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The Low-Down on Cabinetry

An art form unto itself

By Nikki Luttmann, Interior Designer

Cabinetry is often the first thing my clients and I choose when working on a new construction project or kitchen remodel. Why? Because the cabinetry sets the tone for the entire room—and often the rest of the house.


Cabinetry is really an art form unto itself. Not only does it have to be functional, but it needs to be beautiful and durable as well. Yet, there are so many different types and styles it can be difficult to start. Cabinet boxes are the storage units themselves. These often come in set size—counter height and multiple widths, though they can be customized to include drawers, pullouts, doors and more. The key to selecting the correct sizes for your kitchen is to really take a look at the things you have to store and where you like to store them. Do you like to keep dishes overhead in upper units, or do you prefer a lower-unit dish drawer? The options are endless, but there are often only a few that are exactly right for how you live and cook. Working with a good salesperson can really help streamline this process.


After functionality comes style. Do you like a more ornate door and drawer combo? Something with a little more detail works wonderfully in more traditional homes. I’m a fan of the Shaker style myself, but now there are usually options within the Shaker style, some with a beaded molding, some plain. Some with a slab drawer front versus a drawer with a border to match the door. Shaker works well with a variety of interiors—from modern to formal and everything in between, which is why it is a go-to for designers.


Finally, there is the color to consider. While painted cabinetry is all the rage right now, people are often surprised to find that painted styles typically cost more than their stained wood counterparts. This is because painted surfaces are more labor-intensive to produce and leave no room for error—they must be smooth and blemish free. Typical woods for cabinetry include beech (often considered builder-grade for its affordability), alder, cherry, walnut and, of course, oak. These can all be stained a variety of colors and are offered in an array of styles. Beware, however, that not all woods are created equal. Walnut, for example, while pricey, is soft and may ding and dent more easily than other woods.


If, like me, you are a brave soul, you can paint your existing cabinetry to give your kitchen and baths an updated look. I used a primer and natural milk-based paint, which covered well. Chalk paint is a popular option and covers well, also. However, keep in mind that as with any paint job, the finished product is only as good as the preparation. It pays to do a light sanding, use a cleaning agent and degreaser, such as TSP, and then always use a primer, which helps the paint adhere to the surface. And you will be doing multiple coats of paint, then adding a layer or two of sealant, so make sure you set aside plenty of time for this project!

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