If you've shopped for kitchen cabinets lately, you, like me, may have wondered how to become independently wealthy. So far I've managed to avoid ever having to buy cabinets, but as I come closer to jumping off the high dive into a full reno of our kitchen, it's gonna have to happen. And I am clearly in the wrong business, because there is some $$$ in cabinets.
How much are we talking? Don't be surprised if it's tens of thousands of dollars. A midrange major kitchen remodel runs over $63,000, says Remodeling's 2018 Cost vs. Value report. And, keep in mind, cabinets and installation can take up 20 to 40 percent of that. Ouch.
And just why are they so expensive? That's a question for the ages. I feel like blogger Victoria Elizabeth Barnes is a kindred spirit (I love her and you should be reading her stuff!), who shared during her search for cabinets:
We started at custom cabinets; because Self said—you are special! Your cabinets should be special too!
Also, I had read a lot of this: you'll be surprised! how affordable! custom cabinets are!
So I guess my surprise-meter is broken… because they cost exactly as much as I expected they would cost: a stupid amount.
After getting the quotes, Self was like– lol no. make them out of cardboard… that way when they get dirty, you can just throw them away.
Yes, Victoria, I too would like cardboard cabinets. Gleaming appliances, beautiful tile, gorgeous light fixtures for some reason I can (sort of) justify those costs. But boxes to put my plates in? Even fancy boxes? I can't bring myself to stomach it. But since I can't really (can I?) use cardboard, I have to find some other options that are realistic for people lacking unlimited resources. We're assuming, by the way, that you don't want to keep and paint, or otherwise redo, your current set up.
Well, I've gone down the rabbit hole (and only stopped because: deadline) and can report on some options for kitchen cabinets that aren't made of cardboard and don't cost (quite) the earth.
IKEA & RTA Cabinets (of course)
We'll start with the king of the inexpensive cabinet world, which is, of course, IKEA. They're not the only game in town when it comes to ready-to-assemble (that's RTA in cabinet lingo), but they're the biggie, and judging by the blogosphere, maybe the best. Almost everyone I know with IKEA cabinets loves them, and $5,000 seems a good estimate when planning your budget (which is still a lot of money, but in the realm of custom cabinets, it's really not). You can spend days, nay, weeks, reading reviews of IKEA cabinets, and for the most part they're all pretty favorable. Where they lose points is the apparently wonky online kitchen design system, and for a low price in ads that doesn't stay that way when you start adding on, well, anything other than just the boxes.
Above, in this kitchen designed by General Assembly, affordable IKEA wall cabinets are double-stacked to create a tall, impressive wall of storage. They avoided using cheap filler panels, and upgraded the fronts with cabinet pulls from Schoolhouse Electric.
But the biggest drawback, at least in my mind, is the DIY aspect. When's the last time you heard someone say they couldn't wait to assemble their latest IKEA purchase? I gave up on an shoe rack once, but, to be fair I have very poor manual dexterity or grasp of spatial relations. My handier husband did put together an IKEA mini sink in our Airbnb with limited cursing, but, after reading the cabinet install debriefing from Kitchn editor Faith, I feel certain we would be divorced before it was over.
Something Better than IKEA?
At least one outfit wants to address that pain point. Modern Family Kitchens says their American-made cabinets are better than IKEA for the same price (that's a bold claim!) and they come pre-assembled. Their sample kitchen is priced at less than $5,000 (plus shipping, and they don't say what that might cost). I'd love to hear from anyone who's worked with them.
Previously Loved, Used Cabinets
So what else? There's the wild and wonderful world of secondhand cabinets. Proceed with caution for all the usual reasons you want to be careful buying things from strangers. But there are some deals to be had. I spotted a full kitchen's worth of nice cabinets, including sink, for $5,300 on Craigslist the next city over.
Too good to be true? Could be. But I also know I've sold some stuff for ridiculous prices when in the throes of moving and everything must go, so it could be legit. Of course you'll need a way to get the cabinets home, and you'll need the skills or a source for someone to install them (and a back-up plan if they don't fit into the space!). Besides Craigslist you could try Facebook's Marketplace; I didn't see anything of interest in my city, but if you're in a bigger city, you may have better luck.
Above, Jess of Bright Green Door bought all of her cabinets (for $1,000!) on Craigslist, and enlisted her father to drive the three hours to go remove them from the old kitchen, and bring them back to her new one. There was some anxiety they wouldn't make it back, or they wouldn't be as nice as she hoped, but the end result is pretty impressive.
And of course there's real world bargain hunting. My favorite place to do that is Habitat ReStore (these are shops selling mostly donated goods, with proceeds going to Habitat for Humanity). We've found some incredible pieces at ours, including our vintage stove, Florence, and, in fact, furnished a big part of our Detroit house with ReStore finds. They seem to always have cabinets in stock for rock-bottom prices – this blogger picked up some base cabinets for $140 and built herself a custom island for a fraction of retail cost. Peddler's Malls, flea markets, or other groupings of second hand dealer shops, are another resource. I will always regret not owning a truck when I see deals at places like this.
Instock Cabinets From Big Box Stores
Not into used cabinets? You might still be in luck. If you want to stick with a brand name, there's always the big box stores. Lowes and Home Depot sell factory-made stock cabinets that you can basically walk in, pick out, and have at home in a day or two. Your mileage may vary if you hire them to install the cabinets (want to waste your lunch hour? Start here), but it seems you can probably get out for under $10k, maybe even substantially less. (See a thousand dollars worth of Home Depot's Hampton Bay Shaker-style cabinets in use in Apartment Therapy's recent budget kitchen makeover). Word in house-rehabbing forums has that Menards has lower prices on cabinets. Buy them during Menards' 11% rebate week, and save even more.
During a whirlwind six-day kitchen renovation (seen above), Cathy Poshusta of Grit + Polish painted stock cabinets in a two-tone scheme, and it completely transformed the cabinets. She credits the $150 spent on paint with turning a "good" kitchen into a custom-looking beauty.
Local Cabinet Shops
If you're spooked by the big box horror stories, don't assume cabinet specialty shops are out of the question. They're not cheap by any means, but don't have to be wildly expensive. I spoke with someone from a shop near my city, and as a super rough ballpark for the 12 linear feet of base cabinets and standard sized (6' x 3') island I'm looking for, he said I shouldn't have to spend more than $15,000. Now that's still more than I can spend, but it's also not new luxury car price, either.
From China, with Love(?)
These shops may also have another option. I called up my best friend from high school, who now manages kitchen sales and design for a Kentucky-based string of builder supply stores. Evon Pruett has spent the last 13 years helping people design kitchens and choose cabinets at Lumber King (and worked at Lowes before that) and was kind enough to answer my many uninformed questions. And she let me in on a little secret:
In addition to the beautiful custom cabinets specialty shops offer, many can also sell you very inexpensive cabinets imported from China. It doesn't get much more no-frills; there are three styles at her shop, Evon explained, and each comes in only one color. But these mass-produced goods sell for less than half the price of comparable Kraftmaid cabinets, she said. How's the quality? She's sold a number of them going back a few years and hasn't had any complaints, she said. Which is good, because they don't come with a warranty. I plundered the depths of the internet looking for reliable information on this option with no luck, but I did find some cautionary tales about Chinese imports—mostly related to hazardous chemicals and warping of the wood—so do your own research. If you're reading and have firsthand experience with Chinese cabinets, let us hear from you!
Kraftmaid Cabinet Outlet
And I've saved the most exciting for last. This option would require a trip to northeast Ohio (or a big order with a shipping company), but is very, very enticing if you're looking to save big bucks on a quality, mid-range cabinet brand. Apparently, Kraftmaid sells their cabinet overruns and returns at up to 80% off retail at their unmarked outlet in Warren, Ohio, (no website, but there's an unofficial Facebook page). I even read that cabinets missing doors (which is fine for any of us who like open fronts) sell for $5! Seriously. From what I can gather, shopping the sales (held a couple times a month) makes IKEA shopping look relaxing and fun. But at prices like that, it may be well worth it. Check out this blog for a walk-through of the shopping experience, or this enterprising local art teacher who offers a shopping service.
I'm still on the hunt for the sweet spot of price and quality and have changed my mind half a dozen times in the course of writing this. Have you bought good-looking cabinets for a great price? Please tell us!