Custom Kitchen Cabinets

Learn about the features of custom kitchen cabinets and see why they are the cabinet of choice for homeowners looking for full creative freedom in their kitchen design.
Kitchen With Modern Wood Cabinets

Kitchen With Modern Wood Cabinets

This custom wood kitchen disguises a built-in refrigerator as part of the cabinetry. Transom cabinets provide additional storage in the space.

Photo by: GE Monogram

GE Monogram

By: Amy McEvoy

Whether installing new kitchen cabinets or renovating old ones, you have several options to choose from. Custom kitchen cabinets are the most expensive option but allow for the most creative freedom for your dream kitchen.

Save vs. Splurge: Kitchen Renovations

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Renovation Constraints

Jason and Lauren Frye didn’t let small spaces and a tight budget stop them from gutting their 1973 Wilmington, N.C., kitchen. First on their must-have list was high-quality custom cabinetry, so Lauren’s dad — an experienced cabinetmaker — offered to help as a housewarming gift.

Photo By: Zach Desart

Makeovers on a Budget

They budgeted the rest of their expenses by spending hours comparison shopping online for materials. "We knew we couldn’t afford top-of-the-line everything, but there were some things we just didn’t want to sacrifice," says Jason. When the new kitchen was complete about two months later, they knew they had gotten the most bang for their buck.

Photo By: Courtesy of the homeowner

Custom Cabinetry

Sure, they saved by working with family (free labor!) on their beaded-board cabinetry, but the Fryes still spent way more than they would have on stock or semi-custom cabinets. Plus, they hired a professional to paint the cabinets because they wanted the finish to be flawless.

Photo By: Zach Desart


The new counters are a mix of materials. The Fryes replaced the 1970s Formica countertops with a sturdy, inexpensive, acrylic surface (Hi-Macs) that comes in a wide range of solid colors. They topped the peninsula with maple butcher block and the bar area with maple wood countertops.

Photo By: Zach Degart


Instead of spending on a new refrigerator, the Fryes kept their old one (it still worked fine), moved it across the room and encased it in cabinetry for an upscale, built-in look. They bought a new dishwasher and electric stove, both in white (much cheaper than stainless), to match.

Photo By: Zach Degart


Sleek 3-inch-by-6-inch white tiles, which cost about $4 per square foot, fill the space between the upper and lower cabinetry. "We felt the subway tiles were a key style feature, so we spent a little extra for the look," says Lauren. They added a narrow black tile band to break up the white.

Photo By: Zach Degart


The old fixture hung too low and seemed out of place since the 8-foot ceilings are on the short side. They ditched it in favor of inexpensive recessed lights from The Home Depot and picked out three $118 glass pendants from Lowe’s for task lighting over the bar and sink.

Photo By: Zach Degart

Window Shade

For the Roman shade above the sink, Jason and Lauren found a black-and-white striped fabric for a few dollars per yard at a local discount fabric store. The graphic pattern repeats the backsplash style and is a relief from all the green. They hired a seamstress to sew and install the shade.

Photo By: Zach Degart

Pot Rack

The Fryes added extra pot and pan storage for not a lot of money. The copper pot rack keeps their supplies within easy reach, and complements the warm maple counters. Below it, an inexpensive magnetic woodblock holds knives without taking up valuable counter or drawer space. (Hammered copper pot rack, $78,

Photo By: Courtesy of the manufacturer for HGTV Magazine


One of the easiest upgrades was replacing the original faucet with a stainless steel gooseneck version, a $250 Lowe’s find. "You don’t have to spend a fortune on a good-looking faucet," says Lauren. "This one was the perfect finishing touch. The kitchen wouldn’t feel complete without it."

Special Storage

Since they were already splurging on custom cabinets, the Fryes got creative with some of the awkwardly located nooks. Instead of wasting precious storage space, they maxed out tiny cubbies by giving them specialized functions. For instance, they built an appliance garage at counter level and a cutting board bay next to the prep counter.

Photo By: Zach Degart

Knobs and Pulls

"The milk-glass knobs ($4.50 each) have a timeless look, just like the beaded-board cabinets and subway tile backsplash," says Lauren. To add a modern flair to the cottage style, she picked out sleek stainless steel handles ($8 each) for the upper cabinet doors. "That little bit of metal keeps the kitchen current without pricey stainless appliances."

Photo By: Zach Degart


They ditched the dated linoleum in favor of durable 12-inch-by-12-inch ceramic tiles (less than $1 per square foot, plus the cost of installation). "We saw some beautiful hardwood flooring that we had to pass on because it was out of our price range," says Jason. But once the plaid area rug was down, they knew they’d made the best decision.

Photo By: Zach Degart

Custom cabinets are built from scratch according to the homeowner's specific design requests. They are typically built by local cabinetmakers or carpenters hired individually by the homeowner. The labor costs of custom cabinetry are significant, as nothing is pre-built and every cabinet part must be crafted, assembled and then installed. This laborious process takes time and in turn costs money.

The main advantage to using custom cabinets in your kitchen is that they offer the most flexibility in style, material and finishes. They are completely made to order and so are able to be tailored in size and design in order to suit the needs of your specific kitchen. Even the most unique or challenging space can be fit with custom cabinets in order to make it a functional kitchen. The possibilities are endless for the number, size, shape, depth, finishes and accessories, so you're sure to end up with a space that's tailor-made for your cooking and dining needs.

This creative freedom comes with a steep price tag. Cabinetmakers have high costs associated with their work, and the quality materials typically used in custom cabinetry are often expensive. Hand-crafted ornamentation added to your cabinets or hand-painted faux finishes can drive up the cost of custom cabinets, as can the hardware and additional accessories chosen to complete the look.

A final consideration for a homeowner using custom cabinets is that because of their made-to-order nature, a plan must be in place prior to building and installing the cabinets. Planning tools are available online as well as through individual contractors. Blueprinting out the specifications of your exact cabinets may add extra time to your project initially, but it will save time and money by keeping you from making costly mistakes in the long run.

If you are a homeowner with an unusual kitchen space or distinctive design style, custom cabinets may be just what you are looking for. Creative freedom coupled with quality craftsmanship make custom cabinets an appealing choice for those with a large budget and flexible project timeline.

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