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Evaluating the Pros & Cons of Prefab vs. Custom Cabinets

January 15th, 2024 | 5 min read

By Placher Sieben

Are you looking to remodel your kitchen, but you’re unsure whether stock cabinets, also known as prefabricated/box cabinets, or custom cabinetry is for you?


When it comes to designing or renovating your kitchen, one of the most crucial decisions you'll make is choosing the right cabinets. Cabinets not only play a significant role in the functionality of your kitchen but also contribute to its aesthetic appeal. Among the myriad of choices available, the decision often boils down to prefab (prefabricated) cabinets or custom cabinets. With costs associated with purchasing and installing new appliances, fixtures, and lighting, the additional costs of custom cabinetry may leave you wondering if it’s worth the investment. Or, will a prefabricated cabinet solution look and function just as well?


As a premier kitchen, bath, and whole home remodeler in the Kansas City area, RWS has worked with various types of cabinetry in our hundreds of kitchen remodels over the years. In this article, we will discuss both options: prefab vs. custom cabinetry. We will highlight their advantages and disadvantages. With a better understanding of the differences between these two types of cabinets, we hope you have the information needed to decide which option best aligns with your needs, budget, and home.


What is Prefab or Stock Cabinetry?


Prefabricated cabinets, also known as stock cabinets or ready-to-assemble (RTA) cabinets, are mass-produced, factory-made cabinets that come in standard sizes and designs. They are readily available at home improvement stores and are a popular choice for those looking for a quick, cost-effective solution. On the other hand, rather than being built for a kitchen or bath’s exact dimensions, prefabricated cabinets come in standard sizes, which can cause challenges in certain kitchen or bathroom layouts. Below, we delve further into the major pros and cons of prefabricated cabinetry.


Prefab Cabinet Pros


  1. Cost-Effective: Prefab cabinets are generally more budget-friendly than custom cabinets. Because they are mass-produced, manufacturing costs are reduced. These cost savings are passed along to the consumer.


  1. Quick Availability & Installation: Due to these cabinets being produced in bulk and being readily available, they can be purchased and installed quicker than custom cabinets. This is advantageous for projects with tight timelines.


  1. DIY-Friendly: Some prefabricated cabinets are available in a ready-to-assemble format (RTA). This means that the cabinets are shipped in flat packs with all the necessary components, making them suitable for DIY installations.


  1. Variety of Styles: Despite being mass-produced, prefab cabinets come in a variety of styles, finishes, and materials, which allows homeowners to find a look that suits their taste.


Prefab Cabinet Cons


  1. Standard Sizes: Prefabricated cabinets come in standard sizes allowing for easy mass production. Although this mass production results in lower costs, it can be difficult in certain kitchen and bathroom layouts. For example, 9 inches is a standard beginning width of prefab cabinets. From there, manufacturers offer different widths in 3 inch increments up to a maximum of around 48 inches wide. When it comes to height, customers can generally choose between 30 and 48 inches. These dimensions may hinder the layout you are aiming for in your newly renovated space.


  1. Customization Limitations: While prefab cabinets offer a range of styles and finishes, customization options are generally more limited compared to custom cabinets. Customers may have a choice of colors, door styles, and hardware options, but the materials and sizes (see above) are usually fixed. This leads to challenges when looking for the perfect layout in your desired kitchen or bathroom renovation.


  1. Quality Concerns: While prefab cabinets can provide a cost-effective solution for individuals renovating on a budget, the compromise lies in the potential reduction in material quality and craftsmanship. The selection of materials in mass-produced cabinets directly correlates to their durability. Over time, issues may arise such as veneer coatings peeling off, screws stripping out, and warping caused by water exposure. Additionally, prefabricated cabinets do not offer the same level of precision and attention to detail as custom cabinets. This disparity is a result of prefabricated cabinets being designed to fit a broad range of spaces rather than being tailor-made for a specific kitchen or bathroom.


Overall Thoughts?


Prefabricated cabinets are a popular choice for homeowners and contractors looking for cost-effective and readily available cabinetry solutions. They are suitable for a variety of applications, such as kitchens, bathrooms, and utility spaces, where a high level of customization may not be necessary.

Cathy Dykman-Acinger-13800 Goodman St-4978

What is Custom Cabinetry?


Custom cabinetry refers to cabinets that are specifically designed and built to fit a particular space or meet the unique, desired requirements of a customer. These cabinets differ from pre-fabricated cabinets because they are crafted based on the individual specifications provided by the client. Think of the term “custom” as akin to total creative freedom. You choose the materials, the finish, the features, and the physical dimensions of what you’re looking for. Custom cabinets can be designed to make use of every nook and cranny of your kitchen or bathroom in the way that you see fit, and ultimately allow you to achieve your goal of owning the kitchen or bathroom that you have always dreamed.  

Custom Cabinet Pros


  1. Tailored Design: Custom cabinets are designed according to the specific dimensions, style preferences, and functional needs of the customer. This allows for a personalized and unique solution to complement the overall design of your room or space.


  1. Optimal Use of Space: Because custom cabinets can be designed to maximize the use of available space, they ensure that every nook and cranny is utilized efficiently.


  1. Quality Craftsmanship: Skilled carpenters carefully construct these cabinets, ensuring attention to detail and precision in both design and assembly. Because custom cabinets are typically crafted using high-quality materials, they are also known for their durability and longevity, resulting in cabinets that withstand the test of time. Notably, custom cabinetry boasts finishes that withstand the test of time, and the inclusion of high-quality hardware guarantees longevity without the need for varnishing or experiencing wear.

Cathy Dykman-Acinger-13800 Goodman St-4983

Custom Cabinet Cons


  1. Cost: While custom cabinets offer numerous benefits, the most significant drawback is their cost. Because of their personalization and the craftsmanship involved in the design, materials, and labor of custom cabinets, there is a higher cost associated with these compared to prefab cabinets. While these aspects are enticing, the price can deter homeowners who may be on a tight budget.


  1. Longer Lead Times: Unlike readily available prefab cabinets, custom cabinets require a longer lead to manufacture and install. This extended timeline may not be suitable for those needing a quick kitchen or bathroom renovation.


Overall Thoughts?


Custom cabinets are built to order, and tailored to the homeowner's specifications and preferences. While they often come with a higher price tag, the level of customization and quality can make them a worthwhile investment. Overall, the main advantage of custom cabinets is their ability to provide a tailored and unique solution that meets the specific needs and preferences of the customer. This makes them a popular choice for individuals who want a high level of customization in their living spaces.


What is the Right Choice for You?


Deciding between prefab and custom cabinets hinges on a delicate balance between your kitchen remodel budget, timeline, and personalization factors. Prefab cabinets emerge as a pragmatic choice when cost efficiency and a swift installation are paramount considerations. Their off-the-shelf availability and standardized designs cater to those seeking a practical and affordable solution without compromising on functionality.


Yet, on the flip side, custom cabinetry appeals to individuals with a discerning taste for design and a commitment to creating a kitchen or bathroom space that reflects their unique style, without stringent budgetary concerns. The ability to tailor every aspect, from materials to dimensions, grants homeowners a level of personalization that cannot be found with prefab cabinets. If you have specific aesthetic preferences, a non-conventional kitchen layout, or a desire for top-notch, long-lasting craftsmanship, the investment in custom cabinets becomes a strategic and budgetary decision.


While prefab cabinets offer a quick fix for those working within tight timelines and budgetary constraints, they may lack the individuality and quality associated with their counterpart, custom cabinets. Although these potentially pricier cabinets come with a longer production period, they can be a worthy investment in the ensuring character and functionality of your home.


In the end, homeowners must carefully evaluate their priorities and weigh the pros and cons of each option. The heart of the home deserves a thoughtful and informed decision-making process that aligns with each individual homeowner’s vision. By considering factors such as budget constraints, time sensitivity, and the importance of personalized design, individuals can navigate the prefab versus custom dilemma and make a choice that not only suits their practical needs, but also contributes to the creation of a kitchen space that feels uniquely theirs.


Contemplating a kitchen or bathroom remodel? Visit our learning center as it contains various informative articles about kitchen, bathroom, and whole home renovations. If you find yourself ready to move forward with your home renovation project, please complete our RWS contact form here. Expect to receive an email response within 24 hours from Ray Stillions, owner, or Placher Sieben, senior remodeling contractor. We look forward to hearing from you about your potential remodeling needs!

Placher Sieben

Placher Sieben is a licensed remodeling contractor with RWS Enterprises working with clients, designers, and architects throughout the Kansas City and surrounding areas.