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Given the importance of kitchen cabinets, selecting the right service providers for the design and construction and, subsequently, installation and, if necessary, finishing of the cabinets can and will make an enormous difference, both to your pocketbook and to your subsequent quality of life. This section of our site is an excellent starting point for your research, but you should also vigorously pursue other sources as far as independent reports, expert assessments, and customer reviews. 
Cabinet service provider selection is one area where there is no such thing as too much care or too much research. You should absolutely take every step at your disposal to compare the full range of offerings from a broad spectrum of cabinet makers and manufacturers, carefully analyzing every facet of the design, the construction methodology, and the look and feel, as well as planning ahead for any other services you may need with respect to finishing and installation.  

A complicating factor is that the kitchen cabinet space is crowded with hundreds of manufacturers and cabinet makers, each offering somewhat different materials, designs, construction techniques, pricing, warranty options, and quality standards. Local carpenters, regional cabinet shops, national producers, and international mass manufacturers all vie for the opportunity to furnish your new set of kitchen cabinets. In some ways, the decision is more complicated than choosing a new car. At least most people have heard of Ford or Honda or Volkswagen, but how many are familiar with kitchen cabinet brands?

Some general rules of thumb which make sense when hiring any service contractor also apply for dealing with cabinet makers, installers, or finishers. Make sure that the given service provider has the appropriate licenses and operates out of a legitimate place of business. Check the provider's references and contact the Better Business Bureau to check on the provider's reputation. See if the provider specializes specifically in kitchen cabinetry, or if kitchen cabinetry is merely a side line for the provider. Additionally, make sure that the provider carries all of the necessary insurance, including both general liability and workers' comp. These steps are important primarily when dealing with smaller or local providers rather than nationally or internationally established brand names. However, even when dealing with brand manufacturers, it is worthwhile to explore customer reviews and expert analysis regarding their product offerings.

With that in mind, we begin our discussion with the most important aspect of cabinet service provision, which is the design and construction of the actual cabinets. The main decision which will then largely shape your search for a cabinet manufacturer is whether you are going to go with RTA, stock, semi-custom, or custom cabinets. In turn, this decision will primarily rest on the budget that you have set aside for your kitchen construction or renovation. Assuming that 50% of your budget will go toward cabinets, which is the usual amount, then the breakdown is generally as follows: a total budget under $8,000 means RTA cabinets, $8,000 to $14,000 means RTA or stock cabinets, $14,000 to $20,000 means stock or semi-custom cabinets, $20,000 to $50,000 means semi-custom or custom cabinets, and above $50,000 means custom cabinets.

With any type of mass manufactured cabinetry, which means RTA, stock, and semi-custom, you are generally going to save money by going with either a national or international brand manufacturer or an online seller as their productions costs on a per unit basis are going to be lower than those of a local cabinet maker. On the other hand, for custom cabinets, a local or regional provider will likely be able to offer you a better deal, as well as offer you greater transparency and opportunity for feedback during the construction process.

With the advent of e-commerce, manufacturers have not needed to rely as heavily on showrooms and retail outlets to showcase their products. This has enabled them to further drive down production side costs and be able to offer higher quality RTA and stock cabinets at a more competitive price. At the same time, consumers now have much greater opportunities to comparison shop for the right product at the lowest possible cost. Many manufacturers will send cabinet door samples through the mail so that you can see first-hand how a particular product line actually looks and feels before making a purchase decision. Of course, as always, manufacturers which sell online require the same level of scrutiny and thorough background checking as a contractor you may be hiring locally.

With respect to brand manufacturers in the mid-range and high-end part of the spectrum, we have performed our own due diligence process and come up with a list of brands that seem to receive uniformly high marks from consumers, distributors, and retailers. These include: Wood-Mode, DeWils, Mid Continent, Plain & Fancy, Premier Custom-Built, Custom Wood Products (CWP), and Omega Dynasty. For brand manufacturers in the budget-priced to mid-range part of the spectrum, we believe the following are some of the better producers: Ikea, Diamond, Thomasville, Kitchen Craft, and Mills Pride. In addition, a number of online retailers offer RTA cabinets at a deep discount to brand-name stock cabinetry. However, the challenge with those is identifying a reputable source that will stand behind their products and provide timely service in case there are any issues.

In the process of selecting a cabinet manufacturer, we recommend that you visit home improvement stores and local kitchen showrooms, take a look at magazines such as Better Homes & Gardens, This Old House, and House Beautiful, and perform online searches related to kitchen cabinetry. This will help you to narrow down the list of manufacturers which offer cabinets that conform to your preferred look and feel without exceeding your budgetary constraints. Then, go deeper, asking detailed questions about the materials, the construction, the sizing, the layouts, the extras, the finish and color options, the warranty, and the availability, among other considerations. Before making the final decision, make sure to view a sample of the specific cabinet type which you intend to purchase.

Additionally, prior to committing to a purchase, you would be well served by utilizing the following checklist we have specifically put together for finalizing the kitchen cabinet selection:
* Do the cabinet measurements conform to the kitchen's floor plan?
* Does the cabinet layout support the water pipes, gas lines, electrical circuits, and air vents?
* Does the cabinet layout fit well with the locations of doors and windows?
* Are the appliance spaces and sink/appliance cabinets appropriately sized for the sinks/appliances?
* Is each of the cabinets fully accessible and free of interference from other cabinets or appliances?
* Are the corner cabinets accessible?
* Is there rollout, pullout, or swingout shelving for difficult to access areas?
* Is there sufficient overall cabinet storage space?
* Are the cabinet materials/finishes consistent with your expectations for indoor air quality?
* Does the manufacturer provide responsive and helpful customer service?
* What are the specifics of the manufacturer's warranty?
* Will the cabinets be completed and delivered within a satisfactory time frame?

In the process of reviewing other areas of our site and perusing additional resources, you may come up with additional questions not mentioned here or covered by this checklist. Be sure to add those questions to your overall list. Once again, selecting a cabinet manufacturer is a critically important decision with which you will then have to live for years. So take your time.
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Once you have selected a cabinet manufacturer, the next set of services you will need to consider are installation and finishing. The extent to which you will need to go out and locate separate providers for these services will largely depend on what is offered by the cabinet manufacturer. Some manufacturers provide installation services themselves, or, alternatively, will recommend a local service provider who has extensive experience with their products. In addition, the cabinets may already come finished and not require the separate addition of a topcoat.

Even if installation and/or finishing are required, you may prefer to go the do-it-yourself (DIY) route. Installing kitchen cabinets can be performed with basic tools available at any hardware store and painting, staining, sealing, and varnishing are common DIY projects. However, if you do choose to go the DIY route, consider both your experience and the stakes involved. If you are comfortable with carpentry and have successfully installed cabinets in the past, the DIY approach may make sense. However, keep in mind that installing an entire kitchen cabinet set is a much more involved and complex task than simply installing a bathroom vanity or a garage utility cabinet. Both horizontal and vertical placement have to be perfect for kitchen cabinets, as they have to not only fit with each other, but also with the kitchen sinks, appliances, and utilities. Additionally, if you have spent thousands, or tens of thousands of dollars on a set of cabinets, is it really worthwhile to run the risk of ruining that investment with a shoddy installation just to save a few hundred dollars? The same reasoning applies to adding finish to the cabinets. Many finishing products incorporate dangerous chemicals and require both proper handling and safety equipment such as breathing masks. Unless you have extensive experience with applying finish, you are better off letting a qualified expert handle it.

If you do need installation and/or finishing services, you should apply the same rigorous criteria to identifying a local service provider as you did for finding the cabinet manufacturer. See the place of business, check references, verify the necessary licenses and insurance coverage, and carefully review the written contract for services to be rendered. Importantly, take a look at samples of recent work and ensure that the contractor has extensive experience with specifically the type of work you are looking to have performed.

Contractor referral services such as Quality Smith, Service Magic, or Remodel Net can help you to find pre-screened local contractors in your area which have specific experience with kitchen cabinet installation and finishing. Reputable contractors should be willing to provide a free quote on your project and you would be well advised to receive no fewer than four quotes before making a final decision. Keep in mind that a higher price does not necessarily imply a higher standard of work.
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In many cases, you will need to also either install or upgrade the cabinet hardware, particularly the door handles. Many RTA and stock cabinets come without handles, so you need to purchase them separately and then either affix them to the doors yourself or hire a local service provider to do the work for you. Importantly, the handles have to be installed in the proper locations on the doors, at consistent heights relative to one another. In certain cases, you may also want to replace the hinges with a different set that better suits your preferred form and function.

Door knobs and pulls are available for purchase at home improvement stores such as Home Depot, Lowe's, Sears, and Menards. A number of furniture and specialty stores also carry cabinet handles. However, by far the largest selection, in terms of both designs and materials, is available from online sources. Moreover, online sellers often charge 50% to 60% less for the same products as the big box stores.

If you decide to purchase your cabinet door handles online, order a single unit first. When the unit arrives, make sure that the knob or pull conforms to your expectations in terms of heft, feel, quality, and size. Place the handle against your cabinet door and make sure that it matches as well as you thought it would. Once you feel confident that the knob or pull is exactly what you have in mind, then you can go ahead and place the full order. A number of both retailers and online sellers offer discounts on large orders, so you may want to check into that possibility before finalizing your order.

In addition to the door handles, you may want to invest in a matching set of backplates. Installed on the backside of the handle, a backplate protects the cabinet door from the wear and tear associated with the repeated grabbing of the door handle. However, in addition to being functional, backplates can also provide decorative accents. They come in a wide variety of materials and styles. If you intend to utilize backplates, make sure that there is a matching set available for the door handles that you intend to purchase.

Beyond hardware relating to cabinet doors, there are also various inserts available to help structure the space inside the cabinets. Lazy susans, rollouts, bread boards, garbage hampers, cutlery trays, and racks are all available from both bricks and mortar retailers and online manufacturers. Comparison shopping and exploring consumer reviews are an effective way to narrow down your brand preferences for these items. Additioinally, make sure that any inserts are appropriately sized for your particular cabinets.
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If you have an older set of cabinets, you may want to consider refacing rather than replacing the set. Refacing kitchen cabinets is akin to giving your kitchen a face lift. When a set of cabinets is refaced, the old cabinet boxes are kept where they are, but they are either refinished or given a set of new veneers. The cabinet doors are usually replaced entirely, as well as the hardware, including backplates, handles, and hinges. The end result is a set of cabinets that look brand new.

Refacing is a sensible approach if your cabinet boxes are still in good shape, if you are dissatisfied with the form rather than the functional layout of your kitchen, or if you are working on a tight remodeling budget. There are several benefits to going the refacing route. From a monetary standpoint, refacing typically costs about a third of what a full-scale cabinet replacement costs. From a convenience standpoint, refacing takes far less time and does not require you to live without the use of kitchen cabinets while new ones are being installed. From a wear and tear standpoint, there is much less chance of your countertops, floors, or other kitchen elements being damaged than there would be in the course of old cabinet removal and new cabinet installation.

The only things which refacing cannot alter with respect to your kitchen cabinets are their physical placement, their internal construction, and the materials comprising the walls of the boxes. Everything else can be changed to suit your new preferences. With refacing, a traditional set of cabinets with partial overlay raised panel wood doors and matching wood veneers can be transformed into a contemporary design with full overlay glossy slab doors and matching laminate covers, or vice versa. In either case, it is possible to alter the entire theme of the kitchen. In addition, the shelving configurations of your cabinets can be modified and more convenient options, such as rollout trays and pullout shelves, installed.

Kitchen cabinet refacing has become an increasingly popular option for homeowners and the number of service providers specializing in refacing has grown correspondingly. In most areas, there are going to be multiple contractors who offer cabinet refacing services. However, specific offerings will differ among service providers. Before you begin your search for a contractor, first decide how you want your refaced cabinets to look and what materials you might like to use for the doors and veneers. With that in mind, you will be able to have more productive conversations with potential service providers.

As always, before hiring a particular service provider, you should check their credentials and references, gain an understanding of their experience, examine samples of prior work, and make sure that pricing, timing, and services to be rendered all conform to your expectations and are clearly spelled out in a written contract. Solicit multiple quotes and look into different options before making your final decision.
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