The Main Differences Between Custom and Semi-Custom Cabinets

Audrey Bruno
Written by Audrey Bruno
Updated February 10, 2022
Mother daughter kitchen cabinets
Photo: Sara Monika / Getty Images

Highlights

  • Custom cabinets have personalized details from dimensions and material to paint color. 

  • Semi-custom cabinets allow you to decide on cosmetic factors, like hardware and finish.

  • Material type and quality of carpentry will determine the cabinet's durability.

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Cabinetry can make or break a kitchen remodel, but custom and semi-custom cabinets make it possible to find just the right fit for your space. Before you can narrow down the best cabinet choice for your wallet and home, you have to understand a bit about the pros and cons that come with each option. Use this guide to determine whether custom cabinets are really worth it or if something a little more standard is better for your remodeling project.

Custom versus semi-custom cabinets comparison, with custom cabinets being high-quality but more costly

What’s the Difference Between Custom and Semi-Custom Cabinets? 

Custom cabinets are special order items, usually crafted by professional woodworkers, and built per certain specifications. You can pick every single element of this type of cabinetry, from the material and hardware to its dimensions. On the other hand, semi-custom cabinets incorporate a combination of custom elements and stock cabinetry. Homeowners can pick certain components like finish, paint color, and hardware. A general contractor or a carpenter near you can also provide a cabinet quote for your project, so that you can compare features, function, and price.

Pros and Cons of Custom Cabinets

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Though they may sound as good as it gets, custom cabinets come with some downsides too. Read on to evaluate why or why not they might be the right choice for your kitchen renovation or remodel.

Pro: Designed to Fit Your Exact Needs

With custom cabinets, you can decide every detail, from the fit to the hardware to the material used. You’ll work closely with a professional cabinet-maker in your area to develop the perfect design for your style, needs, and space limitations. 

Con: Can Be Costly

Cabinets hand-crafted to fit your exact specifications may sound like a dream come true, but expect to pay for the quality you get. The average cost for custom wood cabinets is $500 to $1,200 per linear foot or roughly $2,000 to $9,000 for an entire kitchen’s worth of cabinetry.

Pro: Quality Reflects in the Higher Price Tag

While custom cabinets can be expensive up-front, they're an investment that's built to last. Prefabricated or stock cabinets generally have a lifespan of 10 to 15 years, but custom cabinets can be a part of your home for 25 years and up.

Con: Takes Longer to Build 

The extra work involved in sourcing material for designing and building custom cabinets also requires more time. On average, you can expect to have them in your kitchen between six and eight weeks after first placing your order.

Pros and Cons of Semi-Custom Cabinets

gray kitchen cabinets modern
Photo: Serghei Starus / Getty Images

If you want to branch out from stock cabinets but aren't ready to commit to something fully customized, semi-custom cabinets may be just what you're looking for.  

Pro: Budget-Friendly

Semi-custom cabinets are an excellent way to personalize your home’s aesthetic without spending a fortune. On average, they cost between $100 and $650 per linear foot, but you may pay even less by going the DIY route. 

Con: Compromise on Some Details

Because semi-custom cabinets are a combination of customized elements and prefabricated parts, every last detail isn’t up to you. In general, you’ll have a say on elements like hardware, finish, and paint color. 

Pro: Don’t Take Long to Build

Depending on availability, semi-custom cabinets arrive at your home relatively quickly because they’re already partially built. In general, they’ll be in your kitchen only one to two weeks after ordering. 

Con: May Be Harder to Fit Into Your Space

Semi-custom cabinets come in an array of predetermined sizes that might not fit neatly into the oddly-shaped parts of your kitchen. 

Custom vs. Semi-Custom Cabinets

If you’re still having trouble deciding on the best option for your kitchen, consider these factors to make the most informed choice.

Appearance​

Though semi-custom cabinets can definitely be gorgeous, the fact that custom cabinets allow you to choose every single detail puts them on top in this category.

Most visually appealing: Custom cabinets (but only by a slim margin)

Options & Customizations​

Semi-custom cabinets allow for plenty of personalization, but nothing beats custom cabinets in terms of customization. 

Most customizable: Custom cabinets

Durability​

While both custom and semi-custom cabinets can be exceptionally durable—it all depends on materials and how well they were made. For example, woods like oak, maple, and cherry are all popular cabinet materials because they are sturdy and stylish. And they're common in both custom and semi-custom cabinets. 

Most durable: Tie, dependent on the material used

Price​

At a fraction of the cost of custom cabinets, semi-custom cabinets score a big win in terms of money-saving potential. 

Most affordable: Semi-custom cabinets

DIY-ability​

It's much easier to customize pre-existing cabinets than it is to accrue the necessary tools and skills to build them from scratch. Try painting your current kitchen cabinets or transforming a new, prefabricated purchase on your own. 

Most DIY-able: Semi-custom cabinets

Maintenance​

Though custom cabinets generally have long lifespans, it can be tricky to find the right pieces to repair them. Something that was once readily available may now be scarce, like a certain hardware style or a rare type of wood. 

 Easiest to maintain: Semi-custom cabinets

Length of Life​

Though quality semi-custom cabinets can have a long lifespan, custom cabinets almost always live well into their 20s. 

Longest lifespan: Custom cabinets

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