Once upon a time, cabinets were site-built by the carpenters building the house. Today, in addition to the custom cabinets offered by cabinet shops, you can take advantage of the many lines of beautiful modular cabinets being offered by home centers, lumberyards, kitchen shops and other retailers.

Modular cabinets are individual pre-manufactured cabinets that are joined together to form a complete kitchen. You’ll find wall cabinets in different heights, base cabinets in every conceivable configuration, tall cabinets that span from the floor to the upper cabinets, and every type of trim piece, molding, filler and panel needed to complete the installation. Modular cabinets are now offered in an amazing array of styles, sizes, wood types, and stain and paint colors, along with an equally amazing selection of accessories. Whatever the size and architectural style of your home and no matter how you want to utilize your kitchen, you’ll find modular cabinets that will fit the bill.


The first step with any modular kitchen installation is to accurately measure the kitchen. This is something you can do yourself initially so that you can have some basic information to use when first meeting with the designer, but in order to ensure that your order is complete and accurate, most modular cabinet suppliers will then want to make a site visit and do more detailed measurements and layouts on their own. Also, if you have the store place your order off of your measurements, you’re typically stuck if the cabinets you specified are not the right size for the space. If they do the measurements, then it becomes their responsibility.

Make your measurements from drywall to drywall, since this is where the cabinets will be installed — measuring between rough framing can lead to errors. In addition to the overall size of the room and the length and height of each wall, you’ll want to make note of the centerline of windows and plumbing, the location of doors, and any other significant features of the room that will enter into the cabinet planning and layout. For ease of drawing, use graph paper with a convenient grid size.

With a basic sketch in hand, sit down with a modular cabinet specialist. You’ll want to begin your selection process by deciding on which cabinet line you want to work with, since different manufacturers have different sizes of cabinets and different accessories to select from. Since the overall appearance of the finished kitchen is the most important consideration, when choosing the cabinet line you like, first take into consideration the style of the cabinet and the woods and colors available. 

Next, take a close look at an actual sample of the cabinet, so you can see the level of quality and workmanship you can expect. You will find there are differences in the materials used — the amount of plywood, particleboard and solid lumber being the key factors — as well as the types of drawer slides, hinges, hardware, and even the assembly joints being employed.

When you’ve zeroed in a cabinet line you like, let the designer see if the cabinets that manufacturer offers are going to work with what you have in mind for your specific room before you get too far into the whole design process. If the cabinets you need to get the look you want are simply not available from that manufacturer, then switch to another line of cabinets.

Accessories are the next step. Cabinet manufacturers offer wine racks, spice holders, flour drawers, roll-out shelves — just about anything you can visualize for making your new kitchen really fit your lifestyle. Accessories can add a tremendous amount of convenience and functionality to your kitchen, but they can also add dramatically to the overall cost, so focus on those items you really need first. Also, some accessories can be added after the fact, so you might want to consider adding other things in the future as time and budget permit.

After the designer has made a site visit, measured the room, and discussed any design and layout options, he or she will work up a set of computerized drawings for you. It’s very important that you spend some time studying the layouts at this point, because this is the time to make changes to anything that doesn’t look or fit right. You will see a two-dimensional plan view of how the cabinets will lay out, as well as three-dimensional views from several different perspectives that will give you a much better idea of how the finished kitchen will look. 

The final stage is pricing and ordering. Your designer will provide you with a detailed breakdown of costs, including all accessories, delivery charges, and installation if desired. Make sure you fully understand exactly what has been specified and what will be ordered, as well as when and how the cabinets will be delivered to your site. This is a huge investment, so take the time now to review and understand your order so you can avoid any unpleasant surprises when that big truck shows up in your driveway!

Remodeling and repair questions? E-mail Paul at paul2887@hughes.net.

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