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Saturday, January 23, 2010

Kitchen Remodel on a Budget: Cabinets

This is a biggie. Most "rules of thumb" for kitchens declare that you will spend half your money on cabinets. Although I regard most rules of thumb with scorn, this proved to be the case for me. I had a lot of trouble with cabinets. I will present only my conclusions. If I went through all my learning and deliberations, this would go on for many pages. Trust me. Or not. Your choice.

1. Cabinets are overpriced for the quality. No matter what the price level. Really good ones are ridiculously expensive; medium ones are overpriced anyway, and really cheap ones are garbage. Out of everything in a kitchen, I believe that cabinets offer the least value for the money.

As with every rule, there is an exception. There is ONE good value cabinet: Ikea. Their cabinets are frameless and modular, in the European style. In Consumer Reports a few year ago, Ikea cabinets ranked third. The top two cost about 10 times as much and the lower ones were far more expensive.Part of the cost of Ikea cabinets comes in sweat equity since you have to install them. If I lived near an Ikea, I would have gotten their cabinets. No question. You will see them in the most upscale homes, including ones the architects design for themselves.

2. So, Ikea not an option, what next? Well, I went up and down the scale of quality. Not too high. I went from mid-price (Kraftmaid and others sold at Lowes and Home Depot and Wellborn sold at a lumber store) to low price (the already-put-together ones at Lowes.) I almost went for these. But the floor samples were falling apart, so I really couldn't see doing this. I eventually bought Wellborn.

3. Since cabinets are overpriced, the only way you can save is to use fewer of them. I have very few cabinets. The $4000.00 doesn't provide for many. I do have a pantry, however, which holds tons of stuff. AND I have an old cupboard on one long wall. My house came with the pantry, but even a little closet type construction will hold the stuff of many cabinets and set you back a fraction of the cost.

Conclusion: Use as few cabinets as you can. Pantries are good. Big case pieces are good, especially if you already have them.

4. All those neat pullouts and inserts can double the cost of your cabinets. These are so neat! But JUST SAY NO. Or at least ask how much extra each costs. You will faint. (It is hard to get a piece by piece breakdown on cabinets. Only Lowe's provided one.) You can buy some of these aftermarket and install them yourself. Lowes carries them.

Exception: Once again, Ikea. Those inserts cost almost nothing at Ikea. Not fair! It just kills me that the closest one is 6 hours away. Ikea cabinets also have Blum drawer glides as standard. These glides are an expensive upcharge on other brands.

Conclusion: As the young woman at the lumberyard said to the salesperson I was re-assigned to (long story): Gerry, she doesn't want you to pimp out her cabinets.

5. Beauty: All those pretty finishes carry a big upcharge. Paint (which I like), glazes, and so forth are pricey. Paint is expensive! If you want white cabinets (I did not), you can also pick thermofoil. Wood cabinets have a lot less wood than you want to know (even "all wood" have lots of particle board). Thermofoil has no wood and the foil can peel off when exposed to heat--uhhhhhh, there's a lot of heat in kitchens.

6. More beauty: There is a surprising difference in price among different styles. Sometimes the plainest are the most.

7. Stuff you don't know can be expensive. As I mention above, most price estimates for your design will not break down by individual cabinets. So it is hard to figure out where to save or what is worth it. I learned from the Lowe's estimate--which did have a breakdown--that the cabinet that encloses a refrigerator is very expensive. To me, this is useless, merely cosmetic. I call them (forgive me) condoms for refrigerators (not a good analogy, since condoms do serve a purpose). The cabinets over the fridge are also expensive. If you look at pics of European kitchens, you will see few of these. My contractor was impressed that I knew this. He said I had saved around $1000.00, plus installation.

8. More stuff you don't know. Even though Gerry vowed that he would not pimp out my cabinets, he urged me to trim with molding. We said OK (weak!) and got our estimate. We changed out minds and the estimate went down by--well, a lot! The molding that may cost around $5.00 a foot at the lumber store costs about $50.00 a foot from the cabinet company. When we paid the contractor, that bill was quite a bit lower than the estimate. We asked why (because we thought he had made a mistake). Josh said that the molding is very time-consuming to install. Hence expensive. This was a substantial savings, but accidental. Makes you wonder what else you don't know.

Overall conclusion: Ikea cabinets are good value. All other brands are overpriced for the quality. Your only recourse is to use as few cabinets as possible and to pimp them out as little as possible.


Sandy said...

Thank you for posting this. I'll be hitting the Ikea store when I'm ready to do my kitchen. I loved Europe anyway, so now I have a good excuse to go ahead and indulge my nostalgia.

Catherine said...

Found your blog recently and have enjoyed thumbing through the archives. While I can be a spendthrift at times, I am happily married to a very frugal man. I've been reading your kitchen posts with interest and when you mentioned Ikea today, I had to add my two cents. In 2007 we replaced our decrepit, possibly homemade cabinets with an Ikea kitchen. Ikea has a fairly simple computer program (available online) that made designing the kitchen myself easy and fun. We also used a local, Ikea-certified company to do the installation. I couldn't be more pleased with the results. One thing I am particularly happy with is the decision to replace all the lower cabinets with drawers. No more kneeling down and pawing through stacks of pots and pans- now I can simply pull open a drawer, view its contents, and lift out what I need. Their pantry cabinet is also fantastic.

hostess of the humble bungalow said...

I blogged about my kitchen as promised, pictures and all. Come visit....then maybe you will post some of your photos?
IKEA does great cabinets and I have several friends who bought them and I am very impressed and affordable too.

Duchesse said...

For anyone else: rent a cube van and drive to Ikea. Make an overnight trip of it if needed. You can view products online and make an appointment for help on site.

I second your love of pantries!

Also, if you have a Housing Works or other nonprofit that recycles building supplies and fixtures, you can sometimes pick up cabinets dead cheap., It's amazing what people throw out. We got a utility sink for our laundry for $30.

Frugal Scholar said...

@Sandy--Just so you know--Ikea is a very contemporary look. In Europe, peple will use contemporary cabinets in an old stone house! I love it.

@Catherine--Thanks for the info. I have some drawers too--and love them. Mine were expensive though. Ikea-jealousy.

@hostess--Loved your kitchen! Very impressive.

@Duchesse--I considered driving, but Ikea is famous for being out of stock on items. There are many tales on the internet about return trips (sometimes more than one) to get this or that cabinet. Perhaps it's better now.

I did check Habitat for cabs, but didn't see any that would work. Lots of house flippers and contractors hang out there, so it's hard to get the good stuff. Great idea, however.

Funny about Money said...

Yah, I have to agree with Duchesse: it might have been worth renting a van and making an overnight trip to get to Ikea. You probably could call ahead to check if they have all the units you need.

BUT... Ikea products often come with missing pieces. If you decide to make a journey to shop there, be sure to open all the boxes and check to be sure everything's in them BEFORE leaving the parking lot.

Cabinetry is right up there with furniture in the overpriced department.

One source of inexpensive cabinetry is Craig's List. Our Betters in the Wealth Department, for whom money is no object, often rip out perfectly fine cabinetry and upgrade on a whim. Their contractors will sell the old stuff, which isn't very old, on Craig's List. You can get some wonderful deals that way. A friend got a VERY nice set of second-hand cabinets for a renovation of a vacation home, and the price was very cheap. Her kitchen looks great and is highly functional.

I didn't have much luck with Habitat, either. It's even more catch-as-catch-can than Craig's List.

Frugal Scholar said...

@Funny--What I really should have done was go to some of the salvage places around here (though many were destroyed in Katrina flooding). But I just couldn't bear the thought of all that work...

Money Honey SF said...

I have not gone to Ikea for awhile now and actually shopped there over the weekend. To my surprise, they have very nice modern looking cabinets at a reasonable price. I remodeled my kitchen and cabinets came out to be around $2500 for 9.
The wood is not sturdy and fabricated but it looks as good as any other cabinets that might go for $10K or more. Keep in mind that you get back 50%-70% return on money for a kitchen remodel. Good choice!!

Frugal Scholar said...

@MoneyHoney--Truly, a sore spot that I ws not able to use Ikea cabinets!

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