By Karen Warner, Kitchen Designer at Dean Cabinetry

Kitchen cabinets are commonly discussed in terms of three categories: stock, semi-custom, and custom. These terms specify the way cabinets are produced and are not necessarily a ranking in terms of quality.

When starting on a kitchen remodel, the cabinets are the anchor of the project. Cabinets will provide storage and beauty in your kitchen for years. Other elements like counters, backsplash, hardware, and paint can all be changed more easily and less expensively than replacing the cabinets. It makes sense to be thoughtful when you’re designing your new kitchen’s function and organization, and also to be confident that the quality of the products you are investing in meets your expectations.

Within the three categories of stock, semi-custom, and custom, there can be considerable variation in the materials and methods used for construction, the fit and finish of the final product, and in the responsiveness of the manufacturers if any issues need to be addressed. It’s important to have knowledgeable cabinet consultants to help you decide what sort of cabinetry fits your needs. And also keep in mind that having a good installer is another key ingredient of a successful kitchen project. A poor installation can make even the most beautiful, expensive cabinets look bad; and a good installation allows less expensive cabinets to look and function at their best.


Stock cabinets are mass-produced and ready to ship quickly. They come in standard sizes with a small selection of wood species, door styles, and finishes. Stock cabinets have limited options for accessories and do not offer modifications. They may come with a warranty, though the length and coverage vary. The benefits of stock cabinets are their quick availability and relatively low cost.

Stock cabinets can meet a wide range of needs (Photo from Fabuwood)

The semi-custom cabinet category has more door styles, finishes, and customization possibilities than stock cabinetry, though these modification options are still within certain standard conventions. Semi-custom cabinets are made once an order is placed, so lead times are longer than for stock cabinets. Many modern factories produce very durable finishes, and warranties are generally longer than with stock cabinetry, with numerous companies offering limited lifetime warranties. Because of their flexibility, semi-custom cabinets can fit the needs of a wide range of projects, though be mindful that modifications bring up charges that may push the price higher than expected.

Semi-custom cabinets offer many beautiful options (Photo from Kith Kitchens)

With custom cabinets the choices of design, finishes, sizes, and options are potentially limitless. Because every cabinet is custom made, the final result can be a beautiful and elegant fit in a room. Custom cabinet makers typically use high caliber materials and methods. With custom designs you can use wood species that may not be available from stock or semi-custom companies. While some mass-produced cabinets offer particle board construction as an option that can save money, usually custom cabinet makers rely on the stability, screw-holding strength, and relative moisture resistance of high-grade plywood for the cabinet boxes.

It is also important to recognize that not every custom cabinet shop has the same capabilities and construction standards. When deciding whom to work with, make sure you love their work and that they can meet your expectations for design and quality. When you find a custom cabinet maker that is the right combination of good listener, good designer, and good craftsperson that stands behind their work, you’ve found something special!

Dean Cabinetry John Dean Custom Cabinetry White Full Access Full Overlay Kitchen Carpet
Custom cabinets offer special touches specific to your project (Photo from Dean Cabinetry)

There is no right or wrong cabinetry to use for a kitchen remodel. You have to choose what works best for your project needs and budget. Watch our video to learn a little more about what custom cabinetry means to our Dean Cabinetry team!