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Kitchen and Bathroom Cabinets FAQs: Big Box Store vs. Custom Cabinets

Remodeling a kitchen or bathroom can be an exciting adventure. You’re taking that ho-hum, out-of-date space and giving it a complete new look and perhaps even adding some new additions, like a Lazy Susan, or slide-out doors that you’ve been dreaming of for months!

After you make the commitment to move forward with the remodel, some realities can set in quickly, and if you’re on a strict budget, these realities can put a damper on the project in no time.

Before embarking on a remodel project, or any project, it’s a good idea to sit back and consider the end product—the goal—and review the “road map” that’s going to get you there.

In other words, question. Consider questions you have at the start and research solutions BEFORE the project begins.

And here’s the deal…

There’s no dumb question. Bruce Lee once said “A wise man can learn more from a foolish question than a fool can learn from a wise answer.”

So, question, question, question. Then, research, research, research. You’ll be glad you did.

Speaking of questions, here are a few, along with answers, that you may have regarding kitchen remodeling, especially when it comes to the cabinetry.

Question: How do I match kitchen cabinets?

Answer: If you’re moving into a new construction this probably won’t be an issue.

But, such situations arise when, for instance, you purchase an existing home and have plans to remodel, and as part of your remodel project, you expect to expand the kitchen.

You also determine at this point that you also want to place additional cabinetry in the expanded kitchen space.

Here’s the deal…

How do you match the new cabinets to the existing?

The answer in a nutshell: seek a local cabinet maker!

And when we say local cabinet maker, we mean exactly that: you know, the type of cabinet maker where there is actual noise and sawdust on the floors, with table saws shrieking in the background, and the glorious aroma of freshly cut lumber hanging in the air!

Yep! THAT kind of cabinet maker.

But here’s something to consider…

If you do plan on adding on to the kitchen and will be putting new cabinetry in the new addition, beware of those claiming to be cabinet makers, but are actually establishments that sell pre-fabricated cabinets. It simply won’t be the same.

So, why a local cabinet maker?

Because since they are local, they can come to your home, look at the existing cabinetry, determine the materials they are made from, and then proceed to match what you’ve already got.

Going through any other channel might end well, but there’s the chance it’ll end up in disaster.

Takeaway: Go local in this situation. You’ll be glad you did.

The only time where a local cabinet maker might not be needed is in a situation where you decide not to expand your kitchen and you plan on keeping the current cabinetry. You then simply decide to give the cabinets a facelift by replacing the cabinet doors and drawer fronts.

You won’t need a local cabinet maker for a simpler project like that.

Question: I’m in the market for new cabinets for my kitchen. Where’s the best place to get decent cabinets?

Answer: This is like asking people what is the best car to buy: you ask ten different people, you’re going to get ten different answers.

The following are some places to consider if you’re currently, or will be, in the market for new cabinets:

Ikea

Ikea has become the Walmart of home furnishings, specializing in ready-to-assemble (RTA) furniture, as well as appliances and home accessories.

Ikea was started in Sweden in 1943 by a then 17-year-old named Ingvar Kamprad, and is now based in the Netherlands and boasts 411 stores based in 49 countries.

So, when it comes to Ikea furniture, yes it can be convenient to simply assemble the parts and you’re ready to go.

Ikea style is very much European, which means very clean, simple lines, with a very contemporary look and feel.

If that style suites your taste, you might want to check them out.

PROS: Ready-To-Assemble. Excellent hardware. Great versatility of different sizes and add-ons.

CONS: Furniture and cabinets are mostly made from particle board, which can give a cheap look and feel, and probably won’t last as long as custom made. But then, like the saying goes, you get what you pay for! Also, installing RTA cabinetry can be a bit labor intensive. Another con is that you can’t customize the cabinetry much

Big Box Retailers

When you think “big box,” the two names that immediately come to mind, at least here in the United States, are Lowe’s and Home Depot.

When you research kitchen cabinets offered by the big box retailers, you’re going to find a lot of differing opinions. Some like them; others don’t. So, a quick FYI: do your homework!

One issue you’ll see people complain about when it comes to the big-box boys is that they are overpriced, and their “interior designers” tend to be on the young side and therefore inexperienced.

PROS: Cabinets are pre-built and easier to install as compared to those from Ikea. Better quality materials used, as opposed to Ikea.

CONS: Can be somewhat on the pricey side!

Habitat for Humanity ReStore

It’s hard to believe that Habitat for Humanity has its roots back in the 1940s. Clarence Jordan, one of the founders of Koinonia Farm, a community where all were treated equally, along with eventual Habitat founders Millard and Linda Fuller, developed the concept of “partnership housing.”

Later in 1968, the Fund for Humanity was created, and a year later the first partnership house was completed in Sumter County, Georgia.

Habitat for Humanity wasn’t actually formed until 1976.

And now we have Habitat for Humanity ReStores.

What are they?

Habitat for Humanity ReStores are home improvement centers that offer new and slightly used furniture, appliances, accessories for the home, as well as building materials offered to the public at reduced prices.

Since many of their items are donated, it can be hit or miss, and as Forrest Gump described a box of chocolates: “You never know what you’re gonna get.”

But, a ReStore can be worth the look-see.

To find the closest ReStore in your neck of the woods, check out the Habitat for Humanity ReStores site, scroll down to the Find Your Local Habitat ReStore box, then simply enter your zip code and click Search Now.

PROS: Very affordable, slightly used items.

CONS: They may not have what you want or need. Items, including cabinets, are already made and may not fit in your kitchen or bath as you would like.

Question: I’m looking to save money on my kitchen remodel. What is the best method for painting existing cabinets?

Answer: Let’s face some facts: kitchen and bathroom remodeling projects can be very costly! And if you’re already starting out with a strict budget, replacing cabinets, or even having them refinished by a contractor may not be an option.

But here’s the deal…

You can get your existing cabinets looking like new with a fresh coat of paint!

If your cabinets are currently painted, say white, and you want to simply repaint them white, the task at hand will be simpler.

Here are steps to get you started:

Cleaning cabinets by Weekend Craft
  • Remove the cabinet doors and drawer fronts.
  • Place the hinges and any other hardware—and screws—in a place where they will be safe and not get lost.
  • The first step is to determine the current situation of your cabinets. Are they clean? If not do some cleaning before you start. Get rid of any grease, grime, hand prints, etc. (Note: Trisodium Phosphate, more commonly referred to as TSP, works great!)
  • Then, before priming, make sure you do at least a light sanding job.
  • The next step is to apply a quality primer. I won’t go into details of which primer to select. If I suggest Brand X, then people will ask why I didn’t also recommend Brand Y. There are many quality primers out there. Visit a local Lowe’s or Home Depot and speak with someone in the paint department and they can recommend a brand or two.
  • Apply a couple of coats of primer, making sure to sand between each layer.
  • Apply first coat of paint.
  • Let dry.
  • Apply second coat of paint.
  • Let dry

You might want to try the above method in an inconspicuous spot, such as the inside of the door. The reason? Some kitchen cabinet doors and cabinetry are painted with a plastic-type paint that can be very difficult to apply paint on top of it. If this is the case with your cabinets and doors, you may need to purchase a special pre-treatment from a local hardware store and apply it.

If you find that your cabinet door screw holes have become too large and using the same screws will cause the doors to hang loosely, simply pack a little wire wool in each screw hole, then put the original screws back in. Works like a charm to tighten those holes!

To recap, Lowe’s has a helpful video on painting cabinet doors. The video demonstrates how to paint finished cabinets, but this also works for painted cabinetry, doors and drawer fronts as well.

Question: I’m going to be installing granite countertops on top of my base cabinets. What is the best way to make sure the base cabinets are level and ready to add the countertops?

Answer: If you’re in the middle of a kitchen remodel, the time fast approaches when you’ll need to install the countertops. And if you plan on installing granite countertops, your base cabinets need to be not only level, but VERY level!

And here’s the deal…

If you want to make sure that your base cabinets are level, you have a couple of options:

  1. A traditional bubble level, or
  2. A 360-degree laser level

Bubble Level

This might sound foolish, but if you plan to use a bubble level, make sure it’s accurate. Though bubble levels may seem basic and straight forward, not all are created, or measure, equally!

So, how do you make sure your bubble level is accurate?

Do this quick test:

  1. Set the level on a flat surface.
  2. Take a look at the bubble.
  3. Lift the level and swing it around 180 degrees and set it exactly where it was initially. (Note: The top of the level must remain at the top; swing it around, don’t simply flip it!)
  4. If the bubble is exactly where it was initially, the level is good. (Note: The bubble doesn’t have to be level, just at the same spot where it was at first.)

You can also perform the test, only this time vertically against a wall:

  1. Place the level horizontally against a wall.
  2. Center the bubble and make a mark with a pencil along the left and right side of the top edge.
  3. Like you did during the first test, swing the level 180 degrees and place it on your marks.

If the bubble level is accurate, it should be centered.

Pro Tip: Using longer bubble levels can result in more accurate readings.

360-degree laser level

Your other option for getting a very accurate level reading is to use a 360-degree laser level.

Laser levels can be a little more complicated than your typical bubble level, and more expensive!

Just looking at some of the options on the Lowe’s website shows a low end laser level starting at $39, while the more expensive ones can be in the $499 to $599 range.

Though a laser level might be a bit overkill, they still are worth taking a look at.

You’ll find a couple of different kinds of laser levels: rotary level, which tend to be expensive, and the crosshair levels.

Typical rotary levels spin a laser fast enough to project a straight line 360 degrees along a single axis.

How to you use a rotary laser level? Here are the steps:

  1. Place the laser level on an elevated flat surface. You can use a tripod, saw horse, or a bucket. In our situation, we want to see if the base cabinets are level, so place it on top of the cabinetry.
  2. Turn the level on.
  3. If your laser level is a self-leveling model, give it time to find the level setting. The process shouldn’t take long.
  4. The level’s receiver will beep, indicating a connection with the laser.
  5. Aim the level at the wall or surface where you want to find the level setting.
  6. Use a pencil to mark lines or guides to proper installation.

So, what if your base cabinetry is a little off, and not fully level?

Well, industry standards indicate that base cabinetry can be 1/8 inch out of level; some contractors will install them if the cabinetry is ¼ inch out of level, but use shims to help level them out a bit more.

Conclusion

I hope these questions and accompanying answers were helpful and provided useful insight to get you started on your remodel journey.

Do you have experience remodeling a kitchen or bathroom?

If so, what did you learn? What would you do differently?

Let us know in the comments section below.

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