Classic Cabinets

As both the style and organizational focal point of the kitchen, cabinets are central to overall design. However, the current economic climate has made today’s consumers not only more price sensitive, but has also impacted style and design trends. That’s according to manufacturers recently surveyed by Kitchen & Bath Design News, who note that consumers are trending toward simpler, more classic styles that offer the look and organization they desire, along with good value.

“Predictably, some people are taking a more budget minded approach when remodeling their kitchens,” says Jim Bishop, Jr., who heads research and development for Jim Bishop Cabinets in Montgomery, AL. However, he adds that having plenty of options is still important to many consumers. “Despite things being down, we see one whole side of the market where the consumer is saying more than ever, ‘I should be able to get exactly what I want,’” Bishop explains.

Important elements in the current market are value, sustainability, function and quality, manufacturers agree. “Consumers, while still remodeling, are more cautious with spending and want to ensure maximum return on their investments,” says Kalpesh Nanji , manager of product development marketing for Armstrong Cabinets in Addison, TX. “This drives trends of more classic, simple products that endure style trends and maintain their appearance and function for years to come.”

Rod Brewer, v.p./marketing and product development for Mid Continent Cabinetry in Eagan, MN agrees. He says that people are looking for value, and reverting to timeless design so their remodel will last longer. They are also trending toward simpler lines and less ornamentation, which can bring down the cost.

“Current overall trends appear to be what I would call ‘simple elegance,’” points out David Greenwood, sales & marketing manager for the Fall River, MA-based JS International. “Clean and simple seems to be the trend.”

However, H.R. (Jim) Harvey, Jr., executive v.p./sales for Cerritos, CA-based Sunny Wood Products/Sagehill Designs says that consumers are still looking for something unique. “The desire for something different is still there, only finances are very important in the equation. If you can have innovative products that are a value as well, you are well prepared for this type of market,” he notes.

Overall trends are largely the same, regardless of price point, say manufacturers. “The desire for innovation and value are common themes at all price points,” says Harvey. “But, what represents innovation and value at each price point can be different.”

John Brush, CKD, CBD, director of marketing for Pacific Crest Industries in Sumner, WA, says those differences are seen in material choices and storage components. “The use of textured laminates in wood grain patterns achieves that ‘eclectic’ look for value-conscious [consumers], while refined wood veneers such as Sapele or Quartered Cherry better satisfy the luxury buyer,” he says.

ORGANIZED INTERIORS

What’s on the inside also impacts trends, say manufacturers. “With the overall footprint of the kitchen trending downward [in size], organization is becoming more of an issue,” says Chris Stookey, director of engineering, purchasing and product management for Huntwood Custom Cabinets in Liberty Lake, WA. “Pull-out storage is easily at the top of everyone’s list.”

Nanji agrees, saying, “Storage accessories are more relevant than ever as they increase the useful area of cabinets and create more efficient and functional spaces.”

Other manufacturers agree that they are getting increased requests for interior organization, and are rolling out new products and partnering with other companies as a result. Dura Supreme will introduce a new accessory program in July, says Karen Wistrom, ASID, v.p./marketing for Dura Supreme in Howard Lake, MN, largely because of these increased requests. “Homes are getting a little smaller, and you want your cabinetry to really perform and be organized,” she says.

Jim Bishop Cabinets is launching Blum’s Dynamic Space Concept for its products soon. “People see there is a way to organize and declutter their lives [and] they are excited about it,” he says.

CLEAN LINES

Manufacturers say that traditional styling still prevails in many markets, but they are also seeing a shift toward a more transitional style, which incorporates elements more often seen in contemporary designs.

Nanji says, “We see many styles that are based on classic elements but simplified for today’s lifestyles. These clean, simple lines appeal to the growing number of younger consumers who are building, remodeling or renting.”

Angela O’Neill, director of marketing for Wellborn Cabinet in Ashland, AL says that her firm is still seeing movement toward a transitional design trend. This trend brings in the use of Shaker door styles, with warmer tones rather than the real contemporary colder designs.

While most manufacturers say they’ve seen increased interest in frameless cabinetry, those choosing frameless cabinetry are still in the minority. “Framed cabinetry still holds the lead in the U.S. market. There is a strong trend toward a ‘casual contemporary’ look, where the lines of the cabinetry are more simplistic, but the finish is still rich and visually interesting,” says Harvey.

WOOD SPECIES & FINISHES

Wood choice is one way that designers and consumers help to define and differentiate the look of a kitchen. Manufacturers agree that maple is still a frontrunner, while they are also seeing an increased interest in cherry and a variety of other woods. “Maple is still the trusted standby,” says Jeff Ptacek, CKD, product manager of Sioux Falls, SD-based Fieldstone Cabinetry and StarMark Cabinetry. “But alder is growing fast in popularity,” he adds.

Wistrom has also seen interest in bamboo, as well as Lyptus, a wood species that resembles mahogany but is a plantation-grown hybrid of eucalyptus. It reaches full maturity in 15 years, making it more environmentally sustainable.

Brewer says that closed grains are still by far the company’s most popular species, and he’s seeing an increase in oak, particularly with the introduction of darker stains, which highlight its grain. However, he adds, the firm has been surprised by how well painted finishes, which they introduced a year and a half ago, have done.

Ptacek has also seen an increase in demand for painted finishes. “Consumers are requesting specific hues that are just a few shades from standard offerings. Manufacturers are pushed to expand their standard colors to meet these various tones.” Additionally, he says, “There has been a flurry of interest in red cabinetry, both as an accent and for entire rooms.”

Patrick Byrne, executive v.p. for Custom Wood Products in Roanoke, VA sees a continued demand for specialty finishes as well. “We’re in the fashion business,” he says. “We’ve gone way beyond selling the cabinets to hold the dishes. We’re selling gracious living.” The use of glazes, distressing and crackling has been strong for a while, and continues to stay strong, Byrne says.

Harvey adds, “There still remains a need for furniture-like finishes and treatments. We are addressing this with more hand-detailing treatments like glazing, and physical and finish distressing.”

Bishop says his firm began offering glazes, distressing and crackle finishes because it was one way to give consumers the looks they desired at a price they could afford. “Our marketing vision all along has been to take things that homeowners saw that they thought they couldn’t afford, and take them down to where they would be within reach,” he says.

ENVIRONMENTAL STEWARDSHIP

Environmental consciousness goes beyond being a “trend,” instead becoming a necessary consideration, manufacturers say.

“All manufacturers know they must use certified or compliant material, not just to meet new regulations, but because it’s the right thing to do. It’s becoming standard – a must – to belong to a certification program that validates green and environmental sustainability, such as KCMA’s Environmental Stewardship Program,” says Ptacek.

Brush agrees. “In reality, green in the cabinet manufacturing industry is more of a holistic approach, combining types of materials with manufacturing efficiencies, air quality, waste management, and even the social responsibilities.”

O’Neill points out that Wellborn dealers say they’re asked the green question by 10% of their retail customers, but often, those customers are not willing to spend 20% more for green options.

Ptacek concurs: “Homeowners say they want green, but when it comes down to customers actually ordering and paying for green items, the buzz falls short.”

ECONOMIC IMPACT

Clearly the economic situation continues to negatively impact the remodeling industry, and particularly the cabinet industry, since kitchen cabinetry is a large-ticket purchase.

Wistrom says customers have been downgrading their price point or choosing a basic stain or paint over glaze or distressed finishes to keep the price down.

Ptacek says, “This is a great time for homeowners, as they can get custom components at lower price points.”

Nanji adds, “While there is an overall decrease in remodeling activity, those consumers who are still remodeling are realizing that stock and semicustom cabinetry can offer many of the features once only available in custom cabinetry.” Manufacturers say that even the high end of the market has been affected by the current downturn in the economy, though in a slightly different manner.

Nanji says, “The majority of high-end consumers will continue to design with cabinetry that meets their personal tastes and needs. In terms of ensuring value, they may use just hints of personalization within their projects.”

Brush agrees, noting, “We have seen the luxury high-end buyer coming back down to earth a bit. It has become more of an issue with where they want to put their money. They also seem to be careful on the styles they pick.”

Stookey says that the very top of the market, however, is not downgrading. “That part of the market is very much about being ‘unique’…and they still have all of the financial means needed to achieve that kind of goal.” However, he adds, the next rung is not going as far as they would have even just a year ago.

COMPETITION FROM ABROAD

While U.S. cabinet manufacturers continue to keep an eye on competition from imports – especially in these price-sensitive times – many manufacturers say that imports are not impacting their sales in a significant way. O’Neill says that, before the economic downturn, imports were more of an issue. Now, she says, imports seem less of a threat since people need to rely on getting their products to finish a job.

Brewer says that while there are more imports out there, Mid Continent is not being affected as much as might be expected, and is addressing this by becoming more and more efficient to be sure the firm can offer better value and a breadth of product offerings that imports can’t provide.

Imports have improved in quality in recent years, say some manufacturers, and that means they may begin to affect markets they didn’t in the past. “The products have improved immensely over the past few years, so much so that imports will now be taking more of the domestic semi-custom business instead of just harming domestic stock cabinets,” says Ptacek

Harvey adds another point of view. As a U.S.-based corporation with manufacturing facilities in China, he says that Sunny Wood sees “an opportunity to provide enhanced design, style, function and quality at affordable prices.”

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