Effects of the slow economy were clearly in evidence at the annual Kitchen and Bath Industry Show held in Atlanta in May. Numbers of kitchen displays were down, and some major kitchen cabinet manufacturers just didn't attend the show at all. But for the companies who did exhibit, the displays overall reflected an emphasis on basics and no dramatic new products.

While the emphasis last year was on upscale cabinetry with new automated hardware and sophisticated style options, displays in 2009 tended to be more conservative. There were fewer customized drawer systems and not so many elaborate decorative add-ons, such as extensive moulding treatments and furniture features.

Finishes  

Just as the displays were tending to the middle ground, so were the finishes. While last year dark and medium finishes ran neck and neck, this year the medium finishes accounted for 41 percent of the displays, and dark finishes were evident in only about 23 percent. Light wood finishes accounted for only 5 percent.

Randall Pooley, director of national sales for Showplace Wood Products, says, "We're trying to broaden the color selection in each wood species. We're showing more mid-tone browns to dark. But there are also lighter creams, and there is more interest in paint. About 70 percent of our orders include glazing."

K/BIS displays seemed to also reflect that trend to some extent, with about 16 percent of the displays showing glazed finishes. Another 11 percent of the displays made use of unglazed painted finishes, with off-white and cream colors in definite evidence.

According to Brian Johns, sales representative for Wellborn Cabinet Inc., dark colors and glazes seem to be the trend he sees. Charles Gideon, vice president of sales for Brandon Cabinets, says "More and more people want paint and solid colors."

Species  

When it comes to wood species, maple was the king of this show, accounting for 36 percent of the kitchen cabinet displays. Cherry came in second at about 15 percent, followed by birch at about 9 percent. Oak and alder were tied, each used in about 8 percent of the displays on the show floor.

"There continues to be a decline in oak sales," says Pooley. "Oak tends to be a vintage look. We are also using a lot of Lyptus wood." About 10 percent of the displays used more unusual species of wood, including wenge, Lyptus (a branded plantation grown tree), and a number of displays showing off bamboo cabinets.

According to Gideon, there are definitely regional differences in style preferences, citing as an example the continued popularity of knotty alder in western regions.

Engineered materials seemed to be less in evidence particularly in the area of drawer boxes. Solid wood drawer boxes dominated, accounting for some 71 percent of the drawers shown. But metal drawers were also strong at 15 percent.

Construction  

Full-overlay face-frame construction made a big comeback this year, accounting for nearly two thirds of the kitchens on display. About 21 percent of the kitchens shown used frameless construction. Face-frame cabinets without full-overlay doors accounted for only 5 percent of the displays.

Another rising trend in the displays was the use of inset doors particularly with beaded face-frames, replicating a long popular upscale kitchen style that has its roots in England. About 12 percent of the displays featured this style of construction.

Dina Valli, sales representative for Cuisimax, described current trends as a "twist of modern and traditional." Their displays emphasized medium colors with beaded inset doors and more of furniture look.

Countertops  

Although solid surface countertops dominated displays last year, engineered stone took the top honors for 2009, accounting for some 39 percent of the displays. Solid surface came in second at about 23 percent.

Granite tops were in evidence in about one out of every 10 displays, but the traditional economy choice of laminate is still holding its own at 13 percent. Several experts suggested that economic pressures have definitely affected consumers' countertop choices. Wood countertops lost a little ground, coming in at 9 percent this year compared to 10 percent last year.

Other countertop materials on display included marble, glass, and stainless steel.

Drawers and doors  

The single most popular hardware item was soft-close technology. It showed up on more than 41 percent of all the drawer systems shown. Soft-close door hardware was also in evidence, accounting for some 14 percent of the doors shown.

One of the big trends in doors was the overhead lifting-style doors for upper cabinets. Rather than swinging out or sliding, these doors lift out and up to give access to upper shelves without the danger of swinging into something.

Glass continues to be a popular wood door accent item, showing up in 36 percent of the displays. But this year one of the rising trends was the use of glass doors with metal frames in a number of applications. Often such doors were combined with the overhead lifting hardware in upper cabinets.

Many of the elaborate drawer organization systems that have been so popular in the past were in less evidence this year. The suggestion was that the systems are still popular, but manufacturers were scaling back displays in light of economic pressures.

Hardware and accessories  

Beyond the soft-close options, there were few real breakthrough hardware items on display. The motorized systems for opening and closing drawers that made such a splash last year were still around, but in somewhat less evidence. It was common for a salesmen to show the feature and than note that customers sometimes complained about accidentally bumping a drawer and engaging the mechanism without intending to.

As noted previously, decorative mouldings and other cosmetic add-ons were less in evidence. Crown mouldings are still popular, but the multiple combinations of dentil, rope, and other moulding styles that were the fashion in past year's displays were absent from many booths this year.

One accessory that may be on the rise is creative lighting solutions. Several booths showed off a variety of lighting options beyond simple overhead or under-cabinet systems. Lars Hypko, export manager for Del Tonga, talked about lighting as part of what he sees as a continuing trend for more automation in the home.

"People want clean lines with a natural look. They want lighting options, such as soft lighting or internal lighting of cabinets."

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