The Difference Between Custom and Modular Cabinets

If you’ve been looking into new cabinets for your home or office space, you’ve probably come across different sources for custom cabinets vs modular cabinets. But what is the difference between the two and why might you choose one type over the other? Read on to learn how each type of cabinet differs and which might be best for meeting your needs and expectations. 

What Are Modular Cabinets?

The demand for new cabinets in new housing and remodeling is addressed by two very different manufacturing approaches. One approach is to optimize manufacturing efficiency by limiting the sizes manufactured and maximizing employee productivity. This approach is referred to as modular cabinets. Entry-level home builders typically install modular box cabinets. These cabinets are also stocked and sold by all the big box stores across the country.

Modular cabinets are premade in a factory in a particular size and style that is predetermined. As such, modular kitchen cabinets are made to fit standard spaces as stand-alone units. This can mean that they may cost more, but they are installation-ready once they arrive. There is no staining or painting involved because they are prefabricated in the factory, but it also means they are less versatile because they don’t account for the unique sizes or needs of individual spaces. Sometimes modular cabinet manufacturers often offer a selection of cabinet doors to give the finished modular cabinet a more custom look.

Custom vs Modular Cabinets

When it comes to custom cabinets vs modular cabinets, the difference exists both in the manufacturing and installation. The modular cabinet manufacturer usually makes cabinet boxes with widths starting at 6 inches and increasing in 2 inch steps. This maximizes employee productivity by manufacturing one cabinet box size one shift and another size the next shift. 

While working on an assembly line making 10,000 of the same thing might not be the most challenging or rewarding of jobs, productivity certainly increases and labor costs are reduced. The modular manufacturer simply adjusts his schedule to maintain a readily available inventory of cabinet boxes in his warehouse. As such, the floor plan of the house will need to be drafted to fit the Modular cabinets.

The second approach to manufacturing cabinets is referred to as custom cabinet manufacturing. Ever wondered, “What are built-in cabinets?” Those are custom cabinets! Unlike modular models, which come in predetermined 2 inch increments, custom cabinets are manufactured to the actual size needed. That means your cabinets can be built to fit within any space. Because of this, most high-end home builders and furniture manufacturers utilize custom cabinet makers because of the large difference in overall quality of the cabinets

Custom cabinets are then able to be made to fit the unique spaces within the home, making the best use of the space. Custom built cabinets are typically made in the United States by custom cabinet shops. These shops typically have between ten and fifty employees who design and build each cabinet to the exact size requested in the design plans. If the architect requires cabinets in 1/16″ increments, that is what the custom cabinet maker builds. 

Cabinet makers in custom cabinet shops tend to be highly skilled professionals with years of experience mastering their profession. They are accordingly well paid, which usually means custom cabinets can be more expensive than modular sqft wise. Still, because they are built precisely for the space in which they are installed, these cabinets built by craftsmen are of a higher quality. Higher quality products are worth paying a little higher price. 

The Benefits of Custom Cabinets vs Box Cabinets

There are a variety of benefits to consider when looking at custom cabinets vs modular. First, consider where the products are manufactured. For the past several years, modular cabinet manufacturing has been moving to Asia, with China becoming the largest manufacturer. American manufacturers have struggled to compete with the lower labor and regulatory costs found in Asia. Outsourcing manufacturing overseas may be good for the companies that sell modular cabinets, but it does little to ensure quality products or innovative workmanship.

In contrast, custom cabinets are usually made in the U.S. where the cabinet makers are paid quite well for their expertise. They are also not tied to an individual workbench creating the same pieces over and over. Instead, custom cabinet makers tend to move between many skilled positions within the manufacturing process. Custom cabinet shops use a creative approach which utilizes the skills and experience of the cabinet makers to produce a superior product. 

In addition, the quality differences are usually visible between custom cabinets vs modular box cabinets. They include differences in workmanship, wood grain and color matching, sanding and finish quality, overall appearance, and reliable quality. Custom cabinet makers often purchase woods harvested in the United States, and almost 100% of American woods are grown and harvested using sustainable processes. Unfortunately, this is not usually the case with woods harvested in Asia or South America.

Another major difference between modular and custom built cabinets is with the finishing quality—especially on the cabinet doors. Modular cabinet door quality levels are generally lower, sanding and finishing are less stringent, an unskilled or under-aged workforce may be used for manufacturing, and consideration is rarely given to the sustainability of the woods used or the harvesting methods of the woods. 

American custom cabinet shops typically purchase cabinet doors from manufacturers that are able to produce custom cabinet doors. These dedicated custom cabinet door manufacturers offer a large selection of cabinet doors and drawer fronts in different styles. They can produce thousands of doors per shift using skilled labor and modern technology, which allows custom builders to be highly accurate. Modern American door manufacturers can measure door size tolerances with accuracies within 15 thousandths of an inch. Door thickness is typically uniform across the door within 5 thousandths of an inch. Sanding quality is high and considered by cabinet makers to be stain ready.

Thanks to advances in technology and woodworking techniques, custom cabinetry has never been a more compelling option. Not only are they more precise than the custom cabinets of the past, ensuring an exceptional fit wherever the doors hang, they are also less expensive than before. Custom cabinet makers can now produce high-quality, highly-customized cabinets at such speed and scale that they often rival the cost of modular box cabinets. 

Selecting Your Cabinets

So, should you choose modular kitchen cabinets or custom kitchen cabinets? Without a doubt, custom cabinets are the higher quality option, but that doesn’t mean they’re ideal for everyone. Some contractors, designers, and homeowners are looking for something cheap, simple, and straightforward, which does a pretty good job describing the benefits of modular kitchen cabinets. Don’t expect to be impressed by prefab box cabinets, but don’t expect to be inconvenienced either (unless you can’t find the right size).

Realistically, cost is the only thing keeping everyone from ordering custom cabinets vs modular. However, they may be far less expensive than you’d expect, especially if you only need to order custom cabinet doors. If you already have existing cabinets in good shape and you’re happy enough with their construction and location, adding custom doors can make everything look new again. Custom cabinet doors empower you to change and upgrade the look of your cabinets for a price even lower than what new modular box cabinets would cost. You’ll give your cabinets a complete facelift, but at a fraction of the cost of fully replacing your cabinets.

Get Your Custom Cabinet Doors at Cabinetdoors.com

Ready to discover the difference a custom-built product can make in your home? Get started today. Browse our selection online now to get a sense of the savings and selection we offer. Then, take some time to learn about our ordering as well. Finally, contact us online or by phone at 800-342-1010 if you have questions about anything. You deserve to get the custom cabinets you’ve always dreamed of at a price you can afford. Let us show you how today. When it comes to custom cabinet doors, Cabinetdoors.com always delivers. 

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