Kitchen Cabinet Trends Marry Style, Function

Furniture-grade materials and custom add-ons create cabinets that perform beautifully without sacrificing style.
By: Rob Fanjoy

People take their cabinets seriously. In fact, the cabinets are often the most prized components of a kitchen or bathroom. And their design and aesthetics can make or break the entire room's overall appearance.

Consumers have become more educated about everything related to their homes, and their cabinetry is no different. "The average consumer is much more knowledgeable than they used to be," says Nancy Barbee, CKD, CBD, owner of Cabinetry Ideas in Indianapolis. "They frequently come into my showroom with a specific list of at least five things they want beyond simple design."

An overall trend toward furniture-grade cabinets has taken a firm hold in the marketplace. Now consumers are turning their attention toward more particular aspects, such as pull-out waste cans, slide-out towel bars and pull-down shelves. These accessories often are requested by clients who are aging or may have special physical needs, but many others see the benefits as well. This, she says, points to an overall customization movement that puts as much emphasis on function as it does on form.

"People want their cabinets to perform at a high level. They're even paying attention to the hidden hardware by specifically requesting self-closing undermount slides on drawers," she says. Another cabinetry trend has grown from the consumer's demand for professional-grade appliances in the kitchen. In addition to high-end stainless-steel refrigerators and commercial-quality cooktops, such things as warming, cooling and dishwashing drawers have become very popular.

But consumers don't necessarily want to see those appliances all the time. "People are going for appliance integration," says Barbee. "They want these drawer appliances to blend in seamlessly with their cabinets. And that sometimes extends to putting cabinet fronts on refrigerators and traditional dishwashers, as well."

Wood-finished cabinets are still the style of choice; they represent about 80 percent of all cabinets purchased, according to a 2002 survey conducted by the National Kitchen and Bath Association. And even though consumers are demanding furniture-quality styling, they are opting for a more casual appearance overall. Many of these have multi-step finishes and glazes to make them look like antiques that have weathered generations of use.

"The aged look seems to be growing in popularity," says Barbee. "People are going for glazed, distressed and whitewashed finishes, and this extends to the hardware as well. You can call it Old World, but with a more relaxed and contemporary feel." Consumers are also taking a new look at range hoods, which are often done in the same wood tones found on the rest of the cabinets. Glass-front cabinets are also in demand, although only on certain cabinets where contents are easily arranged and kept neat for an uncluttered appearance. Appliance garages that house microwaves, blenders and other countertop appliances help keep the room looking neat and clean.

Barbee says that maple and cherry are still the most popular wood species, but a lot of people are taking advantage of the new choices out there as well. "Wood types such as alder and beech have been getting a lot of attention. But so have some more unusual species like lyptus, which comes from a quickly renewable tree, so it is considered a 'green' product," she says.

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