Brownstone Boys: How to Get Budget Kitchen Cabinets With a High-End Look

Photo by David Sauerhoff

Editor’s note: Welcome to the 71st installment of Brownstone Boys Reno, a reader renovation diary about renovating a brownstone in Bed Stuy. See the first one here. They also blog at www.thebrownstoneboys.com.

Kitchens are often the most expensive spaces to renovate. There are a lot of complex parts and pieces that add up quickly. Of those, often the biggest and most expensive is the cabinetry. There are a wide range of options and the sky’s the limit. Fortunately there are also ways to achieve a high-end look on a budget. Since that is what must of us are looking for in our renovations, that’s what we’ll talk about, although if you’re curious about custom cabinetry prices, keep reading.

kitchen

Our preassembled shaker cabinets are durable, stylish and fit within our budget

Ikea Cabinets and Custom Fronts

A very popular and perfectly great option to remodel your kitchen on a budget is to use Ikea cabinets. They are just fine and do a great job. There are also many ways to customize them to upgrade the look. Ikea has several door and drawer fronts that can achieve anything from a clean white Shaker look to a modern Scandinavian slab (more on that in a bit). What has become fairly popular, if not fashionable in its own right, and an even better way to achieve a higher end look, is to use Ikea cabinet boxes (the interior and frame) with more custom door and drawer fronts. If you haven’t heard, Ikea sells the boxes without the fronts so you’re not wasting money by not using them.

If you go with Ikea boxes and fronts, you can get cabinets for an average-sized kitchen for $2,000 to $4,000. Even less if you don’t get the fronts. That number is deceptively low so keep in mind that there are many more components to your kitchen remodel, but for now we’re just talking cabinets.

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Ikea’s Sektion cabinets. Photo via Ikea

Ikea’s cabinetry system is called Sektion, and depending on what fronts you chose they all have their own names. The Sektion system is modular so you can even mix and match fronts for a two-tone or multi-textural look. You can even swap out all of your door and drawer fronts with something completely different if you tire of your white Shaker after a year or two. Since the system is so modular and easily customizable, other companies now make upgraded solid wood custom fronts for Ikea cabinets in a vast amount of options. It is an upgrade so they will cost more, but it’s the part of the cabinet you see and it’s what will give you that custom look for close to Ikea prices. Check out Semihandmade and Reform. You’ll find that using the custom fronts will cost about 20 percent more than the Ikea fronts but the payoff is well worth it to us.

Unassembled or Preassembled Wood Cabinets

For a similar price as Ikea cabinets there are companies that make nice wood cabinets at a fairly low cost. You can even get them preassembled, which can make it easier for you to install them yourself in a DIY project. We have used the RTA Store in the past and found that their cabinets were inexpensive (they often run 40 to 50 percent off sales), nice quality, and they provided free design and consultation services to piece it all together. You might pay $6,000 to $8,000 for this option, including the doors, which is close to where you might end up with Ikea cabinets and upgraded custom fronts. There are many other cabinet companies with similar options. When we used them for our renovation, we upgraded the less expensive cabinets with more expensive hardware. It’s not necessary as there are a lot of low cost hardware options, but for us it added some bling to our kitchen that makes us happy and helped us justify going with the cheaper cabinets.

Custom Cabinetry

Now if you are curious how all of this compares to custom cabinetry, here are some numbers. Custom cabinets are a luxury few can afford, but although the less expensive options can come close in price, they won’t compare to the look of beautifully built millwork. Quotes we have seen for custom millwork are in the $25,000 to $35,000 range. Or another way to price it out is $1,500 to $2,500 per piece. There are also semi-custom options to explore if you want something in between. With all of the other expenses a kitchen renovation brings, custom millwork can push your budget into eye-popping numbers.

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We upgraded our cabinet with hardware from Buster + Punch

Putting It All Together

We talked about the cabinet boxes but there are a few more options and components to consider for your kitchen cabinetry.

Inset vs. Overlay

Inset cabinet doors are set into the cabinet frame and fit flush to the cabinet surface. Many of the beautiful Pinterest photos you might have seen could be inset. It’s a custom look and usually costs more than other options. Everything needs to fit very precisely, so this style usually isn’t an option in the less expensive category.

Full overlay doors can achieve a similar look to inset since they completely cover the front of the cabinet, providing that flat surface look. This is what you can get through Ikea or Ikea with custom fronts.

Partial overlay doors are similar to full overlay except more of the cabinet can be seen between the doors and drawers. It is a more traditional and less custom look but it is also more forgiving in the way everything fits together.

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We love the look of classic Shaker-style cabinets

Door and Drawer Front Style

Shaker – Shaker furniture dates back to the 18th century. Shaker-style cabinetry has surged in popularity and is considered to have a modern look that is now becoming so common it’s moving toward traditional. It’s a clean, simple and timeless look with one recessed panel in the center. A clean white Shaker-style kitchen is a great option and is likely to not offend anyone. You can make it pop by moving away from white and painting the fronts with a custom color.

Slab – The simplest style cabinet fronts are flat slab panels. They are an even more modern look and current trend in kitchen design. The clean Scandinavian look is sure to be a head turner whereas a Shaker kitchen will blend more into the background.

Raised Panel – You’ll find raised panel cabinets in very transitional or ornately elegant designs. Rather than the simple recessed panel of a Shaker cabinet, a panel comes back to surface level and can have various ornamentation. Since Ikea and the custom front companies will trend modern, you won’t find many raised panel cabinet options there.

Other Components

To complete your cabinetry’s high-end look you’ll need toe kicks, filler panels and possibly molding. Custom cabinets will use much less of this since they will be built specifically for your space. These pieces are the key to making your off-the-shelf cabinets look built-in. It’s another area in which the custom front option will greatly upgrade the Ikea version. The more substantial solid wood will have an elevated feel. Keep in mind you will still need to get the toe kicks (custom versions fit on top of the Ikea parts) and hinges if you’re using custom fronts.

We installed low-cost preassembled cabinets in our kitchen and we love the way it turned out. At the time, we didn’t know as much about Ikea and custom fronts, and we would dare to say that if we could do it all over again we might have gone with that option. We would probably have saved some money and we could have customized the look even more. We’re certainly enjoying our kitchen (if you can’t tell!) and are happy to know that there are options for budget conscientious folks who want that custom kitchen look.

[Photos by Brownstone Boys unless noted otherwise]

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