Top 10 Cabinetry Trends

Cabinetry may be one of the kitchen components least subject to fads and fashion, but a look at popular choices can help you zero in on the style you'll still love down the road.

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Wine rack on one wall, open shelves on another? No problem. Countertop-to-floor cubbies? They're a breeze.

More cabinetry choices have made it possible to skip the formula and let the way you cook and your style preferences lead the way when it comes to outfitting your space.

Obviously, there are considerations of safety and practicality that influence all cabinetry setups, but a good kitchen designer can help you get everything you want.

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Twenty years ago, kitchen cabinets were well-equipped if they included a lazy Susan and a built-in spice rack. Now, storage options are plentiful, ranging from roll-out trays to bread boxes.

What's most interesting about the concealed features, though, is where and how they're hidden. Where you'd expect to find swinging doors opening to reveal storage inserts, there are pullout doors attached to shelves for pots and pans, holders for recycling and garbage bins, and racks for canned and dry goods.

Equipped with glides similar to those used for drawers, these pullout units speak to efficiency: no wasted movements opening doors and then pulling out racks, and no struggling with hard-to-reach items in the back of the cabinet.

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For years, beautiful china and heirloom accessories were kept behind closed cabinet doors or out of the kitchen completely.

Now, however, displaying these pretty items has become increasingly popular, and manufacturers' varied options make doing so easy.

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Appliances may be more intelligent, efficient, and feature-packed than ever, but that doesn't mean they're grabbing the spotlight in today's kitchen. On the contrary, cabinet manufacturers have made it easy to hide dishwashers, trash compactors, and icemakers behind panels that match adjacent cabinet doors.

They're proving it's even possible to hide the kitchen's age-old sore thumb: the refrigerator-freezer. Not only can it be encased in cabinet-matching wood, but it's now more likely to be built in.

In the same vein, unobtrusive appliance garages -- countertop doors that swing up instead of rolling up -- and cabinet inserts are designed to stow everything from mixers to coffeemakers.

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A good finish can help take a cabinet from a piece of wood to a work of art. Distressed finishes are still popular, particularly when they're used to add premature age, but today's look leans more toward worn than crackled.

To create the effect, painted finishes are rubbed away in areas to reveal the natural wood underneath, then finished with a glaze that darkens any grooves or embellishments. Similarly, multiple layers created with any combination of paint, stain, and glaze bring depth and richness to a natural wood surface.

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A range of colors achieved through various finishing techniques has made it appear that new and unusual species of wood are taking root in today's kitchens, but in reality, maple is the No. 1 choice for cabinetry, according to the National Kitchen and Bath Association.

In its natural hue, maple provides a lighter touch than the darker oak and walnut versions used over the years. But it's also just as likely to be stained -- wood-tone or colored -- and appreciated for its grain and hardness.

The chameleon qualities of maple have also helped establish its reputation as timeless. You can dress it up with stainless-steel appliances and dark stone countertops, or make a comfortably casual kitchen with white appliances and matching laminate or solid-surface countertops.

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Locker-room-style configurations of cabinetry have given way to more interesting arrangements. Instead of lining up units along the top, bottom, and front face, staggered setups are being used to create more eye movement and intrigue.

Bumping forward the range, cooktop, or sink area by flanking a deeper base cabinet with two shallower ones gives that area prominence. Stair-stepping upper cabinets creates unusual display areas, gives the illusion of height, and camouflages awkward or asymmetrical window placements.

A variation on this theme involves using upper cabinets that rest on the countertop. Often fitted with glass doors for display, countertop cabinets steal some counter space, but they provide an eye-pleasing link between upper and base cabinets and can offer within-reach drawer and shelf space for dinnerware and utensils.

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Call it the European influence or a return to this country's early-19th-century notions: Many of today's kitchens are assigning furniture duties to cabinetry. Some pieces are freestanding, but others simply appear to be, standing in as china hutches, pie safes, and buffets. The secrets to their convincing performances?

Moldings that finish off upper cabinets, backsplashes that complement upper and base cabinets, and physical separation from the rest of the built-in units. In fact, these freestanding look-alikes are proving so versatile, they make it easy to carry your kitchen style to a breakfast room or dining room, where storage and display space is always welcome.

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Gone are the days when cabinets were unembellished boxes. Today's most interesting styles take their finishing touches from furniture and architecture.

Add-ons such as fretwork light valances, under-counter corbels, and mullioned doors give a standard setup custom appeal.

Islands with fancy feet, commanding pilasters, and arched openings achieve a focal-point status that's more a result of style than of location. Carvings, cutouts, and moldings all add emphasis to a cabinet's decorative aspects.

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A cabinet or island in a color or wood that's different from the rest of the kitchen works much like a patterned scarf with a solid-black suit.

More than a finishing touch, by breaking up the monotony it becomes a pivotal design piece. Today's most popular example is a colored island surrounded by wood-tone or white cabinets. But it's also not uncommon to see a hutch or one section of cabinetry treated in the same manner.

This mix of finishes is most effective when two hues are used in unequal proportions, and when the highlight style is repeated in some other way -- for example, a breakfast table that matches the kitchen island can serve as a visual link for the two rooms.

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