Ask the Contractor: Factors to consider between custom and prefab cabinets

Elegant custom cabinets for a custom space because of the shape of the room.

Elegant custom cabinets for a custom space because of the shape of the room.


Courtesy photo

Prefabricated cabinets work well in a straight squared off space with no custom shaped rooms.

We are building a new home in Prescott and I say, “custom cabinets,” and my husband says, “prefab cabinets.” We are owner/builder, so please YCCA help settle our impasse. — Mike and Sharon, Prescott.

So what is the difference between prefab and custom cabinets? There are advantages and disadvantages to both. Kitchen cabinets are a big part of a home’s expense whether you are remodeling or building new and the decision that is made would certainly be based on various determining factors such as how you want the cabinets to function, how soon you need the cabinets and, of course, the price is also a determining factor.

There are pros and cons to both options: Prefab cabinets have certainly come a “long way baby” as they say over the past several years and the advancements in manufacturing prefab cabinets is a very noticeable improvement in quality.

In terms of price, you should do a comparison. Prefab cabinets can vary from vanilla wrapper modular to more of a high end and in some cases be on the same price point of custom. Just remember, like anything else, you get what you pay for and in the case of cabinets quality and cost are a major identifiers that go hand-in-glove.

In the terms of quality and craftsmanship the custom cabinet option will work best if your kitchen cabinets have various sizes, if you want an option for cabinet finish, or want a specific and precise wood species. If you have different angles to your cabinetry the custom decision is the way to go and with custom your cabinet boxes will be built exactly the way you want them to be. However, on the flip side, prefab cabinets have a wide array of styles and finishes. There is a tremendous variation between the two cabinet styles in material, how the edges are joined, the hinges and the interior finish. All of these are important components to compare.

Cabinets certainly do play a huge role in the look of a home and one thing to be aware of is with the finish of the material. Prefab cabinets are finished in a very controlled factory and consequently the finish of a prefab cabinet is often identical and unvarying and unchanging whereas with custom cabinets you have a wider variety of finishes and colors offering a customized finish.

Prefab cabinets are much easier to obtain and offer quicker installation and delivery is pretty speedy. Prefab will not meet your specific kitchen requirements if you have irregular shapes, so if you are in a rush prefab might be the way to go. Custom cabinets can take one to two months and as they say, “it takes time to be beautiful,” even with cabinets.

With custom cabinets you can create your own chic panache and flair with your own personal touch so you will not be a vanilla box.

Custom cabinets are normally made from woods harvested in the United States, unless you have opted for a wood species that is not grown in the U.S. and of course custom cabinets are made without an assembly line operation and are made by a dedicated custom cabinet company, and in our area we have many fine good quality reputable cabinet makers that are excellent craftsman that will strive to give you want you want with personalized service.

Custom cabinet manufactures cannot compete with prefab cabinets so again, it is important to consider your budget for cabinetry or the bang for the buck. In a brief summary the differences of prefab vs. customer are in appearance and quality. There are prefab cabinet makers that do pride themselves on quality and it is important to look at prefab warranties, they do vary.

Custom or prefab, two very different manufacturing approaches.

The modular cabinet manufacturer usually makes the cabinet boxes with widths starting at six-inches and increasing in two-inch steps. Modular cabinet manufacturers usually offer a selection of cabinet doors which will give the finished modular cabinet a more custom look.

Custom cabinets are manufactured to the actual size needed. Unlike modular cabinets, each cabinet/drawer/shelf base is designed and built to the exact size requested in the design plans. If the architect requires cabinets in 1/16” increments the custom cabinet maker will build to the exact dimensions.

All in all, there is no definite answer on which one is a better option. As a home owner, it is always advised to visit cabinet stores to look at custom vs. prefab before making your decisions. Understanding the cost, the finish of the wood, the delivery times, the hardware used, the inside finish will always help you better build your ideal kitchen.

Remember to tune in to YCCA’s Hammer Time every Saturday and Sunday morning 7 a.m. on KQNA 1130 AM/99.9 FM or 95.5 FM or the web Listen to Sandy and Mike talk about the construction industry, meet your local community partners and so much more.

Sandy Griffis is executive director of the Yavapai County Contractors Association. Email your questions to her at or call 928-778-0040.