Once upon a time, dovetail joints inside the drawers were practically all you needed to distinguish high-end cabinets. That distinction has blurred as more manufacturers offer premium features even on low-end lines. Indeed, we found you can have these and other once-exclusive features and still wind up with shoddy construction.
A little research beforehand can save you time at the store and the thousands you can lose on less-than-stellar cabinets. Start by checking online manufacturer and retail sites and catalogs and taking a good look at store displays; you'll be able to tell the quality cabinets from the polished pretenders once you know where to look. And trust your taste; readers who chose cabinets solely on the basis of advice from contractors, designers, or architects were twice as likely to report a problem as those more involved in the selection, according to a survey by the Consumer Reports National Research Center.
Put your money where it counts
If you're on a tight budget, skip the nonessentials and focus on convenience. Work-savers include a lazy Susan, a pull-down soap and sponge holder, and deep drawers for pots. Glazing, while nice, typically adds 10 to 20 percent to the cost. Remember to factor labor into your budget, since installation can easily account for more than half of the cabinets' cost.
Consider renewing your old cabinets
Replacing cabinets is typically the priciest part of a kitchen remodel. Readers who hired contractors paid on average more than $9,000 for new cabinets, and about a quarter of the readers paid more than $15,000, according to our survey. A couple of long weekends' work can change your kitchen's look for a tenth that cost. If your old cabinets are plumb, square, and sturdy, consider refinishing them with some simple sanding, painting or staining, and drilling. You can even dress them up with custom-built doors, possibly with glass panes, and still save a bundle over all-new cabinets. Even having a cabinetmaker reface old cabinets with veneer costs less than replacing them.
You can also make old cabinets work better than new by adding pull-out shelves, lazy Susans, and other inexpensive upgrades. The final touch: Install several under-cabinet halogen, xenon, or fluorescent task lights wherever you or a family member will be dicing, doing homework, or reading a recipe.
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