time I attend the annual Kitchen and Bath Industry Show, I come away with a
different impression. This year it was how much we Americans celebrate freedom
of choice, especially when it comes to consumer goods. But, I also observed,
this enormous cornucopia can have its downside.
the choice is A, B or C, weighing the pros and cons and making a reasoned
decision is easy. When it's A to Z and sometimes two or three times over—as you
will find when you start selecting cabinets and countertops for the kitchen in
your new house—all those possibilities become overwhelming.
example, at the trade show, Kraftmaid, a semi-custom, mid-grade cabinet line
that is the nation's top seller, displayed 85 different door styles made with
six species of wood and available in 32 glazes and finishes. With that many
choices, how can you make a "reasoned decision" in selecting one?
cabinetry, the most sensible place to start, and one that can, in fact, lead to
a "reasoned decision," is the cabinet box behind the doors. In the long run,
function and durability will matter more than the look.
sides and back of Kraftmaid's standard cabinet box are made of particle board
covered with Viraguard, Kraftmaid's trademarked melamine paper that is treated
to be water resistant and can easily be wiped clean. Kraftmaid's upgrade
cabinet box (and that of many other semi-custom cabinet lines) is made of
plywood; the upcharge is 15 percent. Should you consider it?
is not necessarily stronger or better, though many consumers think so. For just
this reason, many high-end custom cabinets makers make all plywood cabinet
boxes, but some do use particleboard. As with many things, the quality depends
on the grade of particleboard used. After the Kitchen and Bath Show, I
consulted with Ypsilanti, Mich., certified kitchen designer Andy Dankert, who
has sold cabinets at all price points, and who now sells Kraftmaid among other
brands. Dankert said that in his experience the particleboard used in cabinets
has vastly improved and the particleboard now used in semi-custom and custom
cabinets is comparable to plywood.
only instance where Dankert would recommend a plywood component for a
semi-custom cabinet box is when it is at the end of a row and the side is
exposed, as, for example, by a doorway. For a 9 percent upcharge, Kraftmaid
offers a plywood end piece with a veneer that matches the wood of the cabinet
doors (other cabinet manufacturers also offer this).
on to function, Kraftmaid and most other cabinet manufacturers offer rollout
trays instead of fixed shelves for the base cabinets. I would absolutely get
these; otherwise, you have to remove everything in the front of each shelf to
reach items at the back. With Kraftmaid, the upcharge for the rollouts depends
on whether they have 2-1/2-inch sides, 4-inch sides (so fewer things fall
overboard), or 4-inch ones with 8-inch backs so things won't fall out in the
back where it's hard to retrieve them (a gripe I have with my own low-sided
last things to check are the drawers. For any cabinet, these absorb the most
wear and tear. Wood drawers with dovetail joints, which are standard with
Kraftmaid, are stronger than the particleboard drawers with stapled joints that
are standard on lower-priced stock cabinets. You also need to check the drawer
glides. With most custom and semi-custom cabinet lines, including Kraftmaid,
the standard glide is an undermounted type, which increases the width and
storage capacity of each drawer by about an inch. To this, Kraftmaid has added
a useful, life-lengthening drawer closer, which grabs and prevents the drawer
from being slammed shut.
other standard drawer glide is a full-extension type, which makes it easier to
retrieve items at the back of a drawer. This type is most useful on larger
drawers where heavy items such as pots and pans are kept.
factoring in the cost of all the functional upgrades to your overall budget,
you're ready to zero in on the doors and door prices, which can range widely.
For a Kraftmaid 24-inch base cabinet with one drawer, for example, the
difference in cost between the least expensive white thermofoil (a vinyl
finish) door with a raised panel and a solid cherry one with a raised panel is
functional upgrades may narrow your choices. The degree depends on the cabinet
line; Kraftmaid offers many doors and finishes at each of its 19 price points.
After a thorough appraisal of the possibilities—the moss-greens; gray-blues;
garnet reds that are the latest trends; a distressed look that makes a cabinet
look 100 years old; the light stains; the dark stains; and the wood grains—you
may find yourself returning to your initial preference: a light wood look that
will make your new kitchen seem larger—the maple or the oak raised panel doors
that are Kraftmaid's perennial best sellers.
note of caution here: with a semi-custom cabinet such as Kraftmaid, the grain
patterns visible on the doors will not match perfectly. To get a book-matching
grain where one door mirrors the grain on the other door, you have to go to a
more expensive custom cabinetmaker. You can, however, tone down the grain with
a light stain or a glaze.
also spent time at the Kitchen and Bath Show studying composite countertops
made of quartz and a polyester resin binder. There were plenty of choices, and,
unlike the cabinets, no homework is required to make a "reasoned decision." The
four major manufacturers—Silestone, Okite, Caesarstone and Silestone—use a
similar manufacturing process and freely admit that the only difference between
them for the end user is the color and textures offered. Taken together, the
four firms offer more than 130 countertop choices.
in Israel and Europe since 1987, composite quartz-resin countertops were first
introduced in the United States about five years ago. They were initially
billed as granite look-alikes with a similar price—now about $45 to $100 per
square foot—but without the problems. Composites are highly resistant to chips
and cracks, nearly stain-proof, and they don't require periodic sealing.
Overlooked in the promotions were the unique manufacturing process and the
remarkable countertops that can be produced with it.
is a very hard stone; it's also brittle and breaks easily into small chunks.
But when it's ground up, combined with a very small amount of resin binder and
compressed, the resulting material is five times stronger than granite, very
dense, and very resistant to the cracks and breakage that can occur with
natural stones during quarrying, finishing, shipping, cutting holes for sinks
and cooktops, and installing. Although the composite material is synthetic, the
clear or milky translucence of quartz gives the countertops a depth and
luminosity that can only be achieved with natural stone.
greater interest to consumers is quartz's capacity to assume the look of
practically any stone imaginable and then some. Its natural color is white or
beige, but adding minute quantities of pigment can produce a result that looks
like a dark granite—it can be a dead ringer for Dakota Mahogany or Black
Absolute—with the soft white of a honed limestone or a cream-colored marble or
granite that you can't identify. You can also get wonderful textures and colors
that do not mimic anything. For example, Caesarstone's Ocean Blue has the
milky-blue, retro look of 1930s ceramic dishware. Silestone's Patricia Bay has
the blue-green of turquoise. Okite's Verde Loguna is a smoky, gray-green marble
and Zodiaq's Caroli Red has a rich, warm brownish tone. I could imagine any of
them paired with a classic raised panel door style and any number of stains and
more information, check these Web sites: www.kraftmaid.com;
www.caesarstoneus.com; www.okite.com; www.silestoneusa.com; and www.zodiaq.com.
Queries or questions? Syndicated columnist and author of "The Brand New
House Book," Katherine Salant can be contacted at www.katherinesalant.com.
2003 Katherine Salant
by Inman News Features