The challenge when building with kitchen cabinets is to make the finished project look like custom furniture rather than a bunch of stacked-together boxes. Most cabinet manufacturers offer crown moldings, fluted filler strips, decorative baseboards, glass-paned doors, dentil moldings and other add-ons to help you do just that.

One drawback to building with stock units: You'll have to sacrifice some design flexibility. For example, most don't come with slide-back doors. We worked around that by ordering the TV cabinet with hinges that open 170 degrees — more than enough for clear viewing.

You'll also find that most wood kitchen cabinets aren't stained on the inside. Although you might not mind, we wanted an exact match to the Spice color throughout, so we bought prefinished plywood "skins" and glued these thin sheets inside the cabinets. This way, the entertainment center looks as attractive with the doors open as it does with them closed.

Cost Control

How much you spend depends on the style, size and number of cabinets you choose. Our entertainment center was built from top-of-the-line cherry cabinets and cost about $2,800, including all the specialty hardware and prefinished plywood skins. That's 40 percent less than the cost of a comparable factory-built unit. You'll save $450 more by leaving off the plywood skins and staining interior surfaces instead. You can also assemble the same entertainment center (without skins) using standard oak cabinets with recessed-panel doors for about $1,500. Plastic-laminate cabinets with slab doors cost even less.

Before you buy the cabinets for your entertainment center, carefully measure each piece of equipment you plan to put inside. Don't forget to measure any wires, jacks or picture tubes projecting from the back and any knobs sticking out in front. Determine ahead of time where you need to drill holes in the cabinet back and shelves for running the wires. And don't jam components in too tightly; they need plenty of air space around them so they don't overheat.

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