...At the giant KraftMaid cabinet factory
just outside Cleveland, workers stand by with glue guns and pneumatic
nailers as parts for a complete set of kitchen cabinets approach on
a conveyor. Drawers, face frames, prefinished panels, shelves and
moldings arrive from all corners of the million-square-foot plant.
Although the customer who ordered this kitchen may have taken months
to plan its every detail, KraftMaid assemblers will put it together
in 15 minutes and ship it a week later.
Did you think your new kitchen cabinets would be hand-built by fussy
atisans? Guess again. Cabinets are a $6 billion dollar industry, and
they pour off assembly lines like hubcaps or lawn chairs. If that
prospect unsettles you, consider a a smaller company, one like Rutt
Custom Cabinetry of Goodville, Pennsylvania. Here, door panels are
matched for color and figure one door at a time. A specialist is standing
by to custom-blend a paint color. The catch? Rutt charges more than
twice as much, and you can count on waiting 40 or 50 days to get your
Manufactured kitchens fall into three general categories
...The industry has traditionally divided
cabinets into three grades: stock, semicustom, and custom. The labels
don't mean as much as they once did, but they are still a good starting
Stock cabinets are at the low end of the market. Available
in fewer styles and finishes and with fewer options, stock cabinets
are built in standard sizes in increments of 3 in. in width. They
are manufactured and then stockpiled, without regard to who will buy
Semicustom cabinets are built to order, also on a 3 in. grid,
and offer more choices when it comes to styles, accessories, and finishes.
Materials may be of higher quality.
Custom cabinets, such as those from Rutt, are built to fit
the available floor space exactly with just about any option the customer
is willing to pay for. They are the most expensive of all.
And then there are the small shops, the local cabinetmakers
found in virtually every corner of the country. Working on one job
at a time, these shops turn out cabinets designed for just one client.
Detailing, construction and wood selection may range from ordinary
Assessing quality is not always easy. Many manufacturers submit their
cabinets to the Kitchen Cabinet Manufacturers Association for voluntary
testing and certification. Although the process is wide-ranging and
rigorous (roughly half of those seeking certification for the first
time will flunk), it's not useful for comparing individual components
such as drawers, doors and cabinet boxes. And makers of high-end cabinetry
may skip the test altogether.
Prices vary as widely as quality. Bottom-of-the-line stock cabinets
are available for less than $2500 (not including countertops and installation).
KraftMaid's better-quality kitchen might range from just over $5,000
to $12,000, and a custom-manufactured kitchen can approach $20,000.
The following pages look in detail at four manufactured cabinets that
are typical of what's on the market. More expensive often means more
quality and a longer life. But getting the best value also should
include a careful look at the many differences in construction, hardware,
finish, and materials.