As the home continues to be an emotional center, the kitchen is the sweet spot of everyday life. And even in uncertain economic times, homeowners are upgrading cabinetry, hardware and countertops. "The market is definitely moving away from low-end cabinetry," says Granger Davis, sales representative, International Kitchen Supply. "As home magazines and Home and Garden TV up the kitchen design ante, consumers are willing to spend more to get what they want."

At this year's International Builders' Show and the Kitchen and Bath Industry Show, cabinetry ran the gamut from modern, sleek styles to more traditional fare. Results from the 20th annual Cabinet Survey taken at both trade shows revealed emerging trends and the waning of others. Cabinet companies added more detailed storage options, motorized drawers and a wider range of finishes and door options. Granite countertops, the most-wanted surface, is taking a backseat to engineered quartz and exotic stone surfaces. On the business side, exhibiting companies and kitchen displays decreased from last year and a larger number of foreign manufacturers were exhibiting at both shows.

Finishes

Dark and medium finishes are in a dead heat for most popular at 27 percent. "Darker colors are very popular because you can take a traditional cabinet with a dark java finish and make it more contemporary looking," says Linda Hughes, marketing development manager, Yorktowne Cabinetry.

Gary Barnett, director of marketing for Cardell Cabinetry, says he has been seeing fewer brighter colors, and customers are asking for muted washes and medium gray tones.

However, several designers predicted the reign of dark colors will wane in the next few years. "I see a shift to a natural or fresher look, and you're starting to see it now with character finishes using exotic woods such as wenge," says Hughes. "Those types of woods have visual interest and movement, which is revealed with a lighter color."

As consumers become tired of dark wood tones, painted cabinetry is being used as the main design element.

Wellborn Cabinet Co. added new painted finishes such as sage and honey butter and also offers various brown tone glazes to add warmth.

Maple is affordable and when painted it's the same price as cherry, comments Hughes. Painted cabinetry also gives homeowners more flexibility to redecorate a room.

Species

Wood species popularity tends to change with geographic region. "Hickory and quartersawn oak is hot in the New England states, the Carolinas prefer character woods, and cherry is popular across the country," says Hughes. To add texture and color, some cabinet companies are mixing wood species.

As in previous years, maple and cherry again made a strong showing at 42 percent and 25 percent, an increase of 10 percent for each. To revive old favorites many cabinet companies offer straight grain versions of oak, cherry and maple for a more contemporary look.

Exotic species such as bamboo, wenge and zebrawood, are showing up in modern designs. "Customers who already have cherry cabinets are looking for something different," says Hughes. "Wenge and zebrawood bring texture into a project that most people haven't seen before."

Construction

When it comes to construction, face frame with full overlay captured the top spot at 56 percent, a 10 percent increase from last year. Face frame came in second at 22 percent compared to 11 percent last year, and inset drawers increased to 9 percent. The most significant change was the decrease of frameless cabinets from last year's 38 percent to this year's 12 percent. "Cabinet construction styles vary with region," says Nick Bolbasis, area manager for DeWils Industry Inc. "In the New York area, frameless is very popular, while the Midwest prefers framed cabinets."

Countertops

As granite countertops are quickly becoming a standard in new construction, their popularity may be declining as many manufacturers opted to showcase different surfaces. Solid surface was the overwhelming winner at 40 percent, an 8 percent increase from last year. "Some homeowners don't like the maintenance required on natural stone, and solid surface now offers a more natural looking surface without the upkeep," says Hughes.

Engineered stone countertops increased from 7 to 22 percent and granite dropped from 17 to 8 percent. However, 7 percent of the displays featured marble and recycled glass to soften darker colors. "More customers are opting for glass countertops because they're easy to clean and look beautiful with contemporary or traditional cabinetry," says Rick Banter, retail sales manager, Canac.

Organization

Whether a kitchen is the size of a cathedral or a shoe box, it needs to be well organized to function properly. Organizational options are no longer an afterthought, and customers are adding them during the design process. Manufacturers showcased open shelves, oversized and specialized drawers.

Organized cabinetry is spilling over into other rooms. "Laundry rooms are larger and are turning into multi-use spaces where you can fold laundry, store hobby items and keep recyclables," says Hughes.

What to watch for

Cabinetry details are becoming more streamlined and are less ornate than they were a few years ago. "A little detail is important but the details have to be in the proper architectural scale," comments Hughes.

Consumers have more cabinet door choices than ever. Doors with decorative inserts dominated the survey at 60 percent. However, many displays used a combination of materials.

European lift doors are being used more in corner cabinetry at the countertop level as consumers shift away from doors and tambours. "Many people don't like opening something onto the countertop," says Hughes. "It's a space saving issue."

See 20 years of more cabinet trends.

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