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Why is it so Hard to Compare Kitchen Cabinet Brands?

Below is an edited response to those wondering why it can be so difficult:

Kitchen design and cabinetry is complicated. 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.

kitchen with multilevel island. Jim Bishop Cabinet Brand

Getting reliable cabinet reviews is hard because Consumer Reports and other review sites don’t ask professionals to rate cabinets, they ask consumers. 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, 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:

  1. 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”.
  2. 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.
  3. Consumer Reports, JD Power, and online consumer reviews are all published or posted a short time after a kitchen is purchased.
  4. 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 falling apart. 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 a cabinet brands 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 homeowners.

There are several reasons for this:

  1. Customer expectations are much higher because they are purchasing the more expensive cabinet at the home center or showroom they are working with.
  2. In more expensive cabinet lines wood characteristics and cabinet finishes can be inconsistent because they are supposed to be, and this can lead to buyer’s remorse.
  3. Kitchens designed in a high end semi-custom line like Kraftmaid can be complex and this makes mistakes more likely. Since home centers like Lowes and The Home Depot carry Kraftmaid and their designers are less experienced in general. The environment in a home center is loud, confusing, and interruption filled, problems and misunderstandings are almost guaranteed.
  4. 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.

modern green kitchen and bar table. Bishop cabinet brand.

The best example of this disparity between what is real and perceived was in 2005 when Consumer Reports gave IKEA a top rating while Kraftmaid 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 brands’ 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-year warranty. A lifetime Warranty doesn’t mean much either as all lifetime warrantees on cabinets are limited lifetime warranties and cover very little. 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. 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. 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.

The blogs below have more relevant information:

Price Comparing Kitchen Cabinets Can be a Bad Idea.

Kitchen Cabinet Rankings for 2018. Updated Reviews for the Top Selling Cabinet Brands.

Why You Shouldn’t Buy a Kitchen at Lowes or Home Depot

Hoping your research helps you find the best designer and the best cabinet for you… and of course…

Bon Appetit!


2 Replies to “Why is it so Hard to Compare Kitchen Cabinet Brands?”

  1. Susie Coop

    What about ordering from a company already to install. Great quality. Has all the things you mentioned. I looked into Its so consuming we got a quote from a reputible cabinet gallery by a designer. Medillian and she said it was on sale. Now I am concerned about her.

    1. pmcalary[ Post Author ]

      Hi Susie,
      Not sure what you are asking. Please try to check what you are typing so that your question makes sense.

  2. Jean

    I can’t comment on my ikea kitchen yet because it’s being intermittently installed by the IKEA recommended installer
    For 6 MONTHS!!! The whole apartment is a mess and we are losing our minds. I’d love to hear from IKEA about this . Install is NOT inexpensive either so I’m about to get an attorney to help us sort it out.
    Desperate on the UES of NYC

  3. TarheelWolves

    Thank you greatly for the most informative info found anywhere on the web. Remodeler suggested working with local designer who priced Eudora cabinets for us. Hubby isn’t a fan of frameless cabinets due to durability issues, and we’re tough on furniture. Can you offer advice on RTA cabinets such as Cabinetjoint? Just to check pricing, I received a quote solely for four island cabinets and it seems very high.

  4. Kevin Johnson

    We had Kraft Maid put in our kitchen about 3 years ago. It was expensive and we waited a long time for our cabinets to arrive and be put in. After 3 years, I have to say they are still like brand new. They were expensive, but they are great. We did get the upgraded plywood cabinets. I love the plastic construction of the sink cabinet. Never have to worry about water damage, but I don’t feel we lost anything in quality on it.
    We are looking at Ikea for cabinets for a double wide trailer we have as a second home. They are less expensive, I will install them myself, but I know they aren’t going to be the quality of Kraft Maid. As they said, you get what you pay for. These won’t have the amount of use as the other cabinets and should hold up to usage.

    1. pmcalary[ Post Author ]

      There are assembled cabinets constructed as well as Kraftmaid for the price of IKEA. They won’t have the nice woods or finishes Krafmaid offers but if you are on a budget they will be just as durable. Fabuwood, J&K, CNC, Wolf to name a few. They won’t need to be assembled and are easier to install. IKEA is for people that don’t know any better about cabinets. Even some poorly informed kitchen designer will design with IKEA. But this proves that they aren’t very good kitchen designers.

  5. Kerri

    Wish I had not purchased Kraft Maid! They are poor quality!

    1. pmcalary[ Post Author ]

      Hi Kerri,
      What are your complaints with Kraftmaid? Possibly you didn’t pay to upgrade them to plywood with better tracks and drawers. Also sometimes people’s complaints about cabinetry aren’t justified. For example maple cabinets that have mineral streaks, cherry cabinets with pits, solid wood doors with stripes in the middle panel, or painted cabinets that have less durable finishes.These are issues one should expect with all cabinetry with those finishes. Even some damages should be expected during shipping for an entire kitchen. Those damaged cabinets or doors are replaced free of charge. What was you problem?

  6. Glenn

    I’ve designed, sold and fitted kitchens in the uk for nearly 20 years. In that time I’ve “helped” a couple of friends out who were on a super budget and used the ikea products. The MFC is cheap and soft. The fittings are poor and the sizes are all different to the uk standards. I’ve felt genuinely sorry for my friends as they thought they were getting a good deal, they weren’t. Consumer review sites are full of praise for the likes of ikea as they are driven by price. You get what you pay for with kitchen cabinets.

  7. KitchenGirl

    IKEA carries a 25 year warranty and it is extensive on the pieces it covers. Additionally, most stores will bend over backwards to help you find pieces you need- even after they are discontinued. Case in point- the AKURUM to SEKTION changeover a few years ago. My last home had an AKURUM kitchen and had some warranty issues. Even though my particular door style was discontinued they helped me find replacement pieces. In my new house we just installed SEKTION cabinets and BODBYN fronts and everything is phenomenal. I agree with JD Powers and Consumer Reports- as a consumer who is into their second IKEA kitchen!

    1. pmcalary[ Post Author ]

      Sounds like you are moving before the inevitable issues arise. And now there are now less expensive and far, far, better made alternatives to all particle board IKEA cabinetry.

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