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Hello! I'm Suzannah, a serious DIYer. Follow along with my DIY fixer upper house renovations, sewing and crafty projects, real food recipes, and de-stressing goals. I'm a recovering former vegan and vegetarian, now healing with a nutrient-dense mostly Paleo diet, and love at-home CrossFit and yoga workouts. I'm also the author of DIY Wardrobe Makeovers!

New mom to baby Otto born April 2018!

Comparison of budget-friendly kitchen cabinet sources (IKEA and beyond!)

Cabinets are often the biggest, most impactful, most exciting, even most expensive part of a kitchen reno. I put a LOT of thought into where we purchased our cabinets from and am happy to share my research with you!!

As you may know, we just completed a full kitchen reno, entirely DIY. (See the full reveal here!) Here's the scoop on our cabinet decision!

Thanks to Walcraft Cabinetry for working with me on this reno by providing me a discount on our cabinets!

See the full reveal HERE! And check out other posts on this DIY kitchen reno:

How we chose our kitchen cabinets


Starting scratch in our kitchen with new cabinets was a big decision, and one that I had been thinking about even before we found this house! (I secretly wished that we would buy a house with a kitchen so disgusting that no one would fault me for not painting the cabinets like we did at our last house. I think I basically achieved that (see all the before pics here). That, and the layout of this kitchen begged for more efficient storage than the existing cabinets provided.

I’ve been shopping for affordable cabinets for several years of fixer-upper life now, and have done several IKEA kitchen layouts and even contacted some local cabinet places. But last fall I got serious and weighed my options within our budget.

As a first step in deciding where to get our cabinets from I first drew up our floorplan. I wasn’t sure if I would move the appliances around or keep them in basically the same locations, maybe just swapping the dishwasher from the right to the left of the sink. But, with a floorplan I was able to play around with the IKEA kitchen designer and send my sketch out to some other cabinet companies.

Cabinet maker research


I sent it to the big box store near me, plus a local cabinet maker my friend had used, and even went onto Craigslist to find some more cabinet makers/kitchen remodel contractors. I kind of had a hard time finding people who just made cabinets, so the main one that came out and visited the kitchen and gave us a quote was giving us the quote for cabinets, insulation, countertops, tile, and more--hard to compare apples to apples with the cabinet-only vendors, as we wanted to DIY most of the work.

The big box stores typically have an option of store brand already-assembled cabinets, which are actually very, very cheap, but don’t have many options. We wanted the cabinets go all the way to the ceiling and have a pantry and taller upper above the fridge, and the store cabinets just didn’t cut it. Plus, not as many color options and I am definitely concerned about the quality after we had to order some cabinets at least twice to get not broken ones when we did our laundry room update at our last house.

I enjoyed talking to the custom cabinet maker that my friend had used, because he could do inset doors and make cabinets to any width we needed to fill the space most efficiently. My friend used him through her general contractor when she did a large renovation including the kitchen, and the cabinets for her kitchen (which is larger than ours) were only like $6,800. But, as you’ll see in the comparison below, I guess when you’re not working with a GC and you’re just a consumer, the price is not that good. Also, this happens to be the same guy that Emily Henderson used in her Portland House project last year… Pretty cool that I could’ve used a big designer’s cabinets! But, not in the budget.

IKEA pros and cons


I do want to talk about IKEA as an option... few issues.

  • IKEA was one of the more affordable options, although actually not the cheapest, but at the time they didn’t have any pure white shaker cabinet fronts that worked with the style of this home, plus their cabinets are not real wood and I preferred to bring more wood and less plastic into my home when possible (and I’ve owned a lot of particle board IKEA furniture in the past and know that it can splinter).
  • A lot of people have been using IKEA boxes with Semihandmade fronts. This is a genius idea; Semihandmade makes much wider variety of fronts that fit the IKEA boxes. They are slightly more expensive than IKEA and you have to put a little more thought into the ordering process. They have a shaker option that comes un-primed and unpainted, so you can do whichever color you want. That would’ve gotten us a good look, but would’ve been a lot more work. And more expensive than what we chose. 
  • And still would have to deal with the IKEA cabinet world… I know a lot of people do it and love it, but there are 1,000 packages that you have to pick up based on what the computer system decides you need, parts can be missing, the cabinets don’t come with side panels so there’s just extra pieces... and they are still not real wood, at the end of the day!
  • While IKEA does have a ton of cabinet styles, they do not have a 24" high cabinet for above the fridge. One of my Instagram friends is redoing her kitchen with IKEA right now and while she is a master DIYer and carpenter she is stumped on what to do above her fridge in her 9' ceiling kitchen. The cabinet company we chose (Walcraft) has the perfect cabinet for this situation for us, though! (Our ceilings are 99" high so we just did filler and tall crown molding.)
  • Same with their pantries. The tallest they offer is 90" high--we would have lost 9" of space above our pantry. Walcraft has a 96" tall one. Same with the filler panel that goes next to the fridge. This is a serious issue if your ceiling is taller than 8'!
  • IKEA does have "sales" on their cabinets (I believe you get a coupon for 20% off your next purchase, if you spend a certain amount ordering the cabinets)... but I don't like the pressure of needing to buy that 1 or 2 times per year when the sale is on, and then you only get a coupon  back? I love a good deal so would want the coupon, but don't want to make another huge purchase at IKEA to make it worth it...!
  • Putting together a buildable kitchen design by yourself with their online kitchen planner tool is maddening. It's hard to find the right site (I thought I was locked out but turns out I was on the UK site somehow after Googling, cause I can't find it by navigating from the main IKEA US site), the tool is slow and breaks often, you click something a million times before it works... trust me, I just went through this again to compare cost of our cabinets to IKEA's and it took me 40+ mins just to put in the cabinets I already knew we would need. Figuring out exact dimensions is also super hard, with their funky 3D planner. People say to draft the plan yourself at home and then plan to spend all day at IKEA working with staff nailing it down before you order. That sounds like hell.
  • You are on your own for any issue with IKEA, way more than with a smaller company like Walcraft. After my order was delivered they called me to check in on installation, and when I had a question about the extra moldings they provided I was able to call and email pics. I live an hour away from an IKEA so I would have hated if I had to go in to talk to a real human about a problem!

Online ready-to-assemble or assembled cabinets


After all that research... the main option I considered was online ready to assemble or pre-assembled cabinets. I contacted a couple companies that I found via Instagram and got quotes for our floorplan. A big benefit of using these companies is they offer "free kitchen design," which means they look at your kitchen layout and use their expertise to help arrange the new cabinets in the most efficient way. They also know their full catalog and all the options you have. They also do all the renderings and graphics for you, so you don’t have to be messing around with the buggy IKEA kitchen designer for hours. (It is seriously a super annoying program.) You are limited to the colors and styles that they have, but I found that there were some really good options because we just wanted a shaker style door in a white or gray (common options).

So I went on this route with a couple companies, and enjoyed seeing renderings for a couple different layouts. (One designer suggested that not only should we move the fridge, we should also build pantries on either side of it--that would mean we would only have one long wall of countertop, and then one tiny one 18" wide as a coffee bar on one side of the dining room door. I am so glad we did not go with this option, because I am so short on counter space as it is!! This is a small kitchen so storage like pantries is important, but I can handle storage in the breakfast nook built-ins and even the stairwell to the basement right off the kitchen, but I can’t get prime real estate countertop anywhere else.)

It was helpful to see some options in the renderings/pro-designed plans and consider how the new kitchen would feel. I had a couple different iterations of our open shelves as well. Plus things like the fridge width--semi-custom cabinets don’t have as many options so when I was on the fence about a 33" wide or 36" wide fridge, it was helpful to know that if I went with a 33" I wouldn’t be able to have the same depth cabinet above!

You can also usually get free samples of the cabinet styles/colors you're considering from an online retailer.

The best source for semi-custom cabinets


So finally: the company that we chose. As you’ve seen in my Instagram stories and previous posts, we are using Walcraft Cabinetry, a company out of California that distributes real wood, semi-custom cabinets and provides design services and great customer service.

These are RTA (ready to assemble) cabinets like IKEA's, although as you can see in my cabinet assembly post, I think they are actually way easier to assemble than IKEA! We did these so fast!! They also come with fewer packages to sort through, way more manageable. They were delivered to our door in I think only about 2 weeks from when we ordered.

(I also shared how we installed our own cabinets here. This was a super straightforward process with these cabinets. Find studs, drill holes, screw in, shim, etc.)

And most importantly, these cabinets look great and are sturdy. Dovetailed wood drawers, smooth, solid finish. We've never had white cabinets before but these are SO WIPABLE that I love that I can see coffee splashes or whatever on them and they clean off like a dream. They are the perfect backdrop for our cabinet hardware too!

The white of their Dover/Essex line (same color, shaker vs. flat drawer fronts) that we chose is beautiful and creamy, and so close to the Sherwin-Williams Alabaster that we use for our walls and trim, we didn’t even have to change our existing wall/trim paint colors.

I also had a great experience working with Brian, my friendly kitchen designer at Walcraft Cabinetry. Because I started talking to him way back last fall and unfortunately it took us this long to be ready and order, we have now emailed and called a million times and I have so enjoyed working with him!

Kitchen cabinet price comparison


Price was very important to us, so I tried to compare apples to apples as I got multiple quotes. That was hard as were making minor changes over time as I got these quotes, and all are slightly different. None of these include the 15" upper cabinet we did next to open shelves (except IKEA and the Walcraft one we ended up with). The IKEA ones are all too short for our ceiling, and I think the big box stock ones too. See more notes on each about what was or wasn't included. They are generally in most to least expensive order, except I can't tell on the local contractor what the actual equivalent cost for just cabinets was so I just guessed.

The ones with the *s indicate real wood (and available in a beautiful front style and color we like).
  • Local maker, custom: $11,894 (installation included)*
  • Local contractor, semi-custom: $17,550 (installed, plus counters and backsplash. I asked him to break it out but he never replied.)*
  • Big box store semi-custom: $10,814 (delivery included but not installation)--that is SHOCKING, by the way, so expensive and my experience with them was not good!
  • Pre-assembled online cabinet retailer: $7,247* (come pre-assembled)
  • Walcraft Cabinetry Dover/Essex style: $5,756*
  • IKEA Akstad (new pure white matte, extra beading with stile): $4,061
  • IKEA Grimslov (just barely off-white sort of shaker): $3,847
  • Big box store stock (didn't really work for our kitchen/not the same layout. Wall cabinets only 30" high, no pantry cabinet): $1,536

Bottom line: if you are doing a DIY kitchen reno and cost, time, and quality are important to you, it is 100% worth it to spend some time and research on options besides IKEA. I had a great experience with Walcraft Cabinetry--if you like any of the styles/colors they offer, order yourself some free samples, send them a sketch of your floor plan, and see what design ideas they have to make your kitchen more functional. (Also, please tell them I sent you!)

Thanks again to Walcraft Cabinetry for working with me on this reno by providing me a discount on our cabinets!

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