Hanging in the kitchen: Your cabinetry should strike a balance between form and function

The homeowners of this Rugby neighborhood home found room for a U of cabinetry around the center island, which the homeowners painted a dark gray. Around the room, white cabinetry lines the walls and adds to a neutral color palette. Photo: Andrea Hubbell The homeowners of this Rugby neighborhood home found room for a U of cabinetry around the center island, which the homeowners painted a dark gray. Around the room, white cabinetry lines the walls and adds to a neutral color palette. Photo: Andrea Hubbell

Cabinets are really just boxes on the wall you put your stuff in, says Dave Connolly of Heartwood Design. But that doesn’t keep some of his clients from spending time and money making sure they look—and function—just right.

Connolly, a project manager based in Afton, says his customers are looking for cabinets that look like they were made specifically for their kitchens. Beyond the obvious, like custom layouts and purpose-built functionality, that means two things. First, inset cabinets that close within their framework. And second, cabinets finished on-site.

“Inset cabinetry is the most exacting to build—making sure the doors and slides fit perfectly,” Connolly says. “Our clients also prefer that all their cabinets and the trim in the room are painted at the same time.”

Calling that a “trend” is a reach, Connolly says. It’s actually the way it’s been done for hundreds of years. Only recently did production builders start requesting cabinets prefinished off-site.

The way consumers prefer to finish those cabinets is likewise stuck in a bit of a rut—white or an off-white variation has been the most common choice for cabinets for nearly 20 years, Connolly says. And although not everyone would agree white has been the new black for two decades, Heartwood isn’t the only design firm whose clients prefer the pure tone these days.

“Everybody is doing white cabinets,” says Ausra Sargunaite, office and showroom manager for Albemarle Countertop Company. “But Charlottesville is so traditional…I could see people getting away from white and going back to natural wood tones, which is what everyone is escaping from right now. They are painting their wood cabinets white.”

Lori Randle of Belmont-based Cabinet Solutions agrees most Charlottesville residents are tied to the past. She’s not seeing any locals going toward the color blocking trend—contrasting bold colors for big pops—that’s popular in bigger metro areas and in Europe. But that doesn’t mean some folks aren’t looking to move forward.

“I think people are definitely going with less formal finishes with raised panel cabinetry and more transitional cabinetry, simplifying the lines and the contrasts,” she says.

Connolly says he’s seeing a lot of forward thinking when it comes to the functionality of high-end cabinets. Quiet-close doors are a given, he says, and more and more people are opting for drawer storage over shelving. Built-in organizers are making drawers more practical than ever, and the convenience of pulling one handle to reveal all your stored items is a big draw. Pull-out drawer-shelf hybrids are also on the rise, and servo drives that automatically open and close drawers are showing up, as well.

Interior cabinet lighting is also shining these days, according to Connolly. Where it was once the strict provenance of display shelving, it’s now being used in drawers and storage shelving to help illuminate contents. It’s all part of the larger move toward universal design, Connolly says, as homeowners look to make spaces more accessible and maximize points of first use. “The things you use most go between the knees and eyes,” he says.

Connolly notes corner storage is a perennial challenge, and while lazy Susans and swing-out solutions are still an option, some customers are choosing to simply “void out” their corner cabinet space.

“I have one kitchen going in with no wall cabinets, no shelves even,” he says. “Another client wanted no fridge. Everyone is so unique.”

With all these innovations, why are homeowners so reluctant to leave plain old white cabinets behind? Why did Benjamin Moore recently announce its color of the year was “an innocuous white,” as Connolly put it?

“Interior designers like white because they can bring those pops of color in in so many other ways,” he says. “That being said, there has been a slight trend towards grays—whitewashed or gray cabinets that let the grain show through.”

Gray, huh? It’s a start.

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