July 7, 2016
Below is an edited response to those wondering why it can be so difficult:
Kitchen design and cabinetry is complicated. And because customers are always looking to price compare and copy the design work done by kitchen designers, the cabinet industry intentionally makes it very confusing to shop for cabinets. One way this is done is that the same cabinet companies have different names at different locations and even if the brand name is the same the doors styles and finishes can have different names at different retailers.
Getting reliable cabinet reviews is also hard because Consumer Reports and other review sites don’t ask professionals to rate cabinets, they ask consumers. And reviews are written by staff reporters that know nothing about cabinets. Often customers that aren’t aware of what to expect complain when surveyed about the construction, style, and finish they selected, or about problems that their installer was responsible for. Here are the two most extreme examples of misleading and inaccurate cabinet company reviews:
IKEA is constantly reviewed favorably by almost everyone except professionals, here’s why:
- IKEA cabinets are inexpensive, easy to purchase, consumer expectations are low, and the finishes that IKEA carries are simple and don’t vary much so “what you see is what you get”.
- The instructions to assemble the cabinets are not frustrating and people are happy that they got a new kitchen that initially at least, looks pretty good.
- Consumer Reports, JD Power, and on line consumer reviews are all published or posted a short time after a kitchen is purchased.
- Market Research has also shown that consumers feel more favorably towards a product they assembled themselves over one that was built for them. See link.
No one follows up 20 years later and sees the IKEA kitchen that is falling apart. And even if they did they would need to compare it to the same kitchen in a better made product to understand the profound difference in cabinet longevity. As a professional I see these IKEA kitchens 20, 10, and even 5 years later when I am called upon to replace them.
Kraftmaid (which Main Line Kitchen Design does not carry but is the best example of the other extreme) consistently gets bad or mediocre reviews from consumer publications and home owners. There are several reasons for this:
- Customer expectations are much higher because they are purchasing the more expensive cabinet at the home center or showroom they are working with.
- In more expensive cabinet lines wood characteristics and cabinet finishes can be inconsistent because they are supposed to be, and this can lead to buyers remorse.
- Kitchens designed in a high end semi-custom line like Kraftmaid can be complex and this makes mistakes more likely. And since home centers like Lowes and The Home Depot carry Kraftmaid and their designers are less experienced in general, and because the environment in a home center is loud, confusing, and interruption filled, problems and misunderstandings are almost guaranteed.
- Home center customers tend to be price driven, that’s why they are shopping for a kitchen at the home center in the first place, so they often don’t pay for needed cabinet and hardware upgrades. They may not even be told that they should be getting them, but they could expect them to be standard in a more expensive cabinet line.
The issues above create a recipe for consumer dissatisfaction.
The best example of this disparity between what is real and perceived was 11 years ago when Consumer Reports gave IKEA a top rating while Krafmaid received a relatively low rating. At that time Kraftmaid was on a 7 year winning streak for the best value in cabinetry as rated by cabinet professionals. Those same professionals would agree for the most part that IKEA was just junk. Kraftmaid may not be quite the same cabinet line it was then, but IKEA is, and IKEA continues to be rated near the top in Consumer Reports and in JD Power rankings.
Some consumers mistakenly focus on a cabinet lines warranty as a way to judge quality. However, many well made cabinet lines have the industry standard 5 year warranty, while IKEA has a 15. A lifetime Warranty doesn’t mean much either as all life time warrantees on cabinets are limited lifetime warranties, and cover very little. And, several terribly made cabinet lines offer a limited lifetime warranty.
For a consumer wanting a great kitchen, shopping for a kitchen designer and cabinet dealer is a better strategy than focusing on a cabinet line. When looking for a kitchen designer to work with make sure that they have a minimum of 10 years experience, and because kitchen design is such a complex profession a bright well educated person often makes a better designer than one with a design degree or certification. Some of the best kitchen designers I have met are on second careers or never studied design in college. The best designers are all very bright people with great spacial relations skills and a willingness to learn and to teach. Educating customers about what to value and expect is the hallmark of a good designer. So learning a lot from a designer in a short time speaking with them is a good sign. And if they give you a few ways you can save money without compromising on quality, that shows that they also are looking after your best interests.
Hoping your research helps you find the best designer and the best cabinet for you… and of course…