Q&A With a Kitchen Cabinet Expert
The kitchen is the beating heart of any home, and usually what sells it, too. So it better be functional, and it better be gorgeous. Whether you're looking to increase value or just pretty it up for yourself, cabinets are key to any facelift. Do you repaint or replace? How do you find a good contractor? And how much is it all going to cost?
Enter Nelson Kuo, co-owner of Cabinet Happy custom millworks in Los Angeles. The self-proclaimed "nerdy, uncool" cabinet maker is dedicated to coming up with very cool, creative solutions. The very candid Kuo shares his thoughts on saving money, remodeling, and what's trending in custom kitchens.
Q&A With Nelson Kuo, Cabinet Contractor
- I want to remodel my kitchen cabinets. Where do I begin?
- Nelson: The more information you can provide for a designer the better. This can include appliances (make and model numbers), countertop choices, cabinet door style/stain/color, wall/ceiling paint colors, flooring and lighting choices. You do not have to know all the exact choices, but at least do some homework and familiarize yourself with options out there. Pick up some magazines and bookmark kitchens that inspire you.
- How do I decide whether to refinish or remodel?
- Nelson: It is always cheaper to reface existing cabinets given that the existing countertop and appliances are to remain where they are. However, if you plan on changing the countertop, then there are new "pre-fabricated" cabinets that cost far less than a reface. People often forget to factor in the additional costs of re-installing all appliances and plumbing. If you plan on changing the counter and sink, forget the reface and go straight to new cabinets.
- What's better, pre-fab or custom?
- Nelson: Custom is always going to be better on multiple levels, especially design-wise, assuming the custom shop you are hiring is using the best materials and hardware, as well as being professional craftsmen. Custom is going to cost more than imported pre-fabricated cabinets, but often times can be competitively priced to domestically made cabinets. For example, locally made custom cabinets may cost less than cabinets made from North Carolina or Ohio (sold by most home improvement stores).
- Are some cabinets "greener" than others?
- Nelson: In 2012, suppliers of cabinet materials within California are certified by CARB, FSC and LEED. This means all locally manufactured cabinets are as environmentally friendly as can be. Imported cabinets are not following or meeting the same guidelines. We know very little about their green specifications.
For people interested in shopping for specifically "green" labeled products, thoroughly do your homework because there are more lies than genuine green products out there. For example, bamboo products have been the "green" sustainable alternative to tree products this past decade. But bamboo is not a solid material like pieces of wood sliced from a tree. Bamboo products are made of compressed strands glued together. You be the judge!
- What happens to my old cabinets? Am I responsible for disposal?
- Nelson: Most cabinet contractors will charge you for demolition and disposal. It is highly recommended that you hire someone that is licensed and insured since a kitchen demolition can lead to flooding your house, or even set it on fire.
- Why hire a designer over DIY?
- Nelson: There are only two types of finishers in the state of California. One is licensed with a permitted spray booth who can get lacquer/varnish, while the other is not and can only get "off the shelf" items. The first one charges around $2,000+ to refinish a kitchen, while latter charges $800+. But the results are night and day.
If you can afford it, get it professionally done from a licensed finisher with a permitted spray booth. In California, they will not sell the high-quality chemicals to a shop that does not have a permitted spray booth. It is always safer to consult a designer with color schemes.
- What's the average timeframe and cost of a kitchen cabinet remodel?
- Nelson: 2-4 weeks. Cost varies. It's $75 and up per cabinet box for prefabricated.
- Any pearls of money-saving wisdom?
- Nelson: Some designers are available on an hourly rate if you just want to put some colors together. You can also re-finish your kitchen cabinets yourself and save a few bucks.
Today there are many online resources to help you refinish your own cabinets. There are also workshops year round in your neighborhood teaching you how to refinish your cabinets. You can try the back side of a draw front to see if you have the patience and skill to perform this before you fully commit to refinishing the entire kitchen.
- What questions should you ask before hiring a cabinet contractor?
- Nelson: Make sure to look up their contractor's license number to see if it has been continuously active for 5+ years. Call references from their previous projects; you must like their portfolio, see one of their projects in person. Make sure you have a thorough written contract, and that your deposit is not heavy upfront.
[Pursuant to California law, the deposit cannot be more than (1) $1,000 or (2) 10 percent of the total contract price, whichever is less.]
- If you could give one piece of advice to consumers ...
- Nelson: The most important step of any remodel is the drawing. This is the most overlooked step, and those who do not have one or use a poor one, almost always end up with a disaster "train wreck" experience. You want all your intelligent decisions to be made in the drawing process -- it's the only effective tool to get accurate bids for all parts of your remodel. It keeps everyone on the project communicating on the same page.
Hire a reputable and experienced person to create this drawing. This can be performed by a designer (usually an interior designer), and we also offer several design/drawing packages.