Which Grade of Cabinetry Should I Use For My Project?

Which grade of cabinetry should I use for my home improvement project?  That is one of the most asked questions by my clients.  There are many factors to consider; cost, quality, and what each cabinet grade offer are on the top of the list.    For the most part, you get what you pay for.  If a particular brand of cabinetry is less expensive there is usually a reason for it.  In some cases, the reason for being less expensive cabinet is not important to the homeowner.  If the reason for the lesser price is a concern then a more expensive cabinet line my be required. The majority of our clients are looking for a "value" priced cabinet that is durable and will survive the requirements of a family.  Usually the reason a cabinet grade is less expensive is quality and lack of variation in cabinet sizes, feaures, accessories, color and door style choices.

I have summerized each grade to help simplify things.

Knock Down Grade

The term knockdown refers to the fact that these cabinets come unassembled.  These are usually imported cabinets.  Knock down grade is the least expensive cabinets offered.  The benefit is obviously cost and fast turn-around times from the vendors.  The detriments are construction quality, lack of door styles, lack of colors and lack of cabinet sizes and options.  These are the obvious potential concerns to most homeowners. The less obvious concerns can be more detrimental.  Knock Down cabinet companies discontinue styles on a regular basis.  They do this when stlyes no longer sell or when their stock of that style gets depleted.  So if you need to add cabinets or need replacement parts in the future they may not be available. Additionally, if a purchased item is damaged or missing parts replacement of those parts are not so easily obtained.  Knock Down cabinet companies try to stay with the styles and colors that are trending.

 If price is your only issue this is the grade of cabinetry you should be purchasing.

Import Grade

Import Cabinets are cabinets that are imported from other countries; usually China.   These lines offer great prices but have the same issues as the knock down cabinetry. The benefit is obviously cost and fast turn-around times from the vendors.  The detriments are construction quality, lack of door styles, lack of colors and lack of cabinet sizes and options.  These are the obvious potential problems. The less obvious issues can be more detrimental to the buyer.  Import cabinetry companies discontinue styles on a regular basis.  So, like the knock down greades, if you have to add cabinets or need replacement parts in the future they may not be available.   As with anything imported these days, you should be concerned about the Quality Assurance methodology of the country and Labor Laws in which the cabinets are made.  Lead in paints, Formaldehyde in plywood, etc. are things you as a consumer should be warned against. Import cabinet lines offer assembly as an up charge.  

If price is the most important issue and you are not capable of assembling the cabinetry then this is the type of cabinetry you should be purchasing.

Stock or Builder Grade 

Stock or Builder Grade cabinetry are premade cabinets.  These lines offer quick lead times.  Usually with stock or Builder Grade cabinetry you are liomited with color selection, door styles, and cabinet sizes.  This means that you may not be able to design your dream kitchen with this type of cabinetry. There are many American made stock cabinets that follow strick labor laws and have good Quality Assurance methodologies.  These day most stock and Builder Grade cabinetry offer the desired features, including: dovetail drawers, soft close drawer glides as either a standard feature or an upgrade if that is of concern.  The quality of these cabinets are good and many are all wood construction (no pressed board).  These cabinets usually come with a Limited Liability Warranty.

If price is a concern and you are also concerned about construction and durability then this might be the line for you.  This is why most Spec Home builders use these cabinets.   Keep in mind that layouts and designs are limited with this grade of cabinetry.

Semi-custom Grade

Semi-custom grade cabinetry is a bit of a blend of stock and custom cabinetry.  This grade has very good construction traits offering all the features that most home owners want today.  Soft close drawer and doors are usually standard along with dovetail drawers and thicker plywood construction.  Our semi-custom line that we offer, Starmark, offers 3/4" plywood sides  and shelving. Semi-custom lines separate door styles and colors.  Another words, all door styles can come in any color.  The finish quality is very good. They also offers many wood species that are not offered in the lesser grades.  Exotic wood veneers are also available.

Designers prefers semi-custom and custom lines because they offer complete design freedom.  Basically, anything a designer can put on paper the semi-custom lines can create.  As a way to keep cost down, many semi-custom lines offer several grades of construction.  This allows the consumer to have the look and feel that they want without paying for higher box construction, if they feel it is not that important.  Starmark cabinetry offers a Limited Lifetime Warranty.  In my opinion, the Semi-custom grade companies also offer a higher level of customer support than the lesser grades

If you are looking for a look that may require modifications from the standard size cabinets offered by the stock grade and you value higher quality but don't want to break the bank then the semi-custom line is a good grade for your home improvement needs.

Custom Grade

As the name sounds, custom grade cabinets are built to the designer's specifications.  Cabinets can be ordered down to an 1/8 inch in variation.  So a standard 24 inch cabinet can be specified to 24 1/8 inch if needed.  With Custom cabinets, anything can be designed and created; any color, any size, and any wood species.  If we can dream it, they can fabricate it.  Finishes are excellent and finely detailed.  Quality is excellent and accessories are endless.  Of course, with all that custom lines offer comes a higher price tag.  

If you want the best or require highly detailed cabinetry then this is the grade you should choose for your custom kitchen or bath.


Please note: the ultimate decision is yours to choose.  But, talk to your designer. A good designer should be able to tell you, and also have the integrity to tell you, exactly what grade would work best for you.  I have told many of my clients that they should be in a semi-custom line even though their first impression was towards a custom line.  As a company that offers our clients money management as part of our service, it is our duty to inform the client of these type of details.  The savings from the cabinetry can be pocketed or used on other details of the project.

This also applies to bathroom cabinetry.