I was meeting with the lovely Amy Liesinger with Lampert’s Lumber yesterday to discuss another kitchen for our latest spec home and she kindly suggested that I should post part of our discussion on my blog. How’s that for subtle?! I am embarrassed to realize how long it has been since I’ve posted anything. I could come up with a load of very creative and believable excuses but simply – I’ve been too busy and have completely neglected this thing.
Since it’s been a while I now have a number of fresh subjects to rant/advise/comment on so I should be primed for a good run this fall. But I make no promises.
So, since I was just discussing a kitchen and debating the merits of white cabinets and trim versus stained cabinets and trim maybe this is the best topic to restart things…
I have had the opportunity to build a few model homes for the Parade of Homes since we started nearly 2 years ago. I have had tons of feedback on each of these homes and I would like to offer an unbiased look at the benefits and drawbacks of each style of cabinets and trim:
Stained cabinets and trim offer the benefit of bringing warmth and character to a finish scheme. Staining certain wood species tends to bring out the best (and sometimes worst) qualities of different types of wood. For instance, maple is a funny wood as it does not like dark stain. Often, when stained dark it can look very blotchy. I prefer to leave maple with a clear natural finish.
On the other hand, woods like alder, cherry and even oak can become very rich and lovely with the right stain color. The prevalence of “Honey” and “Wheat” stains have ruined oak’s reputation of a solid, attractive option. It takes to dark colors very well and it’s surprisingly turning up again in some of the trendiest homes.
Stained wood is easy to clean and can be fairly easily repaired if damaged. Colors beyond “Natural” hide scuffs and handprints very well. You do need to take care to protect it from direct sunlight as the colors will fade and some cheaper varnishes can turn yellow over time.
It seems that every Pottery Barn and Restoration Hardware catalog and most design magazines and websites feature painted trim. Its popularity has soared in the last few years and it’s a nice, fresh alternative to stained trim. It helps set off wall colors and goes with just about any décor.
Many people are shocked when I tell them that the popular painted trim is actually an upgrade on our homes. Some builders will offer it as either a base price item or even a lesser-priced option. Check their trim carefully. I have seen many homes where the white trim is simply nailed to the wall and the holes filled and that’s it. Be aware: unless the trim is fully caulked at joints and against the wall, the holes sanded and all of it repainted after it is installed it will definitely look like you paid less for it.
Poplar wood is the most common wood choice for painted trim because it is not a “stain grade” wood. It’s a softer wood and more prone to denting. A newer alternative to solid wood is MDF (medium density fiberboard), which is an engineered wood product. It is less expensive than solid wood and doesn’t shrink like solid wood but is more prone to chipping when it’s nailed in.
Painted cabinets are becoming very popular and again many buyers think it’s a lower-priced alternative. This has not necessarily been the case. To get a smooth, hard, high quality painted finish requires more steps in the process and many cabinet shops will charge more for it. In addition, consumers need to understand that while all wood will expand and contract during the different seasons, this becomes more obvious on painted cabinets and cracks in the joints will be so much more obvious.
The biggest negative I’ve heard with white painted trim and cabinets is the fact that this stuff shows EVERYTHING. A buyer needs to understand that this will require so much more regular maintenance to clean or touch up from hand prints, vacuum dings, shoe scuffs and dust. I actually heard from a few people during the parade that said “never again” would they do painted wood, no matter how much they loved the look.
It’s definitely a personal decision but one that requires careful consideration.