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Oct 20, 2009 08:22 AM

Melamine vs. Plywood construction for cabinets

Who knew there were so many kitchen cabinet choices!? I'm thoroughly confused, but I've narrowed down my choices to two San Francisco semi-custom cabinet designers who carry what seems like pretty different products

KitchenSync in SF's Mission District: Ultracraft's Vision line. This seems to be the cheaper option, because the cabinet box is thermoset melamine and the only wood in the entire thing is wood dovetail drawers. I don't know what kind of wood. I am assuming plywood, but it could very well be particle board.

Timeless Kitchens in SF's Bayview District: Omega's Dynasty line. Definitely more expensive, but I don't have an estimate for how much more. Perhaps a few thousand dollars for my tiny kitchen. All hardwood exterior, all plywood interior.

It seems pretty clear to me, a cabinet novice, that the Omega is the superior product. However, I know zero about melamine cabinets and have never seen one (or at least have never noticed).

In terms of the durability and ease of cleaning for the exterior, the strength if the inner cabinets, and the quality of the hardware, is there any compelling reason not to save a few thousand dollars and just go with the melamine?

Or, to put the question a different way, does anyone have experience with Ultracraft vs. Omega?

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  1. Are you definitely choosing between these two lines? I don't want to hijack your thread into a separate discussion...
    I recently remodeled my kitchen (live in the Oakland) and had 100% custom cabinets made by a great place, and they were thousands cheaper than the next closest manufacturers. They are melamine boxes with wood doors. I believe that they will make the cabinets without melamine if that is your preference. It is my understanding that the melamine is very strong and not necessarily inferior to plywood.
    If you want the info for the place, I will post it. I apologize if this does you no good at all.

    3 Replies
    1. re: lamlex

      100% custom, you say? You could be doing me a huge favor. Please do tell!

      1. re: Pei

        Precision Cabinets and Trim
        (925) 634-5552
        Audra-Mia Lyons is the salesperson that I dealt with, and she was fantastic. I was referred to her by a friend of mine who is a contractor. Not that it matters, but you could tell her that you got her name from Lexie Cox.

        I have a small kitchen that required some strange dimensions to make the best use of space. I never would have been able to get that with semi-custom. They came to my house twice to measure (before remodel construction started), gave me a number of various design options, and did the installation.

        1. re: lamlex


          I just got a quote back for the Omega Dynasty: almost $7k just for cabinets in a 8x11' kitchen. That's about 10 feet of cabinets and a 3x7 island, with a normal 8.5' height. Anything above that becomes more custom-priced, and this is without any kind of roll outs or specialty drawers/cabinets.

          I think the Ultracraft is under $5k, but I'm not sure yet.

    2. I'm with lamlex. A few years ago my sister was remodeling her kitchen, and she was getting prices on medium-grade stock cabinets. I kept pestering her to talk to the guy who had done my custom cabinets and our parents' custom cabinets, and he ended up being better quality and cheaper than the stock cabinets. My parents' cabinets are almost 25 years old and look brand new. Mine are 17 years old and I'm still in love with them.

      2 Replies
      1. re: Ruth Lafler

        What materials did you use? I know there is good melamine vs. bad melamine and good wood vs. bad wood, but I'm curious what it is that has lasted 17-25 years!

        1. re: Pei

          Mine were "paint grade" solid wood and IIRC they're poplar (honestly, the wood was so pretty it was a shame to paint them). I have a vague recollection that the upper cabinets for my parents are melamine boxes with wood facing, but I couldn't swear to that.

          Victor's (that's his last name, not his first) Custom Cabinets, on San Leandro (right behind Fruitvale BART) in Oakland.

      2. I've also been researching cabinetry for our current kitchen remodel. :) I've been told that in terms of strength and durability both plywood and particle board boxes (cabinet frames) are comparable. You can even get either of those materials made with formaldehyde-free glues -- although perhaps low-VOC are a requirement anyway in CA? (I cannot recall the law details.)

        The main difference between plywood and particle board, though, is how they respond when there are water leaks. Particle board is still known to swell up and buckle worse than plywood. But if you're vigilant about leaks and moisture, it shouldn't be too much of an issue.

        We've been pretty lucky to find a cabinet maker (in the South Bay) whose price for particle board+melamine and plywood boxes are the same. Instead, upgrades are charged for dovetail (vs nailed in), complexity of door styles, complexity of crown moulding, etc.

        1. As a woodworker/cabinet maker I'd suggest you look at the attached
          link - it's for a woodworking forum site that a lot of contractors use
 probably won't answer your questions but will give you some food for thought. I believe the final choice is for you to decide on the installer then the material. A good or bad install can be accomplished with either.

          1. Almost all kitchen 'big-box' kitchen cabinets are made from melamine coated chipboard. This has the following pros and cons:

            Temperature and humidity stable
            Easy to clean
            Does not absorbs stain or odours
            Easy to replace as standard sizes.

            Chips, easy to damage, hard to repair.
            Edges can peel away
            Badly damaged by 'lingering' water, including floor washing.

            Melamine (particleboard) cabinets will support any weight you can realistically put on them (eg, granite or a 250lb light bulb changer). They are difficult to modify. They also look 'plastic'. Commonly they can be end-faced with veneered particle board.