.

Wall Cabinet Styles

Here are your options for wall cabinets:

  • Most units have height-adjustable, stationary shelves; Pull-out shelves are available from some manufacturers
  • Wall units with pull-out drawers are available in some sizes from some manufacturers
  • Most units have side-hinge doors, but top-hinge, awning-style doors are available too
  • Corner units, some with lazy Susan carrousel shelves, are available in several sizes
  • Spice rack wall cabinets are available in several widths and heights, some with pull-down shelving for easier reach

An Overview of Kitchen Cabinet Materials

More than 90% of kitchen cabinets are solid wood. The rest are divided among:

  • Thermofoil (4%): A thin vinyl film applied to a composite wood core. Typically has a glossy finish.
  • Melamine (1.5%): Another plastic coating applied to a composite wood core. It is used extensively in inexpensive shelving, typically white or wood grain.
  • Laminate (1.5%): Hard plastic coating applied over printed paper covering composite wood.
  • Stainless steel (2%): A metal with outstanding stain resistance that is easy to clean.

Some of these plastic products are used in refacing kitchen cabinets, a process discussed at length in our Cabinet Refacing Guide.

Kitchen Cabinet Wood Options

Let’s start with choosing between solid wood and wood veneer and then look at the wood species available.

Solid wood: Most solid wood cabinets have fronts and doors made from solid wood of the species you’ve chosen. The remainder of the cabinet carcass, as it is called, might be solid wood of a cheaper species or plywood, MDF (medium-density fiberboard) or a similar material.

Wood veneer: As a means of reducing cost, wood veneer cabinets have fronts and doors faced with a thin slice of genuine wood. The remainder of the cabinet will be plywood, MDF or similar material.

Light wood species: If you enjoy a brighter environment in the kitchen, then going with a light wood variety with light stain or clear-coat finish is a good choice. The most popular light woods are ash, beech, birch, chestnut, elm, hickory, red oak, white oak, maple and pine or knotty pine. If you like the grain of one of these species, but prefer a darker color, then select a dark stain for the finishing process.

Dark wood species: Darker woods create an elegant atmosphere. The most popular dark wood species for cabinets are cherry, walnut, rosewood, teak and mahogany.

Kitchen Cabinet Door Options

There are many decisions to make when choosing kitchen cabinets, and this is one of the most important since the door covers the vast majority of the cabinet.

There are many door styles to consider. Among the most popular are:

  • Slab/flat
  • Square recessed panel
  • Square raised panel
  • Arch raised panel
  • Shaker
  • Louvered
  • Beadboard
  • Glass pane with and without dividers

As you browse kitchen cabinet websites, you’ll find the styles each one offers. Kitchen showrooms have models of many popular styles too.

Kitchen Cabinet Wear and Durability

How long should kitchen cabinets last?

  • Composite cabinets with laminate or vinyl surfaces: 7-12 years
  • Composite cabinets with wood veneer surfaces: 10-15 years
  • Solid wood cabinets: 25-50 years

The very best kitchen cabinets are like furniture, really, and should last 50 years or more with appropriate care. During that time, you’ll likely need to replace the hinges, and you may want to replace the rest of the hardware to update the look. Better wood cabinets might also be worth refinishing rather than replacing.

Our Cabinet Refinishing Guide provides information on what is involved in making the cabinets look new again.

These kitchen cabinet care tips will maximize the life of the cabinets you choose.

  • Dry water off of cabinets quickly – especially important for the sink cabinet that gets wet more than the others
  • Do not hang a wet dishtowel anywhere it can contact the wood, or damage will occur
  • Clean off grease splatters, oil, peanut butter, margarine, and other foods immediately
  • Clean the cabinets as needed with a soft, lint-free cloth and a cleaner formulated for your cabinet material
  • Avoid cleaning with harsh cleansers, soft scrub products or rough sponges or rags
  • No waxing is required, and in fact wax will build up and dull the finish
  • If you have glass cabinet doors, spray glass cleaner onto a soft cloth for cleaning rather than directly onto the glass to avoid overspray or runs that can damage the wood
  • Use pulls to open doors and drawers, otherwise oil from your skin will stain the door corner, drawer top or other location used for the purpose

Top Kitchen Cabinets Brands

Most cabinet manufacturers are regional; a few have a national market. Here is a list of the top kitchen cabinet brands across the country. Some of them may not be available where you live.

  • Merillat
  • KraftMaid
  • Kitchen Craft
  • Thomasville
  • Mastercraft
  • American Woodmark
  • Bremtown
  • Integrity
  • Ultracraft
  • Kabinart
  • MasterBrand
  • Mid Continent
  • Fieldstone
  • Kemper
  • Omega
  • Diamond
  • Starmark
  • Yorktowne
  • HomeCrest
  • Cardell
  • Wood-Mode
  • Wellburn
  • Decora

Popular Trends in Kitchen Cabinets

What’s currently hot in kitchen cabinet design? Here are a few trends to consider for your kitchen remodeling project.

  • Glass doors: If you’ve got gorgeous dinner plates, glassware, serving dishes, pitchers and other pieces worth showing off, consider turning your cabinets into showcases for what’s inside!
  • Light and Minimal: White and off-white cabinets with simple detail are currently popular. It’s a nice look that fits with designs ranging from retro to country to contemporary.
  • Rich, dark chocolate: Both light and dark are trending. Cocoa, espresso and other deep, dark hues create an opportunity for contrast or blend well into a theme of robust tones.
  • Good space utilization: Storage has become a science, and storage efficiency is built into cabinet design to make the most of the space. Where a false front on a three-inch space would have been 10 years ago, now there’s a narrow cabinet or pull-out drawer perfect for vertically housing the cookie sheet and pizza pan.
  • Highly functional cabinets and drawers: Based on the science of storage, large cabinets and drawers can be sectioned off into smaller slots, shelves and crannies. Instead of opening a cabinet door and seeing a pile of pots and pans in haphazard array, you’ll find a place for everything – and everything in its place.
  • Cabinets to the ceiling: There’s a theme here – making use of the space. Instead of cabinet tops being a place to collect dust bunnies, eliminate them with cabinetry that joins the ceiling and trim them with beautiful crown molding.

Kitchen Cabinet Prices

There are more details in our Cabinet Replacement Guide, but for quick comparison, here is what you can expect to pay for stock, semi-stock and custom kitchen cabinets.

Cabinets are divided into base cabinets that sit on the floor and wall cabinets that are attached to the wall over the countertop.

Stock cabinet prices:

  • Base cabinets – $30-$70 per linear foot, up to $85 for corner units
  • Wall cabinets – $20-$50 per linear foot, up to $65 for corner cabinets

Semi-custom cabinet prices:

  • Base cabinets – $125-$475 per linear foot, up to $600 for corner cabinets
  • Wall cabinets – $100-$375 per linear foot, up to $500 for corner cabinets

Custom cabinet prices:

  • Base cabinets – $275-$675 per linear foot, up to $750 for corner cabinets
  • Wall cabinets – $265-640 per linear foot, up to $725 for corner cabinets

Alternatives to Kitchen Cabinet Replacement

There are two other ways to update the cabinetry rather than replacing it.

Refinishing wood cabinets is like refinishing fine furniture, and if you’ve got cabinetry with “good bones,” this is worth considering. It can be a DIY or professional project, and the results can be breathtakingly “like new” for a lot less than new. See our Cabinet Refinishing Guide for all the details!

Refacing the cabinets is a more affordable option, and the result is a fresh look without the wear, dirt and blemishes. Materials such as vinyl, laminate and thermofoil are used to reface cabinets. See our Cabinet Refacing Guide for more information.

Kitchen Cabinet FAQ

This Q&A section includes additional important information about kitchen cabinets.

How much does kitchen cabinet installation cost?

Both base cabinets and wall cabinets cost $35-$70 per cabinet to install.

Is DIY installation an option? What skills are required?

Many homeowners install their own cabinets. It typically takes two people, especially installing wall cabinets. Needed skills include:

  • The use of a level to ensure that base and wall cabinets are level and even
  • Shimming base cabinets where necessary to make them level side to side and front to back
  • Finding wall studs
  • Using a power drill to attach cabinets to the wall using wood screws

How long are warranties for kitchen cabinets, and what is covered?

It varies, but the best kitchen cabinets come with lifetime limited warranties for the original owner covering defects in design and materials. They don’t cover normal wear and tear or accidents.

Can you provide a complete list of options for semi-custom cabinets?

Each manufacturer is different, but most offer width and height options, door designs to fit any style, dozens of finish colors and levels of gloss, cabinet moldings and other embellishments, shelving and hardware.

How long does it take to make semi-custom cabinets after the order is placed?

Most manufacturers ask for four to eight weeks to complete the order.

How long does it take to make custom cabinets?

Typically four to ten weeks.

Are custom cabinets better?

It depends on the materials used and, just as importantly, the quality of the craftsmanship. Custom cabinets should be better than the least expensive stock cabinets. However, they may or may not be better than semi-custom cabinets built in controlled conditions using top-notch equipment run by experienced cabinet makers. In other words, unless you have very specific reasons for choosing custom-made cabinets, you’ll likely be just as happy with semi-custom cabinets.