By Jill Tunick
Blame it on builders. Now that floor plans are opening up, cabinetry is spreading all over the house. They're installing more cabinetry in living rooms, dining rooms, and family rooms–spaces often visible from the kitchen–as well as bedrooms, laundry rooms, wet bars, mud rooms, libraries, playrooms, home offices, and even hallways and closets.
"Kitchen cabinetry is extending into adjoining living spaces," says Jeanine Weinzier, director of marketing for Crystal Cabinet Works in Princeton, Minn.
Other-room cabinetry is popular for renovations, too. Lori Bentley, co-owner of Bentley Design & Remodeling in Hanford, Calif., notes that many of her clients put cabinetry in other rooms before they think about re-doing their kitchens. "You can add just one piece and really upgrade a room without spending a fortune," she says.
Americans have plenty of buying power, though, which means they're acquiring more stuff than ever. According to the most recent U.S. Census Bureau survey, 1999 median household income reached $40,816, the highest level ever recorded.
The country's ongoing love affair with TVs, VCRs, stereos, DVD players, and other home electronics is making entertainment centers practically ubiquitous in living rooms, family rooms, and other rooms where families gather to chill out.
Most cabinet manufacturers equip their entertainment centers with sliding and swiveling TV stands, adjustable shelves for components, and drawers to hold armloads of CDs, DVDs, and videos. Many offer bookshelves, too. Besides keeping things tidy, entertainment centers prevent preschoolers from feeding peanut butter sandwiches to the VCR or otherwise messing with their parents' expensive toys. If your clients have little ones at home, suggest locking doors and drawers for their cabinetry.
Home offices are becoming nearly as common as entertainment centers as more Americans give up commuting for telecommuting. A recent study by the Washington-based International Telework Association & Council reveals that 16.5 million people regularly worked outside traditional offices at least one day a month last year.
Even homeowners who lack dedicated home offices have plenty of options to make their workspaces functional and appealing. "If you're going to have your workspace in a visible location, you don't want to just throw down a card table. You want the space to look good and blend in with what's nearby," says Stacy Gilles, manager of marketing communications for Aristokraft. The Evansville, Ind.-based company and others make cabinetry to accommodate computers and all their peripherals, plus files, books, office supplies, and anything else folks need for work.
Other-room cabinetry can be built-in or freestanding, custom or stock. These options give contractors plenty of ways to help their clients find just the right storage solutions and designs for their needs. Vince Achey, vice president of sales and marketing for Schaefferstown, Pa.-based Plain & Fancy Custom Cabinetry, points out that homeowners can take freestanding cabinetry with them when they move. "It's not a fixed asset in the home," he says.
The furniture look–think moldings, table legs, dentils, and columns–is particularly hot in other-room cabinetry. It gives pieces a sculpted look that complements existing tables, dressers, and other furniture. Manufacturers that sell stock units generally let contractors and their customers personalize them with various moldings, door styles, and finishes. With custom, though, anything goes.
Dark cherry finishes are still favorites for formal libraries and home offices, but manufacturers are introducing new lighter finishes to brighten up cabinetry in other rooms and make the spaces look as large as possible. "We're also seeing a lot more wood and neutral, clear-coat finishes," says Crystal Cabinet Work's Weinzier.
So, is there such a thing as too much wood? Bentley thinks so. Given the large amount of wall space to work with, other-room units can be pretty big. The trick is not to let them dominate the room. "I try to recess them so they don't stick out from the wall," says the remodeler. "If we have a 2-by-4-foot wall, we'll try to stick the cabinetry in there."
Overall, Bentley thinks other-room cabinetry is fairly easy to install. "Usually, you're just dealing with one or two pieces and you just plop them into place," she says. Depends on where you put it, though.
Based in Gaithersburg, Md., Natelli Custom Homes and Renovations installs quite a few wet bars in its projects. "It's a little harder to put them in because the cabinetry tends to be smaller," says sales manager Tom Bissell. "You have less space to work with. And, with wet bars, you're not just screwing the cabinetry to the wall. You have to deal with plumbing, countertops, and other things."
Many manufacturers say their kitchen cabinetry can be used all over the house, but remodeler Robert Criner says that's not always true. "We've seen people try to stuff kitchen cabinets in the living room, and it just doesn't work," says the president of Criner Construction in Yorktown, Va. If you're going to adapt kitchen units for other rooms, Criner suggests you remove or trim the toekick so it looks less clunky, use inset doors, add molding, and specify a low-sheen finish.
Whether your clients go stock or custom, allow plenty of lead time. Prefinished custom cabinetry must be ordered about eight to 14 weeks in advance. Really complex pieces can take 16 weeks.
Eventually, new houses may come standard with home office and entertainment center cabinetry. These areas offer the biggest opportunities for growth; the telecommuting council predicts there may be 30 million telecommuters by the end of 2004. And consumers won't stop buying home electronics anytime soon.
Except for some new looks–officials at Crystal Cabinetry believe people may want metal-framed cabinetry some day–other-room cabinetry probably won't change much in the future. There will just be more of it, and that's good news for people with lots of stuff.
[This article is a reprint from BUILDING PRODUCTS Magazine, July/August 2001 issue.]