In Transition

Kitchen cabinetry embraces simplicity and an eclectic attitude
By Alice Liao
July 18, 2012

There’s a new “it” style of kitchen, according to the NKBA’s 2012 Design Trends Survey. For the first time in the survey’s history, designers reported that transitional was the most oft requested type of design, with contemporary a close second. This may not come as a surprise, given the slow economic recovery, which has led consumers to embrace simplicity in their lives and their kitchens. Furthermore, as more homeowners remodel for themselves rather than quick resale, transitional looks, which fall somewhere in the middle of the style spectrum—not too fussy, not too cold—defy easy identification and may lend themselves more readily to eclecticism and self-expression. As John Troxell, director of design for Wood-Mode, said, transitional lifestyles “are comfortable with a wide range of design motifs and objects and are open to mixing them within their homes.”


But what does this mean in terms of kitchen cabinetry? Though they still have their adherents, raised-panel designs with applied molding are on the decline, according to Peter Salerno, CMKBD, of Wyckoff, NJ-based Peter Salerno, Inc., whose new showroom features them in only one out of 14 displays. For those who still request the look, Salerno has turned to a thicker door—1 1/4 in. instead of 3/4 in.—rather than decorative flourishes to provide interest. He added, “The detailing is an ogee edge on the inside to catch a glaze or create a shadow when the light hits it.” Similarly, while sales for raised-panel doors continue to be healthy for companies such as Wellborn Cabinet and Wood-Mode, Troxell notes that the frames tend to be contoured or molded or have simple details that are “almost Shaker-like.”

In fact, Shaker, along with its more streamlined slab counterpart, is in much demand. Updated with wider stiles and rails, as well as extra heft and the occasional beading or stepped edge, the former accounts for a large part of Salerno’s work. Conversely, in California and Hawaii, where Kristen Totah, ASID, of Studio K Kitchens and Design, focuses her practice, the latter dominates. Of particular interest to her clientele are flat-panel doors and drawers with concealed continuous grip handles and “purposefully integrated cabinetry” that resembles freestanding furniture or a part of the architecture, she said.


Some designers are incorporating both door types in one space and specifiying them in different finishes, as did Robert Schwartz, of St. Charles Kitchens, at the recent Kips Bay Decorator Show House in New York City. The mix of materials reflects the growing appetite for personalization. Janine Flamer, VP of marketing and public relations for Poggenpohl, said, “Consumers are moving beyond a single wood finish for their kitchens and are now selecting a modern mix of materials, such as textured wood laminates combined with high-gloss lacquers, glass and stainless steel accents.” As Salerno sees it, playing with materials, colors and textures has replaced carved molding as the way to make a personal statement in the kitchen.

But are some finishes more popular than others? Wood is tops, with maple and cherry leading the species, noted Troxell; walnut is ascendant as a premium option. Salerno sees a future in quarter-sawn white oak but also likes including less-used woods, such as butternut, as accents. Wood or, at least, its texture is equally desirable among the minimalist-minded. “We are specifying more flat-panel doors but often with a horizontal grain or texture [that is] sometimes combined as an accent with a solid color,” Totah said, and teak melamine, noted Flamer, is Poggenpohl’s bestseller. Stains in dark espresso and medium tones remain favorites of homeowners, but glazing, noted Salerno, is “phasing out.” Angela O’Neill, director of marketing and advertising, Wellborn, has seen “an evident uptick in paints—around 30 percent currently.”

As to color, white, of course, is still king, with soft grays and taupes also finding their way into some kitchens. The neutral palette, coupled with the move away from embellishment, may not seem all that exciting as cabinet trends, but with homeowners more open to mixing and matching and ever keener on expressing themselves in their home, the focus in kitchen design has perhaps shifted to where it belongs. As Salerno said, “The cabinet is certainly important, but it’s not as important as the designer.”

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