Reviewing my own house – kitchen cabinets.

This week’s plan was to go through every aspect of my kitchen and give you a full review…
then I had a little procedure done…
which took me out…
so the Mr. took off work…
and mom came to help out too…
so I took full advantage of recovering in bed while catching up on episodes of Survivor…
it’s been great…
(except for that pesky recovery part).
No need to be alarmed, all is well and fine.
I’ll share the full scoop with you soon.

On with the kitchen review.
As a refresher, we’ve been living in our 1970’s remodeled rambler for a little over 2 years now. Monday I shared my thoughts on counter tops.
Today we’re talking cabinets.

The prospects of remodeling a house is exciting when you’re in the pre-remodel stage.
You think, “I finally get to use all the ideas of been pinning!!”
You jump right in to things, line up bids, shop for stuff, talk to contractors…then reality sets in…and your big budget you’ve set aside looks like chump change in comparison to your wish list.

When it came to cabinets the first decision was what kind of door style we wanted.
I knew I wanted clean lines and a shaker style door.
Then we needed to decide on a cabinet style. There are three main choices.

Inset: Doors/drawers are flush with the cabinet frame.
Full Overlay: A minimal gap of the cabinet frame is shown between doors. Doors/drawers are meant to fully cover the frame for a seamless look.
Partial Overlay: The doors /cabinets only partially cover the cabinet frame.

Hands down, my favorite look is the inset. It has such a custom look. However, after gathering bids they were also the most expensive because every drawer had to be custom cut to fit the opening. After all my research I soon realized we were on Ikea budget.

At this time a neighbor gave me the name of a cabinet maker she used with a warning that he was good but very slow. Our construction was moving at a snails pace anyway so I decided to see what he had to offer. “A” was a one man show who worked out of his garage. He had a pretty good portfolio and promised impeccable craftsmanship (I think, there was a bit of language barrier). He also promised that if anything went wrong he would be there to fix it right away. When I showed him a picture of what I wanted, which were inset cabinets. he said “no problem”. In fact, he said “no problem” a lot. And the price?? Same price as the Ikea cabinets! Sold!



Now what I learned about someone who says, “no problem” A LOT and has reviews about being slow is that you will spend a lot of time hounding them.

“No problem” actually means, “BIG problem”.

The other thing I learned…put down a deposit but don’t pay them a cent until the project is completely done. I mean every last hinge is secure.

“A” did really great work despite him being flaky but that flakiness was enough to hold things up and caused big issues. I think he also learned he’d never do inlay cabinets again without charging a pricey fee.


We’ve only had one problem with his work and that is he used a skin overlay on the sides of the upper side cabinets which has come off every cabinet side. His promise about coming back to fix any problem didn’t hold. In fact, he no longer answers his phone for anyone and his voice mail is full. Not a good sign. We really don’t know what to do about the problem. If we were going to properly fix it we would completely replace each skin. But then we get in to the tiling issues. We could just put some more glue to adhere it but I fear that would be a temporary fix. We’re handy but this is one job I’d rather leave to a professional which means “money, money, money, mo-ney…MONEY“!

On a different note we’ve had some other issues with the inset design of the cabinets (which is no fault of “A’s”).


If there is anything even slightly sticking out of the cabinet or drawer when you go to close it, it leaves big gashes in the frame. Fine for adults who can be careful but try telling a kid to be careful…never happens. That’s not just something that can be easily fixed. It’s pretty permanent.


As a result, we have several gashes in a few of our cabinet frames.

That last thing that is sort of frustrating about inset cabinets is that because the door is flush with the cabinet frame you loose about a half inch of depth space. You wouldn’t think it’s a big deal but that 1/2″ is just enough that full size dinner plates and other larger dishes won’t fit.

Another question we get a lot is how we like having our microwave down low?


We actually made a space for our microwave to fit in the lower island cabinet not because it functions best down there, not because of design element but merely because there was no other place to put it. I personally think the easiest place to use and access a microwave is right on the counter but it sticks out like a sore thumb as well as takes up valuable counter space. It’s been just fine having it down below. The boys can access it easily (with adult supervision, of course) and it’s out anyone’s sight line. I don’t love it, I don’t hate it.

As far as the white…it’s been tricky. You all know that I love white but it’s constant upkeep. My white sofas are easier to maintain than white cabinets. If you want them to stay clean you have to wipe them on a daily basis (which I don’t, which means they’re always something dirty on them somewhere). Because cabinets get so much daily wear and tear the paint is rubbing off in some places which means they’ll have to be re-painted soon down the road. Ugh.

Cabinet style: Wouldn’t ever do inset cabinets again. Next time I would opt for full-overlay.
Cabinet maker: Would use a well-known reputable company next time that warranties their cabinets and work.
Color: White has been tricky but I would probably paint only the upper cabinets white and the the lower cabinets a darker color.

What kind of cabinets do you have? Are you happy with them?

Read our review on Calacatta Marble and Soapstone counter tops here.


  1. I adore that you’re honestly reviewing your kitchen. I am tits deep in my kitchen reno now and sometimes worry that I’m going to regret the choices I’ve made (even though I spent SOOOOOooooo much time researching beforehand). I ogled your kitchen in my planning stages and your honesty is validating my choices.

    – I love the inset look but they weren’t in my budget, so full overlay IKEA it is. I didn’t even THINK about utensils getting jammed in the inset drawers or plates not fitting. Who knew?? Thank you for pointing that out!
    – White kitchens are so pretty & classic but white on the bottom seemed like too much upkeep for my lackadaisical cleaning style, so I’m doing light on the top and a dark charcoal/navy on the bottom.
    – Soapstone for the counters because I love the honed, matte look and they feel right with the period of my home.
    – I’m also doing painted cabinets. The upkeep, dings, and scuffs make me a little nervous. We shall see.

    Thanks for this series!! Keep it up. You rock.

    • Thank YOU for your thoughtful comment. Pre-remodel I thought I could deal with the upkeep of all the quirks that come along with my high maintenance choices…and I more than likely could. BUT, I didn’t factor in my kids as heavily as should have. Live and learn. Your kitchen sounds GORGEOUS! I’m on pins and needs to see it. Do you have pics to share? Thanks Carrie!

  2. I have inset cabinets also. Although my drawers all have “soft close”. So while I have shut the door on utensils, the drawer slows down before it can bang them hard enough to leave a mark. My problem is when we drag the plates out of the cabinets we drag them on the frame and have worn down the edges on the frames. I love how easy they are to wipe down but I am with you-I paid a 30 percent premium for inset and I’m not sure if it was worth it.

  3. Was super excited over your cabinet review, because inset has been for years a hands down favorite of mine as far as looks go. We currently have full overlay and I really realllllllly dislike them. I wanted inset when we remodeled and it was nearly 3x the price of any full overlay or partial overlay. But I have since planned on doing inset in our forever house, which we are planning to sell in the next two years. So here is my experience- We went with a company that’s well liked it’s a big name company, and happens to be local to us as well. Not Ikea. After a ton of research, reading reviews, anything I could gather, I went with full overlay and chose the thermofoil finish. It is basically very similar to what you have pealing off of the ends of your cabinets. And guess, it does that with ours, and it is annoying! However, they do honor their lifetime warranty and all I do is call them, tell them which cabinet and a brand new one gets shipped that day with no charge! Oddly, in the 5 years we have had this kitchen, they have replaced every single door in that time, so I feel like we are constantly getting a “makeover” if you will. I guess it’s good that they honor their warranty with no questions asked. It’s a very easy transaction. I call, give them a code number that they gave me, tell them the cabinet and that is it. The part that bothers me, is that it’s very annoying to constantly be changing out cabinets. Re-drilling knob holes, and then the installation itself. It’s so annoying that currently I have two cabinets that AGAIN need replacing, and a drawer, and I have yet to call because I just don’t care to do it. When we sell, I will replace them for the new owners, for now however, I can live with it pulling away. And that’s not all it does, it also gets air in the center of the cabinet somehow as well, even with all the sides remaining sealed, which creates an obvious bubble look. Verdict, I would have paid the additional 600 they wanted to have wood painted cabinets. The only reason I didn’t was because they said as wood cabinets expand and contract with climate change, it causes the wood to “breath” and on a painted cabinet, you can easily see the joint work over time. We wanted a clean flawless look, so went with the thermofoil surface. This is not my only complaint. I HATE the full overlay. It is very very poorly done. Some of the cabinets close perfectly up to one another, others have an inch gap. There is no uniformity whatsoever. It looks slopping. My husband doesn’t see it, but I do and it drives me nuts. Our base cabinets all have larger gaps between each closed cabinet, while the uppers are nestled perfectly up to one other without touching, which was the look I wanted all over. I’ve called, but they will not address this issue. There is my scoop…sorry it’s so long. But, for those considering inset, natural wood base ones seem to hide the imperfections way more. My grandparents have inset that are 50+ years old. They raised 4 kids in that house who used that kitchen just as much as them and that kitchen could be in a magazine..or on a blog. :) It’s gorgeous. They have wood base with white uppers. They look flawless, even today. If there are any gashes in the wood, it is not as obvious, which may have to do with base being stained, versus painted. Anyhow, gashes or not, your kitchen looks great to me. I totally get wanted to change things…I do not like our kitchen. Lots I would do different. Thanks for sharing an honest review.

    • Oh….And the company we had do our cabinets is Kraftmaid. :) They honor their warranties great, however, did not seem to think the full overlay not appearing as true full overlay with each cabinet was justification to fix it. And there is something to be said about their thermofoil finish needing to be replaced as often as it does. Gah….rant over. :)

    • Thank you so much for that review on your full overlay cabinets. They sound a bit nightmarish and you’ve pointed things out that I’ve never even considered. I would love to know which company you used (if that isn’t getting too personal). After replacing as much as they have I’m surprised they don’t see it more cost effective to bag those types of cabinets all together. I love the idea of doing stained on the bottom. I can’t wait to see what you do next time around! Thanks Jolie!

  4. Thank you for this post. So helpful! We built a house last year and I am already making notes of things I will do differently next time. My kitchen cabinets are also white. While I love the white, I have had problems with the paint chipping off – especially on the edges of the drawers and cupboard doors. The cabinetmaker repainted them once already and they’ve been better the second time, but still frustrating. I’m curious to know if all painted cabinets chip or if it’s the quality of the paint or paint job? The wood also dents very easily – we used alder. We did a partial overlay. I wanted to do the inset as well but our budget kept us from doing that.

    • I watched my cabinet maker actually paint the cabinets. He sprayed them with his paint gun then when they were fully dry he wiped each one with lacquer. Ours haven’t chipped but the paint has rubbed off slightly on the cabinets that get the most abuse…ie the garbage cabinet where stuff gets haphazardly thrown in to it. I’m thinking its the lacquer that has protected them so well because he really had to water the paint down for it to go through his paint gun. I’m not sure the wood he used but it was one that had the least amount of knots and character so it would be very smooth. Hope that helps! :)

  5. I love the look of white cabinets (we actually have cream on the bottom and tops in our current kitchen), but the bottom ones do get very dingy. I don’t know that I would ever do light colored cabinets on the bottom ever again. It is good know that I am not the only one. I don’t think the that whole “light on top and darker on bottom” is simply a trend as some might think. The white opens up the space and the dark hides a multitude of sins. I think it is here to stay!
    Thanks for your reviews!!!

  6. Reviewing your own house after a couple years of use it the most valuable kind of blog post I could ever think of. Genius! So glad you are doing it!!! Thank you!

  7. When my house was built in 2000, I got to choose my cabinets from a local cabinetmaker. White was actually MORE expensive than any other finish, so I chose light birdseye maple, shaker style (no stain). They were simply gorgeous, but after a while the lacquer finish began to turn yellow, so now they resemble plywood more than maple! Also (and no told me this, either) maple is so hard that it resists all finishes–and now that it’s yellowish, you can see that the edges and all around the nail holes, etc. are spots that didn’t take the lacquer. I do love white cabinets, but am sure mine would never hold the paint. Otherwise, though, they are very sturdy and never ding or scratch. I am hunting around for a method to fix the icky lacquer (maybe replace with non-yellowing poly?). It’s a big job and I’m not looking forward to it.

    Oak was actually quite cheap, so I have that in my laundry and baths–and will be painting or staining those eventually (so many good tutorials out there now.) The lacquer has pretty much flaked off those, too.

    • Oh man, what how frustrating. It’s so maddening when the products that are supposed to fix our projects actually mess them up. Well, I’ll be anxious to see how your they turn out when you take on that big job.

  8. I went with inset. When I did my kitchen remodel 1.5 years ago I couldn’t get that look out of my mind. I shopped, shopped and shopped around for the best price on inset cabinets without compromising quality. I ended of ordering Shiloh cabinets which I absolutely love the quality of. And the best part is they were offering a promo of a free upgrade to inset doors. Woot!

  9. Your honesty is refreshing. I have run into the same type if problem you are having with your contractor but my problem is with our porch post. It is a hassle. You have given me a lot to think about concerning cabinet styles.

  10. Lorinda Turley says:

    I too have enjoyed your honest reviews and grateful you are recovering.

    We are now in our forever home and remodeled 1.5 years ago. We also finished the basement into a mother-in-law suite, so I have two kitchens to review :)

    I used a kitchen designer for our main kitchen, which was completed second. While all the aesthetics and lay out choices were mine, he provided options and insight with his many years of experience. He warned me about the struggles with insets, especially with 6 kiddos. He too gave practical advice, i.e lighting placement so your body doesn’t shadow your work surface and using one drawer-pull on large drawers vs. two because our tendency is to only use one (even when two are available) and over time the drawer will become racked.

    The only drawback of a kitchen designer is I had to order cabinets through his company. While they are nice and warrantied, my mother-in-law suite kitchen cabinets were custom and I prefer them.

    In both kitchens I went with full overlay and have not found any issues with either. I too chose white-painted maple, shaker style cabinets for our main level kitchen with a sienna-stained island as well as a sienna-stained focal point. Our basement kitchen is walnut-stained character maple.

    The post below has a picture of very small portion of our main kitchen, focusing on our computer area. At some point I hope to have more pictures of our home on my blog.

    • Your kitchen is so pretty, I would love to see more pictures. I would also like to see pics of the custom cabinets in the mother-in-law. May I ask what it is you prefer over the main kitchen?
      Thanks for your comment!

      • Lorinda Turley says:

        Thank you! I am happy to send pictures but I am technologically challenged I am not sure how other than through email.

        As for my preference to the custom vs. big box in our two kitchens, it really is the quality. Our main kitchen cabinets have a small blue stamped number and letter on the inside of every door. I too have had several doors replaced because a crack forms in the panel and have recently found another cracked panel. I am grateful for their response yet frustrated by the added hassle. I have had absolutely no problems with our mother-in-law suite cabinets and it too is used daily.

        I did not use the custom cabinet makers for our main kitchen (15′ W x 30′ L) because they were not kitchen designers. I had a vision for what I wanted and they couldn’t see it, nor did they have the technology to design it producing computer generated images of what it would look like when complete. I worked with my designer for 6 months tweaking it to what I wanted. As he sought my final signature of approval for the entire project, I tweaked it one more time.

        Although I do not like the cabinets as much, they perform their function and look beautiful. I could not have done it alone and therefore it was worth it.

  11. Thank you so much for these so honest reviews of your kitchen. We moved into a 1986 house that had original custom cabinets to the ceiling and new granite countertops. So we tried refacing. It involves overlays ( like the ones at the ends of your cabinets ) on all the faces, and beautiful maple doors and drawers that had been sprayed white. All would have been well ( we are 5 years out) except for one of the workmen that was let go after our kitchen :-( Glue everywhere, which resulted in some damaged doors that were replaced. But also subpar workmanship ( things not level, things missed) that just annoy you on a day to day basis. So even though we would have had to replace the granite countertops, I would not reface again. Despite what they promise you, the price gets pretty close to what new kitchen cabinets and installation would cost. The only thing you save is time, and things like granite.
    I had redone the kitchen in our previous home one year before with Kraftmaid cabinets with Thermo foil, and had a very good experience. Maybe I was just lucky, but there were no problems that first year with anything.

    Thanks so much for this series! It will help me with our next remodel, which I am afraid is not too far down the line. I agree, dark bottom cabinets are the way to go. So glad others have the same problems keeping white cabinets clean — misery loves company!

  12. Love these review posts! We recently added cabinets/counters to our house built in 1867 which had never before seen a cabinet or countertop! I read so many reviews and talked to cabinet makers, designers, Lowes, Home Depot, etc… and in the end we went with Ikea white ramsjo . They have held up amazingly well in the 2 years we’ve had them and we don’t have any chips, flakes, or warped anything. We would have preferred a classic shaker style but with bad reviews on other brands, we didn’t want to go go with one of the others nor did we want to go with thermofoil in a kitchen since it can melt/warp. Now we wait and see what they look like in 5+ years…

  13. P.S. The main selling point for me w the Ikea cabs was designer Sarah RIchardson. Everything she designs is absolutely perfect in my eyes so I figured if they’re good enough for her to use, they’re good enough for us. :)

    • We have Ikea cabinets in our mother-in-law apartment downstairs and I agree, they really do hold up surprisingly well. Less problems with those than with our custom cabinets. :)

      • I just wanted to agree with both of you. Our last house was IKEA and in our new forever home we went with custom white cabinets. It’s been two years and we can tell they aren’t holding up as well as the IKEA. We had to go custom due to the shape of our kitchen, but I will say I’m definitely an IKEA fan…..and a Sarah Richardson super fan.:)
        Thanks for writing this post btw. It’s comforting to know we are all in good company.

  14. These posts have been SO helpful! I love love love your kitchen and would never have thought you’d have some utensil gashes–in face that’s something I’ve never thought of happening! We have been looking at IKEA cabinets (we’re cheap!) and were a bit put-off by the plastic feel to them, but maybe that’s not such a bad thing. My biggest self-battle is making choices that will keep the kitchen feeling balanced (dark bottoms, light counters, white subway tile, white open shelves???). Thanks again for these posts! :)

    • I totally get you. We used Ikea in our basement mother in law apartment and they do feel plastic-y. However, they’ve held up remarkably…I guess that’s the trade off. I feel like if you’re going to go Ikea you have to do just as you said, make sure to have other high-end feeling features that balance it out. :)

  15. Elisabeth Bova says:

    Hey Michelle! LOVED reading this, thanks so much for your honesty. Your whole house looks incredible! We are in the process of building and your review posts are really going to come in handy. You have used sooooo many of the same finishes that I am considering so I am looking forward to the rest of your posts. I can’t wait to hear all about your bathrooms. Choosing tile and grout color is throwing me over the edge. I was up all night last night reading articles on Houzz about tile installation and all the mistakes people make. I am really interested to know the exact types of tiles you used and how you are liking the dark grout. It looks so cool and seems very easy to maintain but I keep reading that depending on how the tile installer applies the grout, dark colors can fade and discolor. Grrrrr! I just love how open you are about all of this……Keep those reviews coming! :)

    • Sweet Elisabeth, how are you? I was wondering what happened to you! Break from blogging? Your voice is missed in the blogging world…are you blogging somewhere else these days? Thank you for your comment. I always appreciate reading other people’s reviews on what they shoulda, woulda, coulda done differently as well. I can’t wait to see what you do in your next remodel. Hope you are well and great to hear from you!

      • Elisabeth Bova says:

        You are too sweet…..I do miss blogging (sometimes) and I have been on the blogs/pinterest/houzz so much lately it really has me itching to get back at it. It’s so fun to get back to reading all my favorite blogs (after quite some time) and see how their lives, projects, homes, etc. have come so far along! It’s like visiting an old friend; even though I have never met any of them. :) Like you! You had a baby and are living in a completely different house! Man, how long was I gone??? LOL! I love it….I might just have to email you and pick your brain. Now I am off to go read about your hardwoods…..
        Take care,

  16. Wow, what a story :( It sure hurts to be excited for such a big purchase and not have it be your vision.
    My husband works for a custom cabinet company ( They hear this a lot. People choose to go the Ikea route or cheaper company. Later they end up coming to see them because they need to fix major problems (with the other companies cabinets). In the end their company isn’t even that much more expensive.
    My hubby does the customer service side of things. He deals with any issues that arise (it is custom work) and makes sure that customers are 100% happy.
    In our own home, when we bought it, it had a brand new kitchen put in months before we moved in. They should have saved their money. It is garbage and we will need to rip it all out and start again :(

  17. I know it wasn’t your intention, but you so made me feel better! We just built our home, and as I am sure you know, the builder always marks up everything astronomically. So if I wanted white, I had to get the laminate cabinets or go way too far over budget. My concern was that I knew they didn’t look as good as wood/maple/custom cabinets. So I had some glass insets put in, and asked for just shelves (not cabinets) in certain places. When they put in the cabinets, they basically just LEFT THE DOORS OFF the shelves – it was nothing like what I wanted. The kicker for me was that I was actually CHARGED 300$ for shelving and all they did was leave the doors off the cabinets. So imagine your cabinets with no doors. TaDa! Shelving! Fighting the builder was fruitless, so I just deal with them. Ina Garten has these in her kitches, so I comfort myself with that thought.

    Even despite the laminates, I have to say, no one seems to notice that they aren’t wood. They hold up very well. They hold even my large dinner plates. They wipe down quickly and despite being white, you really have to get right on top of them to see any dirt. I have some photos, but I don’t see a way to upload them into your comments.

    Maybe you can just tell people your going for that rustic look now? lol.

  18. We installed IKEA cabinets in our small kitchen, in a 1937 cottage (the original cabinets were not salvageable). We got white, shaker-style “foil” finish. I never had a problem keeping them clean, even with three young kids, but there were not very many cabinets in the small space. Also, the finish cleaned up very easily and did not scratch, chip, or stain for the four years we lived with them. I thought the IKEA cabinets were of good quality. We installed them ourselves and were able to adjust the doors & drawer fronts until everything matched up perfectly. We now live in a house with custom cabinets, probably installed in the 90’s. There is not much difference in the quality – although I don’t have soft-close now, I really miss that. Someday when we re-do this kitchen, we’ll probably just get new cabinet doors. Our house is mid century modern & these kitchen cabinets really don’t fit the aesthetic, but they are in great shape & function with no problems.

  19. Such a beautiful kitchen cabinets are they.Like the designs and yeah white color always rule mate!!!

  20. Hi Michelle.
    Where are your knobs from?
    Thank you.

  21. You have a wonderful kitchen! I love the white color. I think that this is the best color for kitchen. It looks clean and fresh. Thanks a lot for these great ideas!


  1. […] a whole series reviewing her own kitchen now that it’s a couple years since her renovation. Her thoughts on insets cabinets were super interesting. I love her kitchen. SO […]

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