Cabinets 101: A Guide to Cabinet Types

Cabinets 101: Modular vs. Semi-Custom vs. Custom Cabinets


When you are cabinet shopping, navigating all the available options can be overwhelming. Your neighbor did custom cabinets – do you need to? Your sister only spent $6,000 on her whole kitchen – is this an option for you? Here is how I explain it!

Cabinets are manufactured in one of three basic modes: Modular ($), Semi-Custom ($$), and Custom ($$$). The choice you make for your own project will probably be based on a few factors:  your budget, the style you like, the color or finish you want, and the interior options you are interested in.

cabinet types

An easy way to look at the difference is that (generally) the more expensive a cabinet line is, the more options it will offer. Oh – and the longer an order will take to build!

Modular Cabinets

  • Generally, the most cost-effective choice, Modular cabinetry is built from pre-made cabinet parts. Sizing is based on Industry Standards, and runs in 3” increments. “Stock” cabinets are built this way.
  • There are a few limitations that result from this type of construction: The door styles offered will be limited, as well as finishes, and of course, sizes. Storage options will be pared down to just a few options – lazy susans and trash basket cabinets, and roll-outs for example. There will be less decorative elements to choose from, and no modifications are available. Quality remains high!
  • However, all those limitations aside, Modular cabinet companies are often very responsive to consumer demand – the door styles and colors that they offer will be the most popular. Many clients are able to find exactly the look they are after in a cost-effective Modular line.

Semi-Custom Cabinets

  • You are in the best of both worlds here: mid-level pricing and enough options to suit most projects. This is where I spend most of my design time. Semi-Custom cabinet manufacturers are very responsive to design trends, so I will always have the most popular styles and colors to offer, as well as more traditional favorites. Semi-Custom cabinets give you flexibility, and designers love that!
  • Starting with the “standard” sizes, we are familiar with from Modular Cabinet companies, there are also sizing modifications available, and amazing storage choices. A wide range of door styles and finishes are offered, including some “Designer” looks. Would you like decorative elements? Then let your creativity flow, you will have great opportunities to personalize your kitchen. For a huge majority of kitchen remodels, Semi-Custom cabinets give you the perfect blend of cost and options.

Custom Cabinets

  • This is where I say “I can do anything!” The options are unlimited, and we have the freedom to be able to call out whatever we want. When a kitchen has an odd corner, we can build to fit it. When your draperies are the perfect color, we can match it. If you fall in love with a furniture piece, we can duplicate it. Among other things, I have used Custom Cabinetry to create a media center that was 104” tall; to match a piece of corduroy fabric; and to design a wall cabinet with crazy angles.
  • This will likely be your priciest option, as well as having the longest production time. Custom colors require approval of a door color sample, which will add to the timeline. Custom shapes and sizes require shop drawings to be created, which will affect the timeline also. However, for some clients having complete creative freedom is priceless. A tailor-made space can be the unique star of the whole house.
  • If you are looking to build that unique island, stunning butler’s pantry, or a one-of-a-kind display area, then you can use Custom cabinetry for only a part of your project. Having one Custom piece can be a great way to elevate the look and feel of the whole kitchen.


Posted by Sue LeVee –
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