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If a coat of paint was all it took to revitalize a kitchen, a lot of cabinetmakers would be unemployed. Anyone with decent casework would just add a lick of color. Thankfully, door styles have changed over the decades and people in existing homes like to update to what’s trendy in new construction.

More than half the cabinets being sold now are either pigment-coated or foil, so color over natural wood is obviously more than a trend. But even woodgrain casework is getting some interesting stain color treatments that reach far beyond the old variations on brown theme.

Painting existing cabinets is a good option when some of them are going to remain in place and a client is hiring a woodshop to build some new ones to match. Color can bring together disparate elements and even tie differing styles together, especially when there’s more than one color involved. One of the hotter trends right now is to paint the wall and base cabinets in two complementary tones of the same palette, or even go with highly contrasting colors to create a little drama.

Old Master’s Carbon Black, shown on a kitchen rendering, and ZAR’s six new stain colors.

Old Master’s Carbon Black, shown on a kitchen rendering, and ZAR’s six new stain colors.

Shops that are building all-new kitchens and baths are rarely asked for raised panels anymore. The Shakers, it seems, were quite prescient. The clean, uncluttered simplicity of their doors and drawer fronts is a hotter trend now than it was two centuries ago. That’s a good thing for woodshops, because flat panels and squared-off stiles and rails are easy to build, paint, foil, stain or spray. Trendy flat European-style frameless doors are even easier to finish, and they’re especially well-suited to the application of hygienic laminates. But while painting grandma’s kitchen can be quite rewarding and even aesthetically pleasing – especially if the prep was good – there’s only so far that paint alone can carry 1950s plain sawn red oak cathedral doors with giant ogee edges. One trend that has stayed strong and has even picked up a bit through the pandemic is to hang onto the boxes, reface the frames and then replace the doors and fronts. And nowadays, the whole job generally ends up with a few coats of color that has some anti-bacterial additives included, just to be safe.

Gloss finishes, which had been receding a bit, are enjoying a little newfound popularity, in part because of a perception that they are easier to wipe down and thus less likely to harbor microbial visitors. However, we’ve slowly come to realize that Covid 19 and its variants are primarily transmitted from one host to another through the air that we breathe in and out.

“The principal mode by which people are infected with SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes Covid-19) is through exposure to respiratory droplets carrying infectious virus. It is possible for people to be infected through contact with contaminated surfaces or objects (fomites), but the risk is generally considered to be low,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in April 2021 update.

Even low risks are worth mitigating if we can. And people seem to gain some comfort from the very action of cleaning, even when they’re aware that it has a limited impact. To accommodate those perception-based emotions, one of the biggest trends in finishing now is neither color nor texture, but simply cleanability. And in many cases, especially in public spaces, cleaning may be valid. The CDC also reports that there have been some instances where SARS-CoV-2 is transmitted between people by touching surfaces that an ill person has recently coughed or sneezed upon, followed by someone directly touching the mouth, nose, or eyes.


Stain colors

General Finishes ( is a Wisconsin-based wood coatings manufacturer that was founded in 1928, and the company has been a pioneer in water-based stains. It touts them as being low-VOC, non-flammable, easy to clean up after use with soap and water, and easy to dispose of safely and responsibly. But perhaps the most compelling motivation to switch is something that appeals to architects and kitchen designers – water-based stains look different. The high-quality micronized pigments in these stains impart exceptional color and clarity on challenging woods such as mahogany, walnut, maple, and pine, according to the company. General Finishes also offers a portable, stain color-matching system for professionals, called Ready-to-Match.

Minwax’s new Wood Finish Solid Color Stain ( is a penetrating water-based stain where a solid pigment shows more color and less grain. That opens a world of possibilities because there are more than 200 tintable color options that hide more of the wood grain while maintaining the wood texture.

ZAR ( has introduced six new stain colors for woodworkers who prefer an oil-based solution and are also looking for a way to spice up a natural finish. The collection includes Moroccan Red, Exotic Redwood, Champagne, Blue Moon, Gray Cashmere and Oiled Leather.


Keda Dye ( is a Wisconsin manufacturer of interior wood stains that are designed to add eye-popping color to natural wood. If the customer wants drama, this is a good resource to visit. The shop can choose from wood dye power kits which are mixed with warm water or isopropyl alcohol, or liquid wood dye kits that are mixed with a solvent.

In a step away from the ubiquitous muted earth tones seen in trendy coatings right now, Old Master has gone to the dark side. Its new Carbon Black stain is available in gel and wiping formula. Paired as an accent or perfect for delivering stand-alone drama, the company says that “its stunning, rich color adds power and strength to any project”.

Oil Plus 2C from Rubio Monocoat ( is a hard wax oil wood finish that’s easy to apply, easy to maintain, and keeps the natural look and feel of the wood. Plant-based, it delivers color and protection in one simple application. It’s a two-component product that is used for flooring, furniture, cabinetry and millwork, and it’s available in about 50 different colors.


Primers and topcoats

New from AkzoNobel’s Chemcraft ( is OmniBuild Pro, which is a conversion varnish primer that’s designed to tackle challenging substrate variables including routed MDF. It builds a remarkably thick and smooth foundation for top-coating. The company notes that OmniBuild Pro is easy to apply, sands quickly and easily, and has a fast stack time, which should make it very production friendly. For optimum results, Chemcraft recommends using it with Chemlife 24 or Chemlife 24 Plus Topcoat.

M.L. Campbell ( points out that its Arroyo Stain-Blocking WB white primer is Greenguard certified, fast drying, and made with a very unique all acrylic polymer that has built in functionality to help prevent tannin or stain migration. Special polymers lock in water-soluble tannins to help prevent them from bleed-through, while also creating an ideal smooth basecoat for waterborne or solvent borne pigmented topcoats. This under-coater is ideal for use on unfinished MDF and softwoods such as pine and cedar, as well as hardwoods such as oak, poplar, birch and maple. The matching topcoat, Arroyo 1K WB, helps to improve productivity and offers easy application with fewer steps and an unlimited application window, which saves time and helps eliminate waste. It’s also Greenguard certified for low VOC and indoor emissions.

The industrial wood coatings division at Sherwin-Williams ( offers clear wood sealers and topcoats, pigmented wood primers and topcoats, and a variety of stains and glazes that are designed to be applied over sealed or painted wood furniture. The company’s Colormix 2021 palette is called Rhythm of Color, and includes four finish collections – Sanctuary, Encounter, Continuum and Tapestry. Sherwin-Williams also offers woodshops access to its Global Color & Design Center in Greensboro, N.C. where a team of color and design experts work on studying and forecasting finish trends.

Applications of Milesi’s waterborne coatings 

Applications of Milesi’s waterborne coatings 

Benjamin Moore also offers professional support when it comes to finishing trends. Its website ( has a page dedicated to the manufacturer’s most popular paint colors, which is an excellent tool for sharing with clients who want to see what’s trending. There’s also a new product called Command, which might be of interest to shops that are in a hurry. It’s a waterborne acrylic urethane enamel that dries to touch in just 15 minutes and allows traffic in 24 hours. It has a block-resistant, tack-free formula, is flexible to resist cracking and peeling, and can be applied in temperatures as low as 35 degrees F, according to the company.

PPG Paints has published its 2021 paint color and design trends at, and the overall impression is earthy pastels. There’s a subsection called “Be Wild” that includes splashes of more dynamic colors. This is a helpful page for woodworkers who are trying to decide where to lead customers when it comes to trendy tones, and it has a link to a visualizing tool that lets the customer play with different palettes in a virtual room.

Earthy pastels are also prevalent in Behr’s 2021 color of the year. The earthy terracotta hue of Canyon Dusk is designed to be warm, comforting and reassuring. In fact, the entire Behr color trend this year (at has been wrapped around the concept of “elevated comfort”.

The trend toward earthy tones is perhaps based on a global populace that simply wants life to return to the familiar. Part of that is a renewed concern for the health of the planet, and coatings manufacturers are keenly aware of that need. For example, at least 70 percent of the raw materials in Milesi’s waterborne coatings are based on renewable sources, and 90 percent of those are bio-based. Raw materials for the company’s solvent-based coatings are at least 30 percent based on renewable sources, 80 percent of which are also bio-based.

Kede Dye wood stains

Kede Dye wood stains

The industrial wood coatings division at Axalta ( offers varnishes, glazes, stains and lacquers that are available in ultra-low VOC and HAPs-free, formaldehyde-free and isocyanate-free formulations. The company’s new Wood Pro app provides quick access to product information, the latest industry color trends, and best practices for the wood coatings market.

Aqua Coat ( makes a line of eco-friendly, water-based wood sealers, topcoats, stains, dyes and tints. The company also makes additives including a cross-linker, a reducer/thinner and a retarder, and supplies a non-hazardous cleaner for spray guns, pressure pots, hoses and brushes, plus pore filler and putty. 

This article was originally published in the September 2021 issue.

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