I sell cabinets, so I can tell you where the expense begins to add up, where you should spend and where you should pass. Remember though - this is a list of generalizations geared toward the budget conscious.
- Wood Species: Whether working with custom cabinets or manufactured cabinets, every maker offers certain wood species at "standard pricing". The offering is not the same everywhere. By selecting cabinets built from wood species other than the standard offering, "wood species premiums" can add an additional 5-15% to your total bill.
- Elaborate cabinet door styles: Mitered door frames, decorative applied moldings, extra thick center panels, and other door embellishments can be simply translated as $$$$$$$. There are so many different decorative elements going on in any kitchen that many of these expensive details just don't get noticed, at least not enough to warrant the extra cost. They are what I call "low impact, high dollar" extras. If you're on a budget, these should be one of the first to go. Simpler door styles also have the advantage that they work in a great number of styles and don't become "dated" as quickly.
- Artisan or Decorative Finishes: A simple paint or stain is appropriate, beautiful and affordable in most kitchens. Decorative finishes go by many different names such as glazing, brushing, distressing, worm-holing, rub-through, antique, heritage etc. These finishes are done by hand - yes by humans, even in manufactured cabinetry lines. As such, they are extremely labor intensive. Some processes involve up to 15 different layers or steps. Anyone care to guess what kind of a premium this adds to the bottom line? It's somewhere close to an arm and a leg, but more specifically 20-40% of the total cabinet cost. If you are absolutely in love with one of these finishes, do it only on one piece of cabinetry - a hutch-like piece or small island - to keep your budget in tact.
- Specialized storage fittings: The brochures are so enticing with every matching spice bottle neatly lined up in a skinny little pull out leg next to the range. Don't fall prey to marketing! This and so many of the specialty storage components made to fit inside cabinets are very expensive - sometimes costing more than the cabinet itself! They also tend to be very limiting and sometimes downright impractical. Do you really want to bend down to knee height to look at a 3" spice bottle? Are all of your spices the same size? And since when is it prudent to store spices near heat sources anyways? Interior organizers are great. I encourage clients to buy them - at Target, Storganize, Home Depot and the like. They work just as well and cost a fraction of the price. The exception to this rule is a pullout garbage/recycling unit and roll-out trays. These are a must have for every kitchen.
- Open front cabinets: Someone told someone once that buying cabinets without doors was less expensive that cabinets with doors - and apparently that rumor has spread like wildfire. It's not true. Most backs and sides of cabinets that have doors are constructed of a material like medium density fiberboard (MDF). They are finished with a white or maple - look melamine film that is light, bright and easy to clean. MDF and melamine are relatively inexpensive materials. When a cabinet is ordered without doors, the sides and back now must be constructed of a real wood veneered product. Additionally, they have to be finished to match the exteriors of the cabinets. This equals more money for product and more money for the extra labor and time involved in finishing. If you want open storage, lose the cabinet box altogether and just use shelves.