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Kitchen Cabinet Materials - Know Your Options

POSTED ON Friday, September 28, 2018 IN Kitchen

Kitchen Cabinet Finishes

Design your kitchen cabinets to match your needs and style.

Designing a new kitchen can be equal parts exciting and stressful. The thought of a new, beautifully designed space for cooking and entertaining can be great, but the long list of decisions to be made might have you second guessing yourself. There’s much more to your kitchen decisions than surface-level aesthetic. A kitchen needs to be functional as a food preparation space, made from quality materials you can count on to hold up to daily use.

When planning or designing a kitchen, you will need to decide on color and finish, but don’t forget to consider your many options for kitchen cabinet woods. Different materials have different features. If you’re choosing solid wood cabinets, they will look and perform differently than bamboo cabinets or laminate kitchen cabinets. Each wood species has unique characteristics, hardness, density, and grain patterns. These features make certain woods more suitable for paint vs. stain, and some woods lend themselves better to certain stain colors and finishes than others. Consider the look you’re striving to achieve as well as how you’ll use your kitchen to decide on the best wood, material, or finish for your kitchen cabinets.

Solid wood kitchen cabinets

The natural character and authenticity of solid wood are unmatched. Solid wood is strong, sturdy, and lasts a very long time. Sunlight from windows can play a major role in kitchen design, darkening or lightening certain wood species over time. Solid wood kitchen cabinets do not necessarily need to be stained wood — but depending on the coarseness of grain patterns, some wood species accept solid color paint more easily than others. Some wood species such as hickory, maple or birch will resist scratching and denting better than some softer species like pine, poplar, or alder. Below we explore popular kitchen cabinet materials and their advantages and disadvantages.

Oak Kitchen Cabinets

Oak kitchen cabinets have been popular long before the quintessential look of the late 20th century, and oak will live on as a popular wood for years to come. Oak is a distinctive wood with a prominent, wavy grain offering a natural beauty and texture. Oak is a versatile material. Depending on the chosen finish, oak can give a luxurious finish with a darker stain, or can trend more rustic or artisanal with lighter stains that allow the grain pattern to shine through. Oak is often seen in Arts and Crafts or mission style design, with a traditional lighter stain, showing off the beauty of the natural wood. It’s also increasingly used in modern industrial style as well as farmhouse and more rustic designs.

Modern Oak Kitchen cabinetsModern oak kitchen lower doors are District style in quartersawn oak with a brindle finish.

As a hardwood, oak is extremely durable and can stand up to the wear and tear of daily use around a kitchen without damage or dings. It also withstands moisture levels consistent with a kitchen.

Quartersawn Oak is oak wood that is cut at an angle to the growth rings of the tree. Quartersawn oak is a very stable wood and has a flake figure running across the grain called a ray fleck, which exhibits a beautiful grain pattern reminiscent of “tiger stripes.”

Maple and Birch Kitchen Cabinets

Maple and birch kitchen cabinets are both creamy-colored woods with fine, tight, straight grain texture. Maple kitchen cabinets lend themselves to a more traditional or transitional approach, but lately maple and birch are being used in a modern, European approach to cabinetry with straight lines giving a clean, fresh look. Although maple takes stain well, it is commonly seen with a light, natural, or solid color finish and isn’t typically recommended for darker stains, although its smooth texture does accept a painted finish. It can yellow slightly with age.

Maple is a light color wood that can support a variety of color schemes, and adds bright color with a natural warmth.

Maple is a harder wood with a smooth uniform grain. It’s a very durable wood that resists scratching and denting at a higher degree than similar woods like walnut, alder, or mahogany.

Birch kitchen cabinetsKitchen in birch with a sable finish on St. Thomas style doors.

Cherry Kitchen Cabinets

Cherry is a popular wood species with a subtle, intricate grain pattern and warm, rich undertones. The color is a reddish brown but is sensitive to light and can darken, redden or yellow over time with continued exposure to sunlight. Cherry kitchen cabinets work well with a clean-line shaker style door, but cherry wood is easily shaped or polished into more intricate designs.

Cherry is a medium density hardwood and can be seen with pitchmarks (worm holes) or mineral streaks. The fine texture, straight grain, and beautiful color typically show best with a medium or reddish-brown stain color like biltmore or mocha (pictured below).

Cherry kitchen cabinets in Stanford with a mocha finishCherry kitchen cabinets in Stanford with a mocha finish.

Hickory Kitchen Cabinets

Hickory is a distinctive wood species known for its “wild” contrasting appearance with dark and light streaks and beautiful grain patterns. The color of hickory ranges from blonde or white at the sapwood, the soft outer layers of the tree to reddish-brown at the heartwood, which is the inner wood, or heart of a tree. Hickory cabinets are quite often used for a rustic look with a more natural stain color to let the natural contrast show through. However, for those who don't like the contrasting sapwood and heartwood, the darker the stain used, the more that contrast evens out.

Hickory is a harder wood species, with a slightly different look than oak. It has a hard density, medium coarse texture, and is strong and elastic, making it a durable material for a busy kitchen.

Rustic kitchenette with hickory kitchen cabinetsRustic hickory kitchenette with Newman Square door style in toffee finish.

Walnut Kitchen Cabinets

Walnut is an elegant wood known for its fine, straight-grained, smooth texture. The color of walnut wood ranges from chocolate brown to yellow, sometimes showing a reddish-brown color but varies from the center of the tree to the outside. Often, this wood is not stained but clear-coated to bring out the beautiful natural color and highlight the grain. Walnut kitchen cabinets can lighten slightly over time when exposed to light.

Walnut is a strong, stable wood that can stand up to intricate carving, but can also be seen in modern, straight-lined applications as shown below.  Walnut is considered a luxury wood and typically costs more than other species.

Walnut kitchen cabinetsWalnut kitchen in Custom door style with Dawn finish.

Pine Kitchen Cabinets

Pine is a lightweight wood with an open, straight grain that varies in color from yellow to white tones, and can include brown knots. Pine kitchen cabinets are often used for rustic or farmhouse style, and can develop a rustic patina from use and age. Pine is a lower-cost wood due to a quicker-growing tree than oak or walnut. As a lower cost wood, it can be an economical choice for painted solid wood kitchen cabinets.

Pine is a soft wood and does not withstand a lot of wear and tear in a kitchen cabinet. If you’re looking for the rustic aesthetic of pine but desire a sturdier wood, consider a rustic cherry or alder with knots and sapwood, as hinges and hardware may loosen on pine cabinetry over time.

Pine Kitchen CabinetsKitchen cabinet door style Pine Villager 3 with a custom finish.

Mahogany Kitchen Cabinets

Mahogany is a luxury wood with a reddish brown color and predominantly straight grain. It’s a premier furniture wood with a very unique and beautiful look. Mahogany kitchen cabinets have a deep color and natural polished luster.

Mahogany is significantly more expensive than more common woods like oak or cherry.

Non-wood kitchen cabinets

Glass Kitchen Cabinets

Glass gives kitchen cabinets a high-end, timeless beauty. Glass kitchen cabinet doors are a versatile option with a custom look. Choose from using glass on all upper cabinets, or simply adding one or two glass upper cabinets as an accent.

Glass kitchen cabinets fit well with many design styles, from traditional to ultra-modern, depending on the door style. Glass kitchen cabinets work especially well in smaller kitchens, helping to create the feeling of a more open space. Transparent glass is the most common option, but the transparency can make it hard to hide clutter, so be sure you’re prepared for your dinnerware to be on display when choosing this option. For cooks who like the look of glass cabinets without the transparency, frosted or textured glass is an option that can achieve the aesthetic of a glass cabinet with more options.

For a traditional look, consider Pascal Mullion or a leaded glass option like this diamond pattern.

Explore all glass options.

Mullion glass kitchen cabinetsLogan doors in birch with a snowbank and dawn finish and Mullion glass on uppers.

Bamboo Kitchen Cabinets

Although not technically a wood species, bamboo is a kitchen cabinet material growing in popularity due to its exotic look, durability, and sustainability. Bamboo has a unique look and is often seen in modern and contemporary design with its unique graining pattern and natural finish. It’s a great alternative for homeowners seeking a unique look for the kitchen.

While bamboo is a strong material and resists expansion and contraction in temperature fluctuations, it is typically used only for cabinet and drawer fronts, not for the construction of cabinet boxes. The plyboo cabinets from Bertch feature laminate cabinet boxes, allowing the beauty of the bamboo to be visible from the outside, and the inside of the cabinets to be solidly built and reliable.

Bamboo kitchen cabinets - Bertch Plyboo in Jakarta Elan door stylePlyboo kitchen in Jakarta Elan (full access) door style with a natural finish.

Laminate Kitchen Cabinets

Laminate kitchen cabinets come in a variety of colors and finishes to meet the design needs of almost any kitchen. As a material, laminate is more resistant to scratches, dings, and moisture damage. Bertch 3D laminates are used over MDF (medium density fiberboard) and do not expand or contract due to moisture and temperature, unlike solid wood.

Laminate cabinets can be made to look like wood, or given a completely different look. They are easy to clean and maintain and can give your kitchen the exact aesthetic you’re seeking.

Laminate kitchen cabinets in Clairmont door styleClairmont (Kitchen+) doors in MDF with a snowflake finish.

What material should you choose for your kitchen cabinets?

Wood is a sustainable natural resource that is readily available. It’s a classic material choice that has been used in all parts of the home from walls to windows, doors, trim, and cabinets. These finishes contribute to the natural aesthetic and warmth of real wood.

Although laminate and other synthetic options provide a clean, functional environment for a kitchen, nothing compares to the look and feel of real wood. Wood provides a natural warmth and texture to a home, and the variety of species, finishes, and colors available allow you to customize the look to meet your personal design style.

The right finish for your kitchen cabinets may come down to the style of your home and the way you use your kitchen. Visit our nearest showroom to talk to a designer and see our cabinets up close and in person.


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