Designing Your Kitchen for Your Budget

“How come it costs that much?” That must be one of the questions that I hear the most often when I submit price quotations for kitchen cabinetry to homeowners. Although it is true that cabinetry can be designed to be low-budget, middle-range, or high-end, there are so many factors involved that can easily push an intended low-budget project into a higher price range.

The place to start when designing kitchen cabinets for a specific budget is doors. There are more door options available than most people realize, and each option will affect your over-all budget. From least expensive to costliest, door styles are available as follows:

1)Melamine. These are flush doors (no panels or profile details), and are available in a wide range of colours and patterns, from solid colours to imitation wood, and countless others. The newer “thermo-fused melamine” doors have a very thin layer of melamine paper applied to a substrate panel-style door. They are inexpensive and not very durable. These should not be used near sources of water or heat, or where frequent washing will be required.

2)Wood veneer. These are flush doors made with a thin layer of wood over a substrate material. Birch, maple, oak, and ash are all in the same price range, while any exotic or more rare woods (mahogany, cherry, walnut…) will increase the cost. These are often found in modern style kitchens.

3)Wood frame with veneered panels. These doors have frames made of solid wood, and recessed flush panels made of a veneered substrate. A common style among this type of door is Shaker. The wood species chosen will affect the price.

4)Plastic laminate. Looks much like melamine doors, but of higher quality, and much more durable. Wider range of patterns and colours available. Laminates have a dark brown core, so depending on the colour of the laminate chosen, you may see dark brown lines at all the joints – at each edge of each door, and so on.

5)Wood frame with wood panels. These have frames and panels made of solid wood. The panel usually has a raised detailing. These are often found in traditional style kitchens. Again, the choice of wood affects the price.

6)Wood or lacquer painted frame with panels of another material. These doors have wood, or lacquer painted, frames and another material used for the panel. The other material can be anything, and it is this other material that will greatly affect the cost. Common panel materials include glass, painted finishes, plastic laminates, metal (perforated, brushed, hammered, etc.), cork, and even wall coverings (such as grass-cloth) applied to a substrate.

7)Thermoplastic. These doors are not manufactured by the average cabinetmaker; they are factory-made. Thermoplastics come in a variety of colours and finishes, but the most common are still the glossy white, and the imitation wood. More durable and more attractive than melamine. About the same price range as wood doors. Some manufacturers are now advertising “thermo-fused melamine” – be careful because the two are not the same at all.

8)Lacquer painted. These doors are usually lacquer painted MDF, but it is the lacquering work that increases the cost because more labour and specialized painting equipment is involved. These are not “painted” cabinets. Lacquer is applied in the form of a spray, over a sprayed-on primer, and no brush marks or other irregularities are visible at all. If you choose a special finish, such as glazing, the cost increases a bit more.

9)Stainless steel. These doors are usually not made by a cabinetmaker’s shop, but are subcontracted out to a metal shop. They are, without a doubt, the most expensive of your door options.

Because the finished sides have to match the doors, your door selection affects the cabinetry itself. So the cabinetry for lacquered cabinets will be costlier than for melamine. The finished side panels to match any wood doors are veneered; solid wood would not be as dimensionally stable (it would warp or bow), and would be astronomically priced. Then you have to consider the interiors of your cabinets. The standard is white melamine on the inside of cabinets, unless something different is requested. The most economical choice, if you do not like the idea of white, is melamine to match the doors. Using a more expensive material inside the cabinets is not advisable: why spend money on wood veneer or lacquer that is more likely to be damaged by pots or dishes being scrubbed against the surfaces? And why put a pricier material that you would then want to protect with shelf-liners, so you would then never see the wood or lacquer anyway?

The countertops are the other major price-affecting selection. The truth is, there are really only two price groups for counters. The plastic laminate counters are the economical choice, and not a bad choice as they are very durable and are now available in some amazing textures and patterns, plus they can be dressed up with wood or solid-surfacing edges. All other counter materials tend to be comparable in cost – granite, solid surfacing (Corian, Silestone, etc…), concrete, and stainless steel. Concrete countertops are quite expensive because of the fact that they are still relatively uncommon, and therefore a specialty-item – you cannot go purchase these just anywhere. Ceramic tiled countertops are the only real mid-priced option. They require a high-quality tile be used, otherwise chips and cracks will be unavoidable. The grout also has to be high quality and safe for food preparation areas, and it must be sealed. Marble, which tends to be a bit less expensive than granite, should not be used in kitchens, as it is porous and prone to staining.

What people find most surprising is that the final touches can become very expensive as well. Handles and knobs range in price from about $2 each all the way up to over $30 each. Kitchens commonly require about 25 handles, so that creates a price difference of $700 right there. A reasonable amount to plan on for handles is $5 to $8 each. The other “budget buster” is the accessories. Built-in spice racks, garbage cans, drawer dividers, pull-outs, and the like tend to be quite costly. Some of these gadgets are incredibly practical though, so try to determine which you would need and which appeal to you mostly because they are just really neat add-ons.

There is one aspect that you should never scrimp on just to save a few dollars, and that is installation. Imperfect installation of even the best-made cabinets will result in doors and drawers that do not close properly, or that look poorly constructed. A good rule-of-thumb is that you should have anything custom-made installed by the specialist that fabricated the item.

Cabinetry for the average sized kitchen can cost anywhere from about $7,000 all the way up to significantly over $30,000. It is often said that a home’s kitchen (including appliances, cabinetry, flooring, lighting, labour, and more) should cost about 15% of the value of the house, so a $250,000 home’s kitchen should cost about $37,500 if you want to go by this method of budgeting. There are a few things to consider with this: the size of the kitchen plays a major role in determining the budget – of course a larger kitchen will be more expensive to redo than a small one; a home built in the 1900’s will likely be costlier to renovate than a home built in the 1970’s; your preferences will affect the budget; and this is a figure that was developed as a guideline to some extent – it is not necessary to follow it. Based on projects handled by Idealspace Design, we have seen that the cabinetry (including countertops, handles, and installation) usually equals about 30% of the total renovation budget of a kitchen. These figures are to help you develop an idea of the budget range you should be expecting, they vary greatly from one project to the next.

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