VirginiaLynne likes to share her creative ideas for DIY home renovation and maintenance.
Kitchen Before and After
Female Homeowner Review
When we were investigating RTA (ready to assemble) kitchen cabinets, we found a lot of information on company websites. However, when we tried to find out the experiences of homeowners, like us, there was very little. Moreover, the reviews we did find were sometimes tied with companies, so that it was hard to know what were advertisements and what was actual consumer experience.
So for the record, I want to explain that I have no connection with any cabinet manufacturing company. At the time of this project, I was a 49-year old housewife who had done many home renovation projects but had limited experience in building anything out of wood. Many homeowners looking to purchase RTA cabinets may have much more experience than I had, so my successful assembly of 35 cabinets in my spare time over a two-week period should encourage anyone that you can do this too.
Cabinet Quality Over Time
RTA Cabinets: Ours were assembled and installed in 2009. Eight years later, they still look like new. They require very little maintenance and in spite of my fears, the detail work on the rope cabinets has not collected dirt or grime. I dust them and clean them every couple of months with a kitchen cabinet cleaner and that's it. The inside of the cabinets are in great shape and have held heavy dishes with no problem.
Home Depot Cabinets: These are a couple of years older and have also held up well. What I've disliked most about the Home Depot cabinets is that they really don't use space well. The drawers are too small and they don't have nice shelves that hold things. I've had to jerry-rig containers to try to hold things in them. The Home Depot cabinets were much more expensive, but are more cheaply made. They don't have the well-thought-out inside design that uses space well that I find in my Ready to Assemble cabinets.
Conclusion: We are in the process of remodeling a second home and RTA is my choice throughout.
After sending an order for thousands of dollars of Ready to Assemble cabinets, I began to worry. What if they aren’t as high a quality as I’ve been led to expect? What if they don’t look like the pictures? I was very relieved when the cabinets came; I assembled them myself and discovered:
- Solid Build: Each piece is furniture-grade quality and even more beautiful than I expected and very solidly built.
- Easy to Assemble: Contrary to my fears, I was able to do this project without assistance from my husband except for a few times I needed help moving the bigger pieces.
- Better Product at a Cheaper Price: For about half of what I paid for my Home Depot bathroom cabinets, I was able to get adjustable solid wood shelves (my big box cabinets didn’t even come with shelves) and deep drawers (about twice as deep as the drawers in my previous kitchen).
- Can Afford More Custom Features: In addition, because of the low cost, I was able to afford some of the design features I wanted, like corner cabinets, a lazy susan, soft close drawers, and base drawer cabinets.
- Use Pantry Cabinets as Built-in Shelving: I also was able to afford to use pantry cabinets in my laundry room, craft room, and living room as permanent storage areas. The pantry cabinets offered far more storage in these rooms than traditional furniture and also serve as a beautiful accent to each room.
- Good Quality Shelves: Some of these hold heavier items like books and small appliances. Particleboard shelves might warp, but the solid wood shelves on these RTA Cabinets have held up beautifully for over 8 years now.
IKEA, Big Box, or RTA?
When we decided to remodel our kitchen, we initially thought we’d return to Home Depot and use the same light maple shaker style cabinets we’d used in our remodeled bathrooms. We also considered buying from IKEA. Unfortunately, none of the IKEA styles really seemed to match the Mediterranean style of our house. Additionally, I read some consumer reviews of their kitchens which indicated that their cabinets were difficult to put together. I also had some concerns about quality since some of the furniture we'd purchased from them had not lasted well.
Somewhere along the way in my internet research, I discovered RTA cabinets. I’d never liked the fact that my Home Depot cabinets seemed so cheaply built with laminate insides and no shelves in some of the base cabinets. After watching some assembly videos, I decided I could probably do it.
What we did spend money on was to have our remodeler rip out our old kitchen and install our new one. Of course, you can save even more money if you do this part yourself too. There are plenty of videos like the one below that tell you how to do it.
Choosing an RTA Company
We did extensive research before choosing, nvestigating at least 30 companies. In the end, we decided that the most important criteria for choosing a company were:
- The type of cabinet style they offered.
- The wood colors and types available
- Customer service.
- Company reputation and length of time in business.
- Return policies.
- Can order door to check color and style.
Tips for Choosing
Ask for References: We asked for sample work done for other customers as well as some references we could call. We also investigated the return policies and shipping services.
Pick Cabinets You Really Like: We finally chose to work with RTA Cabinets Unlimited (a division of Custom Service Hardware) because they had two cabinet choices we liked, Warwick Walnut and Cherry Tuscany (which has been discontinued, but is replaced by a maple cabinet which has a similar cinnamon color stain).
Look for a Company That Lets You See Before Buying. We liked the fact that RTA Cabinets Unlimited allowed us to order cabinet doors to see if we liked them. Some other companies offer this or you can also order a small cabinet. The doors were not expensive and were well worth the price because it enabled us to see how well the company serviced their orders, to test the quality of the cabinets, and also determine how those cabinets would look in our house. In addition, I found that having those doors was very helpful in making other decorating decisions because I could carry them with me to check the color against paint and drapery choices.
One of the best things about the company I dealt with was customer service, so you do want to ask what sort of support the company has after you receive the product. With the company we dealt with, as soon as I made my first email contact asking a question, I was assigned James as my customer service representative and given both his email and phone number. I recently learned that James is still with the company and is now in management. That makes me feel sure that the customer service aspect of the company is on the right track. Here is why customer support is important for me:
- Whenever I needed help, James was quickly responsive, and he either knew the answer or was willing to find someone who could help.
- My support person helped me with some design decisions by giving me some photos of other customer’s projects.
- James called me frequently throughout my assembly process to make sure I was doing all right and to find out if I had any questions.
- He was particularly helpful to me when I was trying to decide whether I needed to buy a nail gun. I had never used one before and was concerned about how to do it. James reassured me that using a regular hammer and finishing nails would work just as well to hold the Warwick Walnut pantry cabinets together while the glue dried.
- He also suggested using wood clamps, which were not in the instructions but which made much of my assembly easier.
RTA Quality and Features
Good Quality at a Good Price
RTA cabinets offer a fantastic opportunity to remodel your home at a reasonable price. Overall, our experience was very positive.
Provided you are prepared to design your own kitchen and make sure you have the correct measurements, you will find ordering, shipping and assembly of these products to go smoothly/ While there were a few minor flaws in or order, such as somewhat warped boards in a couple of the pantry cabinets, none of these flaws affected my ability to assemble the cabinets, and none are visible in the finished product.
Quick Assembly Instructions
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
© 2011 Virginia Kearney
Virginia Kearney (author) from United States on July 15, 2019:
Glad this helped you Audrey--I've been so pleased with my RTA cabinets. Just today I was looking at the Home Depot ones and wishing I'd gotten RTA for them too! They are all now over 10 years old and you can really tell the difference in quality in the RTA.
Audrey tinsley on July 15, 2019:
Great info to help me choose.
Jack Pratt on August 24, 2018:
Thank you Virginia for this amazing post and I also have to give a shout out to George, it saved me a lot of time narrowing down my choices and helped me get a beautiful kitchen. I went with Georges advice and ordered from rtawoodcabinets.com I ordered the Castle Gray Shaker, the finish is beautiful and it has a very cool assembly, the whole cabinet box has a dovetail assembly, no cam locks or metal clips, this was the clincher for me after watching their assembly videos, I think its a no brainier, its easier, stronger and looks nicer. The service was great it shipped out really quick. There was one door that was damaged, all they asked for was a picture and they sent out a replacement right away.
I was very impressed with their customer service.
Virginia Kearney (author) from United States on May 19, 2018:
Hi outwest--I am really only writing about my own experience with CHS, and I only provide the link to their website because I've had people request it. I am sorry to hear they have had some negative reviews on BBB. My main goal in writing my articles about RTA is to let homeowners like myself know that they can consider this option and it can be a good one. My 31 cabinets still look almost new after 10 years and they are very sturdy. If you want to save money, I would suggest you consider RTA but please look very carefully at the company. You might want to ask for references and other homeowners who have ordered from them. Additionally, I've noticed that some of the big box stores like Home Depot are now stocking some already assembled cabinets that are pretty cheap. That can be an option too.
Virginia Kearney (author) from United States on May 19, 2018:
Thanks outwest for your comments. I am only speaking about my own experiences with the company. I can certainly imagine that other people may not have had the same experience and I would certainly caution anyone making this type of order to be careful and check all possible reviews. While I had a good experience with CHS, I am not really attempting to steer people toward their company. My main goal in my articles is to let people know that ready-to-assemble can be a good choice. My cabinets (all 31 of them) are now 10 years old and look brand new. I do use kitchen cabinet cream on them about 4 times a year and dust them a couple of times a month. I hope that you will find some cabinets that work well for you!
outwest4u2c on May 19, 2018:
I checked with the BBB to see if RTA was listed with them. And found a lot negative reviews I really want to feel like this is a good trustworthy company. But please check the reviews on the Better Business Bureau's website website. Virginia, I love all of the research you have done. And we really need to save some money on our kitchen project. I will look into RTA CHS. Hopefully things will go accordingly.
Virginia Kearney (author) from United States on October 16, 2017:
Thanks for your detailed description of your process too George. I am going to be doing some remodeling in a condo we bought for our kids and so I'll be doing all this again. Your cabinets sound beautiful!
George Cuncliff on October 16, 2017:
Wow Virginia, that was a very educational and detailed article, I went through a similar process in research (not as detailed I admit) I agree to stay away from the big box stores, the base quote was fine but when you start adding plywood or better glides and hinges the price was crazy. I narrowed it down to Custom Service hardware and to rtawoodcabinets.com quality and price seemed good from both companies, I liked the designer I worked with at rta a little better, I felt like he understood my need and wants, had a lot of patience and was very knowledgeable and even impressed my contractor. I went with their Yarmouth collection, a raised panel white/ivory color, kitchen came out gorgeous.
Virginia Kearney (author) from United States on April 27, 2017:
Hi Jasmine--I can't speak to any company except the one that I dealt with, Custom Service Hardware RTA Cabinets. I have reviewed them on my site and I know that the person who was my personal salesperson is still with the company in a higher administrative position. In every interaction with them, I found they were very helpful and went out of their way to make my experience better. In fact, I'm thinking about adding some cabinets to another room in my house and a condo we own and I will definitely go back to CSH. It is interesting that you say that you are having trouble with colors because that is exactly why I ended up choosing CHS out of all the ones we looked at. I also wanted a warmer, reddish brown and found that in the Tuscany line, which they no longer carry. However, I just looked and did see some warm, reddish brown cabinets that might be what you want. You might like the Ellison, Sturbridge or Landmark Brandy. We also did use a cherry colored cabinet from them (I don't remember the name) and those are really beautiful. If you like darker woods, you really might like cherry. I did order a sample and actually wasn't sure from the sample if I would like it but the real cabinets matched the pictures online better than the sample.
Jasmine on April 27, 2017:
Hello Virginia. I really appreciate your input and experience and thank you for writing such an informative article! I see that you have looked at over 30 RTA different types of cabinet companies are there some that you would clearly stay away from or a few that you would consider? I ask because I'm looking at a few and I'm having a hard time finding exactly the right color. I'm looking for a warm rich reddish brown but not too red or orange. There are several I like, but nothing quite spot on and I'm concerned I'll be so focused on finding a great color and go with a company that maybe isn't the highest quality. I do realize I can order samples, and I know I will do that when I find some really great prospects. I am considering Kitchen Cabinet Depot in Brandy wine, or Best Online Cabinets in dark cherry. Do you know much about either of those companies from your research? Thank you so much for your valued opinion!!
Virginia Kearney (author) from United States on August 23, 2016:
You are correct that it is possible to buy quality cabinets at Home Depot and Lowes but they generally cost more than RTA cabinets. Of course with RTA you are doing the work of putting them together, so that saves a lot of money. My Home Depot Cabinets were on the lower end of the price spectrum but not ones that you just pick up in the store. They were special ordered. They do have some nice construction features but they are not as high quality as my RTA cabinets, even though they cost twice as much.
anonymous on August 22, 2016:
VirginiaLynne - correction quality cabinets will also use plywood for the box and solid wood for doors. Particle board and MDF is used in the assembled cabinets found at homedepot and lowes and some of IKEA. There are different grades and types of plywood, thickness (1/2" 5/8" & 3/4") and also number of layers are indicators of quality. Look for KCMA and CARB 2 certifcations
ClaytonDaily on December 08, 2015:
Great review thanks for the info
Virginia Kearney (author) from United States on September 23, 2015:
Theod--We used Custom Service Hardware. They seem to have changed their name or to go by this other name. Here is the contact information:
Custom Service Hardware
1170 N Wauwatosa Rd
Cedarburg, WI 53012
Mon - Fri, 8:00am - 4:30pm
Theod on September 23, 2015:
I counted 5 RTA Cabinets Unlimited store in 5 different State. Which one did you use Lynne? Thanks very much.
Virginia Kearney (author) from United States on November 27, 2014:
It depends on the style you want. Most RTA cabinets are better than something you would buy fully constructed at Home Depot, Lowes or another big store. That is because the fully constructed cabinets are usually made with plywood rather than real wood. It might be that the most expensive cabinets use real wood inside, but the lower end ones don't. All of the cabinet doors are generally all wood but the inside shelves and sides are not.
Amit Saha from Kolkata on November 27, 2014:
What is the Best Kitchen cabinet door in USA?Please help me..
Teri Gary on May 22, 2014:
I too just had rta cabinets installed and they are absolutely amazing. They are durable good quality quite inexpensive and absolutely beautiful!!!! LOVE
Jill Spencer from United States on August 04, 2013:
I have been looking at RTA cabinets but am concerned about quality and options. Glad to see yours. Will have to look at RTA Unlimited to see if they have the specialty cabinets we're looking for. Thanks!