Custom Cabinetry Design: Thinking Outside the Box

Cabinetry is essential to custom-home design. It represents permanent furnishings for your home that, unlike furniture and decor, are not easily swapped out in the future. Every detail must be thoroughly planned before construction begins on your kitchen and bathroom remodeling project.

The rapidly changing industry of custom cabinetry design

Old lithograph image of a cabinetry shop with three adults and one child using hand tools on wood.
Trade and Commerce: Cabinet maker. “The cabinet maker”. Colour lighograph, artist unknown. From: J.Staubs Bilderbuch. Anschauungsunterricht für Kinder. 2. Heft, neue umgearb. Aufl. Zürich (Verlag Gebr. Künzli) 1918, Tafel 13. Private Collection.

At one time, cabinets were built onsite by master carpenters. There were fewer cabinets in homes back then, and kitchen-and-bathroom design was much different than it is today.

Then it became more popular to build these components offsite at local cabinet shops. Initially, these cabinets were manufactured as very large pieces – a wall section would be built as one big cabinet with few divisions.

As time went on, more cabinets were put into homes. So it became more practical to install smaller pieces in a modular form. The variety of shapes and sizes changed, as the size and shape of kitchens and bathrooms also changed.

Materials began to change too. Advancing technologies of plywoods, MDF (medium-density fibreboard), and veneers allowed a wider range of styles, price points, and quality. You can now get molded veneer cabinets with raised panels that look very impressive in the beginning but may lack longevity. Corners or edges provide weak spots in veneers which may cause swelling or delamination when exposed to moisture.

Finding the best cabinetry craftsmen

Award-winning bathroom remodel with his-and-her counter vanity cabinets

With decades of experience in both the construction and design fields, I’m able to seek out and evaluate the best materials and manufacturers, so my clients get the best results.

The big-box stores sell a very limited selection of shapes, sizes, materials, finishes, and styles. Many times homeowners are presented with limited choices, instead of focusing on the unique needs of the homeowners, their cooking styles, and other critical issues related to functionality.

Local cabinetry shops (both big and small) offer more choices, but they can also have limitations. The quality is much improved but the capacity for production can reach their limits quickly. In turn they may purchase components from larger manufacturers with predetermined sizes, limiting creativity. Not all local shops have the ability to stain or paint cabinets, so an additional shop is needed to apply the finishing touches.

Keystone Creative in Springfield, Missouri, is the local dealer for the premier cabinet manufacturer Crystal Cabinet Works in Minnesota. Through this business relationship, I’m able to design and source completely custom kitchen and bathroom cabinetry that is manufactured at a level of quality rivaled by none. I can design pieces with any combination of door profiles, shapes, styles, wood species, finishes, moldings, and other details. That way, my clients get something very unique.

Ordering cabinets with this level of customization is a complex and time-consuming process that requires extensive training. I even take the time to travel to the factory in Minnesota for specialized training and insight.

Understanding wood selections and finishes

Custom kitchen cabinets with dark brown wood featuring two kitchen islands

On average, more than half of all new cabinets produced are painted white – it’s been that way for a long time. The remainder are painted trendy colors or stained.

It’s important to use quality finishes and apply them correctly. A painted finish needs a good-quality primer that creates a good bond with the wood. It looks better and protects the wood grain. Likewise, stained cabinets need a good-quality stain and topcoat. Proper installation is also essential. Choosing these materials and the craftsman who apply them is part of the value Keystone Creative delivers clients. In fact, many of the finishes I source include a lifetime warranty.

We’re seeing a wider variety in wood selections these days. Red oak was always prevalent because it’s very abundant and affordable. But we’re now seeing more interest in walnut and maple.

“Quarter sawn” white oak, which refers to how the logs are cut during milling, has been a longtime favorite as well. Oak typically has arches and knots in its grain pattern. But when using the quarter-sawn method, you capture more of the straight lines in the grain. It’s done quite often in veneers. When it’s applied, it looks very contemporary and modern.

Most clients don’t have a strong knowledge of wood types, and that’s okay. Keystone Creative’s custom-home design process helps them discover the look they like best.

Functionality is king in cabinetry design

White kitchen cabinets with lots of storage plus a kitchen island with dark brown wood.

Typically when people move into a home, they must adapt their cooking style to the storage space that exists in the house. But we can actually design and remodel a kitchen to have more storage, while using less space in the home, by having the proper functional hardware and placement of the storage.

We don’t simply design cabinets to fit into the room. We actually design the kitchen around the functionality of its use. There are specific cabinets and hardware for each cooking and baking style. When we meet with clients, we ask lots of questions, such as:

  • What’s your favorite thing to do in the kitchen: baking, pasta making, chef-style cooking?
  • Do you have a large or small family?
  • Do you want everything to be very clean and minimalized, where you don’t see any of the appliances?

We design each home specifically for the homeowner’s lifestyle. We identify and solve problems at every stage of the design.

Amazing hardware solves problems before they occur

A decorative column on a kitchen cabinet that pulls out to reveal a spice rack

The benefits and the simplicity of the old lazy susan were tremendous, but we’ve moved beyond that. Today, we integrate unique functional hardware that makes life easier for homeowners. We work with a wide range of suppliers, including Häfele and Rev-A-Shelf, who provide innovative solutions to everyday problems.

  • Under-the-sink mats that can capture up to a gallon of liquid
  • Trash bin pullouts
  • Spice racks
  • Knife blocks
  • Stylish range hoods that exhaust smells and heat outside
  • Vanity pullouts for bathroom appliances like hairdryers (with power outlets)
  • Kitchenaid-mixer elevators that lift your heavy appliance to counter height when in use and then hide it under the counter when you’re done
  • And many more!

I also work with a company called element DESIGNS to incorporate glass and metal into our doors and shelves.

Quality Control: Lead Times and construction timelines

Many people are surprised by the lead time required for custom cabinets – especially the higher-quality choices. And strained chains supply around the world place increased importance on project planning.

So it’s vital to hire an experienced designer who can layout the entire project in advance, with a firm understanding of every construction phase as well as cabinetry design and manufacturing. That way, everything will fit together and finish on time.

A lack of planning can cause weeks of delays. If the cabinets are not designed precisely, in coordination with the room’s design, this can cause serious problems. If there is even a slight difference between the wall space and the delivered cabinets, the result can be costly and time-consuming. We eliminate or minimize those problems with thorough planning.

Do it right the first time

Great kitchen-and-bathroom design adds value to your home. It also makes your home more enjoyable because it’s more functional.

You use every inch of your cabinetry regularly, the entire time you live in the home. So I recommend putting the most money into things you see and touch each day.

Are you ready to start the journey? Schedule a free consultation today.

Keystone Creative is an award-winning residential design firm, specializing in whole-house transformations and new-home designs. The team reimagines kitchens, bathrooms, bedrooms, living rooms, and even laundry rooms to fulfill homeowners’ dreams and increase the value of homes. Keystone Creative can handle the entire process, from the initial concept and detailed blueprints, to interior design and material selection, to construction and quality control management.

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