More colors, wood comeback top cabinet trends
March 1, 2021 | 9:40 am CST

This kitchen by Wellborn Cabinet Inc. shows several trends, including mixing colors, a contrasting island in warm cherry wood, open shelves, and lighting.

Photo By Wellborn Cabinet Inc.

Multi-colored kitchens, rising popularity of frameless cabinets, and a comeback for wood cabinets are among the top trends reported in a survey of designers, manufacturers, importers, and others connected to the North American kitchen cabinet industry.
 
Normally at this time of year, we release the results of our annual kitchen cabinet trends survey based on an exhaustive tally of what is being displayed at the influential Kitchen/Bath Industry Show and International Builders Show. But the ongoing pandemic forced those shows into the virtual realm, and technical glitches knocked out most of the exhibitors’ virtual booth presentations.
 
We were still able to conduct extensive interviews with significant players in the kitchen cabinet industry track ongoing trends. We explored most of the same topics we usually do in our tally-based survey, including questions about cabinet construction, door styles, wood species, doors and drawers, color and stain choices, countertops, and add-on features.
 
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This contemporary kitchen from CNC Cabinetry shows trending features such as contrasting island color and full-overlay doors without a lot of ornamentation.

More colors

One of the most interesting areas to chart trends in kitchens today is in the realm of color, and the trend is definitely mixed as in multiple colors mixed and matched. Statistically, white Shaker-style kitchens are still the leader, but designers, builders, and buyers have been pushing that content for some time.
 
“People are fatigued with white,” says Angela O’Neill, director of marketing for Wellborn Cabinet Inc. (65 on the FDMC 300 list of largest woodworking firms) and the biggest North American cabinet manufacturer to exhibit at K/BIS in recent years.
 
A Houzz 2021 study says white kitchens are down to 41 percent of the market from 45 percent a year ago. The same study says gray kitchens are down to 10 percent and have been overtaken by wood (more on that later). 
 
So, what’s trending against white? O’Neill and others we talked to said grays are still strong as the second-place color, but blues are also rising amid a continuing trend that puts painted cabinets way ahead of wood stained cabinets. The Houzz study put blue ahead of gray as a contrasting color.
 
The most interesting thing happening now is how many kitchens are designed with multiple colors. “Two tone is a very big trend,” says Seth Leff, southern regional sales manager for CNC Cabinetry, which serves a nationwide dealer market from five regional facilities. “White is number one. Gray is second block, and blue is third tier.”
 
Modern multi-tone kitchens might feature a bank of white upper cabinets, painted blue or gray lowers, and a contrasting wood or mid-tone island. Multi-color kitchens are on the rise in the Houzz study, too, up to 9 percent of all kitchens.
 
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Wood drawer organization systems are increasingly popular, as seen in this drawer from Wellborn Cabinet Inc.

Wood comeback

Another player in the changing face of kitchens is wood. Years ago stained wood kitchens accounted for three-quarters of kitchens, and paint was just one-quarter. Now that number is reversed, with paint dominating.
 
But as a multi-color palette comes into play, wood is becoming a rising player again. O’Neill says one factor is how blues, grays, and whites tend to make for a cold look. Wood and wood tones can warm up a kitchen as a contrasting element. Wellborn this year is promoting a kitchen design that features a cherry wood island set against white and blue cabinets.
 
Birch and maple continue to be the dominant species for wood cabinets. Wellborn reports oak comes in behind those, followed by cherry and hickory. Wood-tone cabinets of all types, including textured laminates account for nearly a quarter of all cabinets in the Houzz study, but medium-tone stains are the favorite. Other sources we talked to generally agreed that both the dark espresso-type stains and light or clear finishes popular in the past are only minor players today.
 
And don’t look for elaborate glaze and stain finishes over raised wood panels that were so popular a few years ago. If there is wood at all, the wood is showing through with natural grain.
 
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Hafele offers a wide selection of trending kitchen options, including open shelves and under-counter lighting as shown in this kitchen that was to be displayed at K/BIS.

Frameless second but rising

Behind the look of the cabinets, the actual construction trend continues to be dominated by faceframe cabinets with full overlay doors, but frameless cabinets, often in a contemporary look with slab doors, are continuing to rise.
 
Wellborn’s O’Neill says their Aspire line of frameless cabinets has done very well, and they could grow that business more if they could add the employees to do so. 
 
“Frameless is clearly rising, but it’s still a minority of the market,” said Leff from CNC Cabinetry. He said they stock four door styles in frameless. New laminates and high gloss are featured in their frameless line this year. He said, “Frameless is bigger out West and in urban markets.”
 
A related trend is the growth in ready-to-assemble cabinetry that was mentioned by several sources.
 

Soft-close, dovetailed drawers

One trend that shows no signs of going away is the rise of dovetailed wood drawers with soft-close drawer slides. Typically done in maple or birch, these have become standard on kitchens almost all across the board.
 
Some upscale European-style kitchens feature soft-close metal drawer systems, and those do seem to be rising in popularity, especially as more companies offer that hardware option. 
 
A few companies offer low-end kitchen options with epoxy slides without soft-close function, but this seems to be limited to economy lines exclusively. Soft-close options dominate the market.
 

Full overlay doors

Whether frameless or faceframe, the full-overlay door continues to dominate the look, particularly with the continued strength of so-called Transitional kitchen designs. 
 
“Clean door profiles are here to stay for years,” says O’Neill. She notes that raised panels, particularly with arches or cathedrals have really fallen out of favor. She does say there is a rising trend to give a little bit of splash to the typical Shaker door by adding simple edge details to the interior of stiles and rails.
 
According to the Houzz study, the classic five-piece Shaker door accounts for 57 percent of the market. Flat-panel doors are a distant second at 21 percent. Raised-panel doors take only 17 percent of the market.
 
Frameless applications are taking advantage of the rise in textured laminates that mimic the look and feel of wood with embossed grain patterns. These lend themselves to slab doors, adding texture and warmth to the clean lines.
 
The Houzz study identified another trend that dovetails with the multi-color approach to kitchen design. More than one of every 10 new or upgraded kitchen island features a door style that contrasts with the style of the main cabinets in the kitchen. Shaker still dominates, but the slab doors are nearly as strong.
 
Doors with glass are still the most popular accent door, often used in upper cabinets as a show feature.
 
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Kesseböhmer LeMans II Blind Corner Unit offers an alternative for better interior access in hard-to-reach corners.

More organization

Inside cabinets, modern kitchens continue to expand with organizing options. There are now hardware solutions for almost anything that can go in the kitchen.
 
According to the Houzz study, pullout waste or recycling features are by far the most common organization addition. Other options in order of popularity include cookie sheet or tray racks, spice racks, lazy Susans and blind pull-outs, cutlery racks, organizers for pots and pans, utensils, small appliance storage/lift, dishes, wine or wine glasses, and pet feeding stations.
 
“Extra interior features, bells and whistles, are a growing segment,” said Leff. His company partners with Rev-a-Shelf for some interior hardware and organization options, and he noted that many of CNC Cabinetry’s dealers use Hardware Resources products.
 
Wellborn partners with Hafele for many interior options, including lighting, which O’Neill says is very popular.
 

Countertop trends

Engineered quartz countertops have dominated K/BIS and IBS in past years, but there is some indication that tariffs on imported materials has slowed that trend. 
 
The Houzz study says that engineered quartz is down to 40 percent compared to 51 percent last year. Following it are granite and wood slab tops. With the trend to contrasting islands, butcher block or wood is the top choice at 41 percent, followed by granite (16 percent) and engineered quartz (15 percent).
 
Some countertop suppliers are closely following color trends and varying their offerings. “We are seeing warmer and darker hues play a big role, more wood cabinets, blues and greens,” said Simone Fertsch, marketing representative for Cambria. “Which can be found in Cambria 2020 and 2021 design releases.”
 

Other trends

While we have no firm data on how significant these will be, there are some trends that we heard designers mention over and over. 
 
No visible handles – Spurred on by European designs, many designers are getting rid of visible knobs and pulls, using finger rails or touch-to-open technology. 
 
Walk-through pantries – Rather than using cabinet space for pantries, some kitchens are featuring cabinet doors that you actually walk through to a pantry room or a deep closet-like pantry for more storage.
 
Shelf trends – Open shelves and floating shelves continue to be an accent trend in many kitchen designs.
 
Overhead doors – Overhead doors, often with a power option, continue to be trending in higher end kitchens. 

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About the author
William Sampson

William Sampson is a lifelong woodworker, and he has been an advocate for small-scale entrepreneurs and lean manufacturing since the 1980s. He was the editor of Fine Woodworking magazine in the early 1990s and founded WoodshopBusiness magazine, which he eventually sold and merged with CabinetMaker magazine. He helped found the Cabinet Makers Association in 1998 and was its first executive director. Today, as editor of FDMC magazine he has more than 20 years experience covering the professional woodworking industry. His popular "In the Shop" tool reviews and videos appear monthly in FDMC.