Before the COVID-19 pandemic, white shaker-style cabinetry rose to the top of the wish list for many homeowners who pursued a kitchen renovation. As people spent more time in their houses amid lockdowns, however, they began to pine for nature and desired to bring the outdoors inside. As a result, manufacturers have noticed an increase in demand for natural wood kitchen cabinets.
“I did a panel at [the Kitchen & Bath Industry Show] this year, and there were about 75 designers in the audience—maybe 100,” says Angela O’Neill, director of marketing for Wellborn Cabinet. “I said, ‘Raise your hand right now if you’re working on a painted, white shaker kitchen,’ and only three raised their hands. Then I said, ‘Raise your hand if you’re working on a kitchen that involves natural wood and wood grains,’ and the rest of the audience raised their hands.”
The shaker profile still accounts for most of the kitchen cabinets sold, manufacturers agree, but customers continue to seek simple alternatives with just a few more details. Some people refer to this hybrid style as a “modified traditional look,” or transitional; nonetheless, a growing number of homeowners seek to mix stained with painted cabinetry, contrast materials and accent colors.
Texture and Grain
Though painted cabinets accounted for 60 to 65 percent of volume the last few years, Wellborn has observed an increase of natural woods such as hickory, maple, oak and cherry, O’Neill says. “People want their homes warm, and they want to feel nature coming inside. There was a lot of staying at home, so we hear designers and consumers say they want to be more nature-inspired.”
“White paint—or shades of white cabinetry—and the shaker-door style have always been a tried-and-true, classic look,” says Hannah Gebauer, marketing director for Showplace Wood Products. “But we’re seeing those mixes of stain coming back in. And people are wanting a lot of graining. So white oak, whether it’s rift-cut or quarter-sawn, has a lot of graining. Hickory is really popular for us; we’ve seen that tick up. We’ve actually seen a little less maple, but it’s still strong for us.”
White oak has become the most popular wood species for QCCI, followed by walnut, mahogany and, ironically, cherry, notes Jonathan Dahl, vice president of sales and marketing. “The painted white kitchen was just so big and bold, and everybody had it, that it just wore itself out—kind of like the cherry kitchens of the ’90s. Paint, no matter who the manufacturer is, it gets dirty. It just wears quicker than a stained cabinet does. It chips, and people just don’t want to deal with that.”
Over the last several months, Dahl has perceived a more diversified product selection leaving the company’s shipping docks. “More people are mixing wood with paint. We’re not seeing the fully painted kitchen anymore,” he explains. “We’re seeing maybe an island that’s an oak or a walnut, but then the perimeter [cabinets] painted. It’s obviously much more fun to walk through our shop now because it’s not just a white kitchen after white kitchen. I’m seeing some texture and grain.”
For inset cabinetry, Showplace has even received requests for a painted frame with stained doors and headers, Gebauer says. “It’s two-tone cabinetry down to the cabinet level—not just, ‘I want white perimeter cabinets with a stained wood island.’ They’re wanting actual two-tone cabinets.”
Surprisingly, red oak looks very appealing in some of the new stains, she adds. “Remember the golden honey oak color of the early 2000s [when] a lot of people got turned off from red oak? I think it’s going to be interesting to see how some of these stain trends really affect some of these wood species, and us seeing more graining and more wood and some browns back in the home.”
Tying It Together
For years manufacturers developed primarily gray, cool-tone stains; now, homeowners gravitate toward earthier, richer hues, Gebauer notes. “Wood is just naturally that way, so we [usually] pair that with this trend of colors and stains, which are lighter browns—not too orange [and] not too yellow, but not too cool. They’re just nice, neutral tones. Instead of that cold, stark feeling you can get from the cool color palette we had for a while, people are wanting a little more warmth.”
The earthy theme holds true for paint colors as well, where Showplace has recently come across more terracotta, red and even pink being used in the kitchen, along with deeper blues and grays.
Cabinet Restylers, in fact, has recognized an increase of accent colors, namely blues and grays, says Anthony Thiel, wholesale and marketing manager. “We’re seeing those [shades] as a good complementary color. Probably one of the bigger things that we’ve seen in our dealer base is an uptick in two-tone kitchens, with a light, whiteish wood grain and a blue or gray on the bottom.
“I think staying lighter is still key because it’s hard to change your flooring,” he adds. “If you’ve got wood floors—or if you have wood trim throughout the rest of your home—going to a lighter color doesn’t really clash with that. I don’t think the lighter colors are going away [like] the stark white [kitchen] with the really light countertops and minimal-to-no hardware that we have seen.”
Häfele, on the other hand, has started to see the addition of metal accents to create what people regard as a “tuxedo kitchen,” says Scott Kaminski, senior marketing manager. “You’ve got this combination of metal and wood tying things together, but it’s not like the medieval pub type of atmosphere. The metal is a little muted, from a finish perspective, for a high-end presentation.”
While more homeowners want to add their own personal touch, social media influences many of them to question the status quo, he adds. “There has been a lot more democratization of style in some instances because now it’s not always about what the designer brings to the table. They’re essentially looking to ultimately try and fulfill that with the options they have available to them.”
After white shaker cabinets became popular, Designs of Distinction by Brown Wood needed to pivot from being a component supplier (corbels, columns and feet) to a material producer, says Kathryn Constantine, vice president. In 2020 the manufacturer introduced metal accent trim, an anodized aluminum available in six sizes (seven finishes) that will not chip, peel, rust or corrode.
“We had to figure out what to do to enhance that basic white shaker cabinet, so that’s what drove us toward materials because people weren’t adding components—they weren’t adding big corbels and columns. But they were adding hardware, [and] they were adding knobs,” Constantine notes.
Simple designs and clean edges continue to describe the profiles in development for new cabinet doors, O’Neill says. The strong, sharp shaker look will not be replaced completely, but designers and consumers are seeking alternatives to a simpler style because they do not want the standard, square-edge shaker door. This year Wellborn has launched new door styles with additional detail.
“They’re not the traditional, 30-year-old [kitchen cabinet doors] that had so many bevels in them, but they are bringing back a few more details,” O’Neill explains. “Comparatively it’s cleaner and transitional—a more modern design. And all those are full overlay doors with concealed hinges.”
Next year Wellborn will refine its inset offering from more than 20 different door profiles to just the six most-often sold, she adds. “Inset obviously is more challenging to make; and through the last number of years as we’ve experienced COVID labor problems, we’ve looked at streamlining our inset offering to six popular inset door profiles, and our dealers seem comfortable with that.”
Cabinet Restylers offers a couple of shaker profiles, and they represent two of the manufacturer’s biggest movers, Thiel notes. Its raised panel door, however, has overtaken the flat panel door for second place among its top-three styles sold. “That’s going to bring some good character back to the kitchen, but at the same time, I don’t want it to look like my parents’ kitchen with that raised panel,” he says. “So, you can go with something a bit more contemporary but not that euro-feel.”
QCCI produces an Edge Series panel door with thin bolting around the outside that creates what Dahl calls a modified traditional look. “I guess people were tired of seeing slabs everywhere, and so they wanted a little bit of profile on the door,” he explains. “That particular door style of ours is by far most popular because it’s not a traditional shaker door, but it’s also not a slab door. It’s a transitional door between the two; it gives a contemporary feel to traditional construction style.”
Tambour—a treatment also known as beaded, reeded or fluted—has been the hottest product for Designs of Distinction, Constantine notes. The company’s flexible tambour has a thin backer that allows it to be used as a wrap and bend around curves while its solid tambour profiles, stocked in 24-inch by 46-inch panels, make an ideal insert for cabinet doors—or as full panels on cabinetry.
“I think a lot of that comes out of COVID with people at home, looking at their dark [and] white kitchens, and they wanted to bring the outdoors in,” she says. “With tambour, the hottest material is white oak; it’s grainy, it’s warm, it’s that whole biophilic design [of] bringing nature into your home. And it’s mid-century style, so it fits the aesthetic of where furniture and design are going.”
Aging in Place
In the latter part of the 2010s, the majority of QCCI cabinetry went to new construction projects, Dahl notes. But in the last three years, that number has flipped to renovations on existing homes, “whether it’s people doing their offices for working from home or an outdoor space they want to finish because they host instead of going out,” he says. “It’s definitely a bigger piece of our pie.”
Following the COVID-19 pandemic, nevertheless, some homeowners are choosing to spend their disposable income elsewhere. “The market has constricted a little bit,” Kaminski explains. “It’s because during the pandemic nobody could travel, [and] whatever budget they had for vacations they invested in their home. Things were crazy for a period of time. It’s still busy, but people started taking those large-scale investment dollars and putting them into things like vacations.”
As inflation and interest rates continue to rise, the people who do opt for a kitchen remodel often budget less than they had previously. For these homeowners, cabinet refacing becomes a realistic possibility, Thiel says. “Some people don’t want to spend 60-, 70-, 80-plus thousand dollars in their kitchen anymore. And it’s not that they don’t want a beautiful product; it’s because [many of them] paid for that quality once already. So, we’re able to come in with modern styles and colors.
“They’re buying refacing, [and] they’re getting super excited about it because they’re able to keep what’s good already in their kitchen, but they’re able to make it better,” he adds. “They’re able to update [their cabinetry] to what they’ve always wanted and not have to compromise on quality.”
When it comes to extras, custom rollout shelves are a top seller for Cabinet Restylers, along with blind-corner optimizers, among others, Thiel says. “Someone as young as late-30s might be like, ‘Hey, I got this house on a low interest rate, and I want to be here as long as possible.’ And if that happens, or if they end up having to take care of an aging loved one, we want them to be able to use the space just as if it was someone who bought a house knowing it will be a retirement home.
“They do not want to have to dig around in those cabinets anymore,” he adds. “So, those cabinet extras like blind-corner optimizers and rollout shelves, we’ve actually seen a large call for that.”
Matte Black Still Most Popular
For some time, satin nickel was the most-selected finish of cabinet hardware by homeowners who undertook a kitchen remodel, says Beth Basch, marketing and public relations manager for Stone Harbor Hardware. When she started in the hardware business, if people wanted a dark finish, they typically went for a vintage bronze (or Venetian bronze, depending on the company who was supplying it).
A few years, however, matte black overtook satin nickel and has not looked back. “It works well in many different settings,” Basch explains. “People who are doing the farmhouse type of look or something a little more traditional can find a matte black that works well with that look. People going super contemporary can find something that works with that modern type of style as well.”
Older hardware collections might have had only vintage bronze and satin nickel as options for a finish, but the manufacturer made sure to incorporate a matte black finish. In fact, when Stone Harbor debuted its Zephyr and Plateau collections, which are more modern and contemporary, the company skipped the dark bronze finish and went straight to offering matte black on them, Basch says.
“I think matte black is still going to be strong going into 2024,” she adds. “I do think that satin brass is going to continue to trend up because when I see stuff on Instagram with some different influencers [who are remodeling a house], even if it’s just refinishing a cabinet, they are taking the old hardware, and they’re cleaning it up and restoring it back to the original brass hardware.” QR