How to Buy Kitchen Cabinets


Buying new kitchen cabinets is an exciting project that can completely transform the look and function of your space. With so many options for styles, materials, colors, and configurations, the cabinet selection process can feel overwhelming. This comprehensive guide covers everything you need to confidently tackle cabinet shopping and install the perfect system for your kitchen and lifestyle.

We’ll discuss setting your budget, measuring your layout, choosing cabinet materials and features, comparing brands, understanding sizing conventions, and navigating design decisions. You’ll get insider tips for maximizing quality and value with your cabinetry purchase. Whether you’re doing a full kitchen remodel or just freshening up a few cabinets, use this advice for success with every step of the cabinet buying process.

Determine Your Budget

Setting a clear budget is the critical first step when buying kitchen cabinets. Cabinetry represents a significant portion of total kitchen remodel costs. Going over budget on cabinets can blow your entire project budget.

Take time upfront to establish realistic spending parameters for your cabinetry purchase. Here are some tips:

  • Get contractor quotes to estimate total project costs before budgeting cabinets alone.
  • Allocate approximately 40% of your total kitchen remodel budget to cabinetry.
  • Factor in costs for cabinet features like organizational inserts and accessories.
  • Remember budget for cabinet installation, countertops/backsplash, lighting, flooring.
  • Add at least 10-20% contingencies for unexpected overages.
  • Consider financing options if needed to access your dream cabinetry.

Determining and sticking to your cabinet budget takes research and discipline. But it ensures you get the maximum kitchen design possible without unnecessary spending.

Measure Your Existing Layout

To select the right cabinets, you need to thoroughly measure your existing kitchen’s dimensions. Inaccurate measurements can result in ordering the wrong cabinet sizes or configurations.

Follow these best practices for measuring:

  • Create a detailed floor plan indicating all windows, doors, and fixtures.
  • Measure walls, corners, ceiling heights, soffits, and any obstructions.
  • Note exact locations of plumbing, gas, electric, and ventilation.
  • Measure existing cabinets to reuse or replace.
  • Photograph the empty kitchen from multiple angles for reference.
  • Double check all measurements for accuracy.

Measuring precisely before ordering cabinets prevents costly delays or changes down the road. Pay special attention to angled corners or uneven old walls that might impact cabinet sizing.

Choose Cabinet Materials

One of the biggest decisions is which cabinet material best fits your budget, lifestyle, and design aesthetic:



  • Beautiful natural patterns and grains
  • Customizable with stains and glazes
  • Timeless traditional style


  • More expensive
  • Requires diligent sealing/repairs



  • Affordable but still attractive
  • Extremely durable and scratch-resistant
  • Easy to clean


  • Limited color/style options
  • Can chip or peel if damaged



  • Budget-friendly
  • Huge variety of colors and patterns


  • Prone to scratching, swelling, and delamination
  • Looks obviously cheap if low quality



  • Sleek modern aesthetic
  • Sturdy and long-lasting
  • Easy to clean and maintain


  • Often more expensive
  • Shows fingerprints
  • Can dent or tarnish over time

Prioritize quality construction and materials that fit your budget and design vision. Talk with cabinet experts about the best material options for your needs.

Assess Door Styles

Along with the cabinet box material, the door style impacts aesthetics. Consider how these common options complement your kitchen’s look:

  • Slab: Simple, flat expanse of material with no adornments.
  • Shaker: Classic recessed center panel bordered by a frame.
  • Raised Panel: Elaborate framed door with a curved central panel.
  • Inset: Old world style with door set inside the cabinet frame.
  • Distressed: Intentionally worn or beat-up finish.
  • Glass Insert: Glass window cutouts for display cabinets.

Mix and match door styles for visual interest. For example, use solid Shaker doors on perimeter cabinets and glass inserts on upper display units.

Compare Brands and Manufacturers

The brand or manufacturer of your cabinets significantly impacts the quality, construction, selection, and pricing. Research all available options for your area thoroughly before purchase. Here are some major national brands to consider:

  • American Woodmark: Affordable value, quality construction
  • KraftMaid: Huge variety of styles, materials, and finishes
  • Wellborn: Semi-custom cabinetry, made in the USA
  • Canyon Creek: Large ready-to-assemble selection
  • Shenandoah: Focus on quality hardware and soft-close features
  • Schuler: Wide array of traditional and contemporary styles

Don’t limit yourself to big box brands. Check out smaller local manufacturers and custom cabinet makers to uncover hidden gems.

Understand Cabinet Sizing

Kitchen cabinets use some standard sizing conventions you must understand to order properly:

  • Widths: 3”, 6”, 9”, 12”, 15”, 18”, 21”, 24”, and so on in 3” increments
  • Heights: 84” high is standard for perimeter base cabinets. Wall cabinets are usually 30”-42” tall.
  • Depths: Base cabinets come in 21” and 24” depths. Wall cabinets are usually 12”-16” deep.
  • Toe kick height: Base cabinets have a recessed toe kick area, usually 3 1⁄2 to 5” high.

Measure your space using these standards. Improper sizes can leave gaps or require refacing existing cabinets.

Custom vs. Stock: Pros and Cons

Custom vs. stock (readymade) cabinets each have advantages. Assess the trade-offs:

Custom Cabinets


  • Made to your exact specifications
  • Customize sizes, features, layouts
  • High-end quality and materials


  • Much more expensive
  • Long lead times for production

Stock Cabinets


  • Affordable, standardized pricing
  • No measurement needed, sizes are standard
  • Available for quick installation


  • Limited configurations and customization
  • Lower quality compared to custom

Custom gives you the ultimate personalized kitchen. Stock cabinets provide convenience, cost savings, and faster project timelines. Weigh your options and priorities.

Explore Accessories and Features

Don’t overlook the importance of accessories and specialty features for enhancing cabinet function:

Interior Organizers: Drawers, trays, dividers, rollouts, and pullouts that optimize interior storage and access.

Wastebin Cabinet: Cabinet with built-in garbage bin and recycling tray.

Spice Racks: Pullout shelves for neatly arranging spices and dried goods.

Knife Block: Built-in wood block for safely storing knives inside a drawer.

Appliance Garage: Cabinet with lift-up door to conceal small appliances.

Lazy Susan: Circular turntable shelf that spins inside corner cabinet.

Stemware Holders: Inserts with slots sized to hold wine glasses suspended.

Thoughtful accessories transform your cabinets into an ultra-efficient storage system.

Select Finishes and Hardware

Attention to finishes and hardware takes your cabinetry to the next level:

Stains/Paints: Pick neutral, natural wood tones or vibrant colors to match your decor.

Glazes: Add extra dimension with a sheer tinted coating over stains.

Distressing: Simulate a timeworn look with intentional nicks, dings, and worn edges.

Knobs/Pulls: Choose knobs and handles that balance form and function.

Hinges: High-end soft-close hinges prevent slamming.

Edge Profiles: Decorative contours on door edges like bevels or grooves.

Take time selecting these details to reflect your personal style in the finished kitchen.

Design and Layout Considerations

Beyond the cabinet boxes themselves, proper design and layout is crucial:

  • Draw a detailed layout indicating all cabinets, windows, doors, and fixtures.
  • Mark plumbing, electric, and ventilation that must remain accessible.
  • Ensure adequate clearance around appliances for operation.
  • Include filler pieces to flank appliances and offset corners.
  • Combine different heights like wall and base cabinets.
  • Incorporate specialty cabinets like blind corner models.
  • Mix open shelving or glass cabinets with solid doors.

Take time mapping your layout to optimize beauty and functionality before finalizing cabinet selections.

Order Sample Doors and Drawers

Once you’ve narrowed down your preferred styles and finishes, order free sample doors from manufacturers. Samples allow you to:

  • View and feel construction quality up close
  • Accurately judge color tones and grains
  • Test stains/finishes with other samples
  • Experience soft-close hinges firsthand
  • Compare design details like edge profiles
  • Make a more informed final selection

Don’t chose cabinetry solely from photos or small swatches. Get hands-on with full-size samples.

Get Quotes and Estimates

When you’ve selected desired cabinets and accessories, get official quotes from various providers before purchase:

  • Itemize everything needed including cabinet boxes, doors, drawers, filler pieces, molding, and hardware.
  • Specify dimensions, quantities, and part numbers.
  • Request quotes for cabinet fabrication/delivery and installation separately.
  • Ask about lead times so work can be properly scheduled.
  • Compare pricing from big box stores, kitchen designers, lumber yards, contractors.

Quote comparisons might reveal ways to get upgraded cabinets and features at a lower overall cost. Make sure everything necessary is included.

Place Orders with Ample Lead Time

Order your kitchen cabinets well in advance of when you hope to install them. Factory production and shipping for cabinets can take 4-12 weeks once ordered. Avoid project delays by ordering cabinets early.

  • Finalize all cabinet selections before ordering. Alterations later often incur fees.
  • Provide the supplier with all needed specifications and details upfront to prevent errors.
  • Pay any required deposits when placing orders.
  • Submit final measurements and floor plans if ordering custom sizes.
  • Verify estimated delivery timelines before work begins.

Placing orders early provides peace of mind that your cabinets will be ready as needed.

Inspect Deliveries Thoroughly

When your new cabinets are delivered, thoroughly check that:

  • The shipment includes all cabinets, hardware, accessories, and parts ordered.
  • Each cabinet box is intact without any damage.
  • Every door and drawer operates properly.
  • Stains/finishes precisely match what you approved.
  • Sizes conform to what you ordered.
  • No doors or drawers are crooked or misaligned when closed.

Carefully inspecting shipments lets you identify and resolve any problems immediately rather than after installation.

Hire Professional Installers

Unless you’re an expert DIYer, hiring professional cabinet installers is highly recommended:

  • They have the skills to properly install cabinets level, plumb, and secured.
  • Professionals can expertly integrate new and old cabinetry.
  • You avoid injuries or accidents working overhead on ladders.
  • Experienced installers can adjust cabinets or fill gaps if needed.
  • Surprises uncovered during installation are handled smoothly.

Paying for professional installation gives you peace of mind knowing your new cabinets are perfectly integrated in your kitchen.

Frequently Asked Questions

Here are answers to some of the most common questions about purchasing kitchen cabinets:

What percentage of my total remodel budget should I spend on cabinets?

Approximately 40% of your total kitchen remodel budget is a reasonable amount to allocate towards new cabinets alone. This ensures you get high-quality cabinetry without overspending.

What are the standard height, width, and depth dimensions for kitchen cabinets?

Standard cabinet heights are 84” for base and 30-42” for wall cabinets. Widths increment in 3” intervals, commonly from 12”-30”. Standard depths are 21”-24” for base and 12”-16” for wall cabinets.

Should I choose custom-built or stock ready-made cabinets?

Custom cabinets provide ultimate personalization but are expensive and take longer to produce. Stock cabinets are more affordable and available faster but offer less customization of sizes and layouts.

What are the most popular kitchen cabinet door styles?

The Shaker style with its recessed center panel is a hugely popular choice. Other common styles include slab, inset, raised panel, and glass front. Mixing styles adds great visual interest.

How can I maximize storage and accessibility within my new cabinets?

Carefully chosen interior organizers like drawers, trays, pullouts, and rollouts allow you to fully utilize every inch of cabinet space and conveniently access contents.


By understanding the complete process of measuring, selecting, ordering, and installing, you can make your new kitchen cabinet purchase smooth and successful. Define your budget, style preferences, and layout early on to guide decision making. Research all the door styles, materials, brands, sizes, and configurations available to uncover the perfect combination for your space and needs. Pay close attention to specialty features and accessories to really maximize functionality. Ask for samples, get multiple quotes, order early, and hire professionals for installation. Follow this advice to end up with your dream kitchen cabinetry that falls within budget and suits your lifestyle beautifully.