Define Custom Cabinetry

Hey friends, today I want to clear up some confusion in our industry by asking the question, What is Custom Cabinetry…

It sounds simple, right? But it’s actually not. And what 1 person means by “custom” is very different than what another person means.

II want to Define “Custom” for us so that we make sure we’re talking about the same thing when we use the term.

So, What is Custom Cabinetry? The term is used to refer to all sorts of products that vary drastically, leaving you confused or unsure. More specifically, does custom simply mean “customized” for a particular space? Or does the term refer to the quality of the cabinets themselves?

Here’s some questions you might have asked?

Does it simply mean that my cabinets were designed for my space? 

Are custom cabinets only built by local shops?

Are custom cabinets better than other cabinets?

Here are 3 potential meanings of “custom cabinets” that we will discuss:

  1. A Customized Design: Cabinetry designed to fit in your space
  2. Local Custom: Local shops that build cabinets to fit your home
  3. Luxury Custom: Regional or national manufacturers who build high-end, fully custom cabinets

So, let’s clear this up. Let’s ask Marriam…

A Customized Design

According to Marriam Webster, the word “custom” as an adjective means “made or performed according to personal order.” In other words, it’s something that’s made specifically for you, the customer.

By this definition, most cabinet designs are “custom,” or maybe better, “customized.” Someone planned with intention that the cabinets and parts that ended up in your home fit between the walls of your particular space. 

We recently visited friends who bought a new home and they told us the home had been recently remodeled with “custom cabinets” in the kitchen. According to this first definition, this kitchen was “custom.” Someone designed this kitchen with the right cabinets and parts to fit this particular space. Now, this house was a flip house, and typically flip houses do not include the highest level of finishes. It’s a great house, but not a high-end house. 

This was true of the cabinets as well. They were functional and looked good, but they were lower-end cabinets. So the design was “customized” to fit the house, but the product was a stock product, right off the shelf of a well-known manufacturer who imports their cabinet parts from overseas.

Local Custom

By contrast, here in North Carolina, I hear the term “custom” used to refer primarily to local cabinet shops that build cabinets to fit precisely in your home. These craftsman and artisans have the equipment and skills necessary to measure and build custom-sized cabinets and parts to fit in unique areas of your home. Oftentimes, these cabinets are great quality, beautiful and almost always fit snugly.

Because there are a slew of custom cabinet shops in the Carolinas, this is a common understanding of “custom cabinets” in a region like ours. The same is true in parts of Pennsylvania, Texas, and specific areas of the Midwest. 

Local custom cabinets are a good option for many people. However, their quality varies drastically, so don’t think that local custom automatically means high-quality. Just because a cabinet is made to fit precisely in your home does not mean it’s high-end. We could make a cardboard box that fits precisely, right?

Many of these craftsmen and craftswomen make fabulous products, but many do not. With no national standards or quality control protocols in place, you should verify the quality of the product prior to signing on the dotted line.

Luxury Custom

However, there’s another way that the term “Custom Cabinets” is used in the industry, and this is how we use the term. Kitchen and Bath designers and dealers like us work primarily with regional and national brands that produce cabinetry at a large scale. We have different levels of cabinetry that are standard in the industry and agreed-upon language to refer to those levels in order to be able to communicate the quality  and functionality of the products. In short, those are Stock, Semi-Custom, and Custom. There are ways to divide these into smaller categories, but for our purposes, these three are enough.

Stock cabinets are lower quality, limited to 3” increments, have a good finish, and generally cannot be modified.

Semi-custom cabinets are great quality, have an excellent finish (almost always better than Local Custom quality), and offer a vast area of customization and modifications.

Custom cabinets are furniture quality, have a superb finish, and can be built in any shape, size, and with basically any material.

When I refer to “Custom Cabinets”, I’m referring to this 3rd meaning. I’m referring to a cabinet that is Luxury in quality, feel, and function. It’s not simply built-to fit your space, it’s built with strict attention to detail as a piece of luxury furniture that will last a lifetime. It’s finished with the utmost care and precision to provide a smooth supple look. It’s a high-end, custom product.

So, we can refer to any of these definitions as “custom cabinets”, but what we mean by them is drastically different.

Here are some questions to ask to determine if you’re looking at a high-end, custom, luxury cabinet job:

Does the kitchen have fillers and visible seams?

Do the cabinets feel more like a piece of furniture, or like the cabinets you’ve seen at Ikea?

Is there perfect balance or symmetry between the different parts of the kitchen? If not, it’s likely the designer was limited by standard sizes.

Are there unique pieces incorporated into the design, or is everything a simple box with doors?

Rub your hand across the painted finish. Does it feel supple and smooth? Can you see any inconsistencies or imperfections?

Luxury custom cabinets are not for everyone, and definitely not for every budget. However, you should know that custom is not custom is not custom. Not everyone claiming to have or build “custom” is talking about the same thing. Not at all.

Maybe a stock cabinet design customized for your home is perfect for what you need. That’s great!  

Maybe you want the experience of working with a local craftsman in a small shop. Go for it!

Maybe you want the highest quality, luxury product on the market. That’s great too! We would love to do that for you.

Whatever product is right for you is what you should choose. But, always be informed and make an educated decision.