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The woo of wood
Options abound for kitchen cabinetry



Knotty alder sets the tone for the Mequon kitchen by B&E General Contractors Inc., Glendale

Cabinets are one of the most important elements of kitchen design. Historically, wood has been the material of choice; today 80 percent of cabinetry sold is made of wood.

While cherry and maple remain top choices, there are a number of other options for consumers to choose from. "I get a lot of comparison shoppers. Birch has become very popular," notes Brian Runde of BR Custom Wood Craft in Wales. "It’s durable, takes stain well and is lower priced than high-end woods like cherry." Conversely, Runde has seen a decrease in the popularity of oak. "Many people are tired of it and don’t like the coarse grain."

These days dark stains are fashionable, replacing lighter colors and finishes of the past few years. Runde’s customers and clients of Tara Blakely, president and owner of Kitchens & Baths Expo in Germantown, gravitate toward medium to darker colored finishes.

Although many of Runde’s clients are swinging back toward traditional styles and away from contemporary design, Blakely still sees a demand for simple styling. Her customers are requesting elements like flat doors and high-gloss finishes. She also notes, "Glazing doesn‘t seem to be as popular anymore. It sort of comes and goes but maybe with the economy, people are sticking with standard finishes."

Today’s consumers aren’t just looking at aesthetics. Both Runde and Blakely get a lot of requests for cabinet functionality. "Function of the cabinet is as important as form. Everyone wants kitchens that are easy to use," Blakely points out. Sliding shelves; pull-out waste cans; warming, cooling and dishwasher drawers; and appliance garages are popular. Glass-front cabinets are good for showing off displays or collections that stay put and don‘t get a lot of use.

Many homeowners are curious about "green" kitchens, although cost is a deterrent. "‘Green’ woods like lyptus are expensive. Right now people are sticking to more basic woods that are in stock," Blakely says. However, because of its renewability and sustainability in many areas of the country, lyptus is fast becoming one of the most requested hardwoods for cabinetry.

Choice cuts

Type of Wood: Alder
Pros: Straight grain and even texture, easy to stain
Cons: Soft, damages easily

Type of Wood: Birch
Pros: Even texture, takes stain well, durable, well-priced
Cons: None

Type of Wood: Cherry
Pros: Smooth, even grain; rich looking; darkens and mellows with age
Cons: Expensive, exposure to sunlight can cause wood to redden or darken; some sapwood, mineral streaking and pin holes

Type of Wood: Lyptus
Pros: Sustainable and renewable, easily accepts finishes, durable
Cons: Expensive, can splinter during construction

Type of Wood: Maple
Pros: Smooth, even, fine grain; uniform color
Cons: Somewhat expensive, mineral streaks are common and appear darker when stained

Type of Wood: Oak
Pros: Durable, moderately priced
Cons: Noticeable, coarse grain patterns

Type of Wood: Pecan
Pros: Durable, mellows with age
Cons: Significant color variations and streaks, pinholes, knots and burls

Type of Wood: Walnut
Pros: Smooth grain, rich looking, durable
Cons: Expensive, sapwood may impact color, color lightens with age