Friday, February 19, 2010

Cabinetry 101: Learning as You Go

Warning: this is a long post, but hopefully it will help you avoid the problems and pitfalls we encountered.

In a perfect world, I would have hired a designer to plan out my whole kitchen. It is the wisest thing to do, and usually provides the best results. It also takes an enormous amount of stress off of your shoulders. But I had a budget, and a designer was not something that I could afford. In all honesty, I did enjoy going and looking at cabinets, mock kitchens, open houses, all to get ideas. I enjoyed the research and hunt for sinks, faucets, and especially my stove. But with the big items, it’s a little trickier. I needed to trust in my own judgment and that of the sales rep who helped develop a floor plan and what cabinets to purchase. And the lesson here is, that I have a lot to learn and need to be more wary of salespeople of any kind, no matter how nice they are.

Given that many kitchens, including mine, don’t adhere to standard cabinetry sizing, the best way to go was probably custom-made cabinets. Not that they would have come without issues, but slightly odd wall sizes can be accounted for. Again, this is a pricier option, and not in the cards. So I took my chances, picking out the exact style I wanted (realtor approved, for future sale purposes) and what company to get it from (based on consumer reviews from a variety of sources). Our final choice was KraftMaid Huntington in Maple Praline, which is a shaker-style cabinet in a warm wood tone.

I brought a floor plan into Grand Tile and sat with Neil while he mocked up the kitchen on screen. We went through various incarnations before choosing the best layout, for maximum cabinet space given the allowable vacant walls. I specifically asked for spice inserts, vertical shelving in the cabinet over the fridge (for cookie sheets and serving trays), pull-out drawers for pots, pans, appliances, and a few other items.

Lesson #1: Bring in your written laundry list of needs/wants. Make sure that each one is checked off and guaranteed. And make sure you understand how each feature works. I, clearly, did not. My understanding of the spice drawer inserts was that they were removable, in case we did not need/want all three. Not so. They are permanently glued in. The vertical shelving in the tray cabinets are missing or non-existent.

As we went along, our sales rep would recommend certain features (flat front drawers, heavy-duty pull out trays). Often he would say he would throw those in for free, but I am not so sure that he did.

Lesson #2: Review your itemized bill very, very closely. If you do not do it at the store, do it at home that night. Go through each item. If there is any question, call them immediately. Or ask what the price difference is when the subject is broached. Is it really an upgrade? Think about the necessity of each item they recommend. Remember, they are in the business of making money.

Once we purchased the cabinets, I brought home the plans and started to decide where everything would go. But I didn’t really look at the plans closely. Had I done so I would have noticed that the sink run is not centered under the window, that the left cabinet is further away from the window than the right cabinet. Little things, but they can be important.

Lesson #3: Look at the plan closely. All those measurements can be confusing, but double check each one. Make sure that tall cabinets are not too tall, make sure that there is adequate space for appliances, make sure that sink is centered on the window!

Delivery time was reasonable on these cabinets and KraftMaid was very good about calling to schedule a delivery date, later confirming that date. Even the drivers called when they were on the way to deliver. Good customer service on the delivery end of things. But we were not quite ready for the cabinets when they came, so we had to find space to store 21 boxes. Not an easy task. We were lucky, we have a large garage and they all fit easily and tightly together so that damage wasn’t really a possibility.

Lesson #4: Try to time your cabinet delivery as close to the install date as possible. The longer boxes are stored, the more that can go wrong. And if they sit for too long, the company may not honor any defects because they were not disclosed within a certain time period of delivery.

Once we were ready for the installation, we started opening boxes. Cabinets go through a lot in their lives. They are manufactured, inspected and boxed. They sit in a warehouse until they are needed. They are loaded on a truck and taken to the rail yard. They are loaded on a train to travel across the country. They are unloaded into storage. They are loaded onto a truck. They are offloaded at your home. A lot can go wrong. Damage can occur at any stage. Fortunately KraftMaid packs their cabinets well. Nonetheless do expect issues. We have a door that is warped, as well as several warped shelves, plus some damage to the pantry, and a few scratches.

Lesson #5: Inspect every part of a cabinet when it arrives. All corners, all drawers and doors. Look for dents, dings, scratches, warps. Take pictures of anything you find, while the cabinet sits on the box. Detail everything in writing for later use. Do not trust your brain to remember. I can hardly remember what all the electrical outlets are for, let alone 21 cabinet pieces and what shape they arrived in.

Unpacking the first install item, the pantry, brought about panic. The 4-inch toe kick was actually 4.5 inches. The toe kick, along with the 91.5 inch pantry = 96 inches. But we have a new subfloor and new ¾-inch hardwood, meaning we only have 95 inches, and you need at least 1/2–inch clearance. So we were 1.5 inches too tall. The salesperson did not take the floor into consideration when he came to measure. The solution is to cut down the toe kick, but we did not want to void any warranty.

Lesson #6: Make sure your salesperson knows what type of flooring you are using when s/he is measuring the space.

Lesson #7: Before you modify any part of your cabinetry, call your sales rep to make sure that it will not void any warranty. We waited and were assured it would be okay, but every company is different.

Modifying the pantry meant that the companion lower cabinet to its right does not line up along the bottom cabinet door level. The pantry sits on a 3-inch base, while the cabinet sits on 4.5. In the case of the pantry, the toe kick is separate and easily modified. With cabinets, the toe kick is integral, and is difficult to modify when the cabinet has an outside face. Any little misstep and you can ruin a cabinet. Our choices: return the pantry for one that fit, modify only the pantry toe kick, or modify both toe kicks. In the end we decided to just modify the pantry toe kick and not risk damaging the cabinet. To the untrained eye, the issue isn’t noticeable. Of course, we know its there and it will probably always bug us.

Lesson #8: Before modifying, look at companion elements. Make sure you will be happy with the overall look once modified. If not, hold out for replacement parts.

The pantry also has a small door issue. All the other upper cabinets have a gap between the top of the cabinet and the door, but the upper pantry cabinet doors are flush to the top of the cabinet, making it impossible to put up molding. Our sales rep has said that KraftMaid will come out and deal with all the problems, and will provide us with the proper doors.

Lesson #9: Document, document, document every single issue. As soon as install is complete, send the sales rep a laundry list of issues. Wait a suitable amount of time for him to respond with corrective action. If you do not hear back or are unsatisfied with the answer, go to the manufacturer directly.

Per the plans, the cabinets on the pantry run were installed. The only problem is that the sales rep had ordered the upper cabinets with doors that opened the wrong way. The left cabinet opens right and the right cabinet opens left. We found this problem with one other cabinet. Looking at the plans, this could have been avoided if I had understood how their stock numbers worked. For instance, B18L.2DXFWT means it is a bottom (B) cabinet, 18 inches (18), with a left hinge (L). The rest of the gobbledy gook has to do with the drawer insert and pull-out shelving. But what was important is the L. It opens to left, when I am at my stove and I want to open this cabinet on my right cabinet to get the oil, I can’t just open it and get what I want. I have to walk to the other side of the cabinet and open it so I can see inside. I have been assure that KraftMaid will take care of this (even though it is the sales rep’s fault.)

Lesson #10: Ask what the stock numbers signify. Or go online and figure it out for yourself. If I had, I could have avoided this issue.

The little things can also be most annoying. What do I know about scribe, wall filler, and molding? I had (incorrectly) assumed that either the cabinets came with molding or that it would be ordered in a sufficient amount. Truth: No molding was ordered whatsoever, other than scribe molding which goes around the side edges of cabinets, and for which there was too much ordered.

Lesson #11: Make sure you ask about the finishing touches. KraftMaid has at least 80 different above-cabinet moldings to choose from. Who knew? Pour over the brochures, look at the pictures, look at the extras. Did you know the toe kicks are unfinished and that you have to add a front veneer? The devil is in the details.

Overall, we are happy with the look and finish of the cabinets. We are disappointed in the issues, almost all of which could have been avoided if our sales rep had been more detail oriented. Now we will have to have KraftMaid come out and correct those issues, such as switching doors, which will leave holes in the cabinetry. Not ideal, but it is the price we pay for not being able to hire a designer, trusting our sales rep, and not knowing enough beforehand.

Live and learn….

P.S. Mikey and Tony rock!!!

New Cabinet Run
(replacing the beloved chalkboard)

New Stove Run

New Sink Run


Anonymous said...

The only thing I would possibly add is that many custom cabinetry companies (like the one where I work) have designers that will help you throughout the process. It does cost a bit more, but may be worth the extra investment to have someone to advocate for you.

That being said, it can be hard to find the right company. The company for whom I work is great, but they weren't so great four years ago. People change so make sure that if you are choosing a company based on its reputation, that the people who developed that reputation (good or bad) are still there.

Anonymous said...

There is lots of very good information in this blog post that I have not seen elsewhere concerning some of the cabinet design details to look out for. Thanks for sharing your experiences. It will definitely be handy as I finalize my kitchen design.