Transformers: Kitchen Cabinets, Countertops & Flooring

Great Choices to Increase the Value of Your Home

New materials give countertops and flooring products more unique looks, and you’ll find more cabinets that allow you increased access to what’s inside. Because major retailers banned vinyl flooring that’s linked to health issues, manufacturers now deliver safer alternatives.

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The traditional role of kitchens as the heart of the home—because they’re the place where families often gather for eating and entertaining—doesn’t mean that tradition rules the design of kitchen cabinets, countertops and flooring.

For example, younger consumers are a growing force, and they prefer individualization over convention. As a result, new product designs include more cabinets that are accessed more easily and countertops that use quartz in new ways. Thankfully, flooring contains fewer harmful chemicals.

CABINET POSITIONS. Sarah Reep of cabinet manufacturer KraftMaid says that before the 2008–2009 recession, her company witnessed consumers wanting to replicate the look of kitchens that they saw in magazines. Today, the preference is for individual expression, she says. That means that instead of purchasing a conventional base cabinet that has one drawer and a door, the consumer might want a cabinet that has four drawers. Because of this, cabinet manufacturers provide more customizable options than ever before, such as the number of drawers or drawer heights.

Unsurprisingly, such customization comes at a cost. Replacing a door with three drawers, for instance, means that you’ll pay for the extra drawers as well as six additional drawer glides, Reep says. The amount of the increase depends on what’s added: A $250 base cabinet that has one drawer and one door typically would cost $350 if it had four drawers, according to retailers that we interviewed.

If you haven’t looked at cabinets recently, you’ll find more full-access cabinets than ever before. These frameless cabinets use thicker boxes for stability and overlay doors. Their frameless design provides better access to the inside, designers and manufacturers say, and up to 10 percent more storage area compared with traditional framed cabinets. Full-access cabinets have been “Americanized” to have a plywood box that’s three-fourths of an inch thick, typically with a birch or maple interior, as opposed to a thinner wood in European versions.

We found three manufacturers that introduced or expanded their full-access cabinets in the past 2 years. MasterBrand Cabinets had one line of full-access cabinets. Today it has four. In spring 2014, Omega Cabinets introduced its Full Access line, and Advanta Cabinets launched its Studio Full Access series in April 2015.

Although you might assume that full-access cabinets are less expensive than are traditional cabinets, because they don’t have visible framing pieces, in reality, prices are about the same, says John Petrie, who is the past president of trade organization National Kitchen & Bath Association (NKBA). Wood species, door styles and hardware affect the price, says Petrie, who also owns Mother Hubbard’s Custom Cabinetry, which is a kitchen remodeling and design company and custom cabinetry dealer. In fact, we found full-access models that start at $160 for a 21-by-24-inch single-drawer cabinet; traditional cabinets started at $130 for the same size.  

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Cabinets also are receiving a facelift. “In cabinets, we continue to see clean lines in a transitional style that’s a mix between traditional and contemporary,” Petrie says. Transitional designs are the leading kitchen design trend, according to the 2015 Kitchen & Bath Style Report from NKBA. That’s manifested in cabinets that are a combination of neutral colors and have shaker (read: flat) doors.

Manufacturers also say cabinets are trending away from ornate designs. Petrie believes that the move is driven by busy lifestyles. “They’re easier to clean and calming to look at,” he says.

Do simpler styles translate into cost savings? Not necessarily, because price depends on factors that are beyond styling, such as construction, finish and the species of wood. However, if you want to keep your investment to a minimum, then you should choose minimalist hardware, such as a basic knob instead of a decorative handle, or maple or oak rather than cherry or hickory.

Reep says heavy-duty European hinges, which are concealed inside of the cabinet by being mounted on the backside of the door, now are commonplace in cabinets here.

Also common are soft-close features that close drawers, so they don’t slam shut. We found nine major cabinet manufacturers that include soft-close hardware as standard on at least some of their cabinet lines. Soft-close hardware is available on standard cabinets that start at about $160, which is the same as it was 3 years ago.

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