Cabinets are certainly not required in a garage. Open shelving is less expensive, extremely strong, easy to install and reconfigure, and it also keeps stored items visible. But cabinets with doors do offer a more finished look, the ability to store potentially dangerous items, such as chemicals or sharp garden tools, behind closed and locked doors is a safety feature appreciated by parents of young children.
If you’ve never looked into garage cabinets before, you might be surprised at the range of products available. They range from remarkably affordable MDF-and-laminate cabinets to elegant stainless steel custom cabinetry designed and installed by firms specializing in this work. It's even possible to repurpose kitchen or bathroom cabinets for use in the garage.
Here are the four major categories of cabinets available to do-it-yourselfers for installation in a garage.
Recycled Kitchen Cabinets
Standard kitchen cabinets are not going to be as rugged as cabinets built specifically for garage use. But because kitchen remodeling is so common, used kitchen cabinets can be easy to find at very attractive prices. Check local classified ads, post a request on a neighborhood online chat forum, or seek some advice from a remodeling contractor who may be willing to sell you some used cabinets from a project he's currently working on. The Habitat for Humanity ResStore is a great place to buy reused cabinets—and your purchases will also help fund this worthy organization. There are other second-hand stores that carry used cabinets.
If you are planning a kitchen remodel yourself, think about putting the old cabinets to use in the garage. Ugly kitchen cabinets can be improved significantly with a coat of paint and some new hardware.
You can, of course, buy new economy kitchen cabinets to use in a garage. If you go this route, it makes the most sense to buy low-end kitchen cabinets off the shelf at a big-box home improvement center.
Molded Plastic Cabinets
If you are looking for new cabinets built specifically for the garage, plastic units will usually be the most affordable. A number of manufacturers specialize in plastic units, offering product lines designed especially for garage use. Ranging from small, narrow cabinets to hold lawn rakes and other garden tools to shed-sized units, plastic cabinets are easy to clean, and are waterproof and rust-proof. Most plastic cabinets come disassembled and are easily constructed by snapping the parts together. You can find units with lockable doors and adjustable shelves, both in styles that are mounted to walls or set on the floor. Major manufacturers offer a variety of accessories to make your plastic garage cabinets more functional.
Plastic garage cabinets are available at home centers and big-box retail stores, both off-the-shelf and as special-orders. You can also buy cabinets that fit into slot-wall systems.
Several manufacturers offer sturdy cabinets for the garage that have plywood, medium-density fiberboard (MDF) or particleboard cores covered with durable melamine or similar plastic laminate surfaces. The biggest selection will be found online, where you can find a wide selection of styles, sizes, and colors. Some assembly will be required. These product lines are often offered by the same companies that make kitchen cabinets or closet organizers. Their garage cabinets are often sized in dimensions that are best suited for use in the garage.
Many dream garages are filled with heavy-duty steel or stainless-steel cabinets. At the top of the line, these are the most durable—and the most expensive—cabinets you can get for your garage. Some manufacturers also make more lightweight and affordable consumer-grade metal cabinets made from a lighter-gauge metal, often powder-coated in a variety of color choices. Fully assembled and ready-to-assemble units are available; the ready-to-assemble units generally cost less.
The attractive Gladiator Garageworks line is proprietary at Lowe’s and Sears, but there are other many other product lines available. Individual cabinets are available "a la carte," or you can buy a full ensemble of cabinets to create a comprehensive garage storage system.
Don't Forget Overhead Storage
Garages often have a great deal of wasted space overhead—either above the rafters or in the space below a finished ceiling but above your head. The space above the hood of your car is a prime place to put overhead storage units. These units are usually wire racks rather than traditional cabinets, but when integrated with traditional cabinets, they let you maximize the available storage in your garage.
It is also possible to hang traditional wall cabinets from the ceiling of your garage, much the way that upper kitchen cabinets are sometimes suspended from a soffit above an island or peninsula. All that's necessary is access to ceiling joists to firmly anchor the hanging cabinets.