White Shaker Shoutout: The RTA Store Cabinet Comparison
This article will focus on comparing and contrasting the four varieties of White Shaker basic 15-inch (B15) cabinets I ordered and assembled from The RTA store. The four cabinets discussed here are the Arctic White Shaker, the Aspen White Shaker, the Brilliant White Shaker, and the Southport White Shaker. While assembling and reviewing these cabinets, a number of very interesting things became clear when inspecting the quality of the build each variety offers. For the purpose of this article, I will be focusing on the aesthetic quality when seen from the cabinet face, the structural build (including the hardware) of each unit, the utilization of available space for storage, and the ease of assembly.
Before we get started, I will say this: while I understand that price is an extremely important factor when budgeting for and planning your kitchen, my central goal with this article is to provide you with practical information regarding the cabinet itself. Only after examining and comparing the cabinets will we look at the prices of each one and take into account the current asking price from theRTAstore.com. Even then, most RTA online cabinet distributors are offering deals and changing retail prices on a daily basis so it is difficult to gauge a cabinet’s value based on price alone.
Apart from price, there are dozens of factors to consider when discerning the quality and desirability of one cabinet over another. A simple inspection of the four cabinets reveals a hierarchy of quality in terms of the paint and finish initially catching the eye of anyone observing these varieties juxtaposed next to one another.
The Finish of the Door, Drawer Face, and Cabinet Frame
When studying the paint and finish of each Shaker style cabinet, it is important to consider several key components:
- Are there any noticeable cracks or damage in the paint of the door, itself?
- Of what material are the door, drawer face, and frame composed?
- Is the paint applied evenly so as to cover any wood grains that may show through?
Out of the gate, the Brilliant White has the nicest paint with absolutely no damage and a thick, even coat giving it the cleanest look and softest texture. But the Brilliant White’s 5-panel door is constructed from a composite MDF material with the center panel simply stapled into place from the backside (Picture 1).
While this MDF door undoubtedly holds the paint and finish to a brighter standard than the wooden doors on the Aspen and Southport, the material is simply not as strong and resilient to aging as a hardwood such as Birch or Maple. The Arctic, while also being composed of the same composite material as the Brilliant, has a thinner paint job and is simply not as bright as even the wood doors.
One last interesting and important thing to note is the condition of the doors when they arrived. As noted, The Southport and the Aspen cabinets both use real wood for the doors and drawer fronts while the Arctic and the Brilliant both use composite wood. The Brilliant and the Arctic White both arrived undamaged while the Southport and Aspen both arrived with some damage in the door, namely cracks in the paint and visible wood grains (Pics 2 & 3).
I attribute these inconsistencies to the fact that it is more expensive to paint a door made with quality material (i.e. birch wood necessitating more paint and therefore more labor/time) than it is to quickly paint a door composed of inexpensive material. That being said, seeing as the goal here is to examine the quality of the product in this particular category rather than the expense, I have to admit the Brilliant Shaker holds the brightest, cleanest paint job for a White Shaker cabinet offered from The RTA Store’s online selection, pictured to the right juxtaposed next to the Aspen White Shaker (Pic 4). It is obvious from the picture the Brilliant is the brighter between the two, with it’s MDF door and drawer face holding onto the white paint better and attracting the eye quicker than the Aspen.
Box and Storage
We can begin to see more noticeable differences in the structure of the cabinets when we take a closer look at the box-quality and storage capacities among each White Shaker variety. The bodies of the cabinets are all the same in that they implement ½ inch thick plywood for the side panels of the unit (Pic 5), although the quality of the plywood slightly fluctuates. Besides a few minor discrepancies here and there, the Southport cabinet is the only unit that arrived with some pretty significant damage to one of the side panels (Pic 6).
The most significant comparison here when it comes to storage ability is the quality of the different drawer boxes. The Aspen and the Southport both have model drawer boxes with the side panels on the Aspen built to be dense and sturdy. The Brilliant White has a very disappointing drawer by comparison: shallow in depth at 2 3/4 inches (Pic 7), irregular and uneven joints in the corners, not to mention the dovetails are incapable of solidly locking into place. The drawer box on the Arctic Shaker is lacking even more than the Brilliant and other Shaker varieties in its storage ability and box quality. The absence of full extension capabilities and rough dovetails indicate feeble quality and deficit of resilience to routine usage over time (Pic 8).
Storage ability is an often overlooked area when comparing cabinets. This is where the Southport cabinet has a leg up over the other varieties with its. The Arctic, Aspen, and Brilliant cabinets all have 12 inch long shelves (half the cabinet box) with minimal surface space that holds only a limited number of items. Not only does the Southport cabinet have a nearly full-sized shelf (3/4 of the box), it is also finished on all sides with a lovely wood veneer. This allows for the shelf to be flipped and arranged in a number of different ways, which is nice for cleaning and extending the life of the shelf itself (pictured below).
Both the Southport and the Aspen have very functional storage with their deep strong drawers. The shallow drawer box of the Brilliant cabinet opens the potential of snagging the drawer on the frame with any number of utensils and posits the risk of damaging the cabinet frame. It is disappointing to find that the Arctic cabinet did not have a full extension drawer, which will prove to be frustrating when attempting to retrieve items in the very back of the drawer (Pic 10).
When it comes to hardware, the four cabinet varieties are all nearly identical with the exception of Arctic White, which is trailing far behind in quality. Excluding the Arctic, the other cabinets implement impressive quality door hinges with built in soft close mechanisms. Soft close mechanisms are practically standard in the RTA cabinet industry, so when a unit without these devices comes across my workbench I see it necessary to bring to attention in my reviews.
Both Aspen and Southport use standard quality under mount drawer slides with soft close mechanisms. The Brilliant White slides are also satisfactory but I have some concerns about the flimsy contact of the rear brackets to which the tracks connect and are anchored to the cabinet box, especially when compared to the amount of contact between the hard plastic brackets and tracks found in the Aspen and Southport units. The Arctic White is once again coming up short with cheaper quality undermount tracks that lack any kind of soft close mechanisms (Pic 11 [Arctic], Pic 12 [Aspen], Pic 13 [Brilliant], Pic 14 [Southport]).
Assembly and Support
Perhaps the most ironic aspect I’ve encountered when comparing these four White Shaker varieties to one another has been the packaging of the cabinets. The Southport and Aspen cabinets had noticeably better packaging than that other two which is highly curious seeing as these were the only cabinets to arrive with damage. Both their wooden doors arrived with chips and cracks in the paint, and I previously mentioned the Southport arrived with a side panel damaged so severely I was unable to assemble the cabinet until a replacement reached me (Pictured below in order: Arctic, Aspen, Brilliant, Southport).
The Aspen White Shaker cabinet is the easiest of the four to assemble despite the set of poor instructions comprised of rudimentary picture diagrams that are included, which demonstrate little to no help. Additionally, the sheer number of metal brackets required for this assembly extends the build-time significantly next to the other varieties, but the brackets also allow for an assembly process that is easy and straightforward. What truly gives the Aspen Shaker the advantage over the other varieties is the precision with which each piece fits together and ends with a product that is firm, tight, and secure. (Pic 19 [Arctic], Pic 20 [Aspen]).
The Brilliant and the Arctic have decent instructions but are more frustrating to assemble. The wooden corner braces on each require an extension for the Phillips driver on your power drill and are susceptible to cracking if drilled too far. The Aspen’s parallel wooden supports running length-wise along the top of the unit substantially stabilize the cabinet but are found nowhere in the instructional guide to assemblage. The Southport is a simple cabinet to assemble despite the absence of any guide or form of instruction included with the unit, which unfortunately brings its overall score down (Below/Left: Arctic, Below/Right: Brilliant).
The support from The RTA Store for the four cabinets has been phenomenal. The damage reports have all been handled over email, with The RTA Store responding within 24 hours and being accommodating to each issue that has arisen. After sending pictures of the 6 damaged pieces that came in my original package for a Southport White Shaker unit, their team immediately shipped an entire replacement cabinet. This exhibited to me a genuine care in the needs of their clientele and gave me confidence in their support team should any issues arise in the future.
Designing a kitchen for your specific needs requires thoughtful reflection on your lifestyle in order to anticipate the quality of cabinet necessary to accommodate your daily routines and rituals. The cabinets in our homes are utilized every day and contain the items which help us get ready for work in the morning; they store the utensils we utilize to cook food for our families in the evening and set the tone of our living quarters when we welcome guests into our homes. Not everyone will unanimously agree on what makes an ideal cabinet, as we all have different lifestyles, routines, and needs. With that being said, I believe that the system used in these reviews is a comprehensive breakdown of the various factors that make for quality RTA cabinets.
Seeing as we have covered in detail the quality of each White Shaker variety, we can examine how the grading system aligns with the online retail price at which the B15 units are currently selling. The RTA Store charges considerably more for the Brilliant White Shaker cabinets: $226.23. If you are looking specifically for kitchen cabinets displaying immaculate, flawless white paint in a shaker style but aren’t concerned with the lack of viable storage space or the MDF 5 piece door containing a middle panel stapled into place, then the Brilliant White Shaker will work for you. The door appears to be of a nice build from the outside but once opened and the backside of the door becomes visible it is apparent there were corners cut by the manufacturer to save production cost. The drawers on the Aspen and Southport cabinets offer deeper storage space, quality soft close mechanisms, and sturdy plastic brackets to anchor the drawer in place. While the Brilliant is a decent cabinet, there are two better options offered from the same provider (at a significantly lesser cost) and therefore recommend either the Aspen or the Southport over the Brilliant White Shaker.
The Arctic White Shaker falls short of the other three cabinets in almost every respect. The most surprising thing about the Arctic White is that it is NOT the most affordable option, currently selling at $173.89. Generally, when you compromise on quality and features you typically save on cost. This is not the case with the Arctic White Shaker. Having some disappointing scores in the Box & Storage as well as the Hardware sections the Arctic arrives at a total grade of 2.9. As a result, it is hard for me to recommend this cabinet when you can get considerably superior alternatives from the same supplier at a lower cost.
The real choice for me, from the RTA Store, is whether to recommend the Southport White Shaker or the Aspen White Shaker. Technically the Aspen scores the highest with an overall grade of 4.0 out of a possible 5.0. The Southport is slightly lower than the Aspen with an overall grade of 3.8, but the Southport is also the most affordable cabinet option at $169.08 while the current price tag on the Aspen is $182.52. This $13 difference in price may seem trivial but when you consider outfitting an entire kitchen that price will likely swell up anywhere from a $400 to $1,000 difference depending on the size of your kitchen. The Aspen and Southport varieties are branded by third party manufacturers on the inside of their drawer panels: Forevermark and Jarlin, respectively. These companies have a reputation for making quality cabinets. The hardware and packaging are practically the same, but the Aspen is still slightly easier to assemble than the Southport, namely because the Southport lacked any instructions whatsoever. With a thicker coat and an even finish, the Aspen holds a nicer paint job than the Southport. Both the Aspen and the Southport have great drawers but the Aspen drawer panels are slightly thicker. The Southport, however, has a much finer shelf, finished on all six sides and having more surface space for storage.
The choice between these two cabinets is a matter of personal taste. I lean towards the Southport because I prefer natural interiors rather than the matching white interior of the Aspen. The longer shelf of the Southport I see as being more useful than the hanging half shelf of the Aspen. I also suggest shopping for a cabinet that is assembled using tongue and groove joints for the cabinets body panels in order to have the option (if you have the time) to glue all the pieces together for extra stability. This is completely optional and most people would not bother do this because it takes more time and effort, but it also ensures a longer life from your cabinet.
These are both quality RTA cabinets with slight differences in quality; what you are paying more for with the Aspen is to have a matching interior box to the exterior face of the cabinet. If this is an important quality in a cabinet for you, then I suggest going with the Aspen White Shaker. If you are not concerned with a matching interior and find the longer shelf an appealing feature as I do, then the Southport White Shaker is a solid cabinet choice with which to outfit your kitchen (Pic 22 [Arctic], Pic 23 [Aspen], Pic 24 [Brilliant], Pic 25 [Southport]).
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