Custom versus Semi-Custom Kitchen Cabinets

Kitchen Cabinets

Choosing between semi-custom kitchen cabinets, (factory-made cabinets) and custom kitchen cabinets can be difficult. True custom cabinets are the top of the line. They almost always cost the most. But they do give you every style, option, color, and finish possible. But most budgets can’t handle the cost. So what are you giving up by choosing semi-custom kitchen cabinets? Not as much as you think.

Henry Ford’s famously said about his Model T car, “You can have any color you want, so long as it’s black.” While not quite that severe, semi-custom cabinetmakers used to offer very limited choices. However, since the 70’s and 80’s, this has changed dramatically. Now, many colors, styles, and finishes are available along with many hardware and accessory options. There are so many choices that these cabinets are no longer referred to as factory-made or stock cabinets. They are now known as semi-custom cabinets.


Just what are the differences between custom kitchen cabinets and semi-custom cabinets?

First, semi-custom kitchen cabinets come in width increments of three inches. You fit the cabinets to the space available and use fillers to make up the difference. Custom cabinets are made to fit the space with no fillers and no seams between cabinets. This is arguable a subtle difference.

Second, you have a fairly wide choice of styles, colors, and finishes with semi-custom cabinets, but it is still limited. On the other hand, a custom cabinet shop can do whatever you dream up. If you want to match the exact color of a backsplash tile, they can do that.

Third, there is a difference in the “toughness” of the finish. These days, EPA regulations have made it very costly to use and handle the marvelous, scrub-able finishes found on many cabinets. Custom shops just can’t afford this. They do offer very durable finishes, but not the toughest of all. If you think your kitchen cabinets will need frequent cleaning or wiping down, (think small children in the house), the tougher finish of semi-custom cabinets might be the best for you.

Fourth, and often the most important difference is that custom cabinets usually cost more than semi-custom kitchen cabinets. Because semi-custom cabinets are mass produced, there is an economy of scale a custom shop can’t match. Still, the added cost of custom cabinets to get the style and color you want may be worth it.

Beyond that, there is not much difference between semi-custom and custom cabinets. Many semi-custom kitchen cabinets offer the option of plywood construction. Most offer soft-close doors and drawers and full-extension drawers. Specialty items, like silverware dividers, magic corners, spice racks, etc. are available.

Custom kitchen cabinets are great. But please don’t feel you are giving up much or taking a step down with semi-custom cabinets. I have used them in many, many high-end homes.

I hope this information is helpful to you. You might want to get yourself a copy of my best-seller, Designing Your Perfect House. It is chockfull of valuable tips and advice that will save you many times the cost of the book on your house building or remodeling project. You might also like The Well-Centered Home: Simple Steps to Increase Mindfulness, Self-Awareness, and Happiness Where You Live. It will show you how to make your home a happy place.

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Bill Hirsch | Architect

Bill Hirsch

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