Could some of the most in-demand housing markets be cooling off?
Beyond the Kitchen and Bath
Cabinets open the door to greater design flexibility in any room in the house.
Storage is glorious when it's also beautiful. From the top: At-home entertainment from Medallion; organization is Merillat's favorite hobby; Timberlake adds depth and texture to the dining room.
Ask home buyers what tops their list of priorities, and among the brand-name items and other specifics, most builders probably will hear the same general desires: style, storage, convenience and space. Extending cabinetry beyond its usual realm - the kitchen and bath - to nearly every room in the house answers a lot, if not all, of those needs.
Custom, semicustom and stock cabinetry shows surprising flexibility in living rooms as bookshelves and entertainment centers, in dining rooms as sideboards and hutches, in bedrooms as armoires and almost anywhere as computer stations. It also appears in laundry rooms, home offices, mudrooms, kids' rooms, hobby areas - the list goes on.
"Creatively used, standard cabinetry creates more pulled-together solutions," says Sarah Reep, ASID, CKD, director of design for KraftMaid Cabinetry. "It helps that there is so much more available to personalize and customize."
The idea of "standard" changes with the times, too. Ann Morris, CMKBD, says the industry has opened enormously during the past five years, with cabinetmakers proffering styles that look like free-standing furniture and accessories such as fluted columns, new cuts on glass doors, built-up crown moldings, toe kicks and furniture legs and feet.
Storage and Style
There are various drivers of this trend, including buyers' critical need for storage - not just long-term, holiday decoration kinds of storage, but useable, accessible places for everything, every day. Rick Courson, who builds four to five homes a year in the Seattle area, sees evidence of this in his market. "We don't have basements here, so in a 2,000-square-foot home, that's all you get - 2,000 square feet." Courson always does a least one built-in desk with a countertop and a wide drawer below, drawer stacks on one or both sides, and cabinets and cubbies above. He even has built a home with a built-in roll-top desk. Courson and his cabinetmaker also have created television armoires, sideboards and decked-out garage workshops.
Buyers also seem to find comfort in the familiar and time-tested, builders and designers say. They identify built-ins, fine woodwork, moldings and other custom touches as desirable aspects of older homes and want them in theirs. Court Airhart, a builder of 35 to 45 homes a year in the Chicago suburbs, replaces the boring, 5-foot-wide louvered door linen closet in a hallway with a cabinetry linen closet set into the space. It can be as simple as drawers on the bottom - three down and three across - with solid or glass-fronted cabinets above, but it creates a strikingly beautiful detail reminiscent of another era.
Homeowners are personalizing their houses more than ever. Mike Hamilton, marketing manager for Medallion Cabinetry, says builders today deal with more "emboldened and empowered homeowners. They place their personal style in the house and worry less about resale." Their bold choices often include a wider color palette, an array of finishes and an eclectic look that mixes styles, shapes, species, colors and finishes.
From eclectic mixes to traditional fare, cabinets extend builders' design options. (Above) Medallion Cabinetry marries a cherry buffet to wall cabinets, glass-fronted cubes and a raised-panel valance in maple with Oyster Heirloom finish. (Below) Quality Custom Cabinetry's raised-panel doors, shelves and accessories in Collectors cherry are a study in elegance.
Designing It Right
Especially in the custom and semicustom worlds, designers and dealers should work with buyers to choose the right cabinets and design the proper layout. Designers and dealers have more expertise and familiarity with the products available than the average builder. But to create a realistic budget, builders can and should understand what buyers need and what they want to accomplish.
In the best-case custom scenario, builders and buyers discuss cabinetry throughout the house before the buyer even meets with the architect so that the right spaces can be created. Even if that does not happen, custom cabinetry can be created to suit any need.
Manufacturers have made stock cabinets almost as flexible. An exciting array awaits builders and buyers, both in fairly standard dimensions and in truly custom-looking pieces for a much more affordable price than custom or semicustom.
Few are as familiar with stock cabinetry's design possibilities as Connie Edwards, CKD, CBD, director of design for Timberlake Cabinet Co. She literally wrote the book on it. Beautiful Built-Ins: Plans for Designing With Stock Cabinets offers not only ideas but also the specifics - material lists, instructions and variations on hundreds of configurations for anything from hutches to flip-down desks to beds and kids' play areas. (Beautiful Built-Ins can be purchased at www.HousingZone.com/store.)
In general, significant use of cabinets throughout the home starts in the second or third move-up category, or in homes starting in the $300,000 to $500,000 range. Still, in homes base-priced from $219,000 to $279,900, Smykal Associates in Wheaton, Ill., offers buyers a computer alcove package with shelving, cabinets, a wood countertop, a ceiling light and switches, five electrical outlets and an oak rail for about $4,300. Michael Matthews of Matthews Brothers Homebuilders near Memphis, Tenn., builds a computer area with two three-drawer stacks, a vanity drawer with knee space and wall cabinets above for $1,000 in homes ranging from $110,000 to $220,000.
Buyers make one of their priciest selections when choosing any cabinetry, so extending it beyond the usual rooms means added cost. On the other hand, cabinets can be rolled into a mortgage, which furniture cannot, and they add lasting value. In any case, the world of what's available in terms of style and selection has opened up to buyers as they spend their Saturdays getting inspiration at places such as The Home Depot's Expo Design Center. So builders take note: Even if your buyers aren't asking for it now, they will be soon.
The Design Is in the Details