Choosing custom cabinetry over stock cabinets gives homeowners the ability to create a kitchen uniquely suited to their style and the décor of their home. Custom cabinets can be made to blend with the millwork, furniture and other features of your home in a way that off-the-shelf cabinets simply cannot. In addition, custom cabinet makers are not limited by the standard sizes or materials that large-scale cabinet manufacturers offer. This lets them make full use of the storage space in your kitchen and create both an appearance and functionality that is truly one-of-a-kind. Building and installing custom cabinets, however, is a much more complicated process than selecting and installing stock cabinets. You will want to take extra care in selecting your cabinet maker. The task doesn’t end when you’ve made your choice either. You’ll also want to work closely with the contractor you select and clearly communicate what you are looking for so that you are both satisfied at the end of the project.
Start with Your Network
There’s no better way to start your search for a custom cabinet maker than with your social network. Ask friends and family who have hired cabinet makers for references. If they had a stellar experience, they’ll be more than happy to refer you to their contractor. Don’t stop there. Ask them about their experience. Was there anything they didn’t like about the process or the end result? Is there anything they would have done differently? The answers to these questions will help in your selection process and beyond.
As you begin your selection process, be sure to ask each cabinet maker for samples of their past work. Any quality cabinet contractor will be able to provide photos of their past work, either on their web site or in person. Inquire about work done several years ago. How well has it held up? Have the doors, literally, fallen off the hinges? The further back you can go into your cabinet maker’s past experience, the more comfortable you will be.
Ask your cabinet maker for at least three references from people they’ve built cabinets for. As with the work samples, if you can check references from projects done several years ago, that will speak to the durability of the work. If possible, make arrangements to go see some of the cabinet maker’s recent projects in person. There’s no match for seeing, touching and feeling actual cabinets. You can also research your cabinet maker online. What type of reviews and comments do you find? Keep in mind that unhappy customers are more likely to post negative comments than happy customers are to post positive ones, but poor reviews are certainly a warning sign.
Many cabinet professionals who label themselves “custom” use off-the-shelf cabinet doors. This reduces the overall quality of the product. The doors are the most functional part of any cabinet. While the rest of the cabinet certainly needs to be solid and stable, it’s the door that actually moves. Your doors, as well as hardware items like hinges, slides and locks, need to be high quality to ensure that your cabinets don’t break down over time. Confirm with your cabinet maker that they build their own doors and use quality hardware.
Be Upfront About Budget
You’ll want to know early on how your cabinet maker charges. Do they work on an hourly fee? Do they charge by the linear foot? Or by the project? What about materials? How much do exotic hardwoods cost compared to more common species? What type of construction do you prefer – frameless, inset or face frame – and how does that impact the price? A huge variety of things can impact the price of a custom cabinetry project. Don’t hesitate to ask your cabinet maker to walk you through all the alternatives. A good policy is to clearly communicate your maximum up front. A quality contractor will work within your budget and advise on the best ways to stay within it.
The more you communicate with your cabinet maker during the design process, the happier you will be at the end of the project. Part of your selection process, in fact, should be to find out how much input your supplier is willing to take. Ideally, they’ll be very patient with you and carefully incorporate your input into their design. Ultimately, a picture is worth a thousand words, and many cabinet makers now use specialised software not only to plan and lay out your kitchen, but to create photorealistic renderings of what your kitchen will look like. To take it a step further, touching actual materials is even better than seeing a rendering. You should get samples of the wood as well as all the hardware. Keep in mind that cabinets are not the only element of your kitchen. They will need to tie in with flooring, countertops, backsplash and lighting, among other items. A quality cabinet maker will consider your entire kitchen – not just the cabinets.
Cabinets are, perhaps, the most functional part of a kitchen. They not only store your kitchen wares, they also provide access to them, meaning that they must open and close frequently. Building such important items from scratch is no small feat, but by carefully choosing a cabinet maker, and working with them throughout the design and construction process, you can build a kitchen that suits you perfectly and is, literally, unlike any other kitchen in the world.
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