All the Bells And Whistles

All the Bells And Whistles

When it comes to cabinet components, decorative elements now extend to more streamlined design styles and are prevalent at all price points.

By Daina Darzin Manning

Personal, eclectic expression and an emotional connection to the home environment are hallmarks of new millennium design. For cabinets of any variety, from kitchen islands and home entertainment centers to vanities, that means the furniture look. Huge, boxy cabinets are being replaced by a more individualized approach. Thus, vanities grew legs and the kitchen cabinet wall was interspersed by hutches and pantries.

For the past few years, another popular solution to the rows-of-boxes problem has been an application of Old World onlays and carvings. But now the desire for furniture-style components is also extending to more clean-lined contemporary and vintage styles.

And with today's media spotlight on home design via hit shows like Trading Spaces and Monster House, the quest for the unique cabinet has expanded far beyond the upscale market, with cabinet components showing an increasing variety of style options, according to manufacturers interviewed by Kitchen & Bath Design News.

In the Details
Attention to detail is central for today's cabinetry, believes Richard Enriquez, director of marketing for Enkeboll Designs, in Carson, CA. "[I see that] in every aspect of cabinetry design, from the corbels selected to the legs, posts and pulls used," he explains. "[Everyone is] adding more decoration for softness and elegance."

"The trend in the last couple of years has been to create more detail, more personality, more character, depth and definition within the structure of the cabinets and cabinet layouts," adds Bruce Johnson, president of White River, in Fayetteville, AK.

Detail can also be used to provide a unifying element in cabinetry throughout the house which is particularly important for today's great room configurations and open architectural plans.

"People want [cabinetry] to flow from one room to the other," notes Kathryn Constantine, v.p./sales at Brown Wood Products, in Lincolnwood, IL. For example, if a family has an entertainment center that opens to the kitchen, they'll order stock columns for the kitchen island and custom-made, extra-tall matching ones for the entertainment center.

Likewise, banisters for the stairs, computer stations and library shelving can all be united via a particular rope molding. Constantine adds that sometimes, people want matching components and style to integrate whole house design, but different wood species in different rooms to provide a bit of contrast, as well.

"Cabinets with decorative component parts are showing up "everywhere in the home," stresses David Garrett, president of Bendix Mouldings, Inc., in Orangeburg, NY. "Rolling bars, wine racks, work stations, shelving units it flows [out] from the kitchen." In the bathroom, reports Constantine, wood columns can be used to hold up
a vessel sink for a pedestal look.

"Cabinetry is extremely versatile," adds Enriquez. "From armoires in the master bedroom and innovative entertainment pieces featuring molding and decorative panels that hide plasma TVs to desks that feature Acanthus corbels, designers are taking more chances. They're having more fun with cabinetry and using wood carvings and accents to create personality throughout the home."

The desire for personality impacts all aspects of the marketplace. Denis Buch, president of DMB, in McHenry, IL, notes that, in the past few years, customarily high-end architectural carvings have reached the mass market.

"It's amazing how much more of our client base [of cabinet manufacturers] are making a very nice stock line and dressing it up with a few corbels or onlays, making the stock line products look upgraded, similar to what the high-end lines have done for years," he explains. "We deal with more and more companies in the middle, or middle lower, level every year."

New islands
One of the factors affecting the component market is the evolution of the kitchen's center island.

Island design is changing and growing more innovative overall, sometimes taking cues from European designs and showing up in massive sizes that can provide the bulk of a kitchen's storage space for large items. Islands are also dovetailing bathroom vanities in more elaborate furniture styling, manufacturers report.

Johnson notes that the popularity of the center island workspace "has created [a need for] a more decorative box to set the countertop on. A lot of designers are paying more attention to the element of detail it's [no longer just] a box to hold pots and pans."

"Designers are requesting larger corbels to create focal points," adds Enriquez, noting that his company will soon be unveiling new corbel designs.

Johnson adds that some countertop designers have been extending the top material over the edge of the cabinet to create a larger overhang. "That has created a very neat opportunity to put in corbels as a decorative element to give the cabinets more stability and also create a work of art."

Buch adds that requests for corner posts are also on the rise. "We'll [also] be introducing mantel extensions and mantel drawer heads with a unique design, where we're actually putting some of the carvings on the mantel head," he notes.

While onlays and other components have mostly been associated with elaborate antique and traditional looks, manufacturers insist the technologies can be applied to a wide variety of styles.

Twentieth century looks such as Art Deco, Shaker and Mission are finding a niche in the component market, reports Constantine. "They're still doing the furniture look. You'll still see the crown molding, but maybe it's not as ornate," she says. "It's more of a simplistic, Shaker style, not overburdened with heavy [ornamentation] less people are asking for grapes, more people are asking for corbels that they can do in an Arts and Crafts house."

Simpler wood knobs that blend into the cabinet instead of heavy, lavish metal knobs are another manifestation
of this trend.

Adds Enriquez: "In libraries and dining rooms, we are seeing the sleeker, softer look."

"We introduced new corbel designs that are more simplified," echoes Buch. "You still have design and carving, but it doesn't have all the frills you've had for so many years. We're seeing a big movement to that, because the gaudiness of some of the carvings that have been around for years [are being substituted] by more clean-line design."

Which is not to say that ornate, elaborate flourishes have disappeared from the marketplace. In fact, Garrett cites grapes as a currently popular request in his market. "The Old World look is still very strong," he maintains.

"We continue to see Old World elements," confirms Enriquez. "Largely in the Northeast and Potomac region, designers are using some of our classical pieces to create the elegance, romance and grandeur associated with that era. In addition, we're seeing Renaissance-influenced pieces in a wide array of applications from Tuscan/Country French kitchens to 17th Century Italian design for the bath." Enriquez cites floral designs on cabinetry as particularly strong, pointing to, for instance, rose corbels particularly appropriate for Country French designs.

More alder
Though maple and cherry remain mainstays of the market, alder is the hot wood species of the moment, those surveyed agree. "We have our columns, corbels and bundt feet available in alder," says Constantine.

Buch notes that alder is now his company's third-largest seller. "There's a lot of movement towards it it's a plentiful wood and a cost-effective wood," he declares.

"It's a big West Coast wood," adds Constantine. There, she adds, it's an inexpensive material, though it becomes more pricey as shipments head east. "It's a small tree so you have to laminate a lot of pieces together in order to get a larger diameter," she elaborates.

Alder has a similar consistency to cherry, but is a softer wood, and thus easier to distress, making it
a popular choice for rustic, aged looks. But manufacturers caution that cherry and alder are not interchangeable, because the two woods age differently: Cherry darkens, while alder lightens. "So if you have two components in [those] wood species, they get further and further apart in tones as they get older," explains Constantine.

Enriquez adds that sometimes, contrast between cabinet and components can be a deliberate choice. "In order to create a patterned look, designers are mixing lighter and darker wood species, mostly in bath settings," he says. "They are using the combination to add drama."

Darker Tones
Another major trend today is a return to dark woods, particularly striking when paired with relaxed, country Tuscany looks. Constantine says mahogany and walnut are on the rise, coupled with darker stains.
Buch is also enthusiastic about a new wood South American lyptus. Lyptus looks remarkably similar to mahogany, but is in the price range of oak, he explains. "There are more companies offering lyptus as a cost effective alternative to mahogany," he notes.

Garrett sees an increase in soft, matte finishes, along with more natural colors. "It almost looks like a hand-rubbed finish," he notes. "It's a softer look, but [the ornamentation is] still highly carved, highly decorated."
"People are still looking for a feeling of warmth in the kitchen," adds Johnson. "But that can be interpreted in different ways, it doesn't just have to be a cherry or walnut stain, it can be a glaze or faux finish [too]."
Constantine believes that heavy glazing can give simpler cabinet carvings the "pop" of more elaborate components. "We're seeing a lot of multi-step finishes and antiquing ornate finishes as opposed to ornate products," she says. "It really enhances the cuts of the wood, you can really see the detail. The glaze brings everything out."

For those looking for a high-impact, adventurous finish on a modest budget, White River's new "marble wood" technology takes the concept of faux finish one step further. "It's a film that's actually a photograph of real marble, very similar to what you find on the wood parts on the dashboard of your car," explains Johnson. "The film is attached to wood through a special process [forming] a permanent finish. It's very tough, it can be wiped down and cleansers can be used on it."

The company also features a metal wood, which employs a somewhat different process. "It's a 95% true metal flake composition," Johnson explains, which is applied in a repeated cold spray application. Available in seven options including bronze, copper patina, antique brass and iron rust, the metal can be sprayed on corbels or mouldings to create an accent piece. "A lot of times, we match the hardware on the cabinets," he adds.

For designers looking for a striking, individualized look for a contemporary kitchen, Brent Moore, v.p. of Exact Finish Inc., in Kernsersville, NC, cites his company's aluminum and glass custom doors and drawer fronts. "[These create] a very soft, contemporary look," he notes.

The European-style doors create a clean, modern feel that can be used for an entire row of cabinets or drawers, or as a focal point.

The doors can be fabricated to any specifications; six different patterned glass options include the popular satin etched glass.

"It's a translucent glass that filters light in the [cabinet]," Moore explains. "You can't make out exactly what's behind the door, but you can see through it [a little]."

The unusual doors work with contemporary, eclectic and Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired vintage looks, and are an interesting option for home office storage, he adds.

Overall, onlays, carvings and other cabinet components make the furniture look that everyone wants possible throughout a home, manufacturers agree.

"It makes the cabinetry look much higher end," concludes Buch. "The perceived value to the consumer has just gone up." KBDN