Year after year, the most popular home improvement project for American families remains the same: remodeling the kitchen. Today, kitchen makeovers are more ambitious than ever, with homeowners willing to spend larger budgets to upgrade both the aesthetics and the functionality of what is, after all, the most used room in the house.
“Many architects, designers, and homeowners are specifying hardwood as an essential part of any kitchen refresh,” notes Linda Jovanovich, of the American Hardwood Information Center. “That’s because wood not only offers a wide variety of looks and design possibilities, it also exemplifies the kind of material today’s environmentally conscious consumer wants: One that’s renewable, sustainable, plentiful, durable, and easy to work with—all of which makes it an excellent return on investment.”
Replacing tired old kitchen cabinets with stylish new ones is a favorite starting point, but there are several strategies to help maximize their impact. “I like to specify one type of wood for an entire kitchen—cabinetry, furniture, millwork, and flooring—but use different stains and finishes on each element,” says New York designer Laura Bohn. “That creates visual interest without losing a sense of overall unity.” In one all-walnut kitchen project, for instance, Bohn painted the Shaker-style cabinets a putty tone for a serene background. But she stained the wide-plank floor a darker shade than the granite-top island so that the latter stands out like a beautiful piece of furniture.
In a similar vein, a recently completed 1920’s Bungalow house renovation had quarter-sawn white oak used throughout for floors, interior doors, and kitchen cabinets. While the floorboards were lightly white-washed and given a protective coating to create the look of bare wood, the base cabinets, supplied by Plain & Fancy Custom Cabinetry, received a slightly darker cerused finish just different enough to distinguish them from the rest of the woodwork. The oak wall cabinets were painted white to match the kitchen’s shiplap ceiling. “It’s peaceful rather than exciting,” said the homeowner. “And that’s exactly what we wanted.”
If you’re after a livelier effect, you might consider another emerging trend: mixing up wood species and cabinet-door styles. Wellborn Cabinets demonstrated this strategy at a recent kitchen and bath show where their Rustic Global Spice Kitchen incorporated not only two types of hardwood—oak and maple—but also three door styles each with its own stain. “To make this look succeed, you or your designer will need to find common stylistic threads running through the various elements—underlying kinships of shape, color, texture, and proportion that will pull the disparate parts together into a unified whole,” advises San Antonio-based designer Melissa Morgan. “It’s takes a certain amount of confidence, but the results can be spectacular.”