Are you thinking of remodeling your kitchen or adding new cabinets to spruce up the look? Understanding the different grades of kitchen cabinets can be confusing. How do you know which one is right for you and your home? Here, we will break down all four grades so that you can make an informed decision on choosing suitable cabinets for your next project.

There are 4 Grades of Kitchen Cabinets. These grades include RTA (Ready to Assemble), Stock, Semi-Custom, and Custom. All cabinet types are available from various suppliers and allow for a broad range of budgets. Each grade presents its own series of benefits and drawbacks that should be considered before deciding how to outfit your kitchen.

Before deciding to outfit your kitchen with new cabinets, it is crucial to understand what to expect from each grade. Having this knowledge will allow you to use your budget wisely.

The 4 Grades of Kitchen Cabinets - Thumbnail

RTA Cabinets

RTA is short for Ready-to-Assemble. As the name implies, these cabinets are manufactured and sold with the intention that the end user will assemble the components and create a finished cabinet. If you’ve ever purchased a cabinet from Walmart or Ikea, you are probably familiar with the process of unpacking and assembling your new piece of furniture.

Case Parts will be flat-packed and shipped with all of the necessary hardware – including fasteners, hinges, drawer slides, and shelf pins. Decorative hardware such as Pulls and Knobs may be sold separately.

Where to Buy RTA Cabinets

Ready-to-Assemble Cabinets can be purchased from a variety of sources online but, when outfitting an entire kitchen, you would be best served using a manufacturer that lives and breathes kitchen cabinets. This will reduce the likelihood of missing parts and confusing assembly instructions.

Be sure to spend time reading reviews and customer testimonials before making a final decision on your RTA Cabinet Supplier. Many large manufacturers make samples available for purchase. We would advise taking advantage of this opportunity to see your potential product up close before placing a large order.

The Benefits of RTA Cabinets

The biggest benefit to purchasing RTA Cabinets is that they are economical. Components are produced in large quantities and engineered in such a way that they can be easily assembled by the end user. This eliminates the cost of assembly and makes them substantially easier to pack and ship.

The Drawbacks of RTA Cabinets

There are a couple of drawbacks to RTA Cabinets and the biggest of the bunch is the flip side of the economical coin. Because these cabinets are designed to be economical, the quality of the end product can vary greatly. Generally speaking, what you see on the outside might look great (Doors and Drawer Fronts) but it is very easy to cut corners on case materials and construction.

One thing to keep in mind with Ready-to-Assemble Cabinets is that they are engineered for volume. What you’ll find most often is standard configurations and stock sizes. This means that if you need something out of the ordinary, you may be on your own customizing a cabinet to get a configuration you need for your kitchen.

Assembling RTA Cabinets

Stock Cabinets

Stock Cabinets are Pre-Built Cabinets in standard sizes and configurations. Design Options, such as wood species and finish, are limited to popular offerings. Stock Cabinets are typically sold without decorative hardware and you are encouraged to purchase Knobs and Pulls to create your own look.

Where to Buy Stock Cabinets

Stock Cabinets can be ordered from a variety of sources online, They can also be purchased in-store at your local Home Depot or Lowes. In the event that your Home Center doesn’t have what you need, they can likely have it ordered and shipped within a few days.

The Benefits of Stock Cabinets

One major benefit of Stock Cabinets is convenience. If you are happy with the look and feel of a pre-built cabinet, you can pick up a couple of cabinets at your local Lowes or Home Depot, bring them home, and install them all on the same day.

Being manufactured to industry standard sizes and configurations keeps costs down and makes them an economical option for a kitchen remodel on a budget.

The Drawbacks of Stock Cabinets

One major drawback to Stock Cabinets is that they are only available in industry-standard sizes and configurations. If you need something a little out of the ordinary, you’re going to have to customize the cabinet on your own. Additionally, being limited to standard sizes (often in three-inch increments) means that you could wind up with large fillers or an odd configuration in a run of cabinets.

Generally speaking, Stock Cabinets are often constructed using Particle Board Case Parts. This may be fine for a kitchen remodel on a budget but the quality of the product will be lacking – especially around a range or sink where humidity and grease can get around the edgebanding and cause swelling.

The Difference Between Stock and Custom Cabinets

Semi-Custom Cabinets

Semi-Custom Cabinets take the convenience of Stock Cabinets and incorporate upgrade options. For example, you could order a Standard Base 27 (27″ Wide Base Cabinet with a Drawer and Pair Doors) and include a Drawer Organizer and Roll-Out Shelves.

Upgrade options will vary depending on the cabinet manufacturer. Some will limit your options strictly to hardware and inserts and others will allow for slight modifications to cabinet sizes. Semi-Custom Cabinets will also provide more design options such as Door Styles, Wood Species, and Exterior Finish.

Where to Buy Semi-Custom Cabinets

Semi-Custom Cabinets are available from a variety of sources online and can also be ordered from your local Lowes or Home Depot. Because Semi-Custom Cabinets are made to order, there is often a wait time involved. Lead times will vary by source and how many customization options are ordered.

Cabinets Grades - Semi Custom from Allen + Roth

The Benefits of Semi-Custom Cabinets

The major benefit of using a Semi-Custom Cabinet versus a Stock Cabinet is that you have more design and customization options at your fingertips. This allows for an economical core cabinet with added creature comforts and design elements. Semi-Custom Cabinets are a great way to remodel your kitchen without breaking the bank on Custom Cabinets.

The Drawbacks of Semi-Custom Cabinets

One drawback to Semi-Custom Cabinets is that they are built on the foundation of a Stock Cabinet. Think of it like buying a base model vehicle versus the same model with a higher trim package. If low-quality materials are used on the foundation, your Semi-Custom Cabinet contains those same low-quality materials with added niceties. Just keep in mind that Semi-Custom doesn’t mean that the quality of the case is inherently better.

Custom Cabinets

When it comes to Custom Cabinets, it should be said that not all cabinets are created equal. There is a world of difference between a custom kitchen designed in your local home center and one built by a quality cabinetmaker. Custom Cabinets give you full control over sizes, configurations, and design elements such as Door Styles, Wood Species, and Finishes.

Depending on the manufacturer, you may also have control over case materials (Plywood vs Particleboard vs MDF) and Interior Finish (Stained Interiors vs Pre-Finished Maple vs Melamine).

Where to Buy Custom Cabinets

Custom Cabinets are available at a variety of sources online as well as from local sources. For Custom Cabinets, we would strongly advise you to visit a local cabinet shop to discuss your options and budget. As stated previously, the quality of the product can vary greatly depending on your manufacturer. Being able to touch and feel a finished sample product is important to justify the increased cost of this type of cabinet.

The Benefits of Custom Cabinets

The beauty of Custom Cabinets is that you have complete control. If you have your heart set on a feature, it can likely be built into the cabinet. You also don’t have to limit yourself to stock or common sizes and cabinets can be built specifically to fit a given space.

Custom Cabinets also provide you with a wide array of Door Styles, Decorative Trims, Wood Species, and Finish options to choose from.

The Drawbacks of Custom Cabinets

There are two major drawbacks to Custom Cabinets. The first is cost – Custom Cabinets are not budget-friendly and in many cases, you get what you pay for. The second is lead time – Custom Cabinets may take several months to design, engineer, and build.

Luxury Cabinets

Luxury Cabinets isn’t official cabinet grade, but perhaps it should be due to the wild cost difference. Think of Luxury Cabinets as Custom Cabinets taken to a whole different level with absolute control over every aspect of your kitchen. These types of cabinets often utilize specielty hardware and include combinations of wood species and proprietary finishes that make them unique.

Where to Buy Luxury Cabinets

Luxury Cabinets are not typically sold directly to the consumer. Instead, these manufacturers often utilize a dealer network that is made up of Design Professionals. Your Designer will guide you through the process of detailing your space and selecting options to outfit your kitchen. When the design is completed, they will work directly with the cabinet manufacturer to order your cabinets.

The Benefits of Luxury Cabinets

The benefit of Luxury Cabinets is that you have the ability to create a completely one-off kitchen. Once the design is finalized, the hard part is over and the Designer does all of the heavy lifting. They will work directly with the manufacturer to iron out any issues that arise.

The Drawbacks of Luxury Cabinets

The biggest drawback to Luxury Cabinets is cost. These types of highly custom cabinets are not for the faint of heart. It is not difficult to spend $75,000 on the cabinets alone (excluding Appliances and Stone Counters). Next to the cost, lead time can also be problematic as manufacturers are often booked out for several months.

Work with Superior Shop Drawings

Are you an Architectural Millwork Shop or a Custom Cabinetmaker in need of Shop Drawings? Steve and Walt have been in the Cabinet Industry for over 20 years and specialize in creating Shop Drawings for Commercial and Residential applications using AutoCAD. We are happy to discuss your next project and provide a free quote.

Photo Credits

Walt White