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. "Consumers now have more choices in door designs, finishes, species and options depending on what they like," says Brittany Graben, marketing publications specialist for Wellborn Cabinet Inc.

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 in a remodeled or new kitchen, is taking a backseat to engineered quartz and more 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, respectively. "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 bored with dark wood tones, painted cabinetry once considered an accent is being used as the main design element.

"Painted cabinetry was 25 percent of our sales in 2007 and jumped to 35 percent in 2008," says Graben. 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 quarter sawn 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. Oak and the "other" category were almost tied at 10 percent and 9 percent. "Traditional oak in general will never go away, but its numbers are falling off," says Hughes. To revive old favorites many cabinet companies offer straight grain versions of oak, cherry and maple for a more contemporary look.

Additionally, 6 percent of other species were alder, birch was at 3 percent and 2 percent were hickory. About 1 percent was MDF and thermoformed doors dropped to 5 percent.

Exotic species such as bamboo, wenge, zebrawood, rosewood and plantation hardwood 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."

While most cabinet companies have a frameless line, U.S. customers have been slow to adopt them. "Most people like the look of frameless cabinetry but most of them grew up with framed cabinets and think they're more solidly built, which isn't true," says Hughes.

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. A traditional countertop workhorse, laminate, is similar to last year's findings shown in 12 percent of displays. Wood countertops also remained consistent with last year at 10 percent.

However, 7 percent of the displays featured nontraditional materials, such as marble, recycled glass and metal countertops 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

If a kitchen is the size of a cathedral or a shoe box, it needs to be well organized to function properly. Organizational options and hardware are no longer an afterthought, and customers are adding them during the design process.

"We added a deep drawer that's pegged for dishes and a pegged wall pull out for hanging utensils instead of stacking them in a drawer," says Graben. "People want to use their space more efficiently."

Manufacturers showcased open shelves, oversized and specialized drawers. "Organization is becoming more detailed," says Hughes. "We now offer drawers within drawers to organize a specific cavity."

Organized cabinetry is spilling over into other rooms in a house, such as laundry rooms, closets, garages, home offices and mudrooms. "Laundry rooms are getting much larger and are turning into multi-use spaces where you can fold laundry, store hobby items and keep recyclables," says Hughes. "Of course, it all needs to be organized and easily accessible."

As closets are becoming bigger and more people telecommute from home, the need for organizational cabinetry is increasing. "We've seen a big increase in demand for closet organization and home offices in the last two years," says Hughes. "Everyone is looking to upgrade their space."

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. Crown moulding and multiple stack versions were featured in more than 50 percent of the displays, and 28 percent featured other types of decorative mouldings.

Consumers have more cabinet door choices than ever. Cabinet doors with decorative inserts such as traditional glass dominated the survey at 60 percent. However, many displays used a combination of backlit frosted and textured glass to create a distinctive look. "Inserts are more decorative and layered materials are becoming more creative," says Hughes.

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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