Clas­sic Cab­i­net El­e­ments

Se­lect the right ma­te­ri­als to achieve your de­sired kitchen aes­thetic.

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Se­lect the right cab­i­net ma­te­ri­als to achieve your de­sired kitchen aes­thetic.

Although cab­i­nets might seem merely func­tional for stor­age, they are an im­por­tant kitchen de­sign el­e­ment. Too many cab­i­nets can over­power a small space. Darker-col­ored wood species might make a room feel cozy, but they also might make the room feel smaller and too dark. You might con­sider cre­at­ing a sep­a­rate pantry and min­i­miz­ing up­per cab­i­nets to al­low for more nat­u­ral light through win­dows.

And, as kitchen and bath de­signer Doe Winslow, owner of Cot­tage Fur­ni­ture in the Florida Keys (kb­spe­cial­ists.com), says, “Cabi­netry should look like it’s part of the ar­chi­tec­ture, built be­tween the studs, that sort of thing. We wouldn’t come along and plop a fancy cab­i­net in front of the logs or the rus­tic tongue-and-groove. Peo­ple want authenticity.”

Knot Good

Un­less you’re plan­ning to cut down nearby trees to cre­ate your cabin’s kitchen cab­i­nets, you’ll need to do some re­search to find the right wood species and hard­ware for an au­then­tic look. It can be more dif­fi­cult to find a sec­ondary cut of wood, “with the knots, worm and bug holes that give wood the character and rus­tic charm that cabin own­ers of­ten want,” says Shawn Dahl, owner with his fa­ther George Dahl of Cook-Dahl Inc. in Brock­port, New York, which spe­cial­izes in cabi­netry and kitchen de­sign.

Sec­ondary wood is usu­ally sold for fire­wood. A pri­mary cut, with its nice, clean grain, is what “the majority of peo­ple put in their kitchens,” Shawn says, but that may not fit aes­thet­i­cally in a cabin kitchen.

The wood species you choose de­pends on the cabin’s in­te­rior. Sim­i­larly stained struc­tural tim­bers and cab­i­net wood make the cab­i­nets ap­pear to be an or­ganic part of the space, Winslow notes. She sees a lot of cherry, oak, knotty pine, knotty hick­ory and knotty alder be­ing used in rus­tic spa­ces.

“Hick­ory has a wild grain, with an open, er­ratic pat­tern with lots of knots,” says George Dahl. “Lots of cab­i­nets were

made with this in the ’70s, and it’s mak­ing a come­back. Oak has taken a back­seat.”

Ag­ing In Places

Keep in mind that all wood dark­ens over time. Shawn rec­om­mends clients “go nat­u­ral and let the ag­ing process do its thing.” But many peo­ple don’t want to wait, so the Dahls will stain the wood to get the right hue.

Re­claimed wood, which has al­ready been cured and aged, can per­fect a rus­tic look, but it can be more ex­pen­sive than buy­ing new. To get the old, worn patina, new cab­i­nets can be dis­tressed.

“We sand the doors in the spots where, if they were old, they might have worn away over the years — the edges, around the door knobs,” Shawn says. He nicks door edges, beats cab­i­net faces with dif­fer­ent tools to “try to copy­cat worm holes in the wood.” Then he glazes the wood to fill in the gouged-out ar­eas and ac­cen­tu­ate them. “It works best with cherry and alder — softer hard­woods.”

Although many glazes are oil based, there are a num­ber of new wa­ter-based prod­ucts that are low in volatile or­ganic com­pounds (VOCs). They’ve got­ten a bad rap in the past, but, Shawn says, the prod­ucts have come a long way and will hold up as well as the oil-based or poly fin­ishes with harsh sol­vents. “I like us­ing the wa­ter­borne prod­ucts now,” he says.

Box Step

Ev­ery cabin has its own unique build­ing style, es­pe­cially old cab­ins with walls that may have set­tled un­evenly. But that doesn’t mean you have to pur­chase ex­pen­sive cus­tom cabi­netry.

Stock cab­i­nets — the least ex­pen­sive cabi­netry op­tion — come in two types: ready-to-as­sem­ble (RTA) or stan­dard. For RTA cab­i­nets, you put to­gether the sides, front, tops and bot­toms, and screw the doors on the box. Stan­dard cab­i­nets are pre­made and usu­ally come in 3-inch in­cre­ments. You can find RTA or stan­dard cab­i­nets in many wood species.

With semi-cus­tom, you can mix and match wood species, fin­ishes and, to some de­gree, door styles, Winslow ex­plains. In a cus­tom de­sign, a de­signer can choose “ev­ery as­pect of the cab­i­net, from width, height, depth, girth, hard­ware, style, species — ev­ery­thing is com­pletely spec­i­fied,” she adds.

Re­gard­less of which type you choose, the cab­i­net box is typ­i­cally the same, made of ply­wood. And un­less you’re buy­ing a solid hard­wood door front, you’re get­ting a wood (or other ma­te­rial) ve­neer over the front. That’s what changes the cost of the cab­i­net.

It also could be cost-ef­fec­tive to have cab­i­nets refaced — re­mov­ing ex­ist­ing cab­i­net doors and pos­si­bly the sides and ap­ply­ing new fin­ishes, ve­neers or paints. “It’s best done by a spe­cial­ist,” cau­tions Winslow.

Style And Sub­stance

“The kinds of cab­i­nets we’re sell­ing now are min­i­mal­ist — even in a rus­tic set­ting,” Winslow ob­serves. “Shaker is the num­ber one sell­ing style by far in the U.S.” She’s also sell­ing a lot of flat-front styles in part be­cause they are easy to main­tain — no crevices for dust and dirt to hide.

A nat­u­ral style is im­por­tant in rus­tic cab­i­net de­sign and hard­ware; dec­o­ra­tive hard­ware in par­tic­u­lar — knobs, han­dles and ex­te­rior hinges — plays a role in cre­at­ing that feel. The most popular hard­ware choices, Winslow says, are bronzes. She’s see­ing a lot of met­als used — cop­per in door pan­els or for sinks — and many with an­tique and forged fin­ishes. With rus­tic de­sign, “it’s all about nat­u­ral ma­te­ri­als, stone, met­als, wood — el­e­men­tal ma­te­ri­als,” she states.

ABOVE: Flat-front and Shaker styles are easy to main­tain — no crevices for dust and dirt to hide. LEFT: Col­ored cabi­netry can add character to a cabin kitchen, while also break­ing up the some­times over­whelm­ing amount of wood.

ABOVE: Built-in cabi­netry that reaches the ceil­ing al­lows for more win­dows and nat­u­ral light over the sink in this rus­tic cabin kitchen. LEFT: The wood species you choose de­pends on your cabin’s in­te­rior. Sim­i­larly stained and col­ored struc­tural tim­bers and cab­i­net wood make the cab­i­nets feel like an or­ganic part of the space.

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