Custom cabinetry is a term used for a wide variety of cabinet products. When I used to represent many semi-custom lines like the ones carried at homecenters, I would occasionally lose a project to a local custom shop. The term custom denoted a false sense of high quality to the customer, much like the words plywood construction instills the idea of quality into subpar imported cabinets. At the time I really didn't know much about custom cabinetry, having never worked with it, so I really didn't have a good response to them. I would come up with the benefits my product represented, but since I wasn't sure about my competitors product I didn't sound too convincing.
When I decided to start Cabinet Pro-Supply, my first idea was to use one of our local custom cabinet manufacturers to make the cabinets for us and we would deliver them to the destination. I felt I would use custom cabinetry to gain that competitive advantage over the big factory cabinets, I was used to representing. I was working on a kitchen for a builder friend of mine, who I normally supplied a factory built semi-custom product for. I took the plans to one of our local custom shops to build it for me. The first thing I found out to my surprise is that they didn't do full overlay that much, but they knew what it was, and said they could do it. The second, and most problematic thing I found was that they didn't understand the engineering of modern corner cabinets at all. The cabinets weren't built correctly and the hinges were not right either. Those types of cabinets like lazy susans and easy reach have special hinging and engineering. It's still a mystery to me how you can get by in the cabinet business without knowing these things.
We delivered the cabinets to the job unaware of the problems we would run into until I was already back home in another state. Luckily my contractor was a good guy and pretty handy as well, and we were able to work through the problems. Not being very happy with that whole process, we found another local custom shop that was a little bit bigger and actually had a couple draftsmen on site. They specialized in frameless products, so the full overlay was not a problem. On this order we had two corner drawer bases. They said this was no problem. They drew them, and built them to specs. We delivered the cabinets to my customer and everyone was happy, until they went to install the corner cabinets. The drawer fronts would hit the adjacent cabinets when they opened and closed. All the drawer fronts for those corner cabinets had to be remade, and installed. The customers were nice people and, they were okay with the fix, but not 100% happy with the process, like they should have been.
I took the plans to one of our local custom shops to build it for me. The first thing I found out to my surprise is that they didn't do full overlay that much, but they knew what it was and said they could do it. The second, and most problematic thing I found was that they didn't understand the engineering of modern corner cabinets at all.
That's when we decided to partner up with Woodharbor. Having worked with many of the major brands, I was familiar with much of the process, and things began to go much smooother right away. Every cabinet in the spec book was a well established design with the right hardware to make them operate just as they should. One big adjustment for me was that these were custom cabinets, and modifications were available to virtually everything. With custom cabinetry you can modify the door and drawer edges, what the center panel is made of, rail size, finish sheen, levels of distressing, and endless other options. The people at these large custom factories know virtually everything there is to know about cabinetry. The reasons for this are not that they are any better at their craft than your local custom guy, But because they have better resources because of their size. And because they have experience making cabinets for the entire country and even other parts of the world. As well as a huge database of trial and error to reflect on.
And finally one of the biggest reason to buy a factory made cabinet in my opinion is the finishing process. I've been to some of the large manufacturer's locations, and they all share some common procedures. One of them is heat curing the finishes, and regardless of whether you're talking high end custom or entry level stock cabinetry, this goes a long way toward making the finish last a lifetime. I compare this to the paint that comes on a new car, or repainting the car yourself. They both look nice, but there's no substitute for the beauty and durability of a factory finish.
Most of our custom cabinets are toward the higher end of the price spectrum. Which is unfortunate for people on a budget, who may not really need all the bells and whistles. There has recently been a movement by some of these high end manufacturers to create a scaled back version of their custom lines, with a limited number of doors and finishes, but the same high quality and lifetime warranty as their custom products. Woodharbor has their new Breeze line which is about 25% less than their standard framed cabinets, and Greenfield is working on a new frameless line that should be competitive with semi-custom products as well. If it's for my place, I would much rather have one of these products in my house than a dressed up version of some lesser cabinets.
All things being equal, custom cabinets are better, and so are plywood boxes. But all things are not equal, and you typically get what you pay for depending on where you purchase. If you're buying some generic product that was just unloaded from a Chinese freighter last week, you really don't even have anything to compare it to, so you don't know if you're getting a good price, because you have no idea of the quality of the product. I would rather have stock particle board cabinetry made by Woodharbor, than a lower quality custom painted cabinet with a plywood box. It will look nicer the day you install them, and hold up much better in the long run. That's why they have a lifetime warranty and the manufacturers name imprinted into the drawer box. At Cabinet Pro-Supply we don't have any magic way of getting you high end custom cabinets for next to nothing, and neither does anyone else, but we always give people the best deal you can get anywhere on some of the best cabinets in the world.