Storage With Style

Kitchen cabinets play an essential part in keeping the space clean and uncluttered, while adding visual interest to the overall design.

authors Elizabeth Richards | June 6, 2018

Kitchen cabinets have a tall order to fill. Because they claim so much space in the kitchen, the exteriors must either blend into the surroundings or deliberately stand out without detracting from the rest of the kitchen design. But their job doesn’t end there. Since storage is the primary function of cabinetry, the interior is just as important. And along with efficiently organized space, a sleek, uncluttered look is also sought within. To top it all off, the overall design of the cabinets needs to reflect the personality and style of the homeowner.

“When it comes to making a statement in the kitchen, the cabinets have a lot to say. Cabinets are a critical component in ensuring that the kitchen space is not only well organized but also communicates the homeowners’ sense of style, personality and design,” says Angela Wellborn O’Neill, director of advertising and marketing for Wellborn Cabinet Inc. in Ashland, AL.

“I think the kitchen is a show space for many homes,” notes Steve Wilcox, director of design and new product development for SunnyWood and Sagehill Designs in Cerritos, CA. “Therefore, the design of that room is very important. Cabinetry is a huge part of that statement. It is a major part of the home from a financial standpoint, as well as a social standpoint. Consumers are willing to invest in making their kitchen environment perfect in every way.”

This means that cabinets might be intended to stand out, or they could blend in instead. “In some interiors, the cabinetry may be a powerhouse statement of bold design, dramatic finish and attention-getting decorative hardware. In other designs, the stone tops and high-end appliances may be the focus while the cabinetry acts as a strong ‘supporting cast member,’” Wilcox maintains.

“Perhaps the fact that clean lines and less ornamentation remain priorities is a reflection of homeowners’ deep desire for order in their lives,” believes Scott Korsten, director of marketing at Showplace Cabinetry in Harrisburg, SD. “Homeowners want their cabinetry to make a statement about who they are and how they live. The choices people make in their cabinetry absolutely affects where their family spends time, how they interact with
each other and the quality of their personal time.”

Cabinets are also being used to stimulate visual interest through color, contrasting finishes, materials and texture, both inside and out. Storage is a key consideration for placement and interiors, and lighting is a popular add-on. Painted cabinets, in shades of white and grey, still see high demand, but stained cabinets that show off the wood grain are also desired. That’s according to manufacturers recently surveyed by Kitchen & Bath Design News.

Visual Variety

As with many aspects of kitchen design, manufacturers say there is continued movement to a cleaner aesthetic, with less ornamentation or fussy design. But clean and uncluttered doesn’t equal boring. Visual interest is being created with color, materials and style.

“Wood species and finish are still critically important, and it appears that woods with grain or visual texture as well as physical texture are trending up,” Wilcox notes. It can be difficult to find the right balance with the face of cabinets being featured in so much of the kitchen – any one textural feature can overpower the space, he says. For this reason, he believes these textural effects will be subtle.

Painted finishes still top consumers’ wish list, according to Wilcox, most often in whites and grays. But there are many variations of both colors. “Grays in paints seem to be moving lighter, with some more subtleties added,” he says. “Wood tones seem to continue to move toward the neutral side of the palette, with the taupes being important, and brown tones seem to be moving to tones with less red in them. Sheens still seem to be moving to the less shiny, but in the more contemporary styles, sheen is a nice accent to the really clean designs,” he adds.

Perry Miller, president of Kountry Wood Products in Nappanee, IN believes solid colors are the new rage, whether white, grey, black, blue or anything in between. He adds that stain colors with any hint of red are declining, as are more traditional styles, such as mitered doors or crown molding with a lot of detail. Maple is by far the most popular species, he maintains, but his company is starting to see requests for more grain detail. “Shaker style, which is mostly straight and square with clean lines, is dominating the market,” he points out.

Denny Marlin, v.p. of marketing for R.D. Henry & Co. in Wichita, KS sees demand for sleek, “European-modern” cabinets without accents or hardware, often with a smooth painted surface contrasted with deep, rich wood grains. He also says that metal accents are being incorporated into cabinets, and multiple finishes – sometimes three and four in the same space – are being used.

The movement toward creating personalized spaces means cabinets now come in a wide array of choices, with a focus on variety, rather than trying to appeal to the overall broadest market. “From finishes, style and accessories, it’s all about your aesthetic and your lifestyle,” reports Kari Hiltner, CKD, marketing and design manager at Plato Woodwork, Inc. in Plato, MN.

While she maintains that paint is the most requested finish, she also sees requests for more textures and mixed material finishes in each space. “Metal strapping, inlays, bases and wraps are becoming a more popular request. Leather, shagreen, high-gloss acrylics [and] matte materials are requests we field more than ever. That being said, we are still in a transitional moment. Our most popular door styles are simple, with clean lines with recessed panels,” she notes. “We see color, color and more color every day in our facility,” she adds.

Korsten states, “Painted cabinets continue to dominate, especially in styles with flat center panels and minimal ornamentation. Shoppers like to have a variety of options to consider, but the general styling of what they pick has been fairly static.” Fine grain woods, such as maple and cherry, in stained finishes are declining in popularity, while shades of white paint, though not “pure white,” are holding steady, he notes. “The movement toward darker stains is also slowing, while stains that allow the unique grain character of wood to show are quickly gaining popularity,” he adds.

O’Neill believes, “Homeowners are no longer satisfied with cookie-cutter kitchen designs.” As a result, she sees color customization on the rise. “Color is one of the most effective ways to make a statement in the home. Homeowners are seeking out unique colors that not only stand out but work specifically for their kitchen.”

Marlin agrees. He says the biggest change being seen in kitchen cabinetry right now is the ability to match virtually any solid paint color a customer can produce – or even dream. “In fact, 10% of the cabinets we sell today are finished in a custom paint match as directed by the customer,” he points out.

Focus on Function

Although appearance is certainly important, cabinets must also offer top-quality interior functionality. Having the perfect place to put things away with maximum access and convenience is important to homeowners, and customers have high expectations, regardless of price point.

“Furnishings for the home are a great value today and consumers can get pretty much what they want, when they want it, at the price they can afford,” says Wilcox. “Some features that were options before are really requirements these days. Think of soft-close doors and drawers. More functional hardware options have allowed that desired feature to have much wider applications at more price points. Likewise, better drawer slides and glides have raised the consumer’s expectations for the drawer function,” he says.

Hiltner notes, “We live in an Instagram world; desiring perfection on the outside.” This has had an impact on design, as the firm sees requests for greater functionality while maintaining outer perfection, she says. “New hardware is making it easier to accomplish the requests. Sliding doors, panels, lift-up and drop-down accessories make storage more accessible and functional while maintaining the perfect exterior when closed. Concealing work spaces behind doors, integrating or hiding appliances and secret doors are all common requests.”

Storage is an essential consideration, allowing homeowners to get use out of all the space available. “Today’s homeowners desire for their kitchen and overall home design to make sense, meaning it should be beautiful and functional at the same time. Creative storage options make sense and make use of awkward or small spaces in cabinetry,” points out O’Neill.

“There’s a desire to have clean, uncluttered countertops, so accessories like pull outs with utensil bins and knife block drawers are popular as well as caddies for pots and pans, wastebasket cabinets for garbage and recyclables, deep drawers and nested drawers,” adds Marlin.

Shifting Size and Styles

While standard cabinets will always have their place, manufacturers say there is more variety in the types of pieces selected, from furniture-style cabinets to open shelving, as well as cabinets of unique shapes or sizes.

“Homeowners are not content to place standard-sized cabinets in spaces that require fillers that interrupt the visual symmetry of the design,” believes Korsten. “It is becoming increasingly unusual for orders to come our way without heavy modifications being made to most cabinets; our cabinetry is being crafted to place specific contents in specific spaces with a priority being placed on de-cluttering. This also shows through increased use of interior organization components by homeowners, so what is on the inside of the cabinetry is often as unique and personal as the outside.”

Korsten adds, “We are also seeing a unique shift into kitchens that use multiple tall/utility sized cabinets in their layout, often at the expense of standard wall cabinets.”

Marlin cites top trends that include furniture-style cabinetry, open shelving below the countertop, open or glass door cabinets that include an interior accent color, and consumers opting out of upper cabinets entirely, sometimes replacing these with open shelving.

Miller agrees that open designs are gaining in popularity. “Floating shelves will sometimes be used in place of wall cabinets,” he maintains.

Jeff Ptacek, CKD, director of product development at Sioux Falls, SD-based StarMark Cabinetry, sees more open floor plans where cabinets flow easily from one room to the next, almost like furniture pieces. He adds that StarMark is starting to see splashes of color on islands and other parts of the kitchen that coordinate with white or gray cabinets around the perimeter.

“In today’s kitchen design, we no longer see wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling cabinets in the same color. We see homeowners putting their unique stamp on their homes with specialty finishes that allow the cabinets to be featured as a focal point rather than blending in to the rest of the home,” says Marlin. While there used to be a trend, particularly in open-concept homes, to match cabinet finishes and styles to other furnishings, now homeowners are matching the furniture pieces – such as bookshelves, entertainments centers, benches and window seats – to the cabinets, he believes. “Today’s lifestyle also demands cabinetry in other spaces: coffee bars, mudroom lockers and entertainment centers.”

Impact of Technology

Manufacturers are mindful of a variety of ways in which technology of one kind or another affects trends in cabinetry.

“Social media has had a significant impact on trends,” says Miller. “Trends seem to change faster, and they aren’t as regionalized as they were in the past.”

Wilcox notes that he is careful when trying to interpret the impact of technology on cabinet design. “The problem is that technology can change very quickly, while the main function of cabinetry has not changed much. As prices come down on other technologies like warming drawers and wine coolers, new cabinet units will be created as they drift more into the mainstream of kitchen design,” he believes.

Hiltner says technology is hard to keep up with as it continues to change at an ever-more-rapid pace. But keeping technology hidden is one important aspect of the newest technology, she points out. As an example, she notes, “Companies like Tresco and Docking Drawer have made it much easier to incorporate charging and powering for our devices.”

Ptacek believes that the industry has to plan for smart home technologies that will be connected to Alexa-type devices. Appliances can already connect to this technology, he points out, and lighting and powered lift-up door technology that work through voice commands are coming fast.

New lighting technology is already impacting cabinet trends, manufacturers say.

“The requests for incorporating low-voltage lighting into our cabinetry has increased every year,” says Hiltner.

“New lighting technology seems to be a nice enhancement feature to cabinetry specifically and to interiors as a whole. Undermount lighting and interior lighting options increase the functionality of the cabinets and really don’t require too many design modifications,” Wilcox states.

“We have broadened the space of illumination when building and designing by use of ambient and task Häfele lighting,” adds O’Neill “By pre-grooving cabinetry for lighting, customers will have the option to include a completely customizable lighting package in any Wellborn cabinetry they desire. Prepping cabinetry for lighting is one of the many advancements Wellborn is making to assure clean and consistent lines throughout the design.” ▪

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