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

In historic homes all cabinetry was custom cabinetry, sometimes constructed on site by skilled craftsmen. Today, most cabinets are “manufactured” – ordered from a kit of parts, built in a large central factory, boxed, and shipped to the worksite. For many projects, these manufactured cabinets are a great choice that provides a good value for the investment. For many homeowners, manufactured cabinetry just doesn’t meet the functional or aesthetic goals of the project. These situations call for custom cabinetry.


The Silent Rivers Woodshop can provide you with the expertise, custom designs and a myriad of wood choices. Here’s more about how to integrate custom woodwork into your remodel.

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

The new kitchen designed and built by Silent Rivers features an open design with custom maple and steel cabinets created in the Silent Rivers Woodshop.


Investment in 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/needs, existing conditions, and 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

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! 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.


2. Unique Project Goals or Needs

While there are many options and upgrades available for 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 is another great example of cabinetry customized to fit our client’s specific needs, including providing some unique storage solutions.


3. Existing Conditions 

Particularly in 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. 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.


Custom Cabinets in a Historic Bathroom Remodel

Victorian style bathroom remodel in Des Moines, Iowa by Silent Rivers Design+Build featuring double sink vanity and custom cabinets

The warm colors in this custom rift-sawn oak vanity and matching wainscot are highlighted by the gray-white of the Carerra marble vanity top.

This photo, from a major historic bathroom remodel illustrates how custom cabinets can tie an entire room together by establishing a “language”. The other design elements in the room can then take cues from that custom piece to create a unified look and feel.

In this project, 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.

More photos from this historic bathroom remodel can be viewed in the Silent Rivers Project Gallery.


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

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


Hidden Treasures and Features: More from the Spectacular Kitchen Project!

Hidden Treasures and Features: More from the Spectacular Kitchen Project!


Downsizing Requires an Innovative, Custom Cabinet Design

Downsizing Requires an Innovative, Custom Cabinet Design


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