Simple Elegance

One of the most prominent features in the kitchen, the cabinetry has a dual role to play. First, cabinets must make a powerful design statement that reflects the tastes of the individual homeowner. But equally important is to ensure intentional design of specific features that will take into account exactly what the cabinets will contain.  

Trending right now are cabinets that offer a clean, simple look in painted whites or grays, Shaker and slab doors and custom options that include technology and make sense for the needs of the individual homeowner. So say manufacturers recently surveyed by Kitchen & Bath Design News.

 “Technology in the kitchen is now expected to be incorporated into the design, as are integrated, energy-saving appliances,” says Cindy Draper, marketing manager for Canyon Creek Cabinetry in Monroe, WA. Designers are incorporating furniture-style design features as the kitchen becomes more than just a work station for preparing and cooking food, she adds. Open shelving is also on the rise, along with frameless cabinetry, which used to make up only 15% of their business but has risen to an almost 50/50 split currently.

Brian Yahn, sales manager at Plain & Fancy Custom Cabinetry in Schaefferstown, PA also sees a noticeable move toward frameless “all access” cabinetry and a shift toward building custom cabinetry with technology in mind. “People are living on their devices and many designs accommodate a place to view, charge and store these devices,” he says.

Bill Mullineaux, v.p. of sales & marketing at Quality Custom Cabinetry, Inc. in New Holland, PA says kitchens are becoming simpler, but at the same time, customers are requiring more from cabinet manufacturers. Beyond the basic construction of the cabinets, consumers are looking for integrated storage and organizational solutions, technology and LED lighting, he notes.

“Kitchens overall are becoming the focal point of the home, therefore people are spending more on the cabinets and the kitchen is a show piece,” says Angela O’Neill, director of marketing and advertising at Wellborn Cabinet, Inc. in Ashland, AL. She sees the trend toward open-space kitchens on the rise, and believes design is headed toward transitional styling and away from traditional door styles with a lot of embellishments.

 

Blurred Lines

While there once was a crystal clear distinction between stock cabinets and custom lines, as technology and innovations advance, these lines become much less clear. The range of choices for consumers at all price points is much more extensive, and features that were once only available in a custom product are more widely available.

“More customization is trickling down to semi-custom and stock lines,” says Scot Motzny, v.p., marketing and product development, for UltraCraft Cabinetry in Liberty, NC. “Higher-end manufacturers are now competing with semi-custom or entry-level custom cabinet lines, especially as the trend away from elaborate moldings and door styles is settling in. You can get that look in a less expensive door style,” he says.

Barbara Evans, designer for ProCraft Cabinetry, Inc. in Nashville, TN concurs. “In the past, if you wanted a cabinet that was in stock for quick delivery and installation, your choices were extremely limited and most often not attractive.” This is no longer the case, she notes. Stock manufacturers are continually offering more styles and finishes, allowing for consumers to get the look they want at a lower price point.

O’Neill agrees that many companies are offering options, modifications and colors that would typically be offered by a custom cabinet shop, though she adds that higher price points continue to give the consumer more options.

Scott Korsten, marketing director for Harrisburg, SD-based Showplace Wood Products adds, “Buyers are definitely searching for customization, but not willing to spend the dollars it used to take to get those features.” Though Showplace offers semi-custom, he says there is rarely an order that goes through without significant customization. “People are pleasantly surprised to find that we offer so many custom features at our price-point,” he adds.

The lines between the segments are blurred as stock and semi-custom manufacturers push the limits on what they offer, or will do if requested, says Jeff Ptacek, CKD, product manager at Sioux Falls, SD-based StarMark Cabinetry “Custom colors are almost the norm [as opposed to] the exception,” he says. The concept of mixing and matching various door traits has also moved down to lower price points, he adds.

Though trends are crossing price points, they aren’t necessarily happening at the same time. Greg Chalker, v.p. of sales for Grandview Products in Parsons, KS says that as a stock-line manufacturer, his firm notices that the trends it sees tend to run about six months behind semi-custom and custom cabinet companies

 

Custom Distinctions

Although trends are trickling down to stock and semi-custom lines, true custom manufacturers are still distinguishing themselves in the market with their ability to create truly unique pieces.

  • What separates the various price points, now more than ever, is the ability to react to consumer input,” says Mullineaux. “We are utilizing custom finishes and exotic wood species on more projects.”

Yahn says Plain & Fancy is doing more highly customized cabinets, such as elaborately designed tables, furniture-like cabinets, and unique “one off” pieces. “Full custom is differentiated by ‘fit and finish,’ attention to detail and the ability to create a cabinet and design that fits [the homeowner’s] lifestyle and personality,” he says.

Ptacek adds that custom cabinet makers are getting into more complex products, with curved or bowed frames, high-gloss finishes or a unique furniture style look to keep them differentiated.

O’Neill notes that the higher-end cabinets must offer something that other lines are not offering, such as Wellborn’s option of inset cabinetry in its Estate and Elegant Bath collections, customizable finish options and cabinet construction. 

           

Clean, Uncluttered Styles

 

For several years, trends have been moving away from intricate, complicated designs to a clean and simplified look. This move is holding steady, manufacturers say.

“The ornamental designs for doors and accessories have really dropped off,” states Ptacek.

“Simple elegance is the order of the day,” says Mullineaux. This trend brings transitional and modern designs to the forefront, according to manufacturers.

“Designers and homeowners want transitional styles with modern and simple lines,” notes Draper.

Shaker and slab doors both lend themselves well to the simplicity desired in design. Evans says of the Shaker style door, “It’s just timeless. It’s a door style that has been around forever and it can be made to look traditional or contemporary based on the pulls, backsplash materials or other elements that you choose in your design.”

Motzny agrees that the Shaker style is still the top seller, but adds, “You see many more variations on Shaker by introducing simple inside edge profile details.”

The versatility to fit any design theme of the Shaker door style makes this style, and variations on it, popular says Draper. She also says flat-panel doors are in demand for the transitional look.

Yahn agrees that doors and drawers with flat center panels are popular, along with slab doors/drawers.

For Showplace, says Korsten, the most popular door style continues to be a square raised panel, as it has been for decades. The company is also seeing a move toward wider frames on the doors, he notes.

 

Painted Finishes

With the range of options available for finishes, from stains to paints in custom colors, designers have plenty of choice to offer their clients. At the top of the list are painted cabinets, often constructed of maple or birch, with whites and grays emerging as most popular.

Yahn says, “Painted whites and grays rule the day!” He adds that painted maple is still number one, but more and more often, reconstituted veneer, exotic veneer and textures are beginning to enter the market.

Ptacek notes that maple is the number one wood species requested by consumers at his company, and with this comes a growing trend toward painted products. “The white tones are the most popular. We cannot have enough whites in our line-up,” he says.

Though whites and greys top the list, consumers are still looking to make their own mark. “Custom paint is growing for us: that discriminating homeowner who has an opinion about what is the “perfect white” and wants what they want. Shades of gray are also continuing to grow in popularity; that trend does not appear to be slowing,” says Korsten.

Draper notes that maple remains most popular due to its uniformity, followed by cherry, alder and beech. Textured laminates that mimic wood are also on the rise, she adds. In paints, she says the company’s standard white is still number one. On the opposite side of the spectrum, however, Canyon Creek is also seeing a greater demand for both stained and painted black cabinets, and softer greys and charcoals are also emerging.

White is perfect for lightening and brightening up a workspace, according to Evans. “It’s clean and simple, and lends a great deal of flexibility for complimentary accents.” Gray has become the new hot neutral color, she adds, and achieving that look isn’t limited to just paint. “We are also seeing a lot of weathered or reclaimed wood looks in grey as well,” she says.

O’Neill agrees that maple is the most popular wood choice, but notes that cherry has also increased. Paints are in high demand, she says, and people are playing it safe, using neutral colors. “While gray has proven to be trending, white is still the most popular paint choice. As far as stains, mid tones are most popular,” she adds.

While maple costs more than some of the other wood species, its durability is worth the cost, says Mullineaux. Quality Custom Cabinetry uses furniture-grade hard maple for its painted cabinets, which they are seeing high demand for.

At Grandview Products, Teresa Hays, executive v.p. says birch is used most often, and while painted white is definitely in demand, the company’s dark “coffee” stain is the most popular choice right now.

 

Storage Considerations

Outward appearance is essential, but equally important is the functionality of the cabinet. Designers need to be alert to the storage options available, and what will work best for each individual consumer. Maximizing usable space it high priority, and a variety of options exist to achieve that goal.

As people downsize their homes, they realize that organization and making use of every inch of space is hugely important, says O’Neill. “Organization with storage solutions adds functionality to cabinetry for every room of the home. And this can include items such as sliding shelves, cutlery drawer inserts and wastebaskets, to name a few,” she notes.

Hidden storage is another big trend, she continues, as people want to hide away their appliances, charging stations and more. “With the busyness of life, people want to reduce the amount of visual clutter in their homes, especially in the kitchen,” she states.

“The biggest change in last five years has been the realization of American designers that drawers are the way to go for storage and design options,” says Yahn. “The diagonal corner cabinet has all but disappeared,” he adds. Instead, blind corner units are used, or the corners are closed off completely.

Draper also sees a demand for customizable drawer inserts to organize plates, bowls and cooking utensils, for instance, or to add a power source to a drawer. Storage options include pull-outs in base cabinets for recycling and pull-out trays in narrow spaces that in the past were covered with a filler panel and couldn’t be used for storage, she says.

“Our clients are looking for modularity in storage elements. Whether it’s knife blocks, spice jars, cutting boards or K-cups, they want a system that gives them control over how to implement these,” says Mullineaux. Additionally, we are seeing requests for European hardware with customizable elements, he states.

“Consumers are asking for very functional, more efficient kitchens. Of course you want your kitchen to be beautiful, but it’s even better when it’s a functional workspace,” says Evans, adding that pantry slide-out shelves, spice pull-outs, and trash inserts are among the most popular choices.

Millennials who would rather own or rent a smaller space are impacting trends, says Hays. “They like the thought of no or low maintenance. Due to that, we are selling larger cabinets with more storage.”

“Organization is key,” agrees Korsten. “A place for everything and everything in its place. Many homeowners seem to have an increasing desire to reduce clutter in their home and [cabinetry that provides strong] storage options is essential.” 

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