Kitchen corners are at the center of a small revolution in base cabinet design philosophy that is also giving birth to innovative new drawer designs.

Once upon a time, kitchen base cabinets were mostly filled with shelves behind doors other than a few drawers designed to hold things like silverware. Next came pullouts to make things more accessible in the backs of base cabinets. Today, there's a growing trend to do away with standard base cabinets entirely, substituting all drawers. According to Dennis Poteat, marketing services for Blum Inc., it's a matter of ergonomics.

"With doors in base cabinets, there is much more bending and stooping to reach back into the cabinet to retrieve items," Poteat says. "With drawers, the cabinet's contents come to the user. This will become even more important with an aging Baby Boomer population."

Corner conundrum

But what about the corner? When kitchens turn a corner they create an instant space utilization problem. Traditionally, the corner space has become a sort of black hole of hard-to-reach storage space or in some cases it was even blocked off. A host of inventive solutions such as lazy susans and swinging pullouts have attacked the problem with varying degrees of success. But many companies were still looking for better ways to deal with the corner.

Researchers at Blum noted that often a kitchen corner becomes a meal preparation area.

"Thinking of the items needed for meal preparation, small things such as spoons, whisks, hand mixers, etc., were used here often," says Poteat. "Our researchers knew drawers were the best solution for base cabinets so why not in the corner? Because of this, Blum began exploring the idea of using a drawer in the corner, thus developing the Space Corner."

Doing it with dovetails

Original designs for Blum's corner drawer systems were built with the Tandem slide system using typically doweled or stapled construction. But for high-end projects that might feature dovetailed drawers in the rest of the kitchen, that raised an issue.

"If all the other drawers are dovetail and the corner drawers are stapled, the customer will perceive it as an omission or worse, a shortcut taken to save money," says Poteat.

Enter Max Hunter of Western Dovetail. He had been one of many drawer companies working with Blum to make display and sample drawers for many years and was intrigued when Blum introduced its Space Corner concept. Could he make a commercially viable dovetailed version of the drawer?

Hand craftsmen have made dovetailed drawers with unusual angles before, but making a dovetail drawer with the extreme angles required for the corner drawer presents a major manufacturing challenge, says Hunter. The angles involved limit the amount of material available for the joint. He says that European manufacturers went to box joints to avoid the problem and still offer a wood-joined drawer.

"It's a real mind-bender," he says. But Hunter went to the shop and devised a new strategy. He even developed custom machinery to make it work. The prototype debuted at the AWFS show in Las Vegas in 2005.

Since that debut, a number of other companies are also now offering versions of a wood corner drawer, many butt-jointed, some dovetailed, further adding to the popularity.

Style and substance

Hunter emphasizes that it is both utility and style that are driving the success of the dovetailed corner drawer. "What's going on in the industry is the dovetail drawer has become phenomenally popular," says Hunter. "The majority of high-end cabinets today are built with dovetails, and people want corner drawers to match the rest of the dovetail drawers."

From a business standpoint, Hunter says the corner concept represents an increase in the market. "You're adding three more drawers in the kitchen in place of something that wasn't a drawer before," he says. "The other options, you still have to crawl around to fish out that can of tuna that fell in the back. It's part of the trend of replacing all doors in lower cabinets with drawers."

He says the trend has caught on and stuck. "We do 200 to 300 drawers a day and maybe a dozen corner drawers a week, but I predict it's going to be more and more common," he says. "Smaller, design/build, high-end, responsive shops have the freedom to put these corner drawers in. We've gotten quite a few cabinet shops to encourage customers to drop pullouts behind doors to go to all drawers and save the doors for the uppers."

Blum's Poteat says it's a marketing opportunity for shops. "It creates a 'wow' effect from their customers," he says. "Shops can differentiate themselves by showing innovative solutions that the customer has never seen before."

More shapes to come

Hunter thinks the dovetailed corner drawer is just the beginning. After developing special machinery to handle the angles, he's experimenting with other angled drawer designs. "Every time we come out with something we try to take it one step further," he says.

He's figured out not only how to dovetail the drawer fronts, but now he can offer backs dovetailed at a135-degree angle. Many of the corner drawers on the market have interior cross braces. Hunter says he's now also developed what he calls the Chevron drawer, which is shaped like its namesake with all open space. There are also parallelogram shapes to meet special angle needs.

Next on his agenda are dovetailed curved fronts and backs. "That's really tricky. You have to match tangent and angle of intersection," he says.

He's also looking beyond the drawers themselves. "A corner drawer still needs a corner cabinet," he says. He figures there will be a demand for a complete corner package of cabinet and corner drawers to save shops the trouble of building and engineering the corner cabinet.

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