Cabinetry Spotlights Clean Lines, Painted Finishes

With the rise in open-concept kitchens and a demand for kitchens that work for all members of the household, close attention must be paid to both the way kitchen cabinets look and how they work. Design must meld creativity and style with practical functionality, and new cabinet configurations are also changing the shape of the kitchen.

Manufacturers recently surveyed by Kitchen & Bath Design News say that, when it comes to style trends, simple, sleek looks remain in vogue, while painted cabinetry is on the rise, especially in whites and grey tones. From a functional standpoint, accessibility remains critical, while cabinets that allow for flexibility in design and maximization of space continue to trend upwards.

“Comfort and functionality are at the forefront of everyone’s minds with regard to kitchen design, as is the open-concept kitchen with its Universal Design and family-friendly amenities. Kitchen layouts have been opened up to accommodate the needs of all family members as the central gathering place in the home – complete with docking/charging stations in and around the kitchen,” says Cindy Draper, marketing manager for Canyon Creek Cabinet Co. in Monroe, WA. She adds that the company is seeing increasing requests for open shelving and glass-front cabinets. “People are relying more on pantries for food storage, and the presentation in this open storage has become a priority with eye-catching dishware, kitchen accessories and décor on display.”

“Kitchens are truly multipurpose rooms,” adds Steve Wilcox, product development director at Sagehill Designs/Sunny Wood in Cerritos, CA. “In light of that, comfort and functionality are highly important needs. Any benefit or feature of a kitchen product that can add to comfort or functionality will get attention in today’s market. If you can add a sense of value to those products as well, you are almost guaranteed to have a successful product.”

Karen Wistrom, ASID, v.p./marketing for Dura Supreme Cabinetry, Inc. in Howard Lake, MN, notes that, due in part to the ease of Internet research, people more quickly see ideas and trends that used to take several years to trickle down from Europe or the high-end markets. “It’s not taking very long anymore for those trends to filter to mainstream consumers because we have such instant and immediate access to it,” she says.


Stock to Custom

With a constantly shifting economy and consumers who are more educated than ever about design details, the lines are blurring between stock, semi-custom and custom designs.

Angela Wellborn O’Neill, director of marketing and advertising for Wellborn Cabinet, Inc. in Ashland, AL, says that although the lines are beginning to blur, custom cabinetry still offers more options for those who want to personalize their kitchen. At the same time, with the variety of door styles, finish and paint options available, O’Neill says what used to be made only in custom shops can now be offered in mass manufacturing, often with surprisingly short lead times.

“The stock lines and even semi-custom lines are cherry picking some of those details that used to be reserved for the luxury markets,” says Wistrom. Some of the more noticeable looks are shifting to lower price point products, and the higher-end manufacturers need to delve into very customized, high-quality details.

Chris Wood, East Coast sales manager and director of training and green programs for Simpsonville, SC-based Executive Cabinetry, agrees that construction and finish treatments that used to be reserved for the high end are finding their way into the semi-custom and even stock/import marketplace. “I think it’s important that custom manufacturers protect their quality and flexibility more than ever,” he says. “There is still a consumer looking for mitered boxes, 3/4" plywood cases, matching interiors, finished bottoms and precise sizing on inset and box construction. That still matters and the custom manufacturer must continue to do this very well.”

He adds, “The ‘build it if you can draw it’ mentality is still key for custom manufacturers to differentiate themselves from their semi-custom competition. Only a few mid-price companies do this well.”

“Typically, more stylish or daring styling trends begin at the high-end price points and then filter down to the lower price-points,” adds Wilcox. “Unique finishes, styles or features will migrate downward as they are accepted by consumers.” The challenge for custom manufacturers, he believes, is to provide innovation for those with the means to pay for the unique style, finish and function that that segment of the market allows for. “Even at higher price points, value is a concern for many consumers, and the custom manufacturer has to be able to convince the consumer that their skill and products are worth the price,” says Wilcox.

Budget does have an impact, but customers still want lots of options. Draper explains, “Although homeowners have become more value-conscious, they still want the choices and flexibility provided by semi-custom and custom cabinetry. They don’t want to be limited to the standard sizes available with stock cabinetry nor to a standard color offering.”

Dealers often aren’t able to maintain the economic advantages of semi-stock when adding custom details, say some manufacturers. “We find when dealers start to customize semi-stock cabinetry, they approach our price point very quickly, thus our custom line is a better value purchase,” says Brian Yahn, sales manager at Plain & Fancy Custom Cabinetry, based in Schaefferstown, PA. Some of the details that differentiate high-end products are the quality of interior accessories, built-in LED lighting options and remote-controlled doors and drawers, he adds.

High-end customers still want to have something unique in their cabinetry, driving the custom market to get creative. “People are making a significant investment when they do this, and they would prefer not to drive across town and see the same thing represented in somebody else’s kitchen,” adds Bill Mullineaux, v.p./sales & marketing for Quality Custom Cabintery, Inc. (QCCI) in Brownstown, PA. He notes that one of the ways QCCI has differentiated its offerings from the semi-custom and stock markets is by having the ability to match any finish to whatever the consumer would like.


Transitional Lines

In recent years, cleaner lines with a transitional feel have been growing in popularity, replacing more complicated designs. This shift continues, manufacturers say, with styles leaning toward flat panels and clean lines.

Yahn says there is a definite trend, perhaps even a fundamental shift, toward a more transitional style.

Draper sees people looking for transitional themes with a lack of ornamentation that combine traditional and contemporary designs with simple lines mixed with curves. “The Shaker door style, as well as variations on Shaker, remains ever-popular because of its versatility, lending itself to fit into any design theme,” she says.

Wood notes that style varies by region, and whether a market is urban or rural has an impact as well, but he agrees that the overall trend is toward simpler, transitional styling. “There is one constant, no matter where I travel,” he adds. “As a manufacturer at any price point, you better be good at Shaker White Paint.”

Whatever the style, the market seems to be driven by a more casual feel, says Wilcox. “Therefore, less ornamental designs continue to connect with consumers in our market,” he says. He adds that at Sagehill Designs/Sunny Wood, they find that inset doors and drawers appeal to consumers, as do simple framed doors with raised panels or split field panels. “On these simpler styles, the finish treatment is very important, and we have found that some light distressing adds to the casual feeling of the products,” he says.

O’Neill says that even when moulding and corbals are used, the trend is toward simple, sleek designs. “The days are gone right now for the grape leaf corbals,” she notes.

Ted Hunt, director of sales for Huntwood, based in Liberty Lake, WA, has seen a shift toward a more contemporary design in certain markets; however, he agrees that cleaner lines are in demand. “We’re definitely not seeing as many carvings as we used to,” he adds.


Mix and match

Paints and stains used for cabinetry will vary as much as the clients the spaces are being designed for, and having plenty of options is essential for manufacturers. White and grey tones have been on the rise for a few years now, and that trend is holding strong. Manufacturers are also seeing a tendency to mix colors and materials in the kitchen, allowing for creative and eclectic designs suited to the individual client.

O’Neill says that paint accounts for 35 percent of the firm’s sales, and that percentage is climbing, with most in shades of white and off-white. Grey is trending upward as well, she says, and Wellborn launched both Dove Grey and Willow Grey options this year.

Hunt has also seen a desire for grey tones. “Sometimes it seems like it doesn’t matter what grey, but people want grey,” he says. His company is also seeing more white than in the past, in a variety of shades, including a grey tinted white. Additionally, says Hunt, there’s a demand for a lot of darker colors.

“We’ve seen a massive amount of white paint since 2009,” says Mullineaux. “I never considered how many shades of white there are.” He adds that the market is “moving away from the reds and toward the greys and browns.”

Wistrom agrees that painted finishes are popular, especially in whites and pale greys. For both paint and stain, she says, there’s been a major shift to the grey tones. She attributes this in part to an influence from a weathered or “reclaimed” look. Dura Supreme has recently launched weathered finishes, where the doors are put through a weathering process to raise the grain and create texture.

Wilcox says, “Painted finishes are very important and appear to be growing dramatically as they tend to support the more casual feeling of consumer lifestyles at the moment. Consumers are also much more willing to mix colors and stains in a single kitchen in order to make the interior design more eclectic and personal.” He adds that darker stains continue to be popular for wood tone finishes. “It seems that the dark colors act as a contrast to the lighter and more neutral interior colors that are popular now. Keep an eye on rustic and textured finishes, in both paints and stains. They are very strong in the residential furniture market and some migration of this trend may be seen in kitchen cabinetry,” he adds.

Draper, on the other hand, says, “Painted cabinets are growing in popularity, especially with bold, dark colors and vibrant reds, greens and blues.” She’s seeing darker paint tones on the island, which works well with lighter cabinets in the rest of the kitchen. Mixing materials such as wood, metal and glass on cabinet doors has also been on the rise, she says, and white kitchens remain popular as they pair well with other elements such as bold backsplashes, black countertops and lighting fixtures.

While wood species vary dependent on the designs, many manufacturers say maple, beech and birch are top choices, along with cherry and walnut, especially for stained finishes.

Wistrom says cherry is still very popular, as well as the mixing of materials to create high-contrast looks. “It’s not uncommon for somebody to select a white paint for the perimeter of the kitchen and then do a mid- to darker-tone stain finish on a cherry island, bringing two very different kinds of looks together within the same space.”

Mullineaux sees cherry and walnut taking off in the last few years, as well as a trending movement toward rift-cut white oak. “We’re seeing different woods being used in different ways,” he adds. QCCI launched a new finish called Pure Oil, a plant-based formulation that he says is highly resistant to stains, and is food safe, which has been used on both the interior and exterior of cabinets. “It’s a very interesting look and we’re seeing more and more people going for that,” he notes.


`The Inside Story

Homes are being downsized, which also means kitchens are often occupying smaller spaces. With less storage space to work with, the interior of the cabinets is becoming more and more important.

“Storage has always been very important in the kitchen, especially if the kitchen is in a smaller space,” says Wistrom. “We’ve seen more attention paid to [that], with some very unique storage solutions,” she adds, citing drawers in toe kick spaces, stainless cups for utensils standing upright inside of drawers and drawer storage for dishes.

Hunt believes people are trying to maximize their storage for the right price. He sees a shift almost completely away from lazy susans and toward corner drawer units. Universal Design is an important trend, which Hunt defines as “designing with purpose, just using your head. It comes down to a better utilization of space.”

Mullineaux says the market has changed, with interior storage options becoming even more important in the way we relate to them. The challenge, he notes, is how to take what is out there and make it unique. “We see that people are willing to invest in many of these storage options if they can see the benefit and value,” he says.

Cabinet interior storage is important to Universal Design and aging in place, says Yahn. Solutions that are easier to use, have increased capacity and are more ergonomically designed are key, he states, citing demand for blind corner units, tall pantry units and narrow 6" base units to utilize every bit of space.

Draper agrees that storage must work for all kitchen users, and customized storage is a must-have in kitchens of all sizes. “We have requests for greater accessibility in undercabinet storage so the entire household can use it, regardless of their physical capabilities. We’ve seen more kitchen designs that accommodate multi-cook households. All the cooks want their own prep areas with enough storage and counter space so they aren’t bumping into each other,” she adds.

Wood says storage design and needs react to cabinet design trends, not the other way around. “If a strong segment of the market is moving toward contemporary, the accessory manufacturers focus on a strong European stainless look or other metal finishes…bar pulls, c-pulls, or no visible hardware at all. The same goes for traditional, the well-built, sturdy wood product.” What impacts sales, he says, is products that are practical in a kitchen. “There are countless examples of great looking, high-tech or wood accessories that are not easy to install, and don’t function efficiently for the cook. Those only survive the fad stage of their marketing,” he says.