A New Hallmark of Originality: Art on Cabinet

In recent years, the overriding trend in kitchen design has been toward individual expression. Consumers have abandoned the "keeping up with the Joneses" conformist mentality and replaced it with a constant drive toward finding the coolest, newest, most unusual thing that no one else has.

As a result of this trend, the neutral countertop has increasingly been replaced in today's kitchens by custom-designed concrete, a hand-picked granite slab or pick-your-own-design custom-printed laminate.

On the high end, consumers started abandoning satin nickel faucets the minute an affordable mass market version appeared at home centers. Hardware knobs for kitchen cabinets are available in about 37,962 different styles, just so the upscale customers can find one that no one else in their greater metropolitan area already has. Cabinet manufacturers are spending their time racking their brains to find ever and ever more exotic woods to utilize for a unique look.

Artful creations

Well, what could be more unique than a piece of original artwork?

With that in mind, on October 7, Mike Nazer, president of Garnerville, New York-based Rockland Kitchens, displayed the stunning results of a competition his company held among 54 New York area artists. Each artist created his or her own vision on an 18"x30" solid maple door for the "Art Meets Industry" exhibition.

The cabinet doors submitted by the artists (which can be viewed at the Web site www.rocklandkitchens.com) ranged from folk-art inspired designs that would make a perfect complement for a homey, country kitchen, to whimsical, impressionistic cityscapes. The artists came up with everything from a cartoon-ish design perfect for Modern Retro to traditional leaded and stained glass and carvings, which would enhance a rustic or Old World style. Materials utilized included lead glass, metals, tile and glass mosaics.

Artist Anne Gayler took top honors in the "Art Meets Industry" competition with her subtle, fusion-style decoupage of swimming trout against a rustic red antiqued painted treatment, overlaid with a gold leaf-like metallic paint and shellac finish.

"The combination and treatment of brilliant gold and rustic red with the colorful trout immediately caught our attention," commented competition judge Sima Zisman of Piermont, NY, who has been an artist as well as in the interior design business.

Jennie Chien won second place with a beautifully hand-carved pattern that evokes the spirit of African art. Noted Nyack artist Paul Tappenden took third place in the competition for his cabinet door painted in his signature style of swirl patterns, which depicts a softly abstract landscape.

Consumers can purchase any of the original artwork cabinet doors for an estimated $500-$2,500 each from the Rockland Kitchens Garnerville showroom or via its Web site, according to Nazer. Rockland Kitchens will also refer customers directly to an artist whose artwork the customer wishes to commission for other work in their home, the firm notes.

The Main Attraction

Nazer explains that his inspiration for the competition came during a visit to Israel.

"I went into one of the kitchen showrooms there, and I saw these beautiful doors painted as an art piece," he recalls. The idea immediately struck him as a perfect complement to today's trend toward bigger, more luxurious, Great Room kitchens.

"The kitchen today is not what it used to be 25 years ago," he notes. While function is still important, even a given, the upgrading of the surroundings to a certain level of comfort has opened the kitchen up to include works of art and unique elements of design.

"Art Meets Industry" judge Faye Hauser of Hauser Associates, a Monroe, NY-based sales consultancy representing Masterbrand Cabinets, said the trend today is to decorate kitchens as comfortable living spaces rather than just areas in which to cook and eat.

"The concept of original art on cabinet doors is certainly new, and provides an intriguing element in designing kitchens," adds judge Igal Toledano, a prominent Westchester Country-based interior designer.

Nazer emphasizes that the idea is not to produce an entire row of hand-painted doors, which might be a bit overwhelming as a design element, even when backed with the most neutral and minimalist of kitchen design. Rather, one or two "art piece" doors can serve as a focal point in a room, much the same way that glass accent doors or a furniture-style hutch might.

"This is a piece of art, [but also] a functional cabinet door," he stresses, "and one that's customizable to fit any kitchen style by commissioning an artist [to create something uniquely personal to the client that will fit with the theme of the kitchen]."

In terms of functionality, an art door that is designed to be a working part of a kitchen is generally coated with lacquer or other clear coating as a final step to make it cleanable. However, this door would not be recommended for a high-traffic, high-dirt area such as near the cooktop, where it could routinely be splattered and require frequent cleaning.

Overall, the individually painted door perfectly dovetails the desires of today's consumers. "Art Meets Industry" judge Hauser cites a recent survey that revealed that the number one cabinet option today's kitchen buyer is looking for is the ability to modify cabinet doors to better reflect their personality and taste.

"The concept of original art on cabinet doors plays right into what consumers want," she concludes.