Kitchen Cabinet Decisions: Pre-fab, Custom or IKEA

A good friend of mine just bought a house recently and is taking on the necessary renovations head-on, and all on his own. Looking at pictures of his kitchen post-gutting (like the one above) I began to consider the importance of kitchen cabinets in functionality and over-all aesthetic.
When we redecorated our kitchen, we actually had nice, fairly new and very spacious cabinets. We opted to just paint them to get the look we wanted – which while labor intensive and fairly tedious, only cost us a couple of gallons of paint and some added knobs.
Now, as we work on our dining room and want to add storage, the idea of more built-in cabinets seems to be the most functional for everything from our china and fragile display items to a serving surface and extra storage for kid-friendly miscellanea. However, we’re struggling to decide exactly what kind of cabinet we want – pre-fab, custom, or Ikea.
Here are the pros and cons we can divine thus far:

Pre-Fab: Found at large home improvement stores, these pieces come in many different configurations, prebuilt and ready for simple installation.
*Pro – They’re already built, and many are made of stainable or paintable wood. They’re not badly priced for what they are. Come in standard sizes.
*Con – There doesn’t appear to be many choices when it comes to the look of the doors or drawers. It’s all pretty basic – what you see is what you get, no frills, nothing fancy. Also, cumbersome when it comes to transporting.
Custom: Through many retailers, the possibilities are endless when it comes to configurations, materials, style, color, function, you name it.
*Pro – Creativity is key. You can accomplish nearly anything when you’re custom-building cabinets. Also, typically these kinds of cabinets come with professional installation, though sometimes at a price. Sizing is determined based on your desires and space. Adding extra amenities like a wine fridge under a counter is no problem.
*Con – Cost. These cabinets can get expensive fast, especially when you add labor and installation costs, never mind the extra bells and whistles. Be prepared to have a parade of people though your kitchen (or other space) for a few days. If mistakes are made you may have to wait for a new part to be delivered. The choices can get a bit overwhelming as well.
IKEA: A marriage almost of the other two choices. There are more styles than your usual pre-fab, and still with tons of customizability.They come flat-packed for easy transport, or you can pay a small fee to have them delivered. Professional installation is also an option.
*Pro – Cost efficient, especially if you’re going for a specific look but can’t shell out for 100% custom. They have something for nearly every budget. Also offer both online and in-store home design tools to help you get that custom feel. A bevy of accessories can also be added for extra ease of use. Comes in variable sizes to fit your space.
*Con – Almost all of the cabinets are laminate, so changing the color or finish is difficult. If you opt out of professional installation, you’ll have to devote a great deal of time to construct and install the cabinets following directions without words. Measurement is key, and if you need to modify the cabinets to allow for sinks or appliances you may need to get very creative. If they don’t have the look you’re quite going for, you kind of have to settle or wait for the new catalog to come out in the summer.
My friend went with Ikea and I’m waiting to get his after pictures to see the finished result. We haven’t decided yet when it comes to our dining room storage.
Which cabinets do you think you would choose? Do you have any other pros or cons when it comes to cabinets? Or alternative storage solutions for a kitchen?
photo: Marc Ring

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