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5 Mistakes Made When Buying Cabinets

Buying new cabinets is a significant investment and one of the biggest decisions made in remodeling or building a new home. Over the last year, we've covered the basics of the cabinet buying process like how to vet a cabinetmaker and the importance of using quality finishes. We'll get a bit more into detail about the common mistakes we've seen homeowners make that ultimately lead to bad outcomes and, most importantly, how to avoid them:

1. Not Approving Samples

Whether you are ordering custom cabinets from a local cabinetmaker, showroom, or company online, we want absolutely no surprises on delivery day. Knowing exactly what to expect, and having both parties (you and the cabinet provider) completely aligned is an incredibly important step before any orders are finalized. Seeing, and ultimately approving in writing, the exact door style, wood type (veneer vs solid, rift-sawn vs flat-sawn, etc), and complete finish is the only way to achieve this alignment (this especially applies to custom cabinets, where non-standard finishes are being used. Here's a bit more on that process). These act as the finish controls for the entire project and are used to validate whether or not the cabinets delivered match the original agreed-upon sample(s).

*Bonus tip: These samples can also be used when selecting countertops and hardware long before your new cabinets are onsite and installed to keep the process moving along.

If your cabinetmaker / supplier doesn't acknowledge the importance of this step, we'd encourage you to find one that does.

2. Buying Unfinished Kitchen Cabinets

I'm not exaggerating when I say about 80% of the disasters and frustrated, disappointed homeowners we've seen in our Facebook group have come from using unfinished cabinets. Finishing onsite with the professional-grade cabinet coatings we discuss is very difficult and rarely do painters have the requisite skillset and experience to complete the multi-step process correctly. Additionally, there are certain steps required to ensure a long-lasting and even finish that just can't physically be done onsite. We want to work with a cabinet shop that stains, paints, and finishes at their facility (or has a trusted finishing partner that finishes at their facility).

If you are stuck working with a shop that doesn't offer finishing, here is a recent blog we wrote to help ensure the likelihood of success.

*It is worth noting, unfinished cabinets can be a fine choice for rooms like an office, laundry, or pantry where ultra-durable finishes aren't as necessary. For kitchen and bath, however, we really would like to see a proper factory finish that will hold up against decades of daily wear and tear.

3. Being Too Trusting

The famous quote "trust, but verify" couldn't apply more to large-scale projects like kitchen cabinets. I get it, we all want to be trusting of one another's good nature and attention to detail, but with large (and expensive!) projects it's best to have every detail discussed, considered, and approved. We used to say in my shop "hope is not a strategy". Hoping everything turns out successfully isn't a plan. Let's be certain it's going to be a success. If you have a question about your new cabinetry like 'what is the drawer material?' or 'how many shelves are in this corner cabinet?' you are absolutely entitled to a detailed answer.

This especially applies to cabinet finishes. Simply trusting that the finisher understands exactly what you're wanting from a few photos is not sufficient (as we discussed above in #1). We want to have literally zero doubt that whomever you hired to provide your new cabinetry is capable of creating that product.

4. Working With Unqualified People

We're seeing the skilled trades gap growing every year and, as a very prideful skilled tradesman myself, it really breaks my heart. That said, at the end of the day, if the company you are considering to provide your new cabinetry isn't capable of creating (or sourcing) exactly what you want, find one that does. Fortunately, you have a lot of other options: Larger cabinet manufacturers and direct-to-consumer cabinetry websites all have standard factory finishes (no reinventing the wheel!), can often customize, are reasonably-priced, and ship nationally.

*Bonus tip: Apropos of that, we are launching a new feature soon highlighting cabinet manufacturers whose product and process we have reviewed firsthand. Stay tuned for the first of these blog posts within the next few weeks!

5. Too Many Cooks In The Kitchen

Most good cabinet shops and showroom/suppliers do everything in-house (or have a strong network of trusted partners). They provide all three of the major steps: cabinets, finishing, and installation. The more trades involved, the more opportunity for miscommunication, mistakes, and unfortunately, opportunities to avoid accountability. It's not the installer's fault the doors aren't aligned, it's the cabinetmaker's. Or, it's not the cabinetmaker's fault that the wood is completely mismatched, it's the painter's job to blend it all.

Good companies with high integrity will want to control every step of the process to ensure the final product meets their high standards, not expecting the "next guy" to handle it.


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