Kitchen trends go to the dark side but with lighting
June 3, 2013 | 7:00 pm CDT

If you wanted to build the most popular kitchen based on displayed trends observed at the Kitchen and Bath Industry show in New Orleans, here’s what it would look like. It would be maple in a dark finish (think “Expresso” or “Coffee” colors). The basic construction would be full-overlay faceframe with soft-close doors and drawers. You would include popular accessories like lazy susans, pullouts, and racks for wine glasses and plates. You’d top it off with crown moulding and granite countertops. And finally, you would apply sophisticated LED lighting elements including interior lighting for drawers.

Those were all the major trends we cataloged from an annual exclusive survey of all the kitchen cabinets on display at the 2013 KBIS. As part of our annual survey of kitchen trends, we inventoried all of the kitchen cabinet displays at the show. While this is not a scientific survey and does not necessarily reflect actual sales trends, it does reflect what kitchen cabinet manufacturers are trying to show off and sell. The theory is that they display what they think will attract buyers. Here’s a rundown of some of the trends.

Going to the dark side

A few years ago, it seemed that all kitchens had to be white. Well, now they have to be in dark shades if not pure black. It seemed almost every manufacturer had some dark stained cabinets on display, typically with color name like “Expresso.” Dark stains accounted for 36 percent of the cabinets on display, with medium stains coming in second at 30 percent, and light stains at 17 percent.

White has not entirely disappeared, with white paint and white thermoformed finishes accounting together for about 13.5 percent of the finishes on display. The trend for glazed finishes has also receded to about the same level of 13.6 percent.

Note that all of these percentages total more than 100 percent, because another trend is to mix and match finishes and colors. One kitchen might have mostly dark finished cabinets, but one bank of white cabinets thrown in as a design accent. Or the uppers might be a different finish and color than the lower cabinets.

Let there be light

But not everything about kitchen cabinet trends is dark. In fact, sophisticated new applications for LED lighting were everywhere at the show. Many vendors displayed interior lighting systems that illuminated drawers automatically on opening and brightened up the dark spaces between shelves.

Under-cabinet and closet lighting have all gotten easier with so many plug-and-play LED lighting systems available to choose from, not to mention many of the high-tech specific systems designed to light shelves or drawers or provide accent illumination. The options are too numerous to list and growing every day.

It’s a maple world

Wood species trends come and go, but maple totally dominated this year’s presentations, accounting for 53 percent of the cabinets on display. Angela O’Neill, director of marketing for Wellborn Cabinets Inc., says maple accounts for 63 percent of the cabinets they sell.

Oak and cherry tied for second place in the show, with a 7.5 percent share for each. Interestingly, that compares to Wellborn’s reported sales volume of 15 percent for cherry and 6 percent for oak.

Although there were plenty of imported cabinets on display, far outnumbering domestic manufacturers, they tended to be higher end, emphasizing the same hardwood species as domestic manufacturers. There were very few low-end laminate cabinets on display.

Frameless? Forget it.

While many manufacturers have opted for European-style frameless construction for reasons of efficiency, maximum space utilization and clean design lines, you wouldn’t know that by what was displayed at KBIS. Full-overlay faceframe cabinets totally dominated the displays, accounting for nearly 90 percent of everything shown. Frameless construction was at just 6 percent, tied with inset door faceframe construction. Again, numbers add up to more than 100 percent, because some displays showed multiple construction methods in the same kitchen.

Another totally dominating trend was solid wood drawers, which accounted for 95 percent of all the drawers displayed. About the only drawers that weren’t solid wood were ones that were part of a metal drawer system. And the soft-close revolution has taken hold of 75 percent of the drawers on display at the show. It’s also moving into the doors, with about 23 percent of kitchens on display showing soft-close doors as well as drawers.

Granite is rock solid

No letup was in site for the continuing trend to granite countertops. About a third of all kitchens displayed featured granite countertops. Perhaps reflecting the economy of the last few years, laminate tops actually showed some resurgence at 26 percent, and solid surface countertops put in a third-place showing at 21 percent. Engineered stone was also strong at about 14 percent.

Among the less common countertop materials wood put in a strong showing at 6 percent. Also, on display were entirely stainless steel countertops and a smattering of other materials.

Other trends

While ongoing trends for more furniture-style looks continue, so does the trend for adding decorative mouldings. Crown moulding was in evidence in 38 percent of the kitchens on display and dentil moulding in 11 percent. Rope moulding showed up 6 percent of the time.

Many kitchen displays showed universal design features, such as clearance under sink and cooking areas for wheelchairs. There were also pullout work surfaces designed to provide work surfaces at more convenient levels or in addition to standard countertops.

Wellborn showed off an interesting idea in providing functionality to cabinet ends. For example, a glass-door upper cabinet on the end of a bank of cabinets might have another glass door on the end, permitting side access to the cabinet.

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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 editorial director of Woodworking Network and 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.