Making a Statement
When it comes to making a statement in the kitchen, the cabinets have a lot to say. Indeed, cabinets are a critical component in ensuring that the kitchen space is not only well organized but also communicates the homeowners’ sense of style and personality. “More than ever, the kitchen is a focal point of the home. Not only is the kitchen the functional hub, but it also makes an undeniable statement about the personality of the owners and serves as the social epicenter of the home,” says David Littlefield, s.v.p. of sales & marketing at Marsh Furniture Co., based in High Point, NC. Designers and homeowners seek features that will ensure that the cabinetry fits in with the overall environment in the home, he adds. The cabinets, as one of the most prominent features in the space, play a huge role in the overall statement the kitchen makes, manufacturers agree. “Kitchen cabinets ‘become’ the room with today’s styles and finishes,” claims Michael Glaser, CKD, director of sales for Plainfield, NJ-based CNC Cabinetry. Custom styling and plenty of choices are also important to current trends in cabinetry. “From painted finishes of all colors, to rustic chic materials, to high-gloss acrylic doors, there is a strong desire to personalize the kitchen in ways that are as different as the homeowners themselves,” states Scott Korsten, director of marketing at Showplace Wood Products in Harrisburg, SD. Other top trends include highly organized cabinet interiors, specialized features to increase functionality, continued interest in painted cabinetry (particularly in shades of white and gray), clean transitional lines and personalized design choices. That’s according to manufacturers recently surveyed by Kitchen & Bath Design News. INTERNAL ORGANIZATION Though the external appearance of kitchen cabinets plays an essential role in design trends, the inside can’t be overlooked. Features that add to the overall organization of the space are crucial, manufacturers say. “Storage solutions continue to be a driver through the continued advancement of options that make cabinetry highly functional,” notes Littlefield. Korsten agrees: “Organization remains a strong pull for homeowners.” He adds that manufacturers must create “new ways to store the ordinary things that people use in their daily lives, like utensils and cutlery, or in some cases [create] places to store things people own but rarely use,” such as in situations where the kitchen is less about cooking and more about having a stylish place to gather and entertain.
The push to have a place for everything means that homeowners are looking for features like drawers for pots and pans with lid holders, drawer inserts for specific supplies, spice drawers, dish holders inside drawers, trash inserts, hidden electrical outlet covers, small appliance garages and utilization of the toe-kick areas, says Angela Bly, designer for Crown Point Cabinetry in Claremont, NH. Dean Stanton, marketing director for Woodland Cabinetry, Inc. in Sisseton, SD, adds that there is an increased emphasis on large drawer units as the demand for organization becomes larger. Organizational features are just as important in stock cabinetry, says Steve Wilson, director of Midwest sales at JSI Cabinetry based in Fall River, MA, and more of these options are being offered. People are trying to do more for less than they were before, he notes, although he says the market for stock cabinetry still remains fairly basic. Storage designed for specific usage is important, allowing homeowners to set up the space to suit their unique needs. “We have seen an uptick in the use of refrigerator and freezer drawers,” states Bly. “We are also seeing a rise in designing kitchens and pantries around fresh vegetables – more baskets, bins and storage for the organic lifestyle.”
In the high-end custom market, “smart organization” is very important, according to Kevin Martin, developer of inspiration and innovation at Quality Custom Cabinetry, Inc. (QCCI) in New Holland, PA. Rather than the high-tech solutions those words might call to mind, he explains that smart organization means organizing the width and sizing of the interiors according to the functionality, and not wasting any space. It also means paying attention to the materials used and the positioning of items. For instance, he points out, for high-wear areas, it is standard for QCCI to put an L-shaped stainless steel strip at the top edge of a door to protect the finish. “Those are the little touches of being smart for the client that they really appreciate,” he says.
SPECIAL FEATURES Small details can change the feel of the space by adding style and functionality. This is especially true in cabinetry, where homeowners expect the space to simplify and streamline their work in the kitchen. The addition of features like soft-close or integrated LED lighting can make a big difference in how the space feels and functions. “Some features that were once optional are now expected; full-extension, soft-closing drawers with substantially built drawer boxes are thenorm,” says Korsten. But that doesn’t mean all cabinets are created equal. “We can still differentiate our cabinets through the extra care we take to finish our dovetail drawer joints and by using high-end drawer hardware vs. cheaper imports,” he states. Stanton agrees that soft-close doors and drawers are expected, and adds that the new Blum touch-to-open slide on wastebaskets is starting to catch on. “When your hands are full of messy garbage, you can bump the door with your knee and it opens. No electrical hookup needed,” he says. “This can also be used to create a handle-free kitchen,” he adds. Martin sees a major trend toward minimal use of surface-mounted hardware. Improvements in touch-to-open technology have allowed for the growth of this trend in the high-end market, he points out. Angela Wellborn O’Neill, director of advertising and marketing for Wellborn Cabinet Inc. in Ashland, AL, says that the firm’s customers express a desire to include technology in their kitchen cabinets. Wellborn has several touch technologies to offer, including touch-to-open, touch-toclose and touch-to-light, she notes. Another feature taking center stage in the high-end market is truly integrated LED lighting, says Martin, where wires and switches are hidden from view, and there’s even an option to operate the lighting from a smartphone.
A Häfele system that can add LED lighting to adjustable shelving used to be very proprietary and expensive, Martin points out, but is now becoming available to any high-end custom manufacturer who wants to use it. FINISH FAVORITES The desire for personal expression means more finish choices than ever, making specific trends difficult to pinpoint. Painted finishes are still on top, with texture becoming more important as new technology allows for even more possibilities. Polyester paints are providing more durable, longer-lasting finishes, says Glaser. As far as color goes, he sees white as a major trend. Wilson agrees: “White is still the most popular, hands down.” White is followed by gray and espresso tones, with some shade of the three on a flat-panel door making up 70% of his sales. Martin believes gray is less dominant than it was a few years ago, though still a part of the overall palette. In his market, he’s seen a shift back into the taupe browns, and he sees more diversity in the palette overall. People are embracing painted finishes of all types, on many different wood species – even woods like mahogany. “If you dilute the paint so that you actually show more of the wood grain, you show the beauty of the wood grain through it,” he says.
O’Neill notes that, at Wellborn, gray paints and stains have taken over as a major player. In response to this trend, Wellborn launched a new line of gray paints and stains last year, featured in the company’s Nature Collection. Bly sees white cabinetry still trending, along with painted cabinetry that also incorporates a specialty piece, such as a reclaimed island or hutch. “Reclaimed lumbers are currently a big hit with our clients,” she says. “We are also seeing a trend in different finishes on the specialty pieces such as a distressed look, brushed textured grain finish on our Quartersawn White Oak, brushed texture with color over color and burnished milk paints.” Stanton is seeing a mixing of rustic woods on the island with painted perimeters, which helps warm up the white paint look, along with a mixture of contemporary and rustic styles, such as a high-gloss slab acrylic perimeter paired with a rustic framed island. Painted finishes make up 40% of his firm’s sales, with white leading the way. Glaze and distressing are slowing down, and stain colors are just beginning to move to lighter shades, Stanton adds. Korsten says that most cabinetry sold is fine grain species like maple or cherry, with white and gray painted finishes, with an increased trend toward blues and greens. “Adding a painted finish to a species like red oak is gaining popularity among homeowners seeking a uniquely comfortable style,” he notes. Texturing is also on the rise, and machinery is now able to add texture to wood veneers as well as solid wood, Martin says. A new term called thermal fused laminate (TFL) has replaced the term melamine, he explains, and offers a process where picture print making emulates the appearance of wood grains, and texture is added. “You’re seeing this new material being used and embraced in places like the closets and other areas of the house that didn’t necessarily want to run the cost up with a wood product, but it’s now coming full circle into all areas of the house where people are looking at it as a viable authentic looking option for even a whole kitchen,” he states. UNCLUTTERED STYLE The desire to keep things simple and organized is important on exteriors as well as inside the cabinets. A clean, unadorned look in the kitchen that moves toward more contemporary styling is on the rise, according to Martin, even in home settings that are more traditional. This transitional styling might include flat doors, high-gloss finishes and an absence of hardware. In the high-end market, he adds, there has been some traction toward using metal drawer boxes as well. Door styles are simpler, but consumers still like somedetail beyond just a Shaker door, he maintains. “It needs to be something a little bit more appealing than just a straight, square edge.” Littlefield also sees the move toward clean lines due to more demand for transitional and contemporary design. Other style trends include the use of opaque finishes, recessed-panel door styling and a continued uptick in demand for furniture pieces in design, he says. Popular door styles coincide with the shift toward transitional looks. O’Neill believes that simple, clean-lined traditional cabinetry doors are still most in demand. “While square raised-panel doors remain popular, flat-panel doors and slab doors are experiencing their time in the limelight as there continues to be increased movement in styles that show less ornamentation,” Korsten adds. In his company’s stock line, Wilson says the Shaker look is still strong. “Flat-panel doors of any shape and size seem to be the top-selling doors,” he notes, adding that they see very few raised-panel doors. He also has seen a resurgence in frameless cabinetry, he adds. PERSONAL PROFILE Manufacturers agree that the desire for cabinets to either blend into their surroundings or stand out is a personal preference, and there is plenty of demand for each. Stanton says the choice depends on each designer and consumer: “Some want the cabinets to be the focal point. Some want the cabinets to flow and [have] the appliances and countertops [be the] focal points.” Korsten agrees: “[Cabinets] are intended to either blend in or stand out…whatever the homeowner wants them to be. Designers at kitchen and bath dealerships are having to become more nimble in their use of design, paying great attention to the desires of the homeowner and designing for an increasingly aware consumer.” Bly adds that the kitchen is the hub of most homes. “Kitchens are where families gather to catch up or where people entertain their friends. Clients often want to have a ‘wow’ factor in the room,” she says. That “wow” factor could range from a statement island to a range hood, she adds, and is often achieved by utilizing a different color or wood species. “Kitchen cabinets are made to function well, while adding the design elements of rhythm and harmony to the room,” O’Neill concludes. “Cabinets can be a focal point in contemporary, bright kitchens, as you see in many contemporary loft spaces, or they can blend in and become part of the architectural elements in spacious, pastoral white kitchens.”