Sticker shock! We understand. Kitchens typically the most expensive room to remodel. Cabinetry is one of the most significant expenses most homeowners face when upgrading or remodeling kitchens.
While the price point is essential, focusing on value is the best way to get the most of your hard-earned money. – Jason Kidwell, Owner, Explore Kitchens in McLean, Virginia
What Are The Various Grades Of Cabinets?
To the inexperienced, one cabinet can look very much like another. Many times all you have to go on is the professional photographer’s images of the cabinets you’re ordering, and those can be deceiving. But, if you understand the various grades of cabinetry, and what goes into a quality cabinet, you’ll be better prepared to make an intelligent choice on the cabinets for your next kitchen or bath upgrade.
While we all know there are various quality levels in many products we buy, like clothing, automobiles, and electronics, sometimes it’s hard to know if what looks like quality cabinetry is. The price point is often a big clue, but it’s not true that you necessarily get exactly what you pay for. Sometimes you’re paying more for features, or style, but sacrificing quality.
What You Should Look For In A Kitchen Cabinet
At Explore kitchen remodeling, we want you to do your due diligence, so we’re going to walk you through the various options available and show you how we select the cabinets we put our name behind. There are five primary grades of cabinets. They may be called different things in different places, so we’ll be describing each level as we go along so you can compare.
- RTA cabinets. These are “ready to assemble” cabinets, packed in flat boxes, and ready to be screwed together. They are generally the lowest quality but at a great price
- Thrift grade cabinets. These are generally made of particleboard and may have pressed on faux wood grain or solid color finishes made of thin plastic or vinyl. You can find examples of this in every discount retail store
- Builder grade cabinets. Particleboard, MDF, and plywood are the main ingredients. Builder grade cabinets can be made to look expensive, but generally don’t hold up. They are typically sold unfinished
- Stock cabinets. This is the best grade of cabinet you can generally go home with today. Usually comes with more beautiful features, such as concealed hinges, available in one or two paint colors, and maybe a light and dark option for wood
- Semi-custom. These are special order and generally medium quality. They can be ordered in a variety of woods, finishes and hardware styles. Typically delivered finished and installed on-site
- True custom. These are built to order, of the highest quality materials, hardware, and finishes. They are generally constructed and finished onsite to fit your kitchen or bath. Very expensive
There are six essential elements cabinets should be judged on.
Start With The Look You Want
At ExploreKitchens.com, we make this easy. Our bath and kitchen visualizers allow you to become your interior designer. Collecting images online, drawing your design, or clipping pictures from The Kitchen Renovation Guide from Architectural Digest is a great start. AD’s Kitchen Renovation Guide
The most critical factor of the design aesthetic is the visual impact or impression a space gives. With a little creativity, almost any design aesthetic can be achieved, even on a tight budget. Starting here will set the stage for what you want to achieve
- Architectural details such as moldings and door/drawer styles are the first place to start when selecting cabinets to achieve a look. Color and finish can be applied to all but the cheapest cabinets, but finding the right “lines” is critical to achieving the look you want
- Next would be the finish. If you plan to do your paint or stain, almost any look can be applied on a budget. If not, you may want to consider ordering prefinished
- Unit styles available are the next consideration. If you want open shelving, specific cabinet types, or sizes, you’ll want to make sure the cabinets you want, come with those specifications or be prepared to pay the price for custom work
Determine Your Kitchen Cabinet Budget
This is often the most critical piece of a kitchen or bath upgrade. Homeowners frequently sacrifice quality to get the correct aesthetic, but managing the budget carefully can give you great value while creating the right look and feel.
- Focus on large, upfront pieces first. If you need to save money, select cheaper pantry shelving, or settle for fewer custom options, such as built-in drawer dividers, etc
- Start with the cabinetry you need for storage and function. Many kitchens have more cabinets than required. Fewer, better quality pieces will create more luxury and functionality
- Things like tile, paint, and light fixtures are often better places to save money than cabinets. They will serve as the worktop for your kitchen, and poor quality cabinetry can make that a chore rather than a pleasure
I am understanding the difference in new kitchen cabinet materials
We’ve all heard the virtues of “solid wood” praised over and over, but if you’ve never been a carpenter or DIY type, you might not understand the value of high-quality building materials. Wood is the primary source of all cabinet materials. Even products like chipboard, particleboard, and Medium Density Fibercore (commonly known as MDF) are made from wood particles.
Because of its porous nature, wood is susceptible to humidity and will expand as humidity rises, and contract as it drops. The tighter the bond in the forest, the more structural integrity it will have. That’s why solid wood, as it comes from the tree, is generally the strongest and longest-lasting, while particle and chipboard products tend to break down when moisture is introduced.
- Cabinets made with solid hardwoods and hardwood layered plywoods are typically the longest lasting. They stand up to moisture the best.
- Fasteners, such as nails and screws, also hold best in wood grain, versus particleboard or MDF.
- Finishes also bond better to real wood surfaces, as manufactured woods, such as particleboard and MDF, can bubble, wrinkle, and split when wet.
You can recognize the various sheet wood products by looking at an unfinished finished edge on your cabinets. If it has one block of wood grain, running the whole length of the piece, it is likely made of solid wood. If it has striped layers, it’s made of plywood. If the texture looks like sawdust or particles, it’s a manufactured wood product.
USA Cabinets vs. MDF Cabinets
Your cabinets are protected by a countertop and bolted to the wall, and it may not seem that important to consider construction. But because of wood’s natural expansion and contraction rates, some methods of construction are better than others.
- Look for solid wood supports in places like corner blocks to indicate solid construction.
- Main joints along the fronts of cabinets should be rabbeted or dovetailed for strength, rather than just being overlapped and “butt jointed.”
- Look for reinforcement screws in outside panels, corners, and other joints. These will help keep the cabinet rigid and maintain joint integrity.
- Solid backs, back support, and top supports will help keep cabinets rigid. Look for these.
- Sloppiness such as staple ends of nails poking out and messy glue joints are sure signs of rushed construction, which generally means no adequate quality control measures are in place.
RTA, thrift, and builder-grade cabinets are generally assembled with staples. It’s a fast, easy, inexpensive way to build, but often the joints won’t stand up to daily use. Corners and joints are also not adequately reinforced, causing cheaper cabinets to fail when put under stress.
Stock cabinets, semi-custom, and custom cabinetry typically have the best construction, with semi-custom representing one of the best values for the price overall in development.
Why you should care about cabinet finishes
Your cabinets have four main enemies when it comes to longevity and lasting beauty. Moisture is by far the most damaging, then use, light, and dirt and dust. Your cabinet’s finish is its only armor, and the better it is, the more likely you’ll still be just as happy with your choice five years from now as you are today.
- Higher quality finishes start with better prep. The bond between surface and paint or stain is the most critical factor.
- Look for interiors that are stained or painted, rather than lined with melamine or thin vinyl. They clean easier and stay looking good longer.
- Check along a finished edge to get an idea of the depth of the finish. More coats mean thicker finish that maintains the beauty and cleanability longer.
- Cheaper finishes look good initially, but crack, blister and peel with use, requiring repairs.
As the finish deteriorates, the material underneath absorbs more moisture and grime, and glued joints tend to fail with finishes as well.
Kitchen Cabinet Hardware Is More Than Kitchen Jewelry
The best-built kitchen cabinet boxes won’t function for long without quality hardware. There is a wide range in hinges, drawer guides, and pulls. Slamming doors and drawers are one of the most significant stresses on cabinet structure and tend to tear at some of the weakest points of construction. Soft close hinges and drawer guides can not only make your kitchen quieter but help keep things in place inside doors and cabinets and add life to your cabinetry.
- The gold standard is Blum hardware. Blum Cabinet Hinges Look for heavier hinge metal and guides with more massive nylon glide wheels
- A quality metal on the door and drawer pulls makes a considerable difference, as screws must stay snug to keep them functional. Look for thicker metal around threaded pockets in the pulls to mark quality
- Adjustability is another key factor for cabinet hardware. Most concealed hinges have some adjustment, the best have two screws for up to a ⅜ adjustment up, down, in, and out to keep doors in alignment for proper appearance and function
Higher quality brand cabinets will feature fully adjustable drawer faces as well. Homes shift over time and being able to adjust drawer faces to keep them aligned is a big benefit. Quality hardware allows you to continue the daily use of your cabinets for years after lesser hardware breaks down.
Explore our blog article about kitchen cabinet hinges. How To Adjust Your Cabinet Doors
What Brands Of Cabinets Does Explore Kitchens Provide?
Here at Explore Kitchen Remodeling, we work hard to provide the very best value in every facet of our kitchen upgrades. Wolf Cabinets and Fabuwood Cabinets are two of the best-produced cabinet lines. Fabuwood Q12 cabinet quality assurance puts them head and shoulders above other brands at the same price point. Our USA cabinets Wolf Kitchen Cabinets
are semi-custom kitchen cabinets and are made in Pennsylvania. Fabuwood Kitchen Cabinet Door Styles
Explore also purchases and receives a sizeable wholesale discount from our Indiana USA cabinet store CliqStudios Signature Collection – Kitchen Cabinet Store
Fabuwood incorporates many features in their semi-custom line of mid-range luxury cabinets you’d normally expect to pay much more for, like fully adjustable door and drawer fronts, full extension guides on every door, and dovetail joinery on every drawer and cabinet front.
When shopping for new kitchen cabinets first look at the grade of the cabinet. Next, select the color and style of cabinet that best fits your lifestyle and the size of your kitchen. Third, select the finishes and cabinet hardware, or we call it the jewelry for your kitchen. Finally, select the brand of cabinet that best fits your budget.
Explore Kitchens is a Class A General Contractor in the state of Virginia and has a studio in Tysons, Virginia.