Need a new kitchen?!?

Whether it’s that one crooked door, the overflowing junk drawer, the under-organized spice cupboard, or the coffee stained countertops, we all have our own kitchen struggles.

If you are among those who finally say “no more” here is where the fun starts.

Decisions, decisions, decisions, if you are new to the process here are a few things you may want to add to the search bar when scanning pics on Google.

-contemporary vs. classic
-light vs. dark
-door styles
-granite, quartz or laminate.

Along with any of your other must haves.

One question that seems to keep popping up more and more for folks in the market for a new kitchen is “Custom vs. Prefab”. If your first thought when you heard it was “what’s the difference?” you’re not alone.

Some people just assume that all cabinets are built to a certain size and we squeeze them in as best we can and live with the outcome, others assume all kitchens are custom built to fit how they want, when they want and where they want. Well to clarify, there is a difference and here is the general process for both, along with a couple key details.

Custom: You ask a few friends in your neighborhood, throw a post on Facebook or Google reviews on the best local kitchen cabinet installers in your area. Make a couple phone calls, visit a couple showrooms, shake a couple hands and set up one or more meetings for a representative to come by, take some measurements, talk about your wants and needs, and get to work designing your dream kitchen. Usually walking you through the entire process from start to finish. If they are on point with their customer service they should have a beautiful 3D drawing to you within a couple days. This is usually preliminary and after a revision or two, you say you love it and they propose a quote. If it’s within your budget you say “I do” and you’re off to the races (if you have more than one that is attempting to earn your business then you of course will compare price and references). You will receive a timeline and a scheduled date for installation (provided you don’t intend to install them yourself). If they are as good as your​ Facebook friends told you they were, they will show up on installation day, everything will go swimmingly, you will fall in love, hug the installers and proceed to write a 5 star review on Google as well as a sweet Facebook post with lots of endearing emojis.

Prefab: You start by going to your favourite big box store that carries kitchens Home Depot, IKEA, Lowe’s to name a few. You look at the displays, catalogues, talk to a customer service representative and say “I’d like a kitchen”. They will likely ask your​ wants and needs along with some other details and send you home to gather measurements (some of you keeners may already have taken the measurements before heading out… smart!). Once the measurements are obtained you can head back to the store or start designing online. If you are tech savvy this should be a breeze. Provided they have everything you want in stock, and it all falls within budget, you will place the order and wait for your kitchen. If nothing is delayed your​ kitchen will show up at either the store or your home and with or without an installation crew,  depending on whether or not you want to tackle this project yourself. Installation will go as planned…hopefully, you will fall in love, hug the installers (or yourself and/or significant other, family member or friend who you begged to help) and do the Google and Facebook thing.

As you can see the process can differ and provided the initial process goes as planned you could be a happy new kitchen owner. But there is much more to consider when making an investment of this scale.

I’ve listed a few key considerations, weigh out the options based on these factors and you will have no problem choosing what is going to fit your needs.

Cost – Few and far between do you come across kitchen projects where price doesn’t matter. If you happen to find yourself in one of these rare situations, it’s a no brainer, Custom everything from floor to ceiling! Find the best of the best, sit down with their interior designer and go to town.

If you, like most, don’t have a money tree at your disposal, you may want to do some comparisons. Often the word Custom brings with it a perception of expensive, but this is not always the case. Many of the local Custom kitchen companies have a few lines to keep competitive in today’s market, they use computer controlled tools to fabricate the cabinets which keeps labour costs down and productivity up. If all of the kinks are worked out with regards to efficiency you may be surprised at how far your dollar can stretch while still getting a quality custom product.

That being said it is still tough for a custom shop that produces quality to price match the most inexpensive prefab outfits like IKEA. The mass production makes for tough competition. These cabinets may fit your needs quite nicely but be sure to consider a few things before diving in just to save a buck. Warranties can be sticky if you decide to be a hero and install yourself, there is potential that a shotty install could be blamed for a defect. If you’re not so handy there are installers that IKEA​ can recommend that are certified to install these cabinets, which gives you a better chance that defects will be taken care of if something goes wrong. So if you’ve considered these points and happen to be cost driven and a little handy, inexpensive prefab might be just what the doctor ordered.

Quality- A little research could help in this category, I prefer YouTube videos. Watch half a dozen 10 minute videos on cabinet quality and it could help you tell the good from the bad when it comes to custom cabinets or prefab. In most cases a custom shop will be more quality oriented but that’s not to say all prefab companies produce junk, some of the quality is decent depending on the company and if they have different lines e.g economy or premium.

A major part of the quality comes from the installation. A great installer can take a poorly built set of cabinets and make them look and function beautifully, equally a poor installer can ruin a quality set of cabinets with a sub-par installation. Generally if a custom cabinet company produces top quality cabinets, they are going to protect that reputation by hiring great installers. If you go with prefab and you hire an installer be sure to check references.

Customer Service- Do you prefer phone calls and face to face with a local contractor or online chats and being on hold with a big box store customer service department?

With a local custom company, you get local customer service, if there is a defect, if something breaks, or if something is missing the chances of it being taken care of in a timely manner is much greater. Also, who doesn’t like to support local business when they can.

I can’t knock all big box customer service but I think most of us have had one or two experiences we could have done without.

Whichever you decide, as I have said already, a little research and reference checks can go a long way.

Investment- Lastly, what are your plans for this kitchen? People spend more time in the kitchen these days than in any other room in the house, cooking, eating, entertaining, cleaning, prepping for work or the kids school, standing in the pantry eating snacks while you pick a snack to eat…maybe that’s just me.

If you are doing a quick flip on a mid to low range home, prefab may be your best bet.

If you are renovating a higher end home and hoping to fetch top dollar, custom is likely a better choice. Top notch custom shops can give you quality as well they can often provide other types of custom woodwork like fireplaces, stair railings, and bookshelves that help to tie different rooms together. This type of stuff will cater to the clientel that you are trying to win over.

If you plan on staying in this home, raising kids in this home and maybe even retiring in this home, it is important to think long term.

What are some of the time savers when rushing off to work, both custom and prefab have all kinds of space savers and convenient organizers that can be added, ensure that it looks like it is built to last and withstand kids and clumsy husband’s.

What if you need to expand or change things. With the big box prefab you may run the risk of discontinuation of styles and products. With custom they could build to fit existing and possible match stains and paint colours. Be sure to look at their track record, have they been in business long, succession planning (e.g. son is taking over dad’s successful business, and when going through the process ask how long they will keep your projects on file and if they could send you all the details for your own records.

Chances are your home could be the biggest investment you and your family will ever make, and your kitchen is the heart of that investment. With a little research and consideration of the things I just talked about, you will be confident when choosing between custom and prefab cabinets.

Final word to the “handy husbands” out there who, like me, think they will just order some prefabs online and install them yourself to save a few bucks. I don’t doubt your skill and talent but please be realistic about your schedule and ambition. After walking by a half dozen unfinished projects every day for 2 years, I have learned to loosen up the reigns on the wallet a little bit and pay someone else to do it. I still drive them nuts watching them like a hawk while they work though…it’s still my money after all.


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