Traditional Cabinets Trendy Again

In 2010, customers will continue to warm to the familiar

The latest trend in kitchen cabinet finishes is a return to tradition. Designers and manufacturers alike report increased demand among new-home buyers and remodeling customers for a connection with what they perceive as traditional. The finishes most likely to fall into that category are whites, accent glazes and natural wood finishes – all of which have been staples in American homes for decades.

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Photo Credit: Neal Communities
Glazes allow customers to take standard cabinet styles and give them a custom look.

Barbara Umbenhauer, marketing manager of Rich Maid Kabinetry (CQ), says that the most frequent requests are for Linen (a soft white) and Crystal White (a bright white). They’re offered with 10 different glaze colors. Glazes are translucent, colored coats applied over paint that complement the base coat, and provide accent and dimension to the finish – for instance, by darkening the recesses around raised panels. White cabinets with chocolate glazes are a great example of this.

“Glazes are still wildly popular,” Umbenhauer says. “People love that look. Even when you tell them it will add another 20 percent to the cost of their order, they don’t care. They want it.”

And glazes aren’t limited to white cabinets. “Even dark woods with glazes have a different look,” says David Haglund, CEO and founder of South Dakota-based remodeling firm Kitchen Tune-Up, which does everything from cabinet facing to entire new kitchens for homeowners. He predicts that glazes will remain popular among his customers in 2010.

Another popular look many see as traditional is a clear, natural finish, which is simply a top coat that gives the wood beneath it clarity and shine. It’s often ordered on cherry, maple and exotic woods. The wood is left unstained so the finish can bring out its natural beauty.

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Photo Credit: MOSAIC Group Architects and Remodelers, Atlanta, Ga. Photo by John Umberger
Using one finish for perimeter cabinets and another for a center island is a popular trend in kitchen design.

Current demand for these time-tested looks makes a telling statement. “When the economy is bad, when the news is bleak, people go for traditional comforts, things that make them feel good,” Umbenhauer says. “Choosing a traditional look for their new cabinetry is all tied into what brings about the feeling of safety and comfort.”

For some buyers, a desire to connect with the past has led them to ultra-flat sheen cabinet finishes, which impart an antique look to a cabinet and have a sheen as low as 5 percent (compared with 40 percent for gloss and 20 percent for a flat finish). “Furniture that has been around for 100 years or more – typically in an Italian villa – would most likely not have any shine left,” says Umbenhauer. “By dulling the top coat on new cabinetry, the centuries-old look can be sort of duplicated.”

Another time-tested popular design technique is the combination of two finishes in one room. “Most likely, it is light, painted cabinets on the perimeter walls and a darker stain on wood for the island,” says Umbenhauer.

Kathy Forinash, design director for Bradenton, Fla.-based Neal Communities, is a big fan of that look. “We mix a lot of finishes in our models,” she says. “If there’s an opportunity, we like to do base cabinets in one color and the upper cabinets or island in another color.”