Cabinets can create a centerpiece of design

There is tremendous choice in cabinets.

There should a cabinet out there for every taste and budget. There was a time when almost all cabinets were a custom build. Usually by a local craftsman. Things have changed in that there are now many shops making cabinets in standard units with many finishes and details. Although I have built many sets of cabinets in the past I rarely do so anymore. It is just too convenient and time saving to purchase them ready made.

Thermal shrink melamine cabinets

An inexpensive kitchen

Cabinets can be purchased fully assembled and fully finished with only installation required. Some companies also sell products that are fully assembled and ready to finish. If you want unique colors or special art graphics this is the way to go. Other cupboards can be purchased ready to assemble. They are usually finished and very easy to put together. This reduces freight and stocking costs considerably. Economical and available on short notice they are more common with durable finishes such as thermal wrapped vinyl. They use the European style hinges for ease of assembly.

The least expensive of the ready to assemble cabinets are a flat panel door. These will be made from a white melamine board with an edge tape. One edge on each door is finished with a wood molding which serves as a door pull. Drawers are finished similarly. The cost of drawer and door pulls is eliminated. Other colors are available at a slightly higher cost. If budget is a prime consideration these present a possibility. They are also an option for a basement suite or any rental property. I consider them inexpensive enough to tear out and use in your garage at a later date when you can afford to upgrade. They can be a choice for seldom seen spots such as a laundry or storage room.

Part of the Main Kitchen
kitchen / / CC BY-ND

Of course this style is also the easiest to build yourself. It is likely not worth it though, considering the low cost and the material waste you will likely have.

The last few installations I have done have been with thermal vinyl wrap doors. The cabinets have been both the assembled type and the cheaper ready to assemble. The major difference in the two have been in cost and time. They are quite attractive when dressed up with classy pulls. Costs without counter tops and labor has ranged from under 3000.00 for a standard sized kitchen up to 10,000.00 for a larger kitchen of the ready to install type. They have all been white but other colors are available.

If budget is not a consideration there is not much limit to what you can invest in cabinets.

I am calling it an investment because kitchens and bathrooms add the most value to a house and that’s where most of your cabinets will be. Cabinets make a statement about a home. It would be unwise to cheap out if they are to be installed in a large luxurious home. An ultra fancy kitchen in a conservative home will still raise the resale value but perhaps not as much as the cost.

Always bargain hunting we have already purchased the cabinets for the kitchen in our new build. We stumbled into a truck load sale of assembled unfinished oak cabinets. Door style is similar to shaker but more ornate. They required only light sanding. I have already stained and finished them with urethane. Brushes, sandpaper, stain and varnish cost about 150.00 extra and took a weeks work. There are 12 pieces including a pantry and a lazy susan corner. Cost before GST—1200.00. I do have a heated garage to work in and extra storage room to make this possible. I do need to buy a couple sheets of oak plywood to modify a couple of pieces for the island.

Bathroom cabinet

Oak bathroom vanity

There can be a difference in quality of the boxes used for the cabinets. Unless you expect your family to be extra rough on them the cheaper cabinets are going to be strong enough. European style hinges will be sturdier than other types. Drawer glides are often a little inferior but they can be replaced with better ones. The boxes come in two types, faced or not but the unfaced is the most common.

Base cabinets are a standard height to yield a counter top at 36 inches. You can use different bases to adjust the height a bit. Depth is usually about 23”. Widths are commonly in multiples of 3 inches. Upper cabinets and pantries come in different depths and heights for different applications. Bathroom vanity cabinets are sized for a final height of about 32 inches but there is no reason you can’t use kitchen cabinets if you prefer a taller vanity.

There is so much variety in counter tops that I am only going to be able to touch on the subject here.

Tile cabinet top

An inexpensive ceramic tile countertop

The least expensive will be a plastic laminate on a ¾ inch MDF base. Sturdy, attractive and durable it is cut and assembled at the job. Preformed and cut to order laminate tops are another common choice that take a little less skill to install. There are hundreds of colors and patterns.

At the other end of the scale are the solid stone counter tops which can be very costly and take considerable skill to install. I have never been brave enough to attempt one. Every one of these is unique in some way or another with multiple colors, patterns and types of stone to choose from.

In between there are many other choices including but not limited to ceramic tiles, stone tiles, butcher block, polished concrete, stainless steel, composite materials and resin products.

Some of these may be impossible to match in the future if you decide to make an addition.

If you have woodworking skill and at least a rudimentary shop you can build your own cabinets.

They are not really that complicated and you could end up with a superior product. I have built several sets of cabinets over the years. The trickiest part for me has always been the final finishing when going for a wood grain effect. Painting cabinets a solid color is easier but still takes care and skill. Tools that make things a lot easier are a thickness planer (it does not need to be an expensive one) and a good router table equipped with a router that can take bits with a ½ inch shank. A number of C clamps and pipe clamps will also be convenient. A good orbital sander is a big help as well. Belt or rotary sanders are too aggressive. This not a big outlay even for one set of cabinets and once you have them I am sure you would use them for multiple other projects. You will need some saw blades for fine work but your normal carpentry saws can do all that is necessary. I have actually built quite nice cabinets with no more than a radial arm saw and hand tools. It just limits you a bit on design.

Environmental concerns?

I don’t think the environment is a big issue here. Most cabinets are made of wood or wood products. I feel these are a good choice as carbon is locked up in the wood and the replanted trees lock up more. Perhaps you could make a case against stone because of the energy needed to cut and polish it and the weight requiring more fuel for transportation. However the life of stone is practically forever and that is to it’s advantage. Perhaps use of some of the rarer woods is reducing the diversity of forests and could be considered. Much of the wood used is of common species often grown in plantations or certainly from managed forests.

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4 thoughts on “Cabinets can create a centerpiece of design

  1. Mrs. Wacky Wong

    Good post! We really need to redo our cabinets. We got a quote for refacing the cabinets…$17,000! Wowzers! So I think we’re just going to have to paint them when we get a chance.

    1. Rick Post author

      It depends on your cabinet type but many larger home improvement stores can order you doors in multiple sizes, designs and finishes. Along with nice new pulls this can improve cabinets dramatically at a reasonable cost. Mr. Wong sounds like a handyman and this is quite an easy fix. Probably easier than trying to get a good paint job but more costly. shouldn’t be anywhere near as bad as that qoute unless you have an awful lot of cabinets. Let me know what you think.

  2. Mrs. Wacky Wong

    Yeah I’m wondering too now. The outdated kitchen makes me a little depressed. The quote we got was from Home Depot. There are about 40+ doors and drawers so I’m very hesitant at painting all of them and having it look professional. I’ve done a smaller kitchen before but it still took awhile.

    1. Rick Post author

      Yes, I have painted cabinets a few times and it improved them a lot but it took a lot of prep work and I was never entirely satisfied with the results.


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