Custom or manufactured cabinetry? Four considerations to help you decide!

In historic homes, all cabinetry was custom cabinetry. Today, many kitchen and bathroom cabinets are “manufactured” – ordered from a kit of parts, built in a large central factory, boxed, and shipped to the worksite. For some projects, these manufactured cabinets are a great choice that provides good investment value. Manufactured cabinets can be tweaked to fit the project goals. When such add-on or alterations reach a certain point, you may find better value in custom cabinetry.

Here are guiding tips to help you decide what’s best for your home.

maple and steel custom cabinets, two island kitchen in Johnston designed and built by Silent Rivers

This beautiful Johnston, IA kitchen designed and built by Silent Rivers features an open design with custom maple and steel cabinets created in the Silent Rivers Woodshop.


Deciding between manufactured options versus personalized craftsmanship and artistry

Your decision to invest in custom cabinetry as opposed to a manufactured cabinet product involves balancing design intent, individualized project goals and functionality needs, existing conditions and , or course, your budget.


custom jewelry cabinet in historic bathroom remodel by Silent Rivers Design+Build

Custom cabinetry can be designed to meet specific functional and aesthetic goals, such as this custom jewelry drawer in a historic bathroom remodel project.

1. Design Intent

Do you have a specific vision for the design of your remodeling or custom home project? In some cases a specific design intent can only be met with a piece of cabinetry designed for the individual situation. In other cases, where a unique design intent is not the controlling factor, a manufactured product can be located that meets the underlying aesthetic goals at a lower cost. In one historic renovation project, our remodeling design plans for a bathroom were based on the character of an existing 100-year-old cast iron floor grate in the room. Maintaining the unique qualities of a craftsman-inspired bathroom was critical to the design intent of the project and to our clients!


2. Unique Project Goals or Needs

While there are many options and upgrades available for manufactured cabinets these days, clients often come to us having identified one or more needs that are better met with a custom solution. Examples of these needs include quality construction goals, sustainability, healthy finishes, specific storage requirements, and other individual circumstances and preferences.

large traditional white kitchen remodel by Silent Rivers of Des Moines

This stunning kitchen remodel in Clive, IA is another great example of cabinetry customized to fit our client’s specific needs, including providing some unique storage solutions and matching doors to the pantry and mudroom.


3. Existing Conditions

Particularly in home remodeling projects, we often work in and around existing conditions such as floor plans that cannot be changed. When a perfect (or close to perfect) match to an existing condition is desired, a custom cabinetry solution can be the best approach. For instance, does your space have angled walls? Designing, building, and finishing the cabinetry in the Silent Rivers Woodshop allows us complete control over the look, dimensions, and functionality of the cabinetry.

Custom cabinetry in white with custom color drawers and shelves were designed and built into this Des Moines condo by Silent Rivers

Our client’s compact condo required a creatively designed multi-purpose entertainment and office space. We custom designed and fabricated this fun art-inspired piece using colored stains, giving it a post-modern pop.


4. Budget

While manufactured cabinets start out at a lower cost than custom cabinets, there is a diminishing rate of return on upgrades. The more upgrades and features selected on a manufactured cabinet, the more they cost. At some point it makes sense to shift from getting 90% of what you want with a manufactured cabinet to 100% with a custom-built cabinet – often at an equivalent or lower cost. Often, Silent Rivers artisans use custom pieces to augment manufactured cabinetry. In this way, we are able to meet “custom” needs at a more affordable price point.


Additional help in deciding between custom or manufactured cabinetry

When you reach out to Silent Rivers to talk about your cabinetry needs, you talk with a member of our design+build specialist team, which includes accomplished woodworkers and finish specialists. They have the expertise to help our clients determine what type of cabinetry best fits the project’s goals. They work in conjunction with our designers and woodshop artisans to determine the best plan for meeting every project’s cabinet goals. Sometimes we find that manufactured cabinets can cover every need and we walk you through the options available with our carefully selected cabinet manufacturers. Often it only takes a few tweaks by our woodshop to make our manufactured cabinets work perfectly in a space — a hybrid solution!

When necessary tweaks start to add more cost to your estimate than is logical to achieve through a hybrid solution, our designers and woodshop collaborate on the custom cabinets that will give you exactly what you need. Our woodshop artisans will even let our designers know when they see savings that can be achieved through small changes in the design plan. That’s design+build collaboration at it’s best!

If we change the depth of that cabinet to be 2″ less, we can get two cuts to one board which will save the client money,”

~ Silent Rivers Woodshop manager Tom Bloxham while reviewing a current kitchen remodeling project

Silent Rivers Woodshop manager Tom Bloxham discusses custom cabinetry project for a Des Moines home remodeling with designers David Houston and Amie Schurman

Silent Rivers Woodshop manager Tom Bloxham (center) collaborates with designers David Houston (left) and Amie Schurman (right) on cabinet solutions for a Des Moines kitchen remodel.


Custom cabinets in a luxurious Urbandale master suite

Urbandale-Iowa-luxurious-traditional-master-bedroom-by-Silent-Rivers with fluted cherry columns in a custom colonnade with curved wood moldings Urbandale-Iowa-luxurious-traditional-master-bedroom-by-Silent-Rivers with custom vanity cabinet and Tuscan pilasters

The owners of this Urbandale home desired a master suite with a specific Tuscan aesthetic. The Silent Rivers Woodshop and designers created a colonnade between the entry area and the master bedroom that includes fluted cherry columns, custom paneled bookshelves and curved wood moldings. This look was carried through to the bathroom. See more custom cabinets in this Urbandale master suite »


Custom cabinets in a historic Des Moines bathroom remodel

bathroom remodel in a Des Moines Victorian home renovation by Silent RiversThis photo from a major historic bathroom remodel illustrates how custom cabinets can tie a room together by establishing a “language”. Design elements take cues from each other to create a unified look and feel. Note how the recessed panels in the vanity cabinets are reflected in the wood wainscot paneling above and to the side. The consistency of color depth and the profiles of the frames work together in harmony. The warm colors of this custom rift-sawn oak vanity is matched with the wainscot. See more custom cabinetry in this historic Des Moines home »


Custom cabinets in a Craftsman kitchen in Adel

concealed dishwasher blends into custom oak cabinets by Silent Rivers in this kitchen remodel in Des Moines West Des Moines, Iowa craftsman kitchen remodel by Silent Rivers features custom paneled refrigerator door

This colorful Craftsman-style kitchen remodel includes custom-built cabinetry from hand-selected quartersawn white oak, built by our artisans in the Silent Rivers Woodshop. Our team closely collaborated with this couple to create their dream kitchen they had been planning for years. The project included custom panels to conceal the dishwasher and refrigerator. It even included a large custom dining room table designed and built by our woodshop! See more custom cabinetry in this Craftsman kitchen »


Find out if custom or manufactured cabinets are the best value for your home remodeling or custom home project! Let’s talk »


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The historic preservation and gradual makeover of a Victorian gem


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Photo Essay: Maple and steel kitchen cabinets set a design standard in Johnston home


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