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Semi-Custom Cabinets Don’t Stop At The Fronts (And IKEA Isn’t Your Only Budget-Friendly Option Anymore)


Here’s a little fun fact about me — storage and organization are my jam! Be it organizing a desk drawer or cataloging my kitchen cabinets, creating systems for everything make me hella happy. I would browse the kitchen cabinet sections of The Home Depot and IKEA, scroll the online galleries of Masterbrand and Bellmont cabinet companies, daydreaming about what my kitchen storage would look like — what I loved, what I hated, and why. But I was never thinking about the millwork — well not really — so much as I was really fixated on all the interior options. So when it was official that we were going to renovate the kitchen, I knew that I wanted new cabinets that would allow me to design storage around the way we live. After all that ideating, I even came up with a cabinet wish list… 

  • Two-tone shaker style cabinet fronts
  • Combination of drawers and doors
  • Pull out options behind doors, not shelves
  • Soft close and full extension drawers
  • Variety of drawer depths and widths
via houzz
via houzz

I knew that much of what I wanted would require a custom solution, not pre-fabricated…but I didn’t want the hefty price tag of sourcing custom cabinetry…and to be quite honest, I also didn’t want to burn the mental calories coming up with a design from scratch. 

I needed to find a sweet spot between custom and stock or pre-fab so that we could get semi-custom cabinets.

Starting from scratch with our cabinets is something that we knew would be costly. Salvaging them would not be an option for the layout we had in mind because it’s the cabinets that were the problem. 

P.S. The “problem” with cabinets was never the quality of the cabinets themselves…just the layout. 

The kitchen consisted of two L-shaped configurations that framed the large kitchen into a square with small entrance points. That was the problem. To get rid of the wall between the kitchen and the dining room & to extend the kitchen into the eat-in area, the cabinets would need to go…giving me an opportunity (and burden) of starting from scratch. So much for not burning extra mental calories, lol.

Wanting to keep costs low, our first instinct was to check out the IKEA kitchen assortment, specifically the popular SEKTION Kitchen. While I wasn’t exactly thrilled about the idea of putting together kitchen cabinets — IKEA cabinets are “ready to assemble”, not to be confused with cabinets that are already assembled & “ready to install” —  it seemed like a good starting point for assessing our costs. Also going with ready to install versus ready to assemble would make a difference in the cost to us with our contractor. Why? Already assembled & ready to install cabinets would mean less labor and labor = dollars. For this reason, you’ll also find that a lot of contractors won’t install IKEA cabinets and think about it…if you’ve ever bought & put together anything from IKEA — ANYTHING! — it’s not fun. So imagine getting boxes & boxes of cabinet parts to catalog & assemble. While there are contractors that will do it, expect there to be an upcharge for the headache labor.

Right before closing on the house, we’d also made a trip to our local IKEA so that we could see a lot of the cabinet & storage options in person. This, combined with our existing cabinets, inspired and/or cemented a lot of the cabinet wishlist. Let’s revisit…

  • Two-tone shaker style cabinet fronts: The shaker style would honor the home’s innate charm in a way that still looks contemporary and aligns with our more modern aesthetic with the black & white tone.
  • Combination of drawers and doors: Having more drawers than doors would allow us to maximize (and customize) our storage options, especially not having upper cabinets.
  • Pull out options behind doors, not shelves: Having a balance of doors and drawers will create visual balance, but to make sure we’re fully using the space all the way to the back of the cabinet box.
  • Soft close and full extension drawers: It’s truly the little things… and that’s what this is all about — being able to reach the back of the drawer. 
  • Variety of drawer depths and widths

Now for some more ideas…

  1. Even though we have a pantry, I wanted to make sure we add a tall “pantry” cabinet with room for a built-in microwave
  2. A pull-out trash & recycle cabinet has been a must-have, eliminating the need for freestanding trash cans out & about
  3. Clever storage solutions are my jam & I imagine this kind of set up for breakfast bar mugs
  4. Metal accents are design jewelry & an elevated way to showoff otherwise basic items…like aprons!
  5. Open shelving is visually less “heavy” than upper cabinets & I would get to show off my monochromatic dinnerware
  6. Open the door… oh look, a drawer! This would make it so much easier to reach our things instead of reaching to the back of a shelf

Using IKEA as my initial point of reference didn’t mean it’s what we would actually get…it was just a starting point for developing ideas. With there being a number of direct-to-consumer cabinet retailers, including IKEA, we knew we could semi-custom cabinets for under or around $10K. 

Spoiler: I am terrible at budgeting when it comes to design — this is no secret — but when it comes to big decisions like this, we do always have a number that we know will make us uncomfortable. 

For the size of our kitchen — 22 linear feet for the cabinets — we were looking at the following costs…

Stock: low of $2,200, high of $6,600
Semi-Custom: low of $3,300, high of $14,300
Custom: low of $11,000, high of $26,400

Stock Cabinets

via bellmont cabinets

Stock cabinets are ypically the most affordable & with the quickest turnaround because they are mass-produced and ready to ship. What they lack in color, sizing, and features, they make up for in price & acquire ability. The sizes were a good fit for our kitchen but I needed a more robust assortment to accommodate our storage needs.

Semi-Custom Cabinets

via ikea

This would be the next tier up in terms of customizations while still having the benefits of stock cabinets. They can be found in the same standard sizes as stock cabinets & are pre-manufactured, however, upgrades & detail changes are available. Additional options = additional cost, but still available within a decent turnaround time. For us, this would be the perfect balance. 

Custom Cabinets

As the name implies, a completely bespoke option — from sizing, to color, to all the bells & whistles your heart desires. You get what you pay for, so expect to pay a premium for options that are designed for your specific design. With a higher price point, you’ll also get a longer turnaround time to allow for the customizations to be done. We didn’t want to spend the time or money on custom cabinets, nor did we need to. 

The total price of our cabinets could also be assessed per unit, as is the case with IKEA, paying per piece — every shelf, toe kit, filler, drawer glide, etc. Depending on the finishes and accessories, we could get a semi-custom kitchen from IKEA, for example, right in line with the above estimates…right around $8K.

While I appreciated the ease of stock options from brick & mortar retailers, I kept coming back to thinking, “What if I could make my semi-custom kitchen even more custom?” Even with semi-custom options, I still wanted options that felt a touch more bespoke… without leaving a huge hole in our pockets.

Often when people are upgrading their cabinets, they keep the existing boxes & replace the fronts for an updated, fresh look. We could do the same things, except our boxes would also happen to be new. 

A few months back I’d worked with Semihandmade to upcycle my IKEA Besta media unit with new door fronts. Known for their custom cabinet front options, I started thinking I could pair Semihandmade doors with IKEA kitchen boxes, and create what would essentially be a fully custom kitchen without the hefty $20K+ price tag. 

To be clear, my reasons for wanting semi-custom to custom options have always been for the cabinet interiors — our storage — but having the option to customize the fronts as well wouldn’t be a bad deal. 

via semihandmade

When people think of a custom kitchen, it is often about what we see on the surface, but not us. Renting our entire life meant always having to work around the storage there — purchasing separate storage accessories to come up with reversible configurations for the kitchen cabinets. If we are going to embark on this renovation, this would be our chance to make sure things work from us from the onset…from the inside out. 

As I dug into the exterior options I would have with Semihandmade, I was excited to discover that they would be expanding to offer their own cabinetry with BOXI

The idea of getting boxes from one vendor and fronts from another vendor may save us a ton…or it may not. Mixing and matching and playing around with the different ideas was very reminiscent of my permutations math lessons from middle school. My kitchen would need less than a dozen cabinets, and about twice as many fronts — we weren’t getting upper cabinets — and we required “ready to install” cabinets to decrease the cost (time and money) of labor. If we were DIY’ing the entire kitchen this wouldn’t have been a factor. 

Working with BOXI would minimize how many components to manage — cabinets from A, fronts from B — without compromising the custom options that were on our wishlist.

As I said, IKEA was just my launching off point — the kitchen planner helped me visualize exactly what cabinet options I’d want and where, then create an itemized list for the design to shop around & compare. A company known for its cabinet innovation would be the best of all possible options — 

  • Customization: Access to a variety of cabinet sizes and configurations
  • Availability: Unlike most semi-custom to custom options, we wouldn’t be saddled with a hefty lead time
  • Quality: Having familiarity with the products gave me confidence in the durability, construction, and longevity of the products

With most cabinet options, you should be able to acquire samples to ensure the quality of the products — good looking cabinets mean nothing if they start to fall apart after a few months. 

So after living with our new matte black shaker doors from Semihandmade for our IKEA Besta unit — it was basically a test drive for the kitchen cabinets — I knew this could be perfect for the kitchen cabinets as well. I received my door fronts in the fall, right before we moved. Just from the unboxing, I could see the quality of the doors and knew that Semihandmade would be a great option for the kitchen; and my IKEA kitchen planner efforts were not for naught — I was able to use that same design to plan with Semihandmade for the door fronts… and later with BOXI for the cabinets. 

So How Would Everything Add Up?

Pairing IKEA cabinets with Semihandmade fronts would total close to $10K (this is a very very rough estimate based on the preliminary tinkering I did with the design, including the panels and trims). Configuring a similar design, in terms of look and storage, using The Home Depot’s assembled & in stock white shaker collection, would come in at less than $10K (however a final number, to include panels & trims, would likely require a proper sit down with a THD kitchen specialist). And lastly, the entire BOXI design — trims, panels, and all — would come in at just over $10K…$10,300 to be exact. 

So when you think about the options — everything from how robust the assortment is to the construction of the cabinets themselves — looks like I might’ve found my sweet spot after all. 

What’s next?

My cabinets arrived already assembled, with all the necessary components for installation — a win for me & my contractor, and making for a quick and easy installation. There was no need for too many fillers because of all the size options and I didn’t have to sacrifice anything of my cabinet wishlist.

Going the semi-custom route has always been my preferred option but admittedly, I wasn’t sure if that preference had many options until I did all my research. With BOXI by Semihandmade — expect a full breakdown of that process over on my blog by the way — I was able to get the semi-custom kitchen cabinets I imagined without having to compromise and now that that’s done, the rest of the design can fall into place. 

Guess what? The next time we talk about my kitchen it will be the final reveal! Hope you are as excited as I am:)

Opening Photo Credits: Photo by Sara Ligorria-Tramp | From: Inside All Our (Super Organized) Drawers & Cabinets In The Mountain House Kitchen

Fin Mark


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I haven’t heard the best things about IKEA’s quality, so I’m really looking forward to an update post after you’ve lived with the Boxi cabinets! (Hint hint 😉 )

We have a typical small Brooklyn kitchen, so eventually we want to donate the current builder-basic stuff and put in something that actually makes the best use of the space. Looking forward to your super organized kitchen reveal!! I’m sure I’ll end up pinning half the images


I know numerous people with IKEA kitchens and they’re all so happy with them. Some have had them for yearrrrs.


our ikea kitchen is 12y old and in daily use. It survived twins sitting in the lower drawers and typical crazy family live with home made food. we are happy with the boxes. Just the customized laminate countertop from Ikea is not the best. at least not for our rough daily use. the side cover strip comes down in some areas, but to be honest: after kids climbing up on the counter.


I’ve had an IKEA kitchen, installed by the previous owner, for 12 years now. Same cabinets in the bathroom. Lots of cooking and scrubbing. No quality issues here. I’m looking into Semi-handmade or similar to reface them because the shaker style doesn’t suit the mid-century modern house but all the boxes, pull-outs and hardware are still fine.


I have an Ikea kitchen for 18 years now! It’s getting very good use and is holding up great! I replaced the fronts once but only because I wanted an updated look not because they were damaged. Also never had problems assembling the cabinets. It’s not that hard, seriously. Just some time, reading the instructions and a screwdriver.

I’ve actually never heard of anyone who regretted their IKEA cabinets! I just redid my kitchen and I was planning on IKEA & SemiHandmade fronts, but my contractor convinced me to go with another semi-custom option that’s solid wood, dovetailed. And honestly, I’m disappointed. I paid more, lost all the customization that was standard with IKEA so I had to pay another $400 for the interior storage I needed, the drawers don’t close all the way on their own, American uppers are 12″ where IKEA’s are 15″ and it’s very frustrating how many things are an inch too big for my uppers…I could go on and on, but to sum it up I regret not going with IKEA!

Oh and I had to make a ton of compromises for this “custom option” that I wouldn’t have had to make with IKEA.


IKEA kitchen cabinets are stellar in their quality and functionality. I’ve known tons of people who have used them and nothing but raves. I plan on using them in an upcoming remodel.


What I’ve heard consistently about Ikea kitchens is that the boxes are fine but some of the doorfronts don’t hold up very well, especially if they’re frequently used and/or located close to an appliance.


Yes! This. Our ikea kitchen is 20 years old. BOTH corner cabinets (that house lazy Susan’s) get regular use and yes the centr hinges are pulling out of the particle board (or whatever their composite is). We moved the hinges hoping to stabilize and they’re doing the same thing again. They are custom painted and from their older Line so replacement is going to be… interesting ?! When I looked at semi hand made 5 years ago for fronts it was like $3k for my tiny kitchen (4 cabinets. 4 drawers).


We too have an ikea kitchen installed by previous owners in 2003 and nearly 20 years later (omg, how was 2003 almost 20 yrs ago?!) it’s still in terrific condition and it gets a ton of daily use. We did a mini-remodel last year – removed some of the uppers, installed new tile and a couple open shelves, new countertop. We considered replacing the cabinets since we were already in construction mode, but ultimately decided they’re in great shape – we’d just be doing it just to have new cabinets, not because we needed them or the current ones weren’t serving our needs in any way.


I guess it really depends on what people define as “quality”. Trust me, once you have lived with plywood boxes and solid wood drawers with dovetail construction, the interior construction of Ikea cabinets with the aluminum sides for drawers, the compressed wood boxes and all the laminate will feel cheap and flimsy to you. I don’t doubt that Ikea cabinets are a great (maybe even the greatest) bang for your buck and growing up in Germany that was pretty much what everyone in their 20s bought, but I find it hard make a judgement based on anyone’s opinion on quality for these kitchens. It is all very subjective. The target chairs that get used on this blog frequently that are apparently “soooo good” look exactly like that. Target chairs. I understand that most people won’t ever spend a thousand bucks on an occasional chair and again, great value for what you’re paying but just like you could never convince me that those chairs are quality, I will always know an ikea kitchen when I see one (or even open the first door or drawer), and let’s just say there is a reason why people upgrade to semi custom or custom… Read more »


As someone who has lived with both I still have nothing but good things to say about Ikea kitchens. We installed an Ikea kitchen in our first home 12 years ago (at that time, they didn’t have quartz countertops as an option so we ordered the countertop somewhere else) and we loved it for the entire 10 years we lived there. We had white cabinets, so can’t speak to the look/feel of the wood laminate option, but we never had a problem with quality (no warping, loose anything, etc.) and the functionality was amazing. We ended up moving into a home with a kitchen that has solid wood, dove-tailed cabinetry. Of course upon close inspection our current cabinets look more high-end, especially once you open up the drawers, but the Ikea kitchen is right up there in terms of functionality and the feel of the soft-close doors/drawers. I wouldn’t hesitate to install Ikea again (although this is our forever home) and encourage anyone else thinking about it to take the plunge.


It’s a financial situation. Some people can’t choose to afford custom anyyhing, in which case IKEA is wonderful.


As I have stated in my comment, Rusty. I called Ikea the greatest bang for your buck. So yes I do understand that Ikea is great for people on a tighter budget. 🙂 i wish you good luck on your kitchen makeover!

I’ll def be doing an

meant to say I’ll def be doing an update — maybe a 6 and a 12 month update 🙂


I sooooo wanted a simple, affordable kitchen to replace the one I have, that was brand spankin’ new in … 1950!
It wasnever ‘approved’ by Mr Ex.

I gave up on even an IKEA kitchen because my funds will be so limited … until yesterday! I found myself standing there, dreaming up ways to do it cheap, but different to the bog-standard stuff, but on a massively small budget.
Hhhmmm … maybe it’s still possible?! Just. Maybe…?

We don’t have semi-handmade, etc. in Australia, so it’ll be plain old IKEA, but there’s ways to hack that, too.

Albue, I’m tuned in and waiting for you to guve my inspiration hope! 🤗


hey rusty— I am in full support of doing the things the ex would never allow so I want to help you figure this out. I googled it and there are australian options for custom cabinet fronts but you might find thats too expensive if you’re also replacing cabinets. I’ve seen people do plywood surprisingly nicely as well—really depends on your style preferences. If your cabinets are in ok shape I wonder if you could devote the funds to repainting and/or replacing cabinet doors, maybe a new counter top…or maybe it would even be possible to replace some but not all of the cabinets and get consistent doors. Hardware upgrades can make such a massive difference too and you could wait on a really good sale for those! Change up the lighting, the paint colour, maybe replace a range hood or some upper cabinets with shelves? There’s a lot of options that could really work without being too expensive and might give it enough of a change that it feels like a whole new space! It really just depends on what your priorities for the change would be. I wish you were on the community cause we could definitely figure… Read more »


Thank you sooo much!
I don’t have words. You’re amazing!
I am reinspired to try and move forward with the possibility of doing the kitchen.
The cabinets were bespoke 1950, so nothing is standard and everyghing would have to be gutted. Not even a range. Basic.
THANK YOU. I know you get what this like. xxx

Fighting back tears, coz he’s sitting there.


Ren Studio in Australia make door fronts for Ikea Cabinetry.


Oooh, so sorry for the name typo!😳

no worries! lol


I redid my kitchen back in 1987 … I drew my plans myself. This was long before Ikea was on the west coast. I went with semi custom cabinets but instead of cabinets with doors, I went with all drawers. I was able to use every inch of space. I originally specified doors in front of drawers but one contractor suggested eliminating that extra step and expense.
If someone is not head over heels over a certain door style, this is a terrific option.


Super helpful! Thank you!


I had a really hard time finding estimates when planning our kitchen, so thanks for being transparent about costs!

For what it’s worth, ended up going with custom inset cabinets for our kitchen (26 linear feet total and a cabinetry hood) for about $30k.

Cris S.

Just measured our custom kitchen cabinets and they were about the same terms of linear feet (wait – totally forgot to measure the island, which has the length of 3 full cabinets on both sides plus seating space) for the bottom cabinets, plus upper for about 1/2 that space. Was about $25000 plus the range hood was a custom metal build piece by a different vendor for $5000. So, sameish length plus island and hood for about the same amount. We’re in Chicago, if that helps anyone out there. If they are painted (ours are white on top and french blue on the bottom) you will get chips. It’s just a fact. I bought the same color enamel cabinet paint and touch them up around the paneled garbage pull out door I saw something great in a magazine where a band of metal had been fitted around the top of the garbage drawer – would like to do that) and a few places where my daughter has bashed the vacuum cleaner into them. If we didn’t have kids I don’t think we’d see many chips at all. It makes me squeamish thinking about the amount we spent on the kitchen… Read more »

Cris S.

Looks like I forgot an opening parenthesis between “garbage pull out door” and “I saw something great” – sorry!


My biggest advice would be to shop around and get a lot of quotes. We did our kitchen about 5.5 years ago now. “Saving” the cabinets wasn’t an option since some of them were literally starting to fall off the walls. I was actually surprised by how not inexpensive Ikea/Home Depot/Lowes were. After getting an outrageous quote on labor and an equally outrageous quote on semi custom cabinets we went with a kitchen designer who would manage everything (demo, construction, installation, semi custom solid wood cabinets, quartz countertops) for less than either of those quotes and the cabinets were only marginally more expensive than Ikea.


We will never do white shaker again. Despite a completely custom job with an extra layer of paint beyond what the company usually did, minute nicks and scrapes around the edges of doors and drawers appear regularly.

And the top lip of the lower Shaker frame catches dust and crumbs and then seems to latch on to some of them with a vise-like strength.

For our next kitchen I think we will return to unpainted wood. At least the nicks and scratches they invariably receive tend to blend in seamlessly with the wood grain itself.


Thanks, this makes me more confident in my idea to go with white oak stained cabinets if we ever redo our perfectly fine but unfortunately dated beginning of 2000’s kitchen. And for the environmentalists who might worry, we will donate all the old cabinets and countertops to Habitat for humanity once that happens 😉


This is fascinating and good to know there’s another option out there for semi-custom cabinets. I can’t wait for the reveal!


You are giving me major inspiration for a potential future kitchen remodel! I’m fairly certain our cabinets are original to our house (1950) and have just had updated fronts put on them that don’t quite fit like they should. I dream of a kitchen reno and with a budget conscious approach just may be able to make it happen. Looking forward to the final reveal, Albie! Loved reading through your entire decision making process – I really appreciate the analytical background for how the space will work that is going in to your design.


I’m soooo excited to see this reveal.


Please get inset cabinets if you can. I just finished my kitchen reno in September 2020 and have BIG REGRETS not going with inset. I didn’t really understand the difference before, but now I see that ALL my fav dream kitchens online have inset. It’s a cleaner look.

Cris S.

When we were putting together our custom kitchen I asked for inset first. It was thousands of dollars more than full overlay cabinets, which look pretty darn close to inset. I would have preferred it – and it seems to be standard in Europe – but it just wasn’t work the extra money. And you get more room in the cabinets with the overlay version.


Hi! Curious why you like inset beyond the look?

we chose a full overlay, which is basically the midway point — price & design wise — between the sleeker inset & the most common partial overlay. we get the benefit of a clean & seamless design without the heftier cost. also the look of the full overlay works with the door styles we chose for our kitchen. the style def plays a part in the final install design too.


This was so thorough and demystifying–what an excellent resource! I will admit to having blanched at the cornflower blue film when I mistook it for a very unusual paint color.


Very interested to see this Boxi line of cabinets! I went the Semihandmade/IKEA route for my kitchen remodel and the only thing I didn’t like was only having a white interior option. Would have loved to have different choices like a wood look or darker option so I’m curious if this is something Boxi will provide.


This was so interesting! If I ever remodel a kitchen I’ll use this as my reference. Also love that phrase ‘not for naught’ 😉 Following your blog now and enjoying it. So happy for you in your new home! Looking forward to all of your reveals!


Eeeep! Can’t wait! Thanks for all of this great info.


I wish I had this post a year ago when designing my kitchen! Great research Albie!!


I would love to see how you are organizing the area under your kitchen sink! I have IKEA cabinets and like you I gathered a lot of inspiration from their internal cabinet organization, but I didn’t find a lot of storage solutions through IKEA for this area. There are sooo many options by other brands (some kind of expensive) that it’s a bit overwhelming. I’m guessing Boxi will be similar? Anyways, can’t wait to see what you do!

Christina Schroeder

I designed my mountain house with Ikea cabinets and fronts from Semi Handmade and a local seller, The Cabinet Face. It was a lot of work using the Ikea cabinets. A lot of work. But if you are will to do it, it is worth it. We were able to get all our cabinet for the kitchen, the laundry room, a 6 ft bar, and four bedrooms for less than $35k assembled (not including installation by our contractor). Our house was recently featured in a magazine with a spotlight on the kitchen.

I would do it again for sure. Thanks for the tip on the new options from SHM. If anyone has questions about why I did or would like pictures, feel free to reach out.

Christina Schroeder

Oh, and I installed semi custom Medallion cabinets from a kitchen showroom in my kitchen in Denver six years ago. I hate them. They are not holding up at all. Already looking at having to replace door fronts and the white paint is yellowing. Never again.


This might be a dumb question but I can’t seem to find any info about BOXI online except in this and a few other articles is it not out yet? Did I miss that in the Article?

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