The single costliest item in most kitchen renovations is cabinetry. Factors contributing to the expense: the number of units you require, what material they're made of, how they're manufactured, and what accessories and extras you opt for.
Name-brand cabinets from major manufacturers (as opposed to those built in a local cabinet shop) are divided into three basic cate­gories—stock, semi-custom, and custom—based on how they are made and what frills are offered.
STOCK - Mass-produced, assem­bly-line style, in standard sizes that grow in 3-inch increments (from 12 inches wide to 48 inches wide). Fillers finished to match the cabinets are used to cover gaps. The most affordable option.
SEMICUSTOM - Made to order, but in specific pre-deter­mined sizes. These cabinets offer a good selection of door styles, finishes, accessories, and trim. Typically an excellent value for the quality and number of options.
CUSTOM - Produced when ordered and built to the designer's exact specifications, from size and style to material and finish. The most expensive option.
HARDWOOD - These cabinets come in maple, oak, cherry, ash, hickory, and birch — top-of-the-line materials in most cabinet lines. Hardwood is very durable and can be stained and clear-coated, or painted. THERMOFOIL - A very thin decorative vinyl-compound sheet is molded with heat to cover the cabinet surface. Though it does not fade, crack, or discolor, it can be damaged by heat. Similar to a painted look but less expensive.
WOOD VENEER - A thin layer of hardwood is adhered to a substrate material. In many cases only the panel, not the frame, is veneered. Veneers are a cost-efficient alternative to cabinets built of expensive solid woods. POLYESTER - A synthetic compound is sprayed onto cabinetry constructed of MDF (medium-density fiberboard), resulting in a seamless, smooth finish that can be high-gloss or matte. An expensive but tough finish that cannot be easily repaired if it does chip.
SOFTWOOD - Varieties include pine, cedar, fir, and spruce. It is more vulnerable to scratches and dents than hardwood but is admired for its prominent grain and even for its knots, which lend a homespun charm. It can be stained or painted. MELAMINE - A low-cost, low-pressure laminate that is glued to a substrate. Most often available in white or almond, with little or no detail. This surfacing is easy to maintain, but it doesn't always get the best construction or substrate materials.
HIGH-PRESSURE LAMINATE - Composed of resin and paper-like melamine, but thicker and made with greater pressure and at higher temperatures. Doors are flat, and better ones are made from medium-density fiberboard (MDF). This laminate is durable and low-maintenance and, in custom-made cabinets, is available in a wide range of colors and patterns.
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