Urbas Home Services
Serving north Kitsap and east Jefferson Counties, Washington
Including Bainbridge Island, Poulsbo, and Bremerton
Custom Cabinets and Home Remodel
Individual Detail for Every Job
Urbas Home Services
phone: 360-830-4162 (local to
Whats Out There: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly
How We Build Cabinets
==> Storage Solutions!
If You're Interested, Here's What You Should Do
The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder -- no argument there. But while there are a lot of good things out there (in the world of cabinets); there are also a lot of bad deals. And there are some that are just plain ugly! The purpose of this page is to talk about some of the alternatives, and give you, the homeowner - the buyer - some better insights on what to look for.
Buying cabinets is not like signing up for a wireless telephone service. There are literally thousands of companies out there; probably hundreds right there in your area, and many, many more that you can order from around the country and around the world. Some of them are highly crafted furniture; others are not. Some will last a lifetime; others just won't hold up. If you put down three or four hundred grand (or more) on a new home you can at least expect to get decent cabinets, right? Unfortunately, not necessarily so.
Builders are driven by the market place, and by their need to make money. If you go out to some of the homeowners' WEB sites and read their posts, you'll get an idea of what is going on. Typical comment from a perspective buyer is "all I know is, that I want cherry cabinets and granite counter tops." Or something similar. It seems that most buyers aren't interested or concerned with what is behind those fancy fronts, and how well the layout will - or won't - work for them. And builders are tuned in to the wants of the masses. If it's cherry and granite they want, it's cherry and granite they'll get. But if they can knock a thousand dollars off what's behind the cherry and granite, and if they build a hundred houses a year, well that's a hundred thousand bucks that flow right to their bottom line! And so you see an interesting phenomenon: cabinets in a fairly expensive home being replaced after two or three years. That's fine if you have the money to burn. But what if you are doing a remodel and are on a fairly tight budget? You certainly don't want to re-do the process in a couple of years!
Am I saying that all new home owners replace their cabinets in a couple of years? Absolutely not! Will they fall apart in a couple of years? Very unlikely. But will the owners be happy with them in a couple of years? Apparently there are more than a few cases where they aren't.
Does One Size Fit All (bad)?
The first thing you'll see when you look at stock cabinet lines is the lack of choices when it comes to size. You might be able to choose wood or color, but what about the height of the cabinet. Did you notice that base cabinets are all 36 inches high? Ostensibly there is a reason for this: if you want to fit a dishwasher under the counter it must be at least 36 inches high. But in reality dishwashers are built to satisfy the normal 36 inch counter, not the other way around. So is everyone out there the same height? If you are on the taller side, say six-eight or six-ten, did you notice that you are always bending over to use the sink or counter top? Or what if you are on the shorter side - say four-eleven or five-one. Do you have to use a stool to use the sink? That's OK if you're six years old and expect to grow out of it, but are a mature adult you should expect better. And do you like to bake pies and cookies? Don't your arms ache after holding them up to use a rolling pin? Perhaps a baking center that is six inches lower (or more) make more sense (very good).
And how about the upper cabinets? Standard height is around 30 inches. Alternate at 36. But if your lower counter is at 36 inches and there is 16 inches between them, that adds up to 82 inches. Or 88 with 36 inch uppers. That can leave a gap of 12 inches at the top. Enter the soffit, a sheetrock-covered box that runs along the ceiling above the cupboards. What if you want to actually use that space? One option would be to run the cupboards up to the ceiling and put you lesser-used items on the top shelf (good). Or is your kitchen so big that you actually have no use for additional storage?
Worse yet are the choices for people far removed from the "norm". Examples would be people very short, say 40 inches or less, or those confined to a wheel chair. For those people there are no "stock" cabinets that even come close to being usable.
And then there is the cupboard width. Stock cabinets typically come in standard widths, usually in six-inch increments. So what if you end up with a five-inch space left over? The stock solution is what I would call a "board" - a filler that covers up a wasted space (bad). Wouldn't it be nice to actually use that space, either by making the adjacent cabinet five inches wider or by building a five-inch area for cookie sheets? Now, suppose you have a space that is 5-1/2 feet wide. A "stock" solution would be a 3-foot cabinet next to a 2-1/2 foot cabinet. But wouldn't two 2-3/4 foot cabinets look better (good)?
And last of all, what do you do if the doors in your home are small for the cabinets to pass through (uh-oh!)? In such cases we can actually assemble our cabinets on-site (good solution).
What do you do with corners? To me, the worst solution is to just box them out and lose the space altogether (so bad it's ugly). A very common solution is to have the space available, but accessible only through standard doors on one side or the other. To get at your dishes or goods you have to reach in and around the corner (bad). And then there is the corner-door lazy susan, with a 3/4 circle of plastic bins mounted on a vertical pipe (they think this is good?). With this solution you can get at your stuff, but you'd better not put anything real heavy in the bins. How about a better solution, with a special corner cabinet with a door at as 45-degree angle across the front and a full, shelf mounted lazy susan with ball-bearing glides (better than their "good")? How many "stock" cabinet companies offer this solution?
Most of the wood cabinet fronts are actually made of pretty good materials. Solid wood rail and style doors, and solid wood drawer fronts are commonly used in many grades of cabinets. Occasionally I have heard of glue joints failing, but this is not the norm. The buyer should investigate the reputation of the cabinet builder before buying.
A relatively recent entry into the cabinet door arena is the picture-frame rail and styles. This style is characterized by a 45-degree joint in each corner of the door. The buyer should be aware that this 45-degree joint is inherently extremely weak, and must be reinforced in order to provide durability (potentially bad).
In competition with solid wood are two types of alternative designs: the wood rail and styles with a plywood panel, and a melamine laminate bonded to a particle board core (the ugly). Both are considered to be lower-end designs. The melamine is available in either wood-grained or solid color surfaces. Melamine offers two big advantages: it is much lower priced and it is very durable and easy to clean. However, it is the particle board core that is the weak point of this style. Particle board is extremely susceptible to deterioration if damp conditions exist, and even with good conditions screws are prone to loosening and pulling out (bad). If you are interested in this type of cabinet door, you are on the wrong WEB site!
Rail and Style: What's the Big Deal?
One of the main choices you have to make in selecting your cabinets is whether or not you want rail and style cnonstruction in the cabinet doors. For a complete discussion on what this is all about, see this same topic on our How We Build Cabinets page.
There are commonly two materials used for the outside shell of the cabinet: melamine and plywood. The strongest melamine corner joint is reinforced with steel corner brackets. Screwed joints are solid at the onset, but weaken over time. Plywood shells should be stronger, but only if assembled with a sufficient number of screws. Unfortunately, many cabinet shells are made with half-inch plywood sides and a quarter inch back, and the whole works held together with finish nails (very bad). Load this type of upper cabinet with dishes, and you have a disaster in the making. It is quite common to see doors that don't fit right because the shell has shifted.
Here the choices are plywood, melamine, and sometimes solid wood boards. Drawers suffer an extreme amount of pressure due to the continual opening and closing cycle they go through. Melamine joints are very susceptible to loosening, making the drawer not fit or roll correctly (bad). Plywood or wood board joints can also weaken if not glued and reinforced.
Back in the early days of cabinetry, drawers were wooden boxes set inside a wooden shell.. There were no drawer glides - just wood sliding over wood. In the summer when the humidity increased, both would expand and the drawers would be near impossible to move. In the dry winters they had too much play (very bad). People would wax the drawer bottoms to reduce friction.. An improvement on this design was the wood center track under the drawer. It improved stability, but was still prone to binding as humidity increased (bad). Doors were mounted with metal surface hinges outside the door. The movement of the drawers was over time improved with the addition of roller wheels.
Most cabinet doors now come with the European-style hinge that is actually set into a cup drilled in the door frame (very good). While this design is strength-wise far superior to the old surface-style hinges, screws can still come loose if particle board is used in the door itself. Drawer design is much worse. Most stock cabinet drawers come with plastic rollers that ride in a thin metal track attached to the cabinet frame and back (very bad). This design commonly sees an early failure, especially in drawers that contain a lot if weight, like silverware or books. The plastic rollers wear and don't roll smoothly, and the metal tracks work loose and twist.
So what's a person to do?
Not all cabinets are poorly built. Read on (How We Build Cabinets)