Levels of quality & customization:
Stock cabinets cost the least and offer the fewest options. You buy factory-assembled, standard-size units at a home center, and you install them or hire an installer to do the work.
Semi-custom cabinets are made by higher-end manufacturers or local independent cabinetmakers and are often sold in showrooms. Semi-custom cabinets offer a number of mix and match options and dimensions but you don't get to decide every detail.
Custom cabinets, where a cabinetmaker comes to your home, measures your kitchen and handcrafts each unit to spec in the material you choose, are the ultimate.
When selecting new cabinetry, keep these quality points in mind as you shop:
Face-frame cabinets should have 3/4-in. hardwood face-frame; 1/2- to 3/8-in. plywood or particleboard carcass; and 1/4-in. back panel.
Finish: For wood cabinets, check stiles, rails and door backs for cross-grain scratches--a sign of lesser-quality units. High-pressure laminates are preferable to melamine for the exterior of frameless cabinets.
Doors: Examine hinges and catch mechanisms. Do they look well made and work without binding?
Drawers: Often indicative of the quality of a cabinet, drawers should slide smoothly with little play and close quietly and solidly. Look for 1/2- to 3/4-in. solid-wood sides mated to drawers with joinery and fasteners, and double-glide, epoxy-coated guides. Drawers may have rabbet joint construction, but higher quality drawers will be dovetailed.
Joints: Glued and doweled or mortised are best; beware of staples. Frameless ("Eurostyle") cabinets should use 5/8- to 3/4-in. particleboard for entire carcass.
Shelves: Should be at least 5/8 in. thick to handle heavy loads. Adds flexibility to your cabinets if they are adjustable.
Although there are construction differences in the three levels of cabinets, there are several companies who offer very well made stock, or modular, cabinets. And you have a lot of choices and add-ons even if you go with stock cabinets that have, in the past, only been found in semi-custom and custom cabinetry. For instance: several different wood species and finishes, several door styles, and an almost endless number of accessories, decorative hardware and moulding (ex - glass doors, crown mouldings, plate racks, wine caddies, recycling bins, appliance garage and bread warming tray). If you have a good installer, adding on some "custom" touches to stock cabinets is not out of the question.
Hang them how you want. Wall cabinets are no longer confined to straight, uninterrupted runs of like-size cases. Staggering them at different heights or even hanging a unit alone can provide a more casual, unfitted look. Open shelves and plate racks are another way to break things up visually.
Organizers and accessories not only conserve cabinet space but they can also turn your kitchen into a more efficient workspace. Also think about adding under-cabinet lighting to specific work areas to make your kitchen a more efficient workspace.
Money Saving Strategies:
When remodeling your kitchen, if you are looking for some strategies to help keep your costs down, try these tips:
Avoid expensive structural work, such as moving/tearing down walls and adding windows. Make the best use of your existing space by selecting the right cabinet layout.
Consider replacing existing appliances or flooring later to save on costs now.
Do not alter your kitchen plans after construction begins. The time to make changes is during the planning stage. Making adjustments later on is expensive.
Do some of the work yourself. Painting and replacing appliances and sinks yourself are often simple tasks. If you have remodeling experience, you can tackle other finishing jobs, such as installing tile or hanging wallpaper.