With so many people dining in their own homes, and millions more forsaking the company water cooler for the relative safety of a home office, the nation is spending a whole lot more time in the company of its cabinets. For many, that forced familiarity with their kitchens and baths is leading to thoughts of remodeling.

Social media sites such as Pinterest are chock full of ideas, and one strong trend in cabinetry is based on just that: more people are arriving at shops with images on their phones of what they want, rather than relying on your showroom displays and color samples. Fortunately, most of what clients want can be readily outsourced and then finished or tweaked in-house. This opens up the possibility of custom shops operating more digital displays rather than the traditional (and far more labor intensive and costly) showrooms that have several cabinet, counter, door and hardware displays.

So, what’s hot?

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Reeding between the lines

If you’ve ever built or repaired a tambour door on a roll-top desk, you’re already familiar with one of the more piquant preferences in cabinetry. For several years we’ve seen raised panels take a backseat to Shaker flat panels, because the latter are deemed sleeker, simpler and more aesthetically pleasing than the thicker, beveled edge panels. But it turns out that designers still have a hankering for the undulations and tactile relief provided by panels that have some personality.

As with most trends, the newest iteration is a throwback to older designs. Dubbed ‘reeded’, it’s basically a series of very thin vertical half-columns – the reverse of a fluted panel. A good example is the S245 Palisades series from WalzCraft. It’s a narrower and deeper profile than a beaded panel, which is essentially a flat board with saw kerfs.

A century and more ago, reeded referred to fluted moldings such as those found on the face frames of work by, for example, New York cabinetmakers Herter Brothers. German-born Gustave and Christian Herter opened their shop in 1864, when the country was still embroiled in the Civil War. Their catalog predated Stickley’s, yet it resembled the offerings made by those later German brothers as it provided a complete palette of interior design from furniture to wall panels, fireplaces, inlaid floors and even carpets. They were particularly fond of reeded moldings in casework, and reproductions of original patterns can still be purchased from suppliers such as Osborne Wood Products in Toccoa, Ga.

WalzCraft’s S245 Palisades reeded door.

WalzCraft’s S245 Palisades reeded door.

Reeded door panels can be produced easily and quickly on a CNC, or they can be purchased as molding and stacked to create panels. They can be made with manufactured tambour, or built using a jig, a router and a bit such as Amana Tool’s 54213, a bearing guided bit with the profile running along the shank that cuts three reeds at a time. Amana also makes point-cutting round-over bits such as the 56126 that cut at the tip of the shank, producing a single valley and the two adjacent halves of a reeded pattern.

Clean living

Modern, minimalist, European-style flat panels are still very popular, but with a few trending caveats. Many designers are now using two separate colors – one for the wall or upper cabinets, and a darker shade for the base units. The duotone look is often broken by starkly dark or light countertop material, stone or laminate.

There’s also a tendency to change heights to break up horizontal lines, and these multiple levels show up at the bottom of wall cabinets as well as in countertop heights.

Recycled and reclaimed wood is trending, especially in more environmentally conscious locations. That may be a false narrative, as it often takes more energy and resources to restore than to replace. Reclaimed materials are part of a minor trend back toward warmer, more inviting color schemes, but white is still king. And many designers are using a full-wall backsplash to add some color and drama to monotone casework.

The concept of hinging wall cabinet doors along the top edge has been growing in popularity, and hardware companies continue to refine the ergonomics and mechanics of lifter systems. For example, Grass America’s Kinvaro T-Slim lift system has a very thin 12mm flap that can be hidden in 3/4” cabinet sides. It’s a very clean look that maximizes storage space, and it’s available in surface mount or inset versions. The soft close can hold the flap securely at any position, and the spring is adjustable from the front.

The trend toward open shelving in kitchens may be reaching a plateau as users discover what Italian and French farm wives found out centuries ago – you only have so many ‘best’ dishes that can be on display. Open shelves are still red hot in some market segments, especially those where the rest of the kitchen is clean, sterile and white, and just begs for a little splash of color or shape. Building open shelves isn’t as profitable as complete casework, so woodshop in-house designers often minimalize their use. But open shelves can make a small space feel larger, make it easier to find spices or pans, and give the homeowner a way to display very personal items such as Grandma’s copper jelly molds from the Old Country.

Grass America’s Kinvaro T-Slim lift system.

Grass America’s Kinvaro T-Slim lift system.

At the other end of that timeline, younger homeowners especially want to include technology in their designs. Here, current trends include charger drawers, flush countertop charging stations, no-plug-in charging plates, easily hidden docking stations for larger phones or tablets (especially for those busy cooks who like to follow video instructions), and of course hidden flat TVs and speaker systems. The trend here is to hide the technology when it’s not being used, and to eliminate any wires. Plus, LEDs are becoming more and more popular because they don’t get hot, they take up very little room, and they are so very customizable. LEDS are almost standard under the wall cabinets where they can illuminate the countertop work surface, but they’re also found in toe-kicks for ambient evening lighting, plus in deep base and corner cabinets where they turn on when the door is opened.

Another technology trend worth watching is appliance streamlining. Manufacturers are replacing traditional front profiles with some very sleek solutions that can go much farther than simply adding custom panels. What began with glass cooktops has evolved into wholly integrated fronts with almost hidden touchscreens and controls. The shapes of appliances are also evolving, especially in the ways that cooling and freezing refrigerator units are being separated and set in thin, vertical, side-by-side arrangements, or the stovetop, microwave and baking functions are being split to fit more gracefully into uninterrupted, seamless cabinet facades.

Design resources

Every client wants a unique kitchen and that’s why they seek out ‘custom’ builders. Finding something new might just be as simple as a style or color change, but it can also be a dimensional shift such as adding curves, arches and other forms in the round. Gilles Gaudet is the CEO of St-Georges’ Doors in Quebec (cabinetdoorsg.com), and his company specializes in curved cases and doors. Gaudet reminds designers that “curves don’t always have to go in one direction: our shop can build concave, convex and even crossbow styled curved doors, drawer fronts and cabinets”. They also supply matching moldings and curved ends for islands.

Speaking of islands, there is a trend showing where clients are opting for two small units rather than the traditional one large island, and the logic here seems to be better traffic routes through the kitchen, and better opportunities for small groups to socialize more intimately in the kitchen. This latter may possibly be a consequence of social distancing.

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Outsourcing suppliers of components generally have a very keen take on what’s hot when it comes to colors in both foil and paint. They see what people across the region, and sometimes across the whole country, are trending toward. Often, those colors are taking their lead from bigger, louder hardware such as gold or copper pulls, painted knobs and visible hinges. A few minutes spent visiting on the phone with the design team at a casework supply house can often change some of a custom shop’s fundamentals when it comes to design. And the discussion doesn’t need to be restricted to paint palettes: a good designer at a busy factory can offer insights into materials, door styles and even accessories that can help a small local shop keep pace with national trends.

It might not hurt to spend an hour on Pinterest once a month, too, just to see what your customers are viewing. 

This article was originally published in the April 2021 issue.

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