American Hardwood Information Center

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Furniture looks, elegant simplicity mark new styles in kitchen cabinetry

Kitchen cabinets are simpler, more functional and at the same time more elegant than ever before. According to a survey conducted by the American Hardwood Information Center, solid hardwoods-mainly maple, cherry, oak, alder and birch-now are used widely on cabinet doors and drawer fronts in all price categories.

Although light and medium finishes continue to be popular, trendwatchers also see a growing interest in deep, rich browns. "I think that's been influenced by the furniture industry," says John A. Buscarello, ASID, a New York City-based kitchen and interior designer, who points out that chocolate and mocha tones are prominent in recent new-furniture collections. "Light woods are perceived as less formal than dark ones, and the pendulum is definitely swinging toward more formal looks for the kitchen."

Natural finishes, too, are gaining popularity. "A lot of people now look to woods with a naturally dark finish," notes Dianna Holmes, design manager of Canac, the Kohler-owned cabinetmaker in Thornhill, Ontario. "Dark woods are being selected; then, instead of being stained, they're simply clear-coated."

Both designers foresee the emergence of contemporary design in kitchen cabinetry. "It's the influence of Europe, where things are more streamlined," says Buscarello. This accounts for the increased appearance of slab doors on display at the industry's annual new product showcase event.

Among buyers of high end cabinets, a parallel trend is a preference for less fussy ornamentation. For example, fewer additional moldings are being applied to thicken the rails and stiles of high-end cabinet doors. Instead, more subtle mitered doors echo the simple lines of Shaker and Arts & Crafts styles.

Buscarello also stresses that "every nook and cranny of the kitchen is being plotted now." With many more interior dividers, slide-out shelves and turntable units available as storage options, he says, "there's nothing left to chance." He also points out that much of what used to be kept in cupboards is being stored in drawers: "Pots and pans are easier to get to, in drawers. Heavy-duty drawer glides make it possible to put large, heavy pots there."

Photo courtesy of White River Hardwoods

Other trends spotted at the Kitchen/Bath Industry Show include:

  • Consumers are opting for a thicker cabinet door-1 inch instead of 3/4 inch-because greater thickness often suggests higher quality.
  • Glazed, distressed and antique finishes are replacing ornate details once popular on many high-end cabinets.
  • Painted finishes are holding their own. Although various colors vie for the spotlight from time to time-cranberry and orange each slide in and out of favor-white, off-white and oyster consistently get the most attention.
  • The so-called "unfitted look" has strongly influenced cabinet design, with manufacturers looking to create individual pieces of furniture rather than expanded banks of cabinetry. Why? Because open-plan kitchens also embrace family rooms, great rooms and dining spaces, which means sideboards, entertainment centers and open shelving must coordinate with kitchen-cabinet styles.
  • As kitchens expand in size and complexity, "mixed orders" are no longer rare. Consumers who want work islands, wet bars, baking centers and butler's pantries incorporated into kitchen design are eager for contrast-in cabinet styles, colors, types of wood and finishes.

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