The average homeowner remodels his or her home one time. One of the most important decisions homeowners make during the remodeling process is choosing the right cabinetry. In most cases, the individuals remodeling know very little about the subject and often feel obligated to hire whomever their contractor suggests — not knowing the contractor will be making a considerable profit from the purchase. In some cases a friend or neighbor may have had a recent remodel and the name of a seemingly reliable cabinet supplier. For almost everyone the process can be difficult. In my years of experience I have found homeowners need a top-ten list to help guide them through the process.
Very few cabinet manufacturers and suppliers have excellent customer service. When dealing with a cabinet firm always demand to deal with one person — your designer! So many details go into building the right cabinet, so it’s always better to have your designer managing the communication of those details. Excellent customer service will always include: 1) Mailed reminder cards for appointment times; 2) Returned phone calls; 3) Step-by-step instruction for installation, care, and maintenance, and lifetime warranty care; 4) Your cabinet firm should always meet your deadlines.
2. Willingness to Educate:
There is not one cabinetmaker or manufacturer that can offer every option. Most cabinet shops and suppliers are strictly limited in the type of product they can offer a potential client. Though they call themselves custom — most often they will try to negotiate with homeowners to steer them toward options they originally did not want. Good kitchen and bath designers will know more than anyone about their particular product line. Always ask questions like: 1) Why can’t I get that frameless, inset, or framed? 2) Why don’t you have a lifetime warranty on finishes? 3) Why don’t you have more options for door styles? Again, the more transparent the better.
3. Demand a Real Design:
One of the most important things to remember as a consumer is that you might just be looking to do a remodel or pricing cabinets, but you are truly desiring a well designed space that expresses who you are and meets your specific needs. A real design takes into consideration: 1) Will the homeowner require long-term use of the space, thereby considering Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) or “aging in place” standards? 2) Functionality! Are the homeowners left- or right-handed, or both? Is the kitchen a gathering place for friends or family? Is the space used for holiday décor? Will you need a preparation area, baking station, or special food area like a wine tasting area? Always demand a real design. Cabinetry fills space, so make sure the space you are changing meets your physical and emotional standards. A design is also important when arriving at an accurate cost estimate for cabinetry. A design empowers the homeowner to get a true “apples to apples” comparison of pricing from different manufacturers. The best way to approach how much to invest is to choose a firm capable of design and pricing in multiple lines.
Every remodeling and new construction project has a budget. As a consumer, it is important to choose a cabinet supplier that knows how to deliver your dreams and stay within your budget. One of the best ways to know if you have found a company able to meet your financial means and esthetic requirements is to make sure they offer more than one line of cabinetry. Most dealers and local custom shops do not offer more than one line of cabinetry or one way of engineering cabinetry. As the owner of a cabinetry design and supply firm I know how important it is to offer multiple lines of cabinetry. Knowing how to design with specific parameters in multiple lines allows for the right product to be used. For example, most lines prefer to work within certain species of wood. Some prefer to use certain species for painting. All lines of cabinetry have their strengths and weaknesses. In the industry the process of matching the property owner with the right product is called value-engineered service. Remember, several companies can build your specific and unique kitchen. Choose a company that knows how to maximize your investment and explain the process thoroughly.
It’s amazing how a small word can be so important. Most homeowners spend hours, days, months, and sometimes years dreaming about remodeling their home. Most often choosing the right style begins by opening magazines such as this one — trying to find the right look. My associates and I spend hours looking at photos and designs of kitchens and baths. Every homeowner deserves this time. Often a client will come in wanting a specific look only to find something else they like even better. In the beginning be courageous. Look at every design: Contemporary, Traditional, and Transitional. Take it all in and make something that really represents you. Once you know your style, find the right cabinetry line for your style.
6. Multiple Products:
Using multiple lines is becoming more popular. From new construction to remodeling, a lot of builders and homeowners are choosing to use more than one line of cabinetry. There are several reasons for this industry shift: 1) The kitchen is often considered the most important room in a home. Many people are electing to use a more luxurious line of cabinetry for the kitchen and master bath, and a line with fewer options for other rooms. This saves the owner money and offers more style choices. 2) Many people are choosing to use multiple lines for special accent pieces such as corbels, wood countertops, entertainment centers, mantels, and furniture pieces.
7. Door Style:
Choosing a door style is crucial. Most cabinet companies do not build their own doors. They order doors produced in Canada, Mexico, China, and the U.S. This can sometimes be disconcerting because homeowners expect custom cabinetry. Ask the local custom shop or supplier if they build their own doors. If they do not, make sure the product is safe and engineered well. I personally only use cabinet companies that make their own doors. Choosing to purchase from a cabinet company that builds their own doors will allow you to have a more unique door style. In fact more and more homeowners are having their doors custom made with their own unique designs. Remember, the door accounts for the majority of the amount of a cabinet purchase. Why pay a company money, when 75 percent of the cost is passed on to a door supply company in China?
Simply said, cabinets are boxes. Not all companies build the same kind of box. Before deciding on which cabinet line to own, make sure you choose which “look” (framed, frameless, or inset) will work with your particular style. Frameless, also known as full access or European, is popular. It maximizes storage space. This particular construction is not as stable as a framed or inset cabinet; however, when built right the look is luxurious. Inset cabinetry is also popular. An inset cabinet is best described as one in which the doors and drawer fronts sit inside and flush with the frame. This is an American Colonial look and is often called English Estate, French Provencal, or Tuscan Villa, depending of the finish and accents. Homeowners, please know what you want, and demand it. Most cabinet shops produce only framed cabinets. Do not let someone sell you on an idea that compromises your dream.
Color can be a real factor in deciding which cabinet company to go with. All cabinet manufacturers have a set color palette they work with. Most order their paints and stains. Some mix them at the shop. It really makes a huge difference. Do not settle for a color you are not happy or satisfied with. As a supplier I can attest that going with one company over another can save the overall budget 10 to 20 percent. Always find the color you like and find a line that manufactures it. If you don’t you could end up paying for a custom color which in another line is standard.
When working with homeowners, finish becomes an important topic, and as a professional I try educating clients on the subject. The best way to explain finish is to separate it from cabinetry altogether. Truly they are really two different things. Building a cabinet can be done almost anywhere so long as the right tools are available. Finishing, however, is not as easy. Finishing involves: 1) A controlled environment: The right finish has to be applied in a factory setting. If your cabinets’ finish is not applied in a factory setting, more likely the finish will not last more than three years. This is why most local shops warranty their finish for only one year. 2) Chemistry: Finishes range from polyurethane, conversion varnish, paint, and pigmented stains. Make sure your supplier is using a conversion varnish. This finish method uses a catalyst to adhere to the cabinet and to harden.
Some finishes can take up to two or three months to complete the curing process. Try to stay away from chemicals that may be harmful. Do not be afraid to ask your cabinet supplier about the chemicals used in the building and finishing process. This will allow you to research them. Also, ask about the paint quality and type. Most shops are using older methods, which will lead to paint chipping in the future. The best finishes in every industry are labor intensive. If you are looking for a great finish, always use a line built and finished in a factory. 3) Selecting the Finish: Some cabinetmakers will finish on site. This can be convenient, but the finish will not last. The best finishes are set by a UV Flash method or by baking fast or slowly over a period of time. This hardens the stain or paint, making the end product more durable. Finishes done right always come with a great warranty. As a consumer you should be looking for a 12-year to a lifetime warranty.
As a business owner I believe every homeowner should have the opportunity to understand the investment made in owning a new kitchen, bath, or home. I hope this top-ten list comes in handy to every consumer who reads it. Remember to ask questions and take notes. Never buy without a design, and match the cabinet line to your dreams and never the other way around.
Alex Stone is currently a Senior Partner and Director of Sales and Marketing for Artistic Cabinet Creations. For more information on Artistic Cabinet Creations call 503-481-5727 or visit www.artisticcabinetcreations.com.