Cabinets: Modular vs. Semi-Custom vs. Custom…

Cabinets: Modular vs. Semi-Custom vs. Custom…

Which One is Right for You?

When it comes to choosing cabinets, the options of door styles, materials, and finishes are endless.  But, when it comes to the types of cabinets available, there are primarily three to choose from, modular, semi-custom, and custom.  Which of these choices give you the best bang for your buck?  Which of these three gives you the most desirable result in kitchen design and functionality?  And which type delivers outstanding end user service and quality?  Well, let’s take a moment to look at your options, then you can decide which best fits your needs and wants.

Modular Cabinets

Modular cabinets, or stock, ready to assemble cabinets, are very popular and readily available today through the big box stores and other modular suppliers.  Modular cabinets can be obtained quickly and are usually very cheap, but as with most things, “you get what you pay for.”  Often the quality of a modular cabinets is disappointing and warranties are non existent or weak.  Getting replacement doors, and parts is often difficult and people often learn the hard way that ready to assemble is not for the faint of heart, when their cabinets arrive in flat boxes with “a million pieces” to put together.  Also, modular cabinets offer little in the creativity of design layout and often the colors, finishes, and door styles are limited.

Bottom Line:  Modular cabinets are often the cheapest and fastest option, but offer less in the areas of quality, design, aesthetics, and warranties.


Semi-custom cabinets seem to hit that sweet spot where budget meets quality and design.  While giving the price advantage similar to that of a modular cabinet, semi-custom gives the customer greater flexibility in the design and aesthetics of the options available to them.  Semi-custom cabinets offer higher quality, and even thought they usually take 4-6 weeks to arrive on site, they come pre-built, customized to your project, and ready to install.  The colors, finishes, and door styles are virtually limitless with semi-custom cabinets, and semi-custom allows the ability to create custom layouts and add custom features such as storage pullouts, niches, and appliance panels.  Also, there are many lines of semi-custom cabinets that offer standard soft close doors and drawers, dovetail construction, and lifetime warranties on the cabinetry.   If warranty parts are needed, getting access to these items is often easy and fast especially when working with cabinet manufacturers that are focused on the end product and customer service.

Bottom Line:  Semi-custom cabinets are a great option for builders and homeowners who want a high quality, custom look and feel, without paying custom prices, along with lifetime warranties and excellent service for their cabinets.


NOTE:  While the wording “Custom Cabinets” may portray the idea of of someone building each door and each piece of the cabinetry by hand, this is not always the case.  While a custom cabinet shop may be capable of built-from-scratch cabinets, you may need to specify exactly what you are getting for the price.  We’ve seen many “Custom” shops still purchase mass-produced doors from another source, use white melamine particle board boxes, and staple together their drawer boxes (instead of real wood dove-tailed drawers) – even using cheap door and drawer hardware that is not soft-close.  Custom may not always mean the best.  You’ll need to check with the custom cabinet builder and have them show you exactly what you are getting for a “custom cabinet”.

That said, with custom built cabinets the obvious advantage is being a completely customized space, only inhibited by budget.  But budget also happens to be the greatest challenge when dealing with custom cabinets.  While the options in custom design are endless, custom comes at a price.  When going with custom cabinets sometimes clients have to forgo such options as soft-close drawers and doors just to afford the cabinet they want.  Custom, if it is built by a reputable woodworker, is often high quality, usually taking a bit longer to produce, sometimes 8 weeks or more. Some custom cabinet builders offer limited or lifetime warranties on their cabinetry and it is always wise to find out what their warranty covers and for how long.  Custom, although it can be beautiful and desirable, cannot fit into everyone’s budget and timelines.

Bottom Line:  Custom cabinets can usually offer endless choices in design and aesthetics but are often time and cost prohibitive.  

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