3/16/2010
Stan's Cabinet Shop
Urbas Home Services

Serving north Kitsap and east Jefferson Counties, Washington
Including Bainbridge Island, Poulsbo, and Bremerton
Custom Cabinets and Home Remodel
Individual Detail for Every Job
What's Out There



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Stan Urbas 
Urbas Home Services
E-mail: cabinets@urbashome.com
Seabeck, WA 98380

office phone: 360-830-4162 (local to Kitsap County, Poulsbo, Bremerton)
cell phone:    206-992-8803 (local to
Bainbridge Island)
WEB Site:      stanscabinetshop.com or  urbashome.com


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How We Build Cabinets

Storage Problems?
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Cabinet Styles

Cabinet Options


What's Out There: Is This Your Kitchen?


If You're Interested:

What's Out There

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder -- no argument there. But while there are a lot of good things out there (in the world of cabinets); there are also a lot of bad deals. And there are some that are just plain ugly! The purpose of this page is to talk about some of the alternatives, and give you, the homeowner - the buyer - some better insights on what to look for.

Choices, Choices:

Buying cabinets is not like signing up for a wireless telephone service. There are literally thousands of companies out there; probably hundreds right there in your area, and many, many more that you can order from around the country and around the world. Some of them are highly crafted furniture pieces; others are not. Some are beautiful to behold; others are very plain. Some will last a lifetime; others start to break down in the first year. If you put down three or four hundred grand (or more) on a new home you can at least expect to get decent cabinets, right? Unfortunately, not necessarily so.

Builders are driven by the market place, and by their need to make money. If you go out to some of the homeowners' WEB sites and read their posts, you'll get an idea of what is going on. Typical comment from a perspective buyer is "all I know is, that I want cherry cabinets and granite counter tops." Or something similar. It seems that most buyers aren't interested or concerned with what is behind those fancy fronts, and how well the layout will - or won't - work for them. And builders are tuned in to the wants of the masses. If it's cherry and granite they want, it's cherry and granite they'll get. But if they can knock a thousand dollars off what's behind the cherry and granite, and if they build a hundred houses a year, well that's a hundred thousand bucks that flow right to their bottom line! And so you see an interesting phenomenon: cabinets in a fairly expensive home being replaced after two or three years. That's fine if you have the money to burn. But what if you are doing a remodel and are on a fairly tight budget? You certainly don't want to re-do the process in a couple of years!

Am I saying that all new home owners replace their cabinets in a couple of years? Absolutely not! Will they fall apart in a couple of years? Very unlikely. But are they a fine mix of beauty and functionality? Maybe not. And will the owners be happy with them after a couple of years? Apparently there are more than a few cases where they aren't.

 


Does One Size Fit All?

The first thing you'll see when you look at stock cabinet lines is the lack of choices when it comes to size.  You might be able to choose wood or color, but what about the height of the cabinet. Did you notice that base cabinets are all 36 inches high? Ostensibly there is a reason for this: if you want to fit a dishwasher under the counter it must be at least 36 inches high. But in reality dishwashers are built to satisfy the normal 36 inch counter, not the other way around. So is everyone out there the same height? If you are on the taller side, say six-eight or six-ten, did you notice that you are always bending over to use the sink or counter top? Or what if you are on the shorter side - say four-eleven or five-one. Do you have to use a stool to use the sink? That's OK if you're six years old and expect to grow out of it, but are a mature adult you should expect better. And do you like to bake pies and cookies? Don't your arms ache after holding them up to use a rolling pin? Perhaps a baking center that is six inches lower (or more) make more sense. 

And how about the upper cabinets? Standard height is around 30 inches. Alternate at 36. But if your lower counter is at 36 inches and there is 16 inches between them, that adds up to 82 inches. Or 88 with 36 inch uppers. That can leave a gap of 12 inches at the top. Enter the soffit, a sheet rock-covered box that runs along the ceiling above the cupboards. What if you want to actually use that space? One option would be to run the cupboards up to the ceiling and put you lesser-used items on the top shelf. Or is your kitchen so big that you actually have no use for additional storage?

Worse yet are the choices for people far removed from the "norm". Examples would be people very short, say 40 inches or less, or those confined to a wheel chair. For those people there are no "stock" cabinets that even come close to being usable.

And then there is the cupboard width. Stock cabinets typically come in standard widths, usually in six-inch increments.  So what if you end up with a five-inch space left over? The stock solution is what I would call a "board" - a filler that covers up a wasted space. Wouldn't it be nice to actually use  that space, either by making the adjacent cabinet five inches wider or by building a five-inch area for cookie sheets? Now, suppose you have a space that is 5-1/2 feet wide. A "stock" solution would be a 3-foot cabinet next to a 2-1/2 foot cabinet. But wouldn't two 2-3/4 foot cabinets look better?

Note that at Stan's Cabinet Shop we can  literally build your cabinets to any height or width you like. And since all of our cabinets are custom-built there is no additional charge for labor when we build to your specifications. The only thing that drives cost variations with size is the amount of materials that would go into the units.

And last of all, what do you do if the doors in your home are small for the cabinets to pass through (uh-oh!)? In such cases we can actually assemble our cabinets on-site.

Corners:

Note From Stan:  The treatment of corner cabinets is one thing that has always bugged me about kitchen cabinets. In fact, the lack of good corner options was one of the things that drove me to making my own cabinets in the first place. My wife or I were always down on our hands and knees, trying to crawl into the back of a corner unit through an adjacent door, either retrieving some utensil or looking for something that was misplaced.  I just knew there had to be a better way!


Pictured on the left is a great example of  a very common problem: roughly 2/3 of the cabinet space lies to the right of the stove and to the left of the open door. In order to get at anything within this cabinet you would have to get down on your hands and knees and reach through the door and around the corner. Or, if you are lucky (!) enough to have small children, you could have them do it for you.


So what could be worse than the picture above? How about the picture to the left? Not only do you have to reach in and around the door edge to get at the back space, but the door is narrow one to boot - only 10" wide: You'd not only have to be on your hand and knees, but you'd have to be a contortionist as well to get at this space!


What kind of corners do you have? To me, the worst solution is to just box them out and lose the space altogether. A very common solution is to have the space available, but accessible only through standard doors on one side or the other (as pictured above). To get at your dishes or goods you have to reach in and around the corner. And then there is the corner-door lazy susan (not pictured), with a 3/4 circle of plastic bins mounted on a vertical pipe (someone thinks this is good?). With this solution you can get at your stuff, but you'd better not put anything real heavy in the bins.  How about a better solution, a special corner cabinet with a door at as 45-degree angle across the front and a full, shelf mounted lazy susan with ball-bearing glides? How many "stock" cabinet companies offer this solution? To see how we at Stan's Cabinet Shop  turn a potential "problem" into a "feature", click on How We Build Cabinets.


This last corner example shows a similar problem with upper cabinets.  The location is different, but the problem is essentially the same: a corner space that is essentially unusable.  Now you have to climb up on the counter top in order to get at your dishes. If you do put stuff up there, you'll never see it, and eventually you'll forget that you have it!


Layout:

With most homes the kitchen is sort of the "activity center" of the whole house. Meals are prepared there.  Sometimes they are eaten there as well. All clean-up activities take place there. When company comes it is often the gathering place for all. Proper kitchen design is just too important to be an after-thought.

In looking at the left picture above you might think this is a fairly nice layout: the dishwasher is quite handy to the cabinets above, where the glassware is stored. However, the picture on the right reveals the problem: the edge of the dishwasher door is only a couple of inches from the adjoining cabinet and stove - not enough room  to stand in.  That means when unloading the dishwasher you cannot reach the upper cabinets - the destination for the glassware. At Stan's Cabinet Shop  we will review your plans to point out and potential design blunders like this.

Front Finish:

Most of today's wood cabinet fronts are actually made of pretty good materials. Solid wood rail and style doors, and solid wood drawer fronts are commonly used in many grades of cabinets. Occasionally I have heard of glue joints failing, but this is very unusual. The homeowner should investigate the reputation of the cabinet builder before buying.

A relatively recent entry into the cabinet door arena is the picture-frame rail and styles. This style is characterized by a 45-degree joint in each corner of the door. The buyer should be aware that this 45-degree joint is inherently extremely weak, and must be reinforced in order to provide durability.

In competition with solid wood are two types of alternative designs: the wood rail and styles with a plywood panel, and a melamine laminate bonded to a particle board core. Both are considered to be lower-end designs. The melamine is available in either wood-grained or solid color surfaces. Melamine offers two big advantages: it is much lower priced and it is very durable - and easy to clean. However, it is the particle board core that is the weak point of this style. Particle board is extremely susceptible to deterioration if damp conditions exist, and even with good conditions screws are prone to loosening and pulling out. If you are interested in this type of cabinet door, you are on the wrong WEB site!

Rail and Style: What's the Big Deal?

One of the main choices you have to make in selecting your cabinets is whether or not you want rail and style construction in the cabinet doors.  For a more complete discussion on what this is all about, see this same topic on our How We Build Cabinets page.

Cabinet Boxes:

There are commonly two materials used for the outside shell of the cabinet: melamine and plywood. The strongest melamine corner joint is reinforced with steel corner brackets. Screwed joints (in melamine) are solid at the onset, but weaken over time.  Plywood shells should be stronger, but only if assembled with a sufficient number of screws. Unfortunately, many cabinet shells are made with half-inch plywood sides and a quarter inch back, and the whole works held together with finish nails. This is a very bad condition. Load this type of upper cabinet with dishes, and you have a disaster in the making. It is quite common to see doors that don't fit right because the shell has shifted or twisted.

Drawer Boxes:

Here the choices are plywood, melamine, and sometimes solid wood boards. Drawers suffer an extreme amount of pressure due to the continual opening and closing cycle they go through.  Melamine joints are very susceptible to loosening, making the drawer not fit or roll correctly. Plywood or wood board joints can also weaken if not glued and reinforced.

Hardware:

Back in the early days of cabinetry, drawers were wooden boxes set inside a wooden shell. There were no drawer glides - just wood sliding over wood. In the summer when the humidity increased, both would expand and the drawers would be near impossible to move. In the dry winters they had too much play. People would wax the drawer bottoms to reduce friction. An improvement on this design was the wood center track under the drawer. It improved stability, but was still prone to binding as humidity increased. Also, over time the wood track would wear down, and the mechanism became totally ineffective. Doors were mounted with metal surface hinges outside the door. The movement of the drawers was over time improved with the addition of  roller wheels.

Most cabinet doors now come with the European-style hinge that is actually set into a cup drilled in the door frame. While this design is strength-wise far superior to the old surface-style hinges, screws can still come loose if particle board is used in the door itself. Drawer design is much worse. Most stock cabinet drawers come with plastic rollers that ride in a thin metal track attached to the cabinet frame and back. This design commonly sees an early failure, especially in drawers that contain a lot if weight, like silverware or books. The plastic rollers wear and don't roll smoothly, and the metal tracks work loose and twist.

So what's a person to do?

Do the above description sound like your cabinets? Well not all cabinets are poorly built.  Check out How We Build Cabinets