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Cabinet fever
Eclecticism, functionality are the keys to today's kitchen cabinets



Mixing woods and colors of kitchen cabinets and islands is popular now, says Terry Ripple of Cabinetree.

From Dave Heiglís perspective, the hottest thing in kitchen cabinets and kitchens in general is functionality. "The overall look and feel of a kitchen is usability," says Heigl, director of CabinetWerks Design Studio in the Third Ward. "You donít have to worry about the kids running through the kitchen and hurting something."

In functional kitchens, cabinets can take a beating. Finishes arenít pristine. Everything is low maintenance.

"The last couple of years people have gotten back to their homes and the kitchen is the center of it," Heigl says. "Some kitchens will have comfortable furniture in or next to them. The whole area is just more lived in."

"People are doing a little more nesting and investing in making the kitchen the way they really want it," says Colleen Thompson, interior designer and showroom coordinator at the Milwaukee CabinetWerks. "People are very educated and have a lot of different needs."

When making an investment in kitchen cabinetry, the options are as varied as individual preferences.

Wood cabinets with their inherent warmth are still the first choice for many home remodels and new construction. Maple and cherry are the most often requested although alder and quarter-sawn oak are also fashionable.

"Weíre actually doing a lot of cabinets in dark cherry," says Sue Chapman, kitchen designer with The Kitchen Center, Brookfield and Glendale. "They predicted two years ago that the dark colors would come back. We didnít believe it at the time, but it has happened. If you stay in it long enough, it comes back."

Terry Ripple, president of the Brookfield-based Cabinetree, also gives the thumbs up to cherry. "Cherry and maple are strong in the traditional homes," he says. "Thereís a movement away from the oak and birch from years ago."

"The natural tones of cherry are popular, but knotty cherry is being introduced," Thompson says. "Newer woods are fun and unexpected."

Alder has been used in the cabinet arena only for the past two years. Itís very consistent in its ability to take stain. "It takes stain evenly and with a real depth," says Ripple. "Alder is a closed-grain wood with a likeness to cherry without the light and dark graining."

Usability is a key component of todayís kitchens, says Dave Heigl of CabinetWerks Design Studio.

Hickory has been used for kitchen cabinets in the past, but its grain deviation is not to everyoneís taste. "Hickory can be very severe unless you stain it with a very dark stain," he says.

Ripple has seen some demand for red birch that comes from the core of the tree. "Itís really unique," he says. "We put a light stain on it called ĎAutumní which is almost not a stain."

Peruvian farm-raised eucalyptus is an option for those who want a really unique set of cabinets. "Itís harder than any domestic hardwood," says Ripple. "If you cut it, you get flour, not sawdust. It looks like cross-cut oak in its graining."

In many new kitchens dark woods are being trimmed with lighter colors.

"Thereís a call for one species of cabinet with a different species and stain for an island," says Ripple. Think of ivory cabinets with cherry trim and a cherry island. "Itís a fairly radical move, but it looks very beautiful."

Despite the prevalence of wood choices, thereís still room for painted cabinetry. "I find them in homey, soft colors," says Thompson. "Neutrals that offer warmth are a good choice."

"Iím seeing a lot of glazing where you wipe a stain on and then wipe another color on top of that," says Chapman. Glazes are typically done in woods without heavy grains, such as maple, alder or cherry.

"On the coasts, yellow is a hot color. In samples and in photographs painted cabinets are coming out, but weíre not seeing that push for color here," she adds.

Eclecticism seems to be the norm when it comes to cabinet styles. Two or three years ago, French country was in demand. Now CabinetWerks sees requests for English country, American Traditional and Arts and Crafts. "The traditional style is still popular, but in downtown Milwaukee customers want simple, clean lines," says Thompson.

Heigl, Thompson and Ripple report that Asian and Arts and Crafts styles are influencing the dťcor in many of the new loft projects in the city.

Cabinetree recently completed the kitchens in a series of condos in the Cathedral Square project. "All of them have gone contemporary and virtually all have taken plain, solid wood, square doors for their kitchens," says Ripple.

And for those who think everything new has to come from either the East or West coasts, hereís a news flash. Milwaukee is ahead in the Arts and Crafts style. The coasts, with the burgeoning interest in Frank Lloyd Wright and the Asian styles that influenced his designs, are now just catching up to the Arts and Crafts look.

So you like the contemporary look but donít want an entire kitchen devoted to it? Donít worry, mixing styles is encouraged. "You can throw a curve ball in there like an antique piece or a piece that doesnít match," Heigl says. "It gives it a handcrafted feel."

"Weíre still seeing a lot of the classic touch," says Chapman. Her customers are asking for raised panel doors or are adding character with fancy moldings. Inset doors, ones that sit flush with the cabinet frames, are also a frequent request.

Door styles are pretty much all over the board, says Ripple. "Contemporary wooden doors are much stronger than they have been for a long time. Thereís lots of call for Prairie and Missions styles." Also in demand are routered doors with glazing giving a very ornate feel to the room.

With form comes function. Cabinets are being asked to do a whole lot more than they used to. There are shallow cabinets built into an island to store childrenís cereals at a level accessible to the little ones.

"Appliance garages" where you can slide a coffee maker into when itís not in use help keep countertops uncluttered. Pots and pans, those favorite old-time kidsí toys, are being stored in deep drawers rather than on a pull-out shelf. Shelves with spring loaded brackets that pop up when pulled out can now support the heaviest of mixers. Roll-out and pull-out shelves with adjustable baskets near the cooking surface keep important ingredients within reach.

Model homes are showcasing walk-in pantries but they are not necessarily a "must have" detail for many homeowners. "The problem (with walk-in pantries) is that you gain more space for people to stand in, but no room for storage," says Ripple. "We do a ton of pantry units with full, adjustable roll-out trays that come out past the cabinet doors and have 120 pound capacity slides. You could put six of them in in lieu, of a walk-in pantry, and one would hold more than the entire pantry."

"Weíre not seeing a lot of call for walk-in pantries," says Chapman of The Kitchen Center. "What is more popular are cooking hearths with big, fancy hoods. Itís an area to show off and make a focal point of the stove."

"I see a lot of builders doing them but I donít hear a lot of clients asking for them," says Thompson. "They may like the space of a pantry, but they donít want a dry-walled, special room with a door that you walk into."

Cabinet functionality means many homeowners can do more with fewer cabinets. The desire to fill the entire kitchen with cabinets has passed. But with todayís options you donít have to sacrifice convenience for style or vice versa.