Stock Cabinets or Custom Cabinets: Which One to Prefer?

Stock cabinet vs. custom cabinet
Applicable mostly to kitchen furniture, one of the biggest dilemmas faced by homeowners is to choose between stock and custom cabinets. Why is it so? Let's find out.
Beware!
While custom cabinetry is known to last much longer than stock cabinetry, this is true only if you can find an experienced professional who will give you the quality and finishing that has made custom cabinets so popular.
Both stock and custom cabinets have their pros and cons, but it is only after you assess your lifestyle and requirements that you will be able to decide what you need. Suitable for different lifestyles, stock cabinets as well as custom cabinets can look great and serve your basic purposes. If you want more, custom cabinets are the way to go. But before you make your decision, here's a detailed look at the difference between the two, and what you should consider when purchasing either.

While the references have been made to kitchens for ease of explanation, do understand that both types of cabinets can be made for any purpose, for any given space. You could have a custom shoe cabinet, or a stock shoe cupboard. But there will be major differences between the two.
Stock Cabinets
What you see is what you get
Manufactured on a large scale with the base cabinets being produced one day and the wall cabinets the next, stock cabinets are those that you can order off the shelf. Look at the brochure and say this is what I want, and that is what you get, fitted into your kitchen.
Features
  • Pre-manufactured and ready to assemble
  • Available in sizes with 3" increments (widths - starting at 9" and ending at 48")
  • Standard heights (between 30" - 36")
  • Standard depths (12" for wall cabinets, 24" for base cabinets)
  • Material used is often particle board or MDF, but high-end stock cabinet makers also provide plywood and solid wood cabinets
  • Standard joinery (good quality stock cabinets should have dovetail joinery)
  • Standard hardware
Benefits of Stock Cabinets
  • Affordable
  • Immediate availability
  • Quick delivery and immediate installation
  • Wide range of finishes from traditional to rustic and modern
  • Easy replacement in case of breakage/damage
Drawbacks of Stock Cabinets
  • Limited styling options
  • If kitchen cabinets do not fit in multiples of 3", fillers are used to cover those gaps
  • Less efficient use of space
  • Inconsistent finishing in some cases
  • Cannot be refinished
  • Must often be replaced―not repaired―in case of damage
  • Limited warranty (5 years)
  • Short lifespan (10 years)
Stock kitchen cabinet
Stock kitchens can look great, but do you see the filler (the thin strip with a pattern that does not match the door of the unit next to it) next to the tall cabinet? It has been used because the readymade unit does not perfectly fit the kitchen's width.
Go for stock cabinets if
  • You want a ready, functional kitchen quickly
  • Your needs from your kitchen are basic
  • Your budget is limited
A stock kitchen can look as good as a custom kitchen (provided you're willing to spend some big bucks). The only difference is that it may be slightly limited in functionality when compared to a custom kitchen.
Custom Cabinets
What you get is much more than what you see
The name says it all. Custom cabinets are exactly that―made to suit your requirements in any given space. And because custom is made-to-order, you often don't see how much you can do with it. It really depends on your requirements and your imagination.
Features
There are no specific features of custom cabinets, except that you can get the following, and more, from them.
  • Corner shelves
  • Silent hinges
  • Soft-closing drawers
  • Cabinets customized to your utensil size
  • Ornate crown molding
  • Designer knobs and pulls
  • Sliding cutting boards
Benefits of Custom Cabinets
  • Ability to include almost every feature you desire
  • Optimal utilization of available space (big and small)
  • More options in design, texture, and finish
  • Can fit into odd spaces such as curved or angular walls
  • Longer lifespan (15-20 years; sometimes more)
  • Refinishing is easy―no need to replace
  • Can be designed to accommodate even larger items like huge pots and pans
Custom kitchen cabinet
Custom cabinets can take form in any shape in a given space, even if it is curved doors to match a curved kitchen counter
Drawbacks of Custom Cabinets
  • Can become very expensive depending on your requirement
  • Work may be done on site or off site―both processes can take a long time depending on the level of detail (a minimum of 6 weeks)
  • Requires highly skilled and experienced professionals to make the work as impeccable and flawless as your vision
Go for custom cabinets if
  • You have a small space and need to use it as efficiently as possible
  • You spend a lot of time in the kitchen, and require everything a regular kitchen does not have
  • You expect a lot of wear and tear in the kitchen because of its constant use
  • You want a designer, never-seen-before look for your kitchen
Remember that a custom kitchen involves a lot of on-site labor work and your presence to ensure that the space is turning out exactly as you imagined it. While it is not necessarily a luxury, it can be one if used well.
Semi-custom Cabinets
The Middle Path
Again, as the name suggests, semi-custom cabinets offer some amount of customization, so you get a bit of both worlds. They are manufactured after your requirements are taken into consideration and after you have placed the order. So, you can get rid of the fillers and use space more efficiently. You can get deeper cabinets and taller counters. You can get better hardware and more variety in terms of appearance. Yet, it does not match the array of choices you get with custom cabinets. Semi-custom cabinets do, however, blur the line between stock and custom cabinets, and offer a middle path to those who need a little more than the readymade stuff, but don't have the funds to go all out to get what they need.
Semi custom kitchen cabinet
Semi-custom kitchen cabinets will use space more efficiently than stock cabinets so that you can place a tall unit of an odd size and height next to the two ovens (as shown in the image).
The best way to choose between stock, custom, or semi-custom cabinets is to ensure that you conduct thorough research. View catalogs online and understand the kitchen specifications. Visit showrooms and see if they can customize a stock kitchen to a certain extent. Compare prices. Some homeowners have gotten lucky and found cabinet-makers who were cheaper than showrooms offering readymade kitchens for the same specifications. Sometimes, semi-custom cabinets cost only slightly lesser than custom cabinets. And finally, assess your needs from that given space. If maintained well, a stock kitchen can also last long. But if your cabinets experience too much wear and tear, it is better to spend a little more and get material that can withstand the pressure.
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