Whenever you are undertaking a kitchen remodel, or a remodel of any kind for that matter, it is important to understand “designer speak” and “contractor speak.” This will help you convey your kitchen remodel ideas with more ease. Your Kitchen designers and kitchen contractors live and breathe renovations and have a tendency to assume that you, the homeowner, know all the home renovation terms as well as they do.

New cabinets will make the most visual impact in your new kitchen remodel and will also eat a good chunk of your budget. Knowing the difference between types of cabinets will help you understand the pricing differences. You will hear the words: stock, factory, modular, pre-fab, ready assembled, semi-custom, custom, site-built, refinished. These terms refer to the production method, not the quality.

We will walk you through these terms and go from the least expensive option to the top end, examining the pros and cons. But don’t assume that your kitchen designer or kitchen contractor agrees with these definitions or you will get lost in translation. Ask them to explain what they mean by each term, to make sure you are on the same page.


This usually means that you leave the present cabinets in place but upgrade and improve the doors.  Refinishing is an excellent kitchen remodel idea. It is a very achievable DIY project that can refresh and update your kitchen at a minimal cost.  Depending on the condition of your existing doors, they can be stained or painted and have new hardware added.  By hardware, I mean knobs, pulls or handles.


The word stock is usually interchangeable with factory made, pre-fab, pre-assembled or modular. It means that the cabinets will arrive at your home ready to be installed. Stock cabinets are mass-produced in a factory, with all finishing details already added hence the lower price. They are ready to be shipped when you order them. They come in modular units and sizes that cannot be altered. No customization is available.

Stock cabinets are a more budget friendly option that anything that is customized. Compared to custom cabinets, there is a more limited choice of style, color and wood. Delivery is usually pretty quick. Because of the mass production, you may get color discrepancies if one of your doors has been sitting on a shelf for a few months, and the rest are newly made.


If you change anything on a stock item, it becomes semi-custom. Semi-custom cabinets are basically stock units with extras. Like having the set menu and then adding an à la carte plate. The basic sizes still apply but you can change some dimensions, such as door or drawer size and maybe cabinet depth.

There will obviously be an upcharge for any modifications and you can easily pay double the cost of stock cabinets. Semi-custom cabinets allow you to add a little individuality, without the full expense of a tailor-made kitchen.


Custom cabinets are built to your specifications, so you can select whatever your heart desires – but it will cost you. This is the most expensive option and the finished price will depend on the quality, style and detailing of the cabinets. You should expect top quality and a broad array of beautiful, unique finishes to choose from.

Custom cabinets can be built either on or off site. They may be constructed by a skilled carpenter or manufactured on a build-to-order basis. Either way they are labor intensive and will take weeks to complete. There is no guesswork with custom cabinets. They are measured to fit precisely around your appliances and can provide you with the exact image you had imagined. You can customize not only the exterior, but the interior organizational options as well.  Wooden in-drawer 20 piece knife tray anyone?