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If You Are Buying Kitchen Cabinets, Beware!

Recalling a time when the cabinet industry was less transparent. If you are buying kitchen cabinets this blog originally from 2011 is a valuable read.

Note:  Since posting “If you are buying kitchen cabinets, beware” in 2011 many of the Masterbrands cabinet lines changed. They have switched from 3/8″ sides to half inch sides. Possibly due to better consumer awareness. Instead of removing or editing the blog I am keeping it posted as it was to mark the time and place our industry was at in early 2011. We also have a more recent bog below that reviews current cabinet brands:

Cabinet Reviews: Ratings for the top 130 cabinet brands.

Here is the original blog from March 2011

Kitchen cabinet buyers need reputable, professional assistance for many reasons.  Top concerns are safety (see the blog below) and good design.  And . . . there’s probably no less blunt way to say this. . . to avoid being ripped off.

Is Your Kitchen Designer Going to Kill You?

For example, many cabinet companies sell the same product for different prices by having multiple cabinet line names.  Even in the same cabinet line, exact same door styles and finishes will have different names at different locations. 

In 2004 (and again many times after) Consumer Reports was completely duped.  They continually publish cabinet reviews in which they compare cabinets that are actually the same product.   And they always review these identical cabinet brands differently.  Ikea duped them as well – – garnering top ratings despite durability and construction flaws. These flaws only a few years to become problems.

Blue Island Kitchen. While the kitchen shown is a quality cabinet brand consumers should beware when buying kitchen cabinets

Here are some examples of advice Main Line Kitchen Design professionals share with our customers:

Frameless cabinets are much less durable than framed cabinets. Frameless or European Cabinetry can definitely look sleeker and are better suited to the most modern door styles.  However, even the most expensive frameless lines such as Poggenpohl are nowhere near as durable as any well-made framed cabinetry.

When buying kitchen cabinets, it’s important to know that the worst way to make a framed cabinet is with 3/8″ sides and backs.

Quality framed cabinetry has 1/2 or 3/4″ sides and backs with solid wood hanging rails.  Watch out for Masterbrands — They are the largest cabinet conglomerate in the US and produce most of their cabinetry with the less durable 3/8″ sides and backs. Many home builders including Toll Brothers use these type lines because more money goes into the door styles and finishes. Very little resources go into the cabinet’s construction.  These lines include:  Aristocraft, Schrock, Diamond, Yorktowne, and Kemper.


Kitchen with post on the end of the island These are Brighton Custom inset cabinets. Beware when buying kitchen cabinets in lesser made brands

A cabinet by any other name….

Thomasville, a fine furniture company, sold the right to use their name to Home Depot to sell kitchen cabinetry.  Home Depot’s “Thomasville” cabinets are actually 3/8″ constructed cabinetry with the Thomasville name.  At one point Home Depot actually had Mills Pride their least expensive cabinet line making half of the Thomasville line.

Thicker plywood sides, solid wood hanging rail, Ibeam or plywood tops, along with dovetail drawers and Blumotion tracks can be had for less. Higher end framed custom cabinets differ in finer finishes and in the availability of custom pieces  —  not construction and durability.  Kraftmaid, Woodmode Brookhaven and Main Line Kitchen Design’s Jim Bishop cabinet lines for example can all provide the same quality construction as higher priced custom alternatives.

Selecting a Kitchen Designer is just as important as the cabinetry you select.

Unfortunately, accreditation in the kitchen industry is fairly nebulous.  Going to the most expensive showrooms doesn’t assure you of getting a good designer. Or one that has your interest at heart. Architects are also generally less capable designers because they spend so much less time designing kitchens. Nor do they know much about cabinetry because they do not sell cabinetry.

white kitchen with island and column posts. These are well made Bishop cabinets. When buying kitchen cabinets online or elsewhere always be careful
Bishop Collegeville PA Kitchen

The best Kitchen Designers explain as much about buying kitchen cabinets and kitchen design to their customers as time allows. When you know what you are buying, and why and what the negative and positive aspects of your design are, you can make an informed decision about what matters to you most, and where you want to spend more and or less.  Kitchen Designers also add NO COST as the design costs are included almost everywhere in the cost of the cabinetry.

Getting a great kitchen requires one big investment that many customers have a hard time making.  The investment of their own time. 

It always surprises my customers when I tell them that we would prefer them to take more rather than less of our time making their decisions.  It is only the customers that invest too little of their own time that are ever unhappy with their selections.

Watch our very funny video below to see why you need a kitchen designer when you are buying kitchen cabinets.

The Main Line Kitchen Design team wishes everyone a wonderful new year and the best kitchens possible…… and of course Bon Appetit!

Main Line Kitchen Design

721 Replies to “If You Are Buying Kitchen Cabinets, Beware!”

  1. Russell

    Hi Paul – thank you very much for your excellent and fast response!

    Cabinets – I understand completely on inset with a cab mfg like candlelight, makes great sense. If you were going to go full overlay and had Decora as another option would that make sense? We are leaning towards inset.

    Island – thank you for tipping me back the other way against seating in a work aisle – it seemed all wrong to me – right in the thick of the work triangle in our design. I then discovered your kitchen renovation video in 211 seconds – that island design is awesome and achieves all we are looking for. It will be 4′ x 6’6″ We won’t have a sink in it, but it will have a Bev center and microwave drawer on the 6’6″ work side (sink/fridge) with an 18″ 3 drawer cab in the middle. The 24″ cabinet that you put to form the L on the 4′ work aisle side (range) will be either a 2 drawer cab or a large cab with pull out for big pots, which we need. Anything come to mind with this approach? People that have that island love it?

    Thanks very much!!!

  2. Russell

    Hi Paul,

    We are working with a kitchen designer we like a lot here in the Boston area: we are likely going to get a painted Candlelight Cabinet with all plywood construction. I have 2 questions for you, please:

    1. What’s your viewpoint/experience with inset vs full overlay? We love inset and realize these are more $ and you lose space. We live by the ocean and understand there may need to be adjustments made from time to time. Is this just a preference on look at the end of the day once you move past the issues of $, space and adjustments? Inset cabinets are beautiful to our eyes; we just don’t want to make a mistake on these, especially if they don’t operate well or don’t hold up for some reason or something else we’re not thinking of.

    2. Our new kitchen design includes an island. The space we are in puts significant constraints on the size of the island. Basically, 5′ to 6′ x 4′ to 5′. We love a 5′ x 5′ (cabs 4 x 4) design our designer came up with which includes 12″ overhangs for seating on 2 adjoining sides. Anything we should be thinking about with a square design vs more rectangular? One of these seating sides is in the work aisle – we are planning a 48″ counter to counter space for the aisle which includes the refrigerator and sink areas; there is some room as this 5′ run of the island with seating is fundamentally inside where the fridge and sink are positioned.

    Any thoughts/guidance is greatly appreciated – Thanks!

    Thanks very much

    1. pmcalary[ Post Author ]

      Hi Russel,
      Getting very expensive cabinetry like Candlelight and not getting inset cabinets takes away the identity of your cabinets as custom cabinets. So you are spending double the price on cabinetry but people can’t really tell. So I would get Beaded Inset cabinetry if I’m paying for custom cabinetry. And since you are in a beach area I would get 6 way adjustable concealed hinges.
      Islands look more proportional when they are rectangular. I have never seen a square Island that really wowed me. I haven’t seen your design but you should never sit at an island with your back to the sink or the cooktop. Only towards the table or the refrigerator. It disrupts the most important work areas and because it does it will look odd as well.

  3. Nicole

    Thank you for sharing your knowledge! We are planning on a master bathroom remodel. I work with a designer who first recommended Medallion Silver line for a 72″ double sink vanity painted white. Throughout the planning stage we are trying to control budget on the bathroom cabinets and now she is recommending Tru Cabinetry. Both have 1/2″ side panels and all plywood construction, hardwood face frame. I also got quotes from local dealers on Showplace (paint grade maple), Kraftsmaid Vantage line and Kemper Choice line. We don’t want to spend over $2K on the vanity cabinets. My designer cautions me about Kraftmaid Vantage having lighter weight sides, smaller drawers, and fiber board and not all plywood. Since it’s going to be in a humid environment, we are also debating on wood vs. MDF. How would you rank these brands/lines in terms of quality and value? Thank you!

    1. pmcalary[ Post Author ]

      Kraftmaid Vantage is all plywood construction has standard size drawers for a framed cabinet and standard 1/2″ thick plywood sides. So your designer is confused at best. I would choose the Vantage from your list for quality and value.

  4. Luciane Ramos

    I got a quote for Crew Series kitchen cabinets by Starmark for a large kitchen. This Crew series has a lower price point, 3/8″ plywood construction but a limited number of colors and finishes. How do these cabinets compare to the Thomasville Studio 1904 cabinet series offered by Home Depot that also have a lower price point and limited options for door styles, finishes and colors? I was leaning towards the Starmark Crew series but the quote came in high so I am looking for other medium cost cabinet options with plywood construction (not particleboard). My style is contemporary flat panel. Any suggestions? Thanks, Luciane.

    1. pmcalary[ Post Author ]

      It makes NO sense to get poorly made versions of expensive cabinetry. There are great better made inexpensive cabinet lines out there so why buy the thing that makes no sense? Get a better made US/Import like Fabuwood, J&K, Wolf, ProCraft, ect or upgrade a medium priced line like American Woodmark, Shenendoah, Homecrest, or just pay to have the expensive line made as well as the inexpensive alternatives.

  5. Dave

    Hi Paul, this blog is a wonderful resource and I am trying to sort thru all your advice. We are looking at Fabuwood, the galaxy frost door style. Are you still a fabuwood fan? When you say they have some bad dealers, generally what do you mean? We have received two prices one of $7300 an another of $8200 does that seem about right? Thank You

    1. pmcalary[ Post Author ]

      Hi Dave,
      Of course the size and the design of your kitchen dramatically effects the price. We have sold Fabuwood kitchens under $4,000 as well as Fabuwood kitchens well as Over $30,000. Different dealers will have different mark ups too. And any design you price could include some things that one designer added while another did not such as flush sides, moldings, or rollouts.

      When Fabuwood began they sold to very small carpenters and inexperienced dealers. They are more discriminating now. The reputation of the dealer you buy from is just as important as the cabinet line. You have no contract with Fabuwood your contract is with the dealer. So research your dealer as well as your cabinet line. And the most important part of the equation is the kitchen designer which is the hardest part to be able to evaluate unless you are another experienced kitchen designer. The best kitchen designer is not the person that makes your ideas a reality. It is the designer that teaches you why you need to consider other options and helps you evaluate the good and bad parts of any design.

      Many customers are angry when I tell them that the first design I will do could possibly not take any of their ideas into account. The first design they see is one that effectively uses their space and their budget. Because we change the design from that starting point, customers better understand why they might want something they hadn’t considered.

      I often speak with my mechanic about our businesses. He is not only a great mechanic and runs a fabulous and successful garage but he renovates properties on the side and has bought several kitchens from me. His customers trust him and rarely tell him how to do his job. He trusts me and asks for advice on what I think the best designs and values for his projects are.

      However many of our kitchen customers feel that they should direct the design process and that our job is to make their vision a reality. People often tell me that they have done 3 kitchens so they are pretty much experts. The first day on the job a novice kitchen designer will probably design three kitchens and they won’t be considered competent by other designers until they have been designing kitchens full time for probably ten years. Some will never get good and only a very few are truly gifted. Doug Mottershead who’s a little bit of a legend says it best in our video. See link below:

  6. David

    I went to Home Depot and with the help of the designer have a beautiful layout of Kraft Maid cabinets with all the extras I wanted. My contractor has a supplier that he works with who also gave me a layout, but I was not happy with Choice Cabinets. This supplier then tried another cabinet company, Tru Cabinetry. It looks like he just copied the Kraft Maid, but I don’t know if he has planned all the extras that I wanted. There is about a $4,000 difference in price. What would you suggest?

    1. pmcalary[ Post Author ]

      I don’t know tru cabinetry but I suspect it is not as well made or nice as Kraftmaid and of course all the extras can’t be included without you sitting and going over and adding each one with the other designer. I would stop shopping you have a designer you like you are only going to get ripped off by an unscrupulous designer if you get into the shop till you drop mode.

  7. Nadia

    Hi, I would love your thoughts on Duraform from Lowes in terms of durability? Thank you!

    1. pmcalary[ Post Author ]

      Hi Nadia,
      Great question and a pet peeve of mine.

      Duraform is Thermofoil and so a thin coat of plastic glued to a MDF (particle board) constructed door. Here are the pros and cons of a thermofoil door style in my opinion:
      Because it’s plastic, Thermofoil is easy to clean, difficult to nick or scratch and will never show the joints or seams where wood pieces have been glued together to create the door. Think of the thermofoil white plastic doors that were so popular in the 1990’s.
      The painted cabinets that everyone loves right now are the opposite. Easily nicked and scratched and need to be very carefully cleaned because water can quickly degrade paint.
      Because they are plastic Thermofoil is very sensitive to heat, Professional cooktops and ranges can easily melt doors if the kitchen design does not account for their powerful burners. And any defective seals on self cleaning ovens or even regular ovens can melt doors. Heat shields (metal protective strips) need to be used between ranges and the cabinets next to them as a precaution but they are only partially effective.
      Thermofoil eventually will delaminate (bubble and peel) as the glue breaks down binding the foil to the door. In the past 20 years was the maximum time before this happened. Cabinet companies now claim their glues will last much longer but who knows how much longer and cabinet companies have a terrible track record as far as honesty and transparency is concerned.
      If you are getting modern slab doors then these styles can look better with a plastic look. And they definitely look better with a frameless cabinet which is also less durable. So the longevity issue of the thermofoil might not be an issue because the look is important and your cabinets lasting 20 years or a little longer is OK. However if you are getting a traditional or transitional door style I think the plastic looks cheap and I’d want these style kitchens to last a lifetime and just need to get touched up over time. Professional furniture repair companies like Guardsman will touch up a kitchen and make it look almost new for around $500.
      In the early 90’s when white thermofoil cabinets were the rage I always tried to steer customers away from them for kitchens and reserve them for mudrooms. They never looked tasteful to me. Nor did the gold and glass furniture from the 80’s. Nor the dark oak stains of the 70’s. Nor the pink and teal bath tile of the 60’s. Nor to be honest did the Frank Lloyd Wright style homes of the 40’s and 50’s.
      Some people will always be drawn to these less less practical, less durable type looks. But one of the questions I get asked almost every day is “will the cabinetry and color I am picking be timeless” The answer is tasteful, practical, and durable will always be “timeless” and will appeal to people in years to come. The painted white and gray shaker door styles so popular today will certainly never be so popular in the future but they will still look tasteful if the kitchen is designed attractively and functionally. Shaker styles and these confederate gray colors have be popular for hundreds of years.
      In the 90’s I used to ask other designers that sold mostly thermofoil cabinets if they really thought white plastic coated cabinets would be considered tasteful in the future. The answer was usually “no but it’s what people want.” Almost everyone now thinks white thermofoil traditional style cabinets are unattractive and the arched doors that were also so popular are out of style.
      Duraform is simply the next white thermofoil. And while Frank Lloyd Wright’s famous home Falling Water is beautiful in many respects, and visited by countless people each year, I doubt anyone would actually purchase a home to live in that was incredibly drafty, without screens on the windows to get air and keep bugs out in the summer, and was so poorly built that upkeep was a bottomless money pit.

  8. pmcalary[ Post Author ]

    How can I advise you? You say you are getting a traditional door style. If you aren’t getting a modern slab door style you would be going against our advice to start by getting frameless cabinetry.
    We get so many of these type questions. IE “I am not taking any of the advice you give on these topics, but can you advise me on this other topic?”
    This is how people get themselves in these types of drawn out situations. They don’t do the research needed to find a good designer. The people they choose to work with are often the people that tell them what they want to hear because they don’t want to take advice they don’t like hearing.
    I also suspect from your room measurements that your island is to tight for your kitchen. Has any designer suggested that? If so work with that designer. This is because the designers that disagree with you and with what you tell them you want are ethical and are putting good design above simply selling you cabinets.
    Whenever I hear a story about a renovation that took years with countless delays I always know that everyone involved was at fault.
    The designer that just wanted to get the sale and wouldn’t say no to the customer.
    The contractors that simply took the customers money and never objected to working without an organized plan that he agreed on. And also didn’t have no in his or her vocabulary.
    And the customer who always wanted what they wanted independent of advice from professionals.
    These type people will always find each other to create the perfect storm of a bad renovation. The job will cost a fortune and be poorly conceived and executed because it wasn’t well planed and no one was putting common sense ahead of what they wanted.

  9. 808kitchen

    Yes these quotes are for the completed kitchen project.

  10. 808kitchen

    Wow, you are a wealth of information!!!
    We are limited in Hawaii, can’t do mitered doors, too humid. Only a few brands offer custom or semi-custom. Please help me decide on a cabinet brand: Belmont 1900, Omega, Nouveau Thomasville, Kitchen Craft, Kemper. I want a frameless, Traditional, cherry wood cabinetry. Seven of the cabinets have beveled glass and lighting inside. About 4 of the boxes are custom designed sizes. Kitchen is about 14ft x 11ft with an Island in center.
    I have a bad designer who is slow (8 months still incomplete kitchen design), excuses herself from answering more than 3 dozen questions from the past 4 months because she is…, “waiting for vendor response, crazy busy will answer when has time, closed during holidays, …etc etc etc.” I paid over $3000 to receive a kitchen design with Belmont cabinets, flooring, quartz countertops, lighting, etc… we haven’t gotten to talk about anything else except the cabinetry. I’m thinking I wasted my money on a kitchen designer. After 9 months working with them, I still don’t have a total cost of how much my kitchen remodel with be when completed. The estimation so far is over $175,000. I thought this was crazy. Other places have estimated my costs of my kitchen project with their cabinetry to be between $30,000 -$45,000. I don’t want to rush, because she makes a lot of mistakes. But I don’t think this is normal when working with the designer. Is this common practice with all designers? ‘JohnCook Kitchens’ pushes Belmont cabinets. Is Belmont 1900 the best? That’s what they tell me here. I no longer trust them.
    I’m now looking at ProSource designer who carries Omega and doesn’t charge a fee.

  11. Dale

    Thank you so much for such a great blog. You’ve eased my mind considerably regarding our upcoming kitchen remodel. Question: I’d like to reuse my old base cabinets (45 years old, all plywood/hardwood) to make a large island. I know they won’t match our new cabinet choice, and that’s ok. The contrast might look good. What’s the best way to finish/update them? Sand/re-stain/paint? The new cabinets will be a natural maple finish on simple recessed panel door. Old cabinets are walnut stained oak on much more ornate recessed panel doors. I’d hate to waste them. Thanks!

    1. pmcalary[ Post Author ]

      Hi Dale,
      Reusing your old cabinets makes no sense. It will cost you more than getting new cabinetry and respectable professionals probably wouldn’t get involved in a halfway kitchen renovation. Customers are almost never happy with the results of a project done this way. And to be frank the people that insist on doing these type renovations are harder to work with and are less desirable clientele. Because of this some professionals will steer clear of the project while other less ethical designers and contractors will simply charge more expecting problems down the road that they are pre charging for.

  12. pmcalary[ Post Author ]

    Thermafoil is easy to clean but should only be expected to last about 20 years before it begins to delaminate. The help you are getting from RTA companies is not from experienced designers. Home centers are not much better but at least they can measure and see your kitchen. Working with someone that has not measured your kitchen personally is foolish and asking for poor design and mistakes.

  13. Kim

    The assembly charge is good to know.They make you think the saving is much more. I think you are unaware of the design help that all the RTA companies offer. Many emails and phone conversations back and forth. They all have been very nice and helpful. More than I’m getting from Home Depot. Please educate me on why the Thermofoil Kemper cabinets we had were bad? Are there ANY RTA companies you think offer a descent product? I also am working with a local company that is quoting TRU Cabinets. Do you have an opinion on those. Thank you. Kim

  14. Kim

    I just don’t know what to do. We built a house in 2005. I had Kemper Thermofoil cabinets put in.The design was wonderful and I always got so many compliments on that kitchen. In 13 years we had no problems. We just sold that home in August. Now we bought our retirement home last month and are doing some major renovations. Our goal is not get into debt at this point in our life. I learned about RTA cabinets. We were so excited about getting quality cabinets at a great price. The saving came in to play by us building them. Now I learn we had junk and almost bought junk again. PLEASE HELP!

    1. pmcalary[ Post Author ]

      Since cabinet companies only charge 15 or $20 per box to build cabinets it is usually not efficient assembling cabinetry on your own. Assuming you had even 30 cabinets that might only be $450 to $500. Buying cabinets on line also means that you have no kitchen professional helping you with your kitchen which everyone needs whether they believe it or nor. We recommend dealers around the US. I’d start there. Or we talk to people outside our service area Fridays between 2pm and 4pm EST.

  15. Susan

    I am building a new home. I am looking for a cabinet line that has low vocs and water based finishes. Was sent a painted cabinet door that the finish was not cured at all and had a bad allergic reaction. Found a cabinet line called breathe easy and was wondering if you know anything about this line (quality construction, etc.) and how the price compares with kraftmaid. That so much for you help.

    1. pmcalary[ Post Author ]

      I have never heard of “Breathe Easy” cabinets but I would be immediately skeptical of them. They are a frameless line that markets to this issue and companies that market to single issue buyers in the cabinet industry are most often scams or terrible investments.

      I would instead select a well made cabinet line that is documented CARB2 compliant. This is the only independent off-gassing accreditation that I know of. Any other undocumented assurances I wouldn’t trust.

      Next if you want to reduce your families exposure even further I would store your cabinets unboxed in a storage facility or your garage for 1 to 2 months prior to installation. If you use your garage try to keep the temperature between 40 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit and tape the interoior door from your garage to your home shut to keep gasses out. I’d also air out the garage as often as possible.

  16. Kimberley Sims

    Thanks so much for all your help… I made a decision to go with painted Dove white maple cabinets by Kraftmaid, 1/2” plywood boxes….I told my designer that I do not want to replace my cabinets for at least 20 – 30 years. She told me that I would not be happy with painted maple cabinets and that I should consider a low maintenance, but much more durable cabinet like the Kraftmaid “Evercore”… it’s not wood so there Will not be any joint separation because it’s 5/8” furniture grade.. very durable and more cost efficient.. I’m now confuse because I thought 1/2” plywood was the best you could buy… but according to my designer, the Evercore is kid tough, no swelling or joint separation, it holds it’s painted Dove White factory finished color for the life of the cabinet if properly cared for and it does not delaminate because it’s not thermal foil. Any thoughts on the Evercore cabinet or it my designer pulling my leg… it sounds too good to be true…

    1. pmcalary[ Post Author ]

      Hi Kimberley,
      There is no joint separation because there are no seams as the door is MDF, IE compressed particleboard. The door will more easily get dinged and scratched but won’t show any expansion seams. I would not recommend this for anyone that is hard on things and would certainly not call it “kid tough”. Expansion seams can be touched up and furniture refinishers can touch up and repair real wood but not MDF. However since the MDF kitchen costs less you could replace damaged doors as needed and still have saved money up until the time that the paint ages past being a close match to any new replaced doors.
      I don’t like the fact that the designer is spinning the advantages of Evercore or not understanding how soft the doors truely are.

  17. Mike

    I’ve met with a designer. Received prices on Forevermark and Wolf (York)line cabinets. Would you recommend looking for a better quality like the Fabuwood or Bishop?
    I know the Wolf comes with the 1/2″ plywood that you’ve recommended, think the Forevermark does as well, but not 100% sure. I’ve heard the finish on the Wolf is very thin and scratches easily. Does this fall in line with your experience?

    1. pmcalary[ Post Author ]

      Hi Mike,
      I like Fabuwood more than Wolf and Wolf more than Foevermark. You should always upgrade to 1/2 inch plywood.
      That being said I don’t think that the finish on Wolf is getting evaluated correctly. All painted cabinetry scratches easily. It is because Wolf is an inexpensive line that consumers blame the line for the scratches. Had they got expensive custom cabinets they would have had the same issue.
      Fabuwood is about 10 more expensive than upgraded Wolf and offers some nicer door styles and nicer looking finishes as well as a greater ability to customize. Whether that is worth it to you would be a personal choice. Durability of finish is not the issue.

  18. Mick

    Thanks! So torn. house is very old, and the painted maples look so new and not like wood. I do like seeing the texture that quartersawn gives. I have RUTT now, but cant afford new Rutt, so Starmark has had some of the best finishes. Thanks again. PS,,,just saw a rustic hickory and alder that piqued my interest. I will never decide!

  19. Mick

    I am meeting with a designer and contractor tonight to get the damage (I mean estimate) of my kitchen. I want inset cabinets, quartersawn oak, white finish. I have looked and looked, and came to the conclusion of Starmark Cabinetry. I cannot find many other companies that have the finish and look that I want. Before committing, any other cabinet makers that I should consider? Thanks for this blog!!!

    1. pmcalary[ Post Author ]

      I would recommend not buying an inset quartersawn oak cabinet in a painted or stained white finish. Not only is the color not popular, but it will look too much like the finish homeowners on a budget get when they paint over their oak cabinets. If you want any resale value on this expensive renovation you don’t have to select the most popular stains and finishes but you shouldn’t select unpopular ones. This is why you don’t see this color done by other cabinet companies.

  20. Diane

    How can I send you the design? is there an email?

  21. pmcalary[ Post Author ]

    Without seeing the design I don’t know what we would recommend since it is never what you want – it is what design solution works best for the space. You can send us the design on a Friday between 2pm and 4pm EST and we could evaluate it.
    That being said everything this designer told you seems accurate and likely. You can’t have your cake and eat it too so not having a better use of the corners could be because it looks better and that the sink is centered. And yes 18″ between your countertops and wall cabinets is a must especially if you have Tall cabinets. Because doors and cabinet tops wouldn’t line up if your were to lower the wall cabinets. Not to mention that countertop appliances are all made for an 18″ space.
    A toe kick heater correctly installed should not burn floors although selecting vinyl could age it more rapidly. And finally moving heating or removing soffits will make your design better. So splurge on these things before selecting more expensive cabinetry, appliances, or countertops. This comes from the person that sells cabinets and tops so keep that in mind.

  22. Diane

    actually, we HAVE spoken with a designer – one that supposedly has 30 years of design experience, but I am not convinced that I like all the results.
    The designer recommended a 12×12 void space in the wall cabinet corner – doesn’t seem efficient to me.
    the designer recommended getting rid of the soffits. OK, taller cabinets – that makes sense.
    The designer said the clearance from countertop to wall cabinet had to be 18 inches – is that true?
    Unless we knock out a wall, there is only ONE place the fridge can go – provided that we do not want to block the ONLY entrance to the kitchen when the fridge door is open. The kitchen is roughly 11 ft square – one exterior wall and one wall has the entrance and a peninsula (eating space – not cooking). Those 2 walls connect.
    THe designer recommended centering the sink on the window – makes sense.
    The designer recommended a peanut shaped pull-out for the blind corner of the base cabinets – nice that it pulls ALL the way out, but it really doesn’t seem like the most efficient use of space. I think a “super susan” or one of those 3-position pull-slide-pull units would be better.
    The designer recommended the toe kick heater under the sink. I like that as it solves some other questions about the peninsula that we are trying to put base cabinets under, but if it means a lot of work (and $$$) to move the heat to the opposite wall, and I run the risk of destroying a new floor, then maybe that’s not such a good idea. Friends said they explicitly asked if that would be a problem, were told no, and look at that, brown burn marks across their cream-colored floor. (I have a different designer and different company.)
    So, yes, some of the ideas we have come from an experienced designer, but how do you know if your designer has it right? Ask someone like you!! (and try not to throw anybody under the bus in the process.)

  23. pmcalary[ Post Author ]

    Hi Diane,
    You are essentially doing everything we recommend against and yet still not trying to find an experienced designer to work with. The best advice I can give you is to stop what you are doing and seek out good design help. Anything short of that is just continuing to help you stay on a terrible path that will waste money and create terrible designs.

  24. Diane

    thanks for the info. The layout will be essentially the same. appliances need to stay where they are unless we take down walls, etc and we don’t think we want to go that route. They can shift a few inches left and right, and will as we wnat to cetner the sink on the window. We are going to get rid of soffits and get a toe kick heater under the sink instead of the baseboard on the wall so we can open the refrigerator door further. Two further questions.
    1.currently our wall cabinets are about 14 inches above the countertop. We have been told that it should be 18 inches. Is that right? How much does that matter? We plan to have a microwave over the range and I know there is a minimum distance for safety. Is that the driving factor?
    2. I have been warned about the toe kick heater that they can leave “burn marks” on certain flooring types. I actually saw this in a friends home. What should I watch out for? We were thinking floating vinyl but wonder if that would be a problem.

  25. pmcalary[ Post Author ]

    Fabuwood, Wolf (owned by Pennsylvania’s Governor Tom Wolf) and many other cabinet lines are American companies that assemble cabinets in the US. The doors and cabinet fronts and some other parts are made in China but under American supervision, just like your iPhone. And like you iPhone the quality of what you are buying is the same but the cost is less than if everything been made in the US. Even some US custom cabinet lines are starting to ship American high grade lumber to China to have their doors and cabinet fronts made at the lower labor costs to be shipped back and built and finished in the US.

    So yes if you don’t care about the nicer “looking” stained finishes a line like Fabuwood will be 30-40% less and be made the same with the exact same tracks and hinges. Other US lines like Homecrest, American Woodmark, or Shenendoah, sold at home centers or comparable lines sold at private dealers will fall in between these two price points. Upgraded they will also offer most of what you are looking for. They might be a little rougher finish wise and have slightly more shipping issues but all this cabinetry is guaranteed.
    This is why we believe the best money you spend is on getting the best layout and design so long as the cabinetry is well constructed which comes in many lines across all price points.
    These other features are nice but moving a doorway or getting rid of an ugly soffit that might cost $1000 is better money spent that 40% more on cabinetry or 200% more on professional appliances if the design of your kitchen isn’t great.

    As a kitchen designer it is always frustrating to me pricing out expensive custom cabinetry in a poor design created by a homeowner, contractor, or architect. And sometimes customers have paid an architect thousands to come up with novice designs which are difficult criticizing when so much has been invested in the amateurish design. And the architect is possibly present which just adds to the dilemma.

    Design trumps any expensive upgrades. So make sure you have a great design first. And if your kitchen layout is remaining the same I guarantee that it could have been improved.

  26. Diane

    so, you are saying that I could probably get a good sturdy lasting cabinet from Fabuwood that would cost less than daimond, durapureme or candlelight. It would be wood and not fiberboard and of appropriate thicknesses and framed. We really just want a wood finish with a simply comfortable design on the door. BUt we do want a few special things like easy access to the corner spaces in both wall and base cabinets and prefer drawers to shelves in base cabinets as we are getting older.
    I am concerned about made in the USA because I heard too many horror stories of a lack of regulation on products made overseas. They *say* it is X, but it really isn’t, and too bad when you find out too late.

  27. Diane

    We live on Cape Cod, but are certainly not the rich people that you often think of. We essentially like the kitchen design we have, but need a few upgrades like pull out drawers and blind corner access. WE have looked at Diamond, Durasupreme, and Candlelight. Diamond from Lowes, Durasupreme from a mjlti-purpose hardware/home improvement center, and Candlelight from a kitchen designer. Candlelight seems to be the best product – construction, durability, made in the USA, etc. but the price point may be too high. We are concerned that the kitchen design company has increased the price because, well, it’s Cape Cod and for some other people cost is irrelevant. We plan on staying in the house for a long time and would be very disappointed if the cabinets didn’t last as long as the originals (house built in 1972 as a model home – cabinets are still very sturdy). Any suggestions on
    1. how to check what candlelight costs elsewhere
    2. how to compare the tradeoffs between candlelight, diamond, and durasupreme for longevity and function. Not too concerned about style as I am sure we can find something in any of those lines that would work. We will probably go with wood and not paint.

    1. pmcalary[ Post Author ]

      Hi Diane,
      If you upgrade all these cabinet lines to plywood construction they are well constructed and will last esentially a lifetime just getting nicked and scratched. Candlelight is a more expensive custom cabinet line that is why it is higher priced. You are paying for the ability to customise and other custom choices you are probably not taking advantage of. Simple designs don’t need the most expensive cabinetry to accopmlish and made in the USA does not mean better. Depending on the style and color you are selecting Fabuwood the least expensive line we sell could look the same and be a better made cabinet than Diamond or DuraSupreme if you didn’t upgrade them and equal if you did.
      Diamond, DuraSupreme, and Candlelight all have some very nice stains and glazes. So if you are selecting a stained finish that nicer stain is one of the things you are paying for. Durability or cabinet conveniences can be available in less expensive lines.

  28. karianne

    I am planning to sell my home with 20-year-old white thermofoil cabinets and Formica counters. I’m thinking about upgrading to granite. Will the granite just make the cabinets look older. My agent says we should give a $ credit for granite and let the buyer do what they want. Thoughts?

    1. pmcalary[ Post Author ]

      It’s quite likely that the people buying your home will be tearing out the kitchen. I’d spend the money you would have spent on granite on painting, cleaning, sanding floors, or even landscaping before investing in a 20 year old thermofoil kitchen.

  29. Kieran Mahoney

    Living in Key West, I’m limited to the local Home Depot designer and showroom, which I have used on previous projects with good results. We are planning a kitchen renovation with choices of cabinets by Kraftmaid, Thomasville, American Woodmark, Martha Stewart, and Decora. Decora seems to have a wider selection of finishes but really don’t know much about them. We want all wood construction and no particle board. Your input would be appreciated. Thanks

    1. pmcalary[ Post Author ]

      I would recomend Decora, Kraftmaid, and American Woodmark.
      Upgraded they are all well constucted. The American Woodmark will be about 20 % less expensive since their are fewer selections and modifications available. Decora offers the largest selection but should be very close to Kraftmaid pricing. If you are on a serious budget I’d use Woodmark. Otherwise I’d pick the Decora or Kraftmaid door style or finish you like best.

      Thomasville and Martha Sterwart are rebranded lines as is American Woodmark but unlike Woodmark thier is no gaurantee what line you are really getting. You will overpay for the first two lines and Home Depot can change who’s making them at them as they see fit since they aren’t real independent manufacturers. Lowes seems more honorable in this reguard. They rebrand for example their Schuler is Medallion and thier Shenendoah is Timberlake ie American Woodmark but like the American Woodmark at Home Depot the rebranded lines are brands that never change and you can rely on.

  30. Jill

    What is your opinion on the cabinets that Costco sells through a New Jersey company?

    1. pmcalary[ Post Author ]

      Construction wise some of the lines Costco sells are well built. Certainly Costco products are a huge step up from IKEA. But buying cabinets from both these companies or buying cabinets online guarantees that you have no qualified kitchen designer helping you. Spending so much money on cabinetry, appliances, countertops, flooring, construction and everything else involved in a kitchen renovation but avoiding the help of a knowledgeable kitchen designer to save 10 to 15% on cabinets is a bad idea.

      The more people believe that they don’t need the help of a kitchen designer the less likely they are to spend their budget wisely. And so the designs created without knowledgeable help are in general terrible wastes. This whole concept is part of The IKEA EFFECT. See blog below:

  31. Dave

    Could you tell me about how much Woodmode cabinets generally run? Thanks for the help.

  32. Jane

    What is your opinion at this point of Wolf cabinets for a bathroom vanity? My GC is suggesting Wolf or possibly Waypoint. The 2018 ratings were higher than the 2017 rating

    1. pmcalary[ Post Author ]

      We still give Wolf a good rating for less expensive cabinetry. They do offer downgraded construction in their less expensive lines that we wouldn’t recommend. I think we tempered our overall rating of them slightly by their deciding to offer lesser quality construction.

  33. JM Doire

    Good website for cabinet comparison:
    Another good source of information:
    We were about to purchase cabinets from Home Depot and found these just in time…

    1. pmcalary[ Post Author ]

      The first web site must have very old reviews as Mills Pride, one of the lines they rate, has been out of business for over 10 years. Also consumers are bad evaluators of cabinetry as often their complaints are misguided and no one asks them a decade later how their cabinets are holding up. This is why JD Power and Consumer Reports reviews have little value. Having experienced kitchen designers rate cabinetry is a far better way to judge cabinetry. Here is our most recent cabinet reviews:

  34. Shana

    Our Wellborn dealer is convincing us not to upgrade to full plywood construction. He is claiming that the particle board between the cabinets is high quality “furniture grade” and not the rental unit “cheap” particle board. We aren’t sure if he is just trying to get us to save money on the upgrade so we purchase his cabinets! Whats your opinion? Thanks!

    1. pmcalary[ Post Author ]

      He is right that the the particle board is a higher grade but plywood is needed on wall cabinets for strength since they hang on walls loaded with heavy kitchenware. Base cabinets only need to be plywood on exposed ends so that they age as the other real wood does. However, It is usually cheaper just to order the whole kitchen in an all plywood box and less likely to create confusion and errors.

  35. amy

    Can you please compare starmark cabinets vs. shenandoah kitchen cabinets painted maple? I am between these two for my kitchen remodel. I can save a considerable amount of money going with Shenandoah but I don’t want to sacrifice quality and craftsmanship and longevity.

    Thank you,

    1. pmcalary[ Post Author ]

      Hi Amy,
      There is a big difference in the ability to customize between these two line. However most homeowners are pricing very simple designs that don’t require much customization. The finishes will be nicer in Starmark but not more durable. With both lines upgraded you won’t be sacrificing durability just better quality control and the beauty of the finishes which many people either won’t care about or be able to appreciate. Look at both sample doors you are considering. If the difference in the look isn’t worth the money to you I’d spend my money on something that makes a bigger impact on your kitchen like removing soffits, having cabinets reach the ceiling with moldings, or other design features.

  36. Lisa

    I got a quote for Starmark cabinets at 24K and then just got another from Norcraft at 9K…is there really that much difference between these two cabinets?

    1. pmcalary[ Post Author ]

      Yes there is a huge difference. There are better choices than Norcraft if you are looking to spend less.

  37. pmcalary[ Post Author ]

    Hi Charley,
    This one is too close to call. They are both great lines. I would Google each company and buy my kitchen from the place that gets the best reviews.

  38. Charley

    Hi Paul ~ my husband and I would like your input on two different cabinets (same wood, same finish). Starmark Inset Cabinetry and Bertch Inset Cabinetry. We have quotes/designs from to two different designers and each one has ‘pushed’ their line of cabinetry. Any pros/cons to each of these brands. Your response will be extremely helpful.

  39. scott

    I have the design and layout but not sure of what cabinet to go with, because one dealer pushed Kraftmaid because of the lifetime warranty, another dealer pushed Fabuwood because that was their entry cabinet, and another one pushed Wolf, but said it was only 5 year warranty. So here I am looking at 3 different cabinets that are have some similarities but price is different but have been told they should last you 20 years. Kraftmaid is probably the obvious choice because of the lifetime warranty, but are the other brands going to fall apart after 5 years???

  40. scott

    I am looking to remodel my kitchen and have gone to a few places including MLK and I am just confused on what is quality, fair pricing, etc. A few contractors have told me to go with Kraftmaid. But I have also read that Wolf and Fabuwood is good. I want to do my kitchen right and do it once. So my question is, what is a good quality cabinet that is priced fair and will last me about 20 years.


    1. pmcalary[ Post Author ]

      Hi Scott,
      Upgraded to 1/2 plywood sides all three lines are well constructed and will last as long as any line. Unfortunately like most consumers you are focused on product and not trying to find a good kitchen designer. The difference in you final kitchen is huge. It is inefficient calling in contractors and researching cabinetry without fist finding a good designer that will help you redesign your kitchen. Most homeowners think they know the design they are getting but only because they know nothing about kitchen design. For example, over 90% of our customers get completely different designs and cabinetry then they came to us certain they wanted. They simply didn’t know any better. If you are outside our service area, we recommend good dealers and designers across the US on our web site. Here is link to the list:

      And here is our funny video where we try to gently convince the public what we as designers all know but that they as customers often refuse to accept. Namely that they need professional kitchen design help:

  41. Tracy J.

    Curious as to your thoughts on the fact that i purchased Medallion cabinets through a Kitchen Design Company and some of the cabinets that were installed are also stamped Schuler! I feel as if there is some bait and switch happening here! Have you seen this happen before? What should be my response to both the Medallion Rep and the Kitchen Design Rep?

    1. pmcalary[ Post Author ]

      Both cabinet lines are the same thing just sold under different names at different locations. For example:
      Schuler at Lowes is Medallion at private dealers.
      American Woodmark at Home depot is Shenandoah at lowes and Timberlake at private dealers.
      Your response:
      Sorry I don’t know anything about this industry.

  42. Paul McAlary

    Hi Ruth,
    I don’t know Cubitac well. The upgraded lines look well constructed but I still worry about this dealer. All their lines are imported. They must be some kind of discount cabinet store. Companies that only sell inexpensive cabinets are telling you that they don’t care about good design only in selling cheaper cabinetry. Since the kitchen designer you work with is more important than the cabinet line, I would avoid this place. Giving you a design you came up with assures that your designer is a novice.

  43. Ruth

    I do not see a rating for Cubitac cabinetry in Ridgewood, New Jersey. Could you evaluate this line?

  44. ruth

    What do you think of Waypoint as a cabinet opinion?

    1. pmcalary[ Post Author ]

      Hi Ruth,
      I think it is a bad sign if all the cabinet lines a dealer carries are not such great values. It means that the company isn’t very knowledgeable about the products they carry. The chance that this company will have good designers is also unlikely when they can’t select product well how can the hire designers well. That’s much harder to do. Unless they have other expensive lines that they offer that we give good reviews I’d steer clear of this dealer.

  45. Ruth Carr

    We just went to this Kitchen store and they carry three lines. The Waypoint line has been given a 2 B B rating by you. For the price they seem fairly good. Why is there only a B for Quality and value? Also they carry two lines that received a D quality and value-Kabinart. Their Cubitac line was not assessed by you. I think it comes out of New Jersey. These people in this store come to the home and help with design. I do not know if we should do business with them because of the two inferior lines they carry. What is your view?

  46. Shelly

    Thank you for this blog! It’s very helpful. I feel I am looking all over the place for kitchen cabinets but I do have a variety of quotes coming in. So far, I am considering Wellborn inset, Brookhaven, KraftMaid from Lowe’s and then a local custom cabinet maker. I may have missed it but can you please give a comparison of those 3?

    I have learned (from your blog 🙂 to upgrade to plywood and not choose frameless. But what about an inset, is it worth it?

    1. pmcalary[ Post Author ]

      We rate these cabinets on our 2018 cabinet ratings blog. They will span a great price range. Tough call since there is such a difference in price. I would say that the design itself is more important and good designs are rare.

  47. Gail Shaw

    What are your comments on Kitchen Craft Cabinets
    Ae they made in the US

    1. pmcalary[ Post Author ]

      Not a fan. They are poorly constructed frameless cabinetry. When I worked at a showroom years ago that carried that line I sold every framed and frameless line we carried except that line for the four years I worked there.

  48. Diane

    I just received our order of painted Kraftmaid cabinets and 90 percent of the cabinets were awfully painted. Missing paint on almost every single one. I cannot believe Kraftmade let them leave the factory this way. These are raised panel doors. This is my third time using KM and my last time. Always had great cabinets in the past. I am returning all of the cabinets and Lowes is issuing a refund.

    After checking the web, I found numerous complaints about the quality and finish with Kraftmaid. Sadly I guess their quality has decreased greatly.

    My question is what is your opinion of Shuler in both painted and stained cabinetry for kitchens? Is it still good?

    Thank you!

    1. pmcalary[ Post Author ]

      Hi Diane,
      I would bet that your other Kraftmaid kitchens were stained and not painted. Higher end painted US made cabinets all show seams on the wood joints between cabinet parts which I’ll bet is what most of your complaints are over. Stained cabinets do not. Touching up these painted joints is to be expected.

      Once you get to the higher next level of cabinetry like Schuler nearly all these issues should be resolved but touch up will always be required on a painted cabinet. Ironically lower priced cabinets where the finish is done in China often do not have these issues. This is because filling and sanding joints smooth is labor intensive and US manufacturers can not afford to do this in anything below the highest price points. In China labor is much less.

      Consider that an iPhone would cost $3000 were it made in the US. The popularity of painted finishes on kitchen cabinetry has been a boom to the US manufacturers like Fabuwood and Wolf who maintain factories in China and only assemble cabinetry in the US.

  49. Lisa

    Trying to decide between Waypoint and Eudora(a Kith Kitchen product). Any experience or comparisons that you can offer?

    1. pmcalary[ Post Author ]

      Hi Lisa,
      Our cabinet rankings list is below to help.
      Eudora is Kith’s frameless line and would be rated B for construction and C+ for value.
      I’d either get Waypoint or spend more and get Kith framed.

  50. Christine McWilliams

    My husband and I have a dilemma. We purchased Fabuwood Hallmark Front because we liked the style and had a great price. The first delivery of our cabinets had 16 of the cabinets with defects. We were promised by the fabuwood rep that they would be replaced and that the quality control team would inspect our order so we would get cabinets without defects. Second order comes and the same thing happened. We returned all of the cabinets and receiving a full refund. The problem is trying to find a brand of cabinet that is rated well and we can afford. We are willing to come up on our price point, but every time I think I found something the rating are terrible. I got a quote on Wolf classic but the ratings are bad. looked into Kraftmaid but they are about 2 thousand above our budget. Just found Kemper Cabinets… any recommendations?

    1. pmcalary[ Post Author ]

      We haven’t had this problem ever with over 400 Fabuwood orders sold over 5 years. I suspect since this happened to you twice that you are overly picky and will have trouble with any painted cabinet that you buy. From less expensive brands up to nearly custom cabinetry. You will need to spend almost 60% more than the Fabuwood cabinetry to enter the very high end of the semi custom cabinet market to see any improvement at all in cabinet finish. In fact finish quality will go down in most more expensive brands before they go back up and exceed the quality you rejected. We have had custom cabinets that customers found what they considered dozens of defects on that were within industry standards. Meaning that they could easily be touched up or that the tiny nick or chip was on the side or back of a cabinet that wasn’t going to be exposed. You need to have realistic expectations just as much as the cabinet company needs to have quality control.

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