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Semicustom Cabinets

When designing a kitchen and choosing cabinetry, the vast array of options can seem overwhelming. To begin sorting them all out, keep in mind that there are essentially three different types of cabinets: stock, custom, and semicustom. Semicustom cabinets offer more variety than stock cabinets, but are less expensive than custom cabinets.

Stock cabinets refer to the cabinet inventory stocked at a manufacturer or retailer. Options for wood type, finishes, door style, etc., are limited to what is available. Cabinet box sizes and depths are also limited to what is available, and stock cabinets come with the shortest warrantees: about five years. However, stock cabinets have entry-level prices and have the fastest delivery, sometimes immediate or in a few days.

Custom cabinets are on the other end of the spectrum. They are built to a client’s specifications and can incorporate any number of specialized designs, so anything is possible. These cabinets have an abundance of options, but come with a premium price tag. In addition, they will have lead times of about eight weeks to several months. Large manufacturers will offer up to lifetime warrantees for custom cabinets.

Semicustom cabinets fall between stock and custom cabinets. The Kitchen Cabinets Manufacturers Association defines them as “built to order but within a defined set of construction parameters; available in standard widths but with more choices for depth and height modifications.” They can be customized to the degree of the shop’s capabilities. Semicustom is the type of cabinetry sold at Boston Building Resources.

Semicustom cabinets offer such a wide array of options that many people do not need to customize their cabinets to get what they are looking for. Semicustom cabinets are offered widths ranging from 9 to 45 inches, in 3-inch increments. For an upcharge, these dimensions can be modified to 1/8 of an inch, which can reduce the need for filler strips and minimize wasted space. Depths and heights can also be modified for an upcharge to accommodate a passageway or ceiling height. Semicustom cabinets are also available either with face-frame or frameless construction. Most designs that are commonly built by custom cabinet shops can be found in a semicustom line.

Semicustom lines offer limited lifetime warrantees similar to those of custom cabinets. All of the semicustom lines that Boston Building Resources offers—Candlelight Cabinetry, Custom Wood Products, Executive Cabinetry, Imperia Cabinets, New River Cabinetry, Purekitchen, and Young Furniture—have lifetime warrantees.

When choosing a semicustom cabinet, keep in mind the four things that determine its quality: box construction, drawers, doors, and finish.

Boxes

Cabinet boxes can be made from plywood, cabinet-grade particle board, or medium density fiberboard (MDF). Plywood is typically the most expensive option, and it can vary in quality. High-quality plywood will have durable glue and expert fabrication, as well as many plies. Formaldehyde-free particle board, also known as furniture board, is a dense, durable substrate for veneer and can be more affordable than plywood. MDF is made of recycled wood fibers and resin that takes paint and veneer well. It is the smoothest of the three options, and also the heaviest. Boston Building Resources offers cabinets made of both plywood and particle board. There is a wide range of options for each type, and they vary in quality and price, so customers can choose what works best for their situation.

Drawers

Here, the darker hardwood front panel is attached to the front of the drawer box, and a dovetail joint is visible. Slides are underneath.

Here, the darker hardwood front panel is attached to the front of the drawer box, and a dovetail joint is visible. Slides are underneath.

For good-quality drawers, dovetailed or doweled construction is best, rather than stapled. Dovetail drawers are the standard for Boston Building Resources cabinet manufacturers. For a durable drawer, the hardwood or MDF front panel should be attached to a four-sided box rather than used as the fourth side (see photo). Drawer boxes typically have 1/2 to 3/4 inch wood sides. Semicustom cabinets offer full-extension slides, allowing access to the complete contents of the drawer. Under-mount slides are ideal because they support the drawer from the bottom and are better concealed. Many semicustom cabinets also offer a soft-close feature that allows the drawer to close quietly and without damage. Drawers shouldn’t shake or rattle; that is a sign of cheap drawer slides.

Doors

Good-quality doors should be 3/4 inch thick and be made of hardwood or of painted or veneered MDF. The doors should have rubber bumpers and adjustable hinges produced by a reputable manufacturer. The center panel of the door should have room to move, but shouldn’t rattle, and should closely match the grain and color of the frame. High-quality doors have raised center panels facing either in or out in order to give the door better thickness and stability. The door edge, frame, and raised-panel profiles can be individualized in semicustom cabinets. Some popular door styles are Shaker, slab, beadboard, and raised panel. These are available in most all semicustom cabinet lines.

Finish

Finish styles vary extensively in semicustom cabinets. The semicustom lines that Boston Building Resources offers have a variety of color and stain options. Semicustom cabinets come in basically any color that the customer could desire. Stain finishes usually take several steps: stain application, heat curing, one or more sealer coats, and a topcoat. The cabinets are sanded by machine and hand prior to staining and then sanded again between sealer coats. The resulting finish is highly durable. Sheen levels can fall anywhere between matte and glossy without any effect on the durability. Factory-painted finishes dry harder than standard paint and are topped with additional coats, with sanding and heat curing between each coat. A painted finish can crack if the wood moves, so hairline cracks can appear at joints—but these are not considered defects. A good-quality finish should not peel or flake, should be clear and smooth, and should not have any sanding marks. The molding and door edges should be crisp with no finish buildup.

Because of the many variables affecting the price of semicustom cabinetry, it is necessary to talk to a dealer or designer to get an accurate cost estimate.

—Kelly Gallagher

Information gathered from Nena Donovan Levine, “Get to Know Semicustom Cabinets,” Fine Homebuilding, April–May 2014, 40–47. The full article is available for purchase on the Fine Homebuilding website.