Cleaning the Cabinets
The only constant in the kitchen cabinet industry today is change, with new design trends, new technology and new ways of marketing all making news.
by Daina Darzin
However, the Internet generation of newly upscale twentysomethings has its own ideas. Along with changes in technology that are impacting the kitchen cabinet market (see related story, Page 58), high-tech influences are also turning up on the design front.
"We're seeing a change [to] contemporary," states Tom Krotzer, national sales manager for Sokee, in Monroe, WA.
"The Generation Xers come in and they've got millions of dollars from high-tech businesses. They're into a more modern look," he explains.
But while today's consumers may be favoring a more modern style, the new wave of modern doesn't have to mean cold, minimalist or sterile.Clean lines
"We're due for a change to a less busy look with a more contemporary simplicity," agrees Karen Lehmann, ASID, CKD, and product designer for Canyon Creek Cabinet Co., in Monroe, WA, who believes that part of this look has to do with convenience as well as style. "The younger generation wants to spend more time with their families and less time cleaning all the nooks and crannies of the Old World look," she explains.
"It's modern Frank Lloyd Wright," adds Robert Castriciano, v.p./sales for LesCare Kitchens, in Waterbury, CT.
"Contempor-ary's coming back. It used to be the old square-edged door, but now they're [developing] radius edges or interesting lips at the tops of doors."
"A lot of that [trend] is driven by today's media," thinks David Wylie, national sales manager for Kitchen Craft Cabinetry, in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. "People are into the cable cooking shows, they're into that high-end commercial look" that's compatible with more contemporary cabinetry.
Lehmann emphasizes, however, that modern doesn't have to mean stark. "A lot of [those clients] have offices out of their homes and they still like the look of wood. The furniture look [offers] flexibility [instead of] looking at a long line of cabinetry."
"People don't feel they have to have kitchens that all look the same," elaborates Stacie Gilles, media public relations specialist for Master Brand Cabinets, in Jasper, IN, about the enduring popularity of unfitted style. "[They mix] traditional cabinetry with high-tech stainless steel appliances; a hutch with an [antique] glaze with modern cabinetry, stock with custom."
Of course, while contemporary is on the upswing, Old World looks remain a strong design trend. "Cabinets seem to be taking a few different directions," notes Bob Seeley, executive v.p./sales and marketing for Yorktowne and MasterCraft, in Red Lion, PA. Furniture looks and finishes, with valances, feet, spindles, Enkeboll-style appliques and mouldings, as well as unfitted cabinetry in custom sizes and shapes, are just some of the popular applications.
"For clients who want the best of both worlds, Dan Fuehring, national sales manager for the Kreamer, PA-based Wood-Mode explains, "there's an Arts and Crafts look out there that has very clean, minimalist lines, but again can use mid-range tones on cherry. That's a warmer contemporary, not necessarily the hard-edge, high-gloss approach that we saw in the '80s."
The unfitted furniture looks of the last few years have gotten design away from the monolithic bank of cabinets. The newest way to create interest is with steel or glass cabinet door inserts, as well as open shelving to display a client's collectibles.
"Consumers want to show off their finds," says Pattee. "It gives them an opportunity to show off their personality."
Designers also like open shelving because "it creates interest, and provides emphasis and a focal point for the overall space," she adds.
"I think we're going to see a lot more open shelving and inserts," agrees Lehmann. " We're doing a lot of mullioned glass doors and glass inserts."
Wood-Mode's Fuehring cites etched, ribbed and crackle finish as popular glass choices.
As far as door styles go, Wylie notes that anything with a flat panel miter is hot. "Any flat panel that has enough detailing [is popular]," he explains, because those work well with the glazed looks.
Since stainless steel appliances have emerged as the trend of
the past decade, steel or steel-look inserts are another emerging
trend. Fuehring notes solid colors on high-end cooking appliances
such as AGA as helping to support this trend. "To complement that,
manufacturers are coming out with stainless steel door
"The buyer's appetite has changed," adds Castriciano. Even with conventional kitchens, they're going with chrome fittings, stainless steel drawers. Their requirements to the internal fittings have become more specific."
When it comes to finishes, glazes are an overwhelming trend, with white and brown tones the most popular. "With distressing, it's more naturals and wood tones, but there's also a lot of colors," reports Galyn Butterfield, national sales manager for Cabinetry by Karman, in Salt Lake City, UT.
"[Glazes] are moving into the semi-custom and even into the mid-line price point," notes Seeley. "The other thing that seems to be growing is character finishes distressing, splattering, antiquing. That's something else that's coming from the furniture industry," Seeley adds.
Fuehring also notes various distressing techniques, with "sanding through" (aka rub-through) a hot new selection. "You're artificially aging a pigmented finish, as if it had been painted and repainted and then worn," he explains.
Several manufacturers noted the popularity of accent colors to add brightness and interest.
"More midline colors seem to be the trend," says Seeley, "soft, lighter colors such as light blues and yellow."
Pattee notes KraftMaid's Ginger, a light brown glaze with a contrasting brown hang-up, as an option. "It's a non-physically distressed, clean glaze, not really Old World." She continues, "the application will be in a cleaner-line environment, still appearing somewhat detailed, but not what we've seen in the past. You won't see all of the onlays."
For a different look for modern cabinetry, Krotzer cites Sokee's high lacquer finishes as an up-and-comer. "We use a piano finish that's actually put on by the Yamaha piano company," he explains. "It's a high gloss, thick finish. We're mainly [putting clear on] our woods. It seems to almost give a 3D dimension to the veneers that we use. It really brings out the grain and look of the wood."
In more neutral color selections, "We're seeing a lot less white and more of the cream colors," reports Lehmann, "whether it be a cream thermafoil or a cream painted finish with a glaze on it."
Gilles emphasizes that open plans for homes, where a work center or dining room is connected to a kitchen, encourage consumers to get away from uniformity in their finishes. "They feel like they can mix and match," she notes.
The trend in the last few years has been toward maple and away from oak (see related story, Page 60), though several manufacturers mentioned the price point and lack of availability of maple as a problem.
"The price of maple is increasing," says Seeley. "Its [popularity] is continuing to grow and there are some supply issues. That has not seemed to slow down the desire of consumers to put it in their kitchens."
"I don't think that the consumer is aware of what maple is supposed to cost," adds Wylie. "The consumer is more driven by style and maple has a unique furniture style and look to it."
"Maple's [price is] outrageous," says Castriciano. He notes that the company offers red birch, which it introduced around five years ago, because it has some of the characteristics of cherry. "Unlike cherry, it didn't age. The vibrant wood grain remained consistent. It used to be called the poor man's cherry. It's the same price [as cherry] now."
Gilles cites hickory as an up-and-comer, often paired with a lighter finish that accentuates the look of the wood. "People like those natural grains," she explains.
KraftMaid's Pattee points out that statistically, oak is still the biggest seller. "I think you may see some of the oaks and hickories fitting into a trend again," she predicts. Ecological and price point concerns may also be good news for thermafoil and laminate manufacturers. "Most of [the laminate doors have] wood grain tones that look very realistic," states Lehmann. "It [used to be] against the rules to have something that imitated something else, but with our attention to renewing our natural resources and the shortage of wood that's becoming a reality, people are more accepting of the laminates that look like wood. The 90 percent wrapped edge softens the laminate to give a more comfortable look and touchable feel."
"We see a new dynamic in thermafoil," adds Castriciano. "Most people unfortunately equate it with the cheap white stuff. But we offer 14 different foils," some inspired by European looks. "They've come out with new satin finishes, and when you look at them, you can't tell they're thermafoil. Man-made material offer a lot of options to the industry. As quality, grain and finishes improve, it's being embraced more strongly by the end user."
"People are looking for affordable cabinetry," adds Wylie. "Not the least expensive cabinetry, but [styles] that allow them to get the entire job done. They're going to be putting [in] solid surface tops and a natural stone floor, and high-end commercial appliances. They need to stretch [their] budget. Affordable cabinetry is a priority."
The bottom line? We're entering an era where the consumer is receptive to a wider array of choices than ever before. "I think we need to be more innovative in what we do," concludes Krotzer. "To be individualized as a company I think that's the way to go." KBDN