What Exactly Does "Custom Cabinets" Mean?

What exactly does "Custom Cabinets" Mean?

So you’ve been shopping around for kitchen cabinetry and you notice that just about every place that you’ve looked at is advertising that they do custom kitchens. On the surface, that sounds really good, but what exactly do they mean when they say “custom” – and do all of these providers mean the same thing when they say custom?

In the world of kitchen cabinetry, there are four basic categories: stock, semi-custom, custom and millwork. The difference between these choices can be compared to the differences in getting you lunch from a vending machine, ordering it at fast food chain, ordering it at restaurant or having your own personal chef.


Stock cabinets are pre manufactured cabinets that are sold by big box stores. They are pre-built or ready to assemble units that come in standard sizes. They are an economical choice and can be delivered reasonably quickly but the customer will be limited in their selection of sizes and styles. You will have to sacrifice overall quality of your cabinets. The lifespan of stock cabinets is much shorter than their fully custom counterpart and are unlikely to be able to be refinished as the low-quality materials experience a lot of wear and tear – this means you will be replacing them in a few years! This is like the vending machine option – you have some choices, but not an abundance of them.


Semi-custom cabinets are a hybrid between stock cabinets and custom cabinets – basically, they are stock cabinets with extra detail options. While quality and lifespan of semi-custom are similar to stock cabinets, semi-custom cabinets have a bit more leeway when it comes to material, finish, and design. The price of semi-custom is more than stock but tend to be only fractionally less expensive than fully custom. Semi-custom cabinets are not built until an order is received. They come in a variety of configuration choices and the customer is given a variety of options that can be “customized” to the buyer’s preferences. This allows for more customer choice, albeit still within the confines of a pre-set catalogue. Some of these options include custom front, increased or decreased depth or width, matching interiors or extended stiles. This is like the fast food option where the customer is given a “menu” of choices centered around a particular theme (aka, burger and fries).


Custom cabinets can be compared to ordering at a restaurant – you have a large menu to choose from and can customize most dishes . Custom cabinets are usually constructed by local cabinet shops which are equipped to produce all elements of the cabinet including the box, fame, doors, drawers and tops. While you might be waiting a little bit longer for your cabinetry, this type of cabinet is meant to last a lifetime – many people who opt for custom cabinets enjoy their cabinetry for over 20 years – as the quality of this cabinet far surpasses every other cabinet on the market.


Millwork cabinets can be compared to having your own personal chef – if you can imagine it, you can probably have it. Millwork cabinets are cabinets designed to fit a space with limitless options when considering style, finish, material, and hardware. Millwork cabinetry often have custom veneering, grain

Custom and millwork cabinets are the most flexible, and personal option. The cost is also a little more, but you will get exactly what you want and because you are not restricted to standard sizes, a custom cabinet maker can optimize your storage space. Overall, custom cabinets are best suited for those looking for long-lasting cabinetry made from scratch by professionals with the expertise to execute the perfect end result.

Choosing Custom Cabinets

The two biggest factors for choosing custom cabinetry are attention to the details and having the ability to match millwork, trim or furniture pieces with the cabinetry. True custom cabinets offer customers the ability to have complete flexibility in their project designs. Special sizing, uncommon wood or finishes, and complicated design elements are not an issue when choosing a custom cabinet and millwork shop.

When you order stock or semi-custom cabinetry (think box stores like Ikea), you have to stick to basic cabinet sizing, and fillers accommodate any unused space. This limits your choices in many ways and creates a lot of unused space that you won’t have if you go the custom route.

Custom guarantees that your designer is always working with a fresh, new perspective and you’re getting something uniquely you.

From a product standpoint, custom cabinets use superior materials, hardware and construction methods. You will pay a bit more, but they will stand up to wear and tear, whereas the cheaper materials and hardware used in many off-the-shelf cabinets will break down quickly.

From a customer service standpoint, custom shops take more time in the planning process to ensure your new cabinets do more than fill the space with storage, but also reflect your style and plans for how you intend to use your space..

When Custom Is Not Custom

Beware, some companies that advertise custom cabinets do not manufacture the cabinets themselves but rather order them from a supplier and assemble and install them. This ultimately means a greater risk of error as the customer does not get an opportunity to directly express her wishes to the cabinet maker. If there are errors, it may result in lost down payments and/or added time as materials travel back and forth from the warehouse.

It may also mean that the customer is more limited in their choice of materials and design – despite the fact that the company is advertising “custom”.

Local expertise, Unbeatable Quality

Looking for new cabinets for you home? At Gipman Kitchens & Cabinetry we have developed our cabinetry line over the last 32 years to ensure the best quality. Our cabinets have been tested and certified by the Architectural Woodworking Manufacturers Association of Canada. We manufacture all components of custom and millwork cabinetry and since we are local, you only have to wait 2-3 weeks for your new cabinets! Whether you choose our Essentials Series for its beauty and price point or go to the ceiling with our Architectural Cabinetry, all our cabinets are built with the same attention to detail and quality.