What makes a great quality cabinet is somewhat subjective I guess, but not really. But for the sake of argument, we can pretend that it is for now. Hopefully after reading this you'll learn something new, because if your not in the cabinet business this will be a revelation to you. There is a misconception in the kitchen cabinet industry that is so strong and pervasive that I'm absolutely baffled by it. It's a giant lie, that like all good lies is based on a small amount of truth and taken advantage of by people that know you don't know any better.
Unfortunately the folks that get taken advantage of, are those that work the hardest for their money, and have the least amount to waste. If you have a great budget, there's no problem finding high quality cabinets with a name you can trust that's been around forever, just like buying a BMW or Lexus, you know it's good. But if you're trying to buy cabinets in the 5,000 - 10,000 dollar range things get a little more dicey.
When a customer calls me for the first time, I ask them questions about the project, time frame, and style of cabinets their looking for, to try and pick a suitable manufacturer to quote for them. We have cabinets in many different styles and price ranges, so it's important to get as much background information as I can, so I'm not wasting my time and your's by quoting something that takes too long, or doesn't have enough design options or is beyond the customer's budget.
When I was trained as a kitchen designer, I was taught to always ask the customers budget, this often offended people so for a while I stopped doing it. I quickly found out that if I didn't find out their budget I would always be quoting the wrong product for people. After doing this for about 12 years I've learned that there's a million other questions I can ask to find out someone's budget, such as "what kind of cabinets have you been looking at". But since the great recession started I've noticed a new kind of cabinet shoppers that tells me exactly what their budget is and what they're looking for without telling me anything. When I ask them what kind of cabinets they are interested in, the first words out of their mouth is "All Wood". Once I hear these two magic words, which is equal to the words " I want a metal car " I know that they have bought into the lie of every carpetbagger in the cabinet industry. These guys all sell Chinese cabinetry which for the most part doesn't have too many redeeming qualities other than a plywood box, and a somewhat low price tag.
When I hear this from a customer , I have to admit I get a little discouraged. We have a limited amount of these kind of products but for the most part, we're only willing to go so low on quality and if you put yourself out there with this limited amount of knowledge, someone is going to sell you some real garbage for whatever your looking to spend. And the thing about those guys is, the whole process is about deception, so they don't really care if you're getting a good product or not. And so instead of me being able to do my job and help you build something fantastic, at a great price, we all just waste our time and you end up buying Walmart furniture to put your nice granite counter tops on. Yikes!
So if you're still with me I commend you, and please don't take my comments the wrong way. My negativity comes from an honest concern for my customers and my industry. If I believed in Chinese cabinets I could sell tons of them, I have importers contacting me daily to carry their products. And really it's not where they are made that's my problem, it's the quality of them. If you compared apples to apples with American made cabinets they would be just as expensive, but people don't. American manufacturers and every person that's been in the cabinet business before all this nonsense started, know that a plywood box can be a nice feature but it's way down the list of what makes a good quality cabinet.
Giant manufacturers like Kraftmaid, Diamond, Medallion, Woodharbor, Kitchencraft, Bertch etc. have been making their cabinet boxes out of engineered wood for many decades, and they all come with lifetime warranties. How can they do this you ask, well the answer is simple well made cabinet boxes, regardless of the material they are made of, virtually never fail. Now you may have seen some cabinets that are made of wafer board in a mobile home or apartment that got wet and dissolved like paper, but that's not the material that's used in American cabinet brands. Engineered wood for cabinetry is heavier and more rigid than any plywood, it holds screws great and can soak in water for days without being affected. But the carpetbaggers are perfectly willing to take advantage of your fears, because that's what they do. For an online dealer to even compare his unbranded no name products with the aforementioned brands is just lying to you.
All the brands mentioned above offer the option to make your cabinet boxes out of plywood, and in America that costs a little bit more money, because we actually care about the environment a little over here. You'll pay and extra 10-20% for plywood boxes which is money wasted if you're on a budget, because it could have gone to purchasing a nice glazed finish that would actually make your cabinets look nicer. And guess what warranty you get with the plywood boxes? That's right, a lifetime warranty just like the particle board ones. In 12 years of selling cabinetry with a lifetime warranty, I've never had to replace a cabinet box yet, because as I said earlier they virtually never fail.
So if the box really isn't that critical then what does make a good quality cabinet? Well the part you see obviously, the door and finish. Some manufacturers use the best hardwoods you can get, and stain them with very transparent stains so you can see all the beauty of the wood. Some use a slightly lesser grade and use a little more toner on the wood. Some painted parts are made of mdf to keep the paint from peeling or soaking into the wood after a few years or months in some cases. Within in the industry of branded cabinets it's well known what is good, better and best, and you pretty much get what you pay for. You will pay a little more if you need your hand held, maybe a little less if you don't. Our prices at Cabinet Pro-Supply are the lowest anywhere on the brands we offer.
I realize not everyone has the budget for really nice cabinets, but that is the reason you need to focus on the part that's important. This is especially important with today's painted finishes. Up until about 5 years ago, these finishes were failing like crazy. The introduction of more stable materials like mdf to be used on center panels is what has made them be able to last a lifetime. Painting wood cabinets is no different than painting your wood fence outside, it's going to have peeling, checking, mineral streaks, cracking, etc. unless you use the right materials for painting and finish them the right way. With imported cabinets you have no idea what they're made of or how their finished. Lead paint anyone? One thing you can count on, is that there will be no replacement doors a few years down the road.
Fortunately cabinet manufacturers recognize that the economy is not the same as it was 10 years ago, and so they have made less expensive versions of their higher end products. These lines are limited in styles and finish but are made with the same quality and warranty of their more expensive big custom lines, and for the most part you can add in parts of the custom lines such as moldings or a different color island without having to pay the high end price for the whole job. A couple great lines we carry at Cabinet Pro Supply are the Bertch Marketplace line and the Woodharbor Breeze line, Greenfield is coming out with a frameless version called Siteline as well. All these cabinets will start with an engineered wood box to try and be competitive, but the part of the cabinet that matters, the door and finish will be as good as it gets. And I can promise you that they make their Imported counterparts look like absolute garbage, plywood box and all. So if you're not buying cabinets for a flip house or a rental do yourself a favor, and take a look at one of our brands. After all these aren't running shoes you're going to be throwing away in three months.