The Cabinet Plan

I work with clients and cabinets every single day and wish to share some of my experiences and insight into cabinet construction, pricing, and of the many personalities involved in the process of purchasing cabinets. Several other items, such as countertops, tile, and decorative lighting also play a role in this scope of work arena. 

In remodeling, or even new construction, cabinets are typically the single greatest investment one may make on their respective project, but from my experience, they are also the greatest source of misinformation and improper handling. One of the reasons for this is that our clients are challenged by a lack of standardized, competitive pricing, and there are way too many design elements affecting the cost of construction for the casual encounter. Many fabricators are also reluctant to spend much time on an estimate because of the overhead needed to crunch out a half intelligible budget, so the client often settles in with the first fabricator they speak to (I will speak more on estimating and shop drawings below).

There are 3 basic price points in cabinets. They are stock cabinets, semi-custom cabinets, and custom cabinets. Stock cabinets are built ready-to-install in larger plants and are ordered in standard sizes generally from 6" to 42", in 3" increments. More of what we install today are semi-custom cabinets, that have more whistles and bells such are sliding shelves, pantry units, etc. The third price point in cabinets are the custom cabinet line, which one can highly detail their cabinets in many sizes, trim details, and exotic woods. According to numbers published online for 2016 pricing, cabinets range in price from $75 to $1,400 per linear foot. 

My operations in the Mountain Brook area over the years has introduced me to several different cabinet fabricators, and their personalities and services are as diverse as the cabinet choices mentioned above. While our clients normally can't compare true "apples to apples" on their cabinet quotes as they may on windows, tile, or countertops, they do have the luxury of making informed decisions as to the basic price point, scheduling and turn around times, and personal services each of the fabricators may offer. I will next list a few of my regular fabricators below, as well as include an old carpenter friend that is a cabinet and framing powerhouse in Birmingham that we've recently pleasantly become engaged with:

Fabrication partners of our's-

  • Brewer Cabinets- Family owned showroom style operation with selections from Stock to Semi-custom, countertops, hardware, and designers which generate 3D conceptual and programed shop drawings (these are CADD drawings that speak the same language as the plant's fabrication line).

 

  • Cahaba Cabinets- Showroom style operation and selections from Stock to Semi-custom. This shop also has design capabilities similar to Brewer and NeedCo. We recently installed a basement set of Cahaba's stock cabinets and our client has been thrilled of their appearance, functionality, and economical price point.

 

  • Cantley & Co.- A Pepperplace showroom boutique specializing in a select line of custom cabinets. The owners have direct, hands-on influence on design, fabrication, and installation. This is a very solid custom operation and I have enjoyed the direct contractor-designer-fabricator relationship which I have had with owner's Cyndy and Keith Cantley.
 Beautiful banquette and bar designed and fabricated by Cantley & Company.

Beautiful banquette and bar designed and fabricated by Cantley & Company.

  • Deal Cabinets- This is a Montgomery operation that has rapidly become a Mountain Brook go-to by several of our architects and decorators. Differing  a little from the local operations, most interaction is initiated by our local architects and decorators who draw up floor plans and elevations for Deal to fabricate from. Deal did a super job for us on a unique wine cellar a few months ago and is pricing (I will still get to this;) an upcoming project for us now.
 Wine cellar fabricated by Deal Cabinets in an expansive basement remodel designed by Sissy Austin, AIA.

Wine cellar fabricated by Deal Cabinets in an expansive basement remodel designed by Sissy Austin, AIA.

  • JLP Incorporated- This is an family owned, authentic as they come, custom cabinet shop and framing carpentry operation. Reminiscent of old school shop drawings and old paneled office spaces, owner John Pittman, can pull together just about any cabinet product in his Avondale shop. John's technicians will convert most architectural drawings into "shop drawings" and can lock in a contract price and build off of them.

 

  • NeedCo, The Cabinet Company- I have admittedly been trading the most with NeedCo over the years and enjoy the resources of their Homewood, AL showroom and expedited 3D layouts. Owner, David Harrison, provides a one-stop shop featuring several cabinet price point options, countertop material, and even tile in their showrooms. Their mainstay are semi-custom cabinets but can ramp up for any sort of custom work as needed.
 Kitchen fabricated by Needco, designed by Shepard and Davis Architects, LLC

Kitchen fabricated by Needco, designed by Shepard and Davis Architects, LLC

Now that we've briefly discussed basic styles of cabinets and their respective price points, and of the personalities of some of Birmingham's busier cabinetmakers, lets discuss how a cabinet plan comes alive, how it is priced, paid for, and ultimately installed. A set of cabinets can be designed by extraordinarily talented architects within full sets of plans, or on the opposite extreme, hand sketched basic 3 point movement between food storage, prep/cook station, and cleaning (stove, sink, and refrigerator), on a table napkin and converted into a 3D CADD product by a stock cabinet dealer in minutes. The distinguishing characteristics between the two, are of course the sophistication of the overall design, and whether the homeowner is motivated towards economy and functionality, or to a uniquely designed showpiece. The general nature of how most of our projects come alive, since we mainly work with really good architects and designers, is that a conceptual floor plan and preliminary elevations of the kitchen/bath cabinets are developed and then passed to the desired cabinetmaker for pricing. If we choose a fast production oriented shop, we'll likely receive a 3D CADD layout in conjunction with the pricing, and if we choose a full custom shop, we may receive an initial budget before much time is invested in developing the "shop drawings" mentioned above. Now here is the punchline, and yes it is affecting one of my clients right now, a separate design fee is normally required by any shop to develop shop drawings that have any teeth to them, and it is almost unfeasible to have more than one shop engaged beyond the casual introduction. As mentioned above, even with stock cabinets, this scope of work, if not the single most expensive element of the remodel, it certainly is the most important, so there is an added human element when getting a cabinetmaker on board. I have experimented with trying to get multiple pricing for cabinets and the result is normally choosing one or another prematurely because the designs and cabinet selections almost always take time to flush out, so we took a different path long ago to try to educate our clients on the various price points, cabinet guys in town, and to pop in and interview 1-2 likely situated shops before entering a team-oriented design build relationship. The pricing occurs through a series of meetings to accommodate our clients needs and the overall design benefits from the earlier discussions on floor plans, styles, space, etc. Once a solid cabinet order is ready to fly, a nominal deposit of 50% is made at contracting, and the balance is due upon installation. 

A final note on cabinets is on the integral part counter top material has with the price point of the cabinets. Counter tops are a whole lot easier to price than cabinets and dealers are very receptive to pricing it to as many people as possible as it really doesn't take very long; however, buyer beware! Price points on countertop material have a huge swing, from Level 1 Black Absolute Granite, to the exotic marble line of materials. A big reason for this is supply and demand where the granite that is purchased through Lowe's or Home Depot has had gigantic trade leveraging, is easy to manufacture, and is routinely being installed by teams out of Atlanta that get scheduled to sweep through town installing as they go, to the incredibly select marbles that are bought and sold several times and fabricated by another middle man. Nine times out of ten, materials installed in our projects are selected from Triton Stone, purchased by Synergy or Stone Concepts, and sold back to us at an installed price. These guys can all typically install big production granite costs as little as $60-$70 a foot though. Synergy now carries a large selection of stone to cut out another mark up, and we've been introduced to Birmingham Marble Works, who are being aggressive with their pricing to gain our business. Besides granite and marble, Synthetics like Silestone, Caesarstone, and also Quartz, are great materials to use in lieu of the granites and marbles.

 

Best wishes on your future project! We are always here to help too.

Steve Ray