By Danielle Pope

When your kitchen cabinetry starts to illicit sighs of discontent over chipped wood, squeaky doors and worn paint, it’s time to look at a makeover.

Given the plethora of options crowding the design catalogues, we’ve narrowed down the latest in cabinet trends, styles, materials and colour options to get you on your way to a creative solution that’s one part intuition, one part expert advice and a generous dash of fun.


This Jason Good Custom Cabinets kitchen features Shaker cabinets and panel moulding finished with a painted lacquer in antique white.

A Question of Style
Erik Larsen of the Larsen Group has an exhaustive understanding of style when it comes to Victoria’s kitchens. For three generations, he, his father and his grandfather have worked with an elite team of the region’s master tradesmen to create custom kitchen cabinetry. Larsen says the most important element of style comes through quality, which is sometimes found in places you don’t see. Choosing materials, joinery and woods that last affects the longevity of your kitchen.

“With specialty cabinetry, we spend a lot of time in the details,” Larsen says. “You see more woodwork along the sides, attention is given to the joinery, the boxes match the doors. Those are the details that show up long-term.”

When selecting materials, lifespan is just one consideration. Soft woods, like firs and pines, offer beautiful colours but wear quickly and loosen when the wood expands and contracts. Harder woods are ideal, and have a bevy of colour choices — think eastern maple, walnut, hickory, teak, paint-grade poplar, or mahogany with African tiger grain. While some woods lend themselves to shapely styles, colour is the deciding factor for most selections.

If a sleek look is what you’re after, Larsen doesn’t hesitate to recommend medium-density fibreboard (MDF). It has flexibility in its modern applications — either paint-grade or veneer wood grain — and is in high demand for many contemporary kitchens. But watch out for cheap knock-offs that offer the look without the quality.

If one-of-a-kind is your preference, you aren’t alone. Reclaimed lumber is one of the most popular trends Larsen is seeing right now in kitchens around Victoria.

Bob Ganner, designer at Harbour City Kitchens, says it’s important to detail the pros and cons of each material choice. Constructions made out of high-gloss PVC finish, for example, are easy to clean, but are highly susceptible to finger prints, grease marks and corrosive liquids. While they may not be the right choice for every kitchen, it all comes down to preference.

“The benefits are in the eye of the beholder, and everyone’s choice is different,” says Ganner, who has been in design and construction with Harbour City Kitchens for 13 years. “Sometimes, people fall in love with a kitchen that may not look like it truly belongs in their house. You have to consider design, resale value or if this is a part of other renovations.”


This custom kitchen, built in place by Ian Chapman of the Larsen Group, has poplar cabinets with raised panel doors, sprayed in a creme lacquer. Photo: Ian Chapman/Larsen Group


The contrasting island was built from natural cherry. The cabinetry features under-counter, in-cabinet and crown-up lighting. Photo: Ian Chapman/Larsen Group

Show Them the Door
Next style choice: the look of the doors. Shaker is the classic standby, with its clean lines, utility and versatility. Shaker doors have a four-piece frame around a single flat centre panel. Don’t be deceived by the simplicity: this style can shift from exquisite bevels to a bare panel prairie look.

You can add a few lines to your kitchen by selecting a plank, beaded or louvered-style door. The louver look mimics window shutters and offers the benefit of ventilation. Plank-style doors line up one panel atop the next horizontally, while beaded doors take the lines vertical and add a cottage feel. Keep in mind, extra details mean extra edges to clean.

Flat panel or glass doors will streamline your desires for a modern chic look, with minimalist details. These can turn art-deco or new age with the right hardware. Inset doors are another option. This style is costly due to its technical superiority — set inside, rather than outside, the cabinet frame, with exposed hinges — however, inset panels add modernity to any kitchen.

Fully customized cabinets pull from materials and styles of every variety, like shaker doors with corrugated metal panels, or inset distressed planks. The choice is all a matter of preference, says Larsen.

Shaker styles

Shaker Style: (left to right) Louvered-style doors allow for plenty of ventilation; Vertical beaded grooves give a cottage-like feel; Plank-style cabinets make for clean, simple lines.

What if you can’t decide? Jonathan Poppitt, owner and CEO of Thomas and Birch Cabinetry, says the key is to find one thing you love about your current house, and build on that.

“The choices can drive you crazy. I hear many clients saying, ‘How will I choose?’ and I encourage them to pick an item they love — maybe it’s a tea pot, a blanket, a plate — and use that as their clue,” he says. “A great designer will coach you through the process, but keep in mind this is a decision only you have to live with.”

The Right Shade for the Job
Since quality cabinetry should last upwards of 15 or 20 years, Poppitt says the timeless looks remain the most popular in Victoria. That means white — from antique and cloud to off-white and ivory.

While greys and dark woods have surged in popularity, classic white shaker doors are still a top pick. These are also the chameleon of kitchen cabinetry. Throw on a pair of oil-rubbed bronze handles, and you have an aged look. Shift to a crisp chrome and you’re back to modern.

While natural woods offer another timeless choice, heavy lacquers and glazes are less popular, says Poppitt; in part because of the intense work involved in recovering, and because of the dated appearance.


The alder veneer cabinets, with their rich Navajo colour stain, give this kitchen by Thomas & Birch Cabinetry a sleek modern look. The Vista doors are perfect for individuals seeking a Zen-like look of contemporary simplicity; and the plywood dovetail drawers have Blum’s soft-close system, meaning there is a minimum of noise.

Poppitt suggests the best way to choose colour is to think of the atmosphere you want to create. Do you need to pull in warmth with creamy whites, or brighten the area with a soft yellow? Do you long for more nature and wood in your environment, or do you dare add vitality with a modern mint? Perhaps you are looking for a dark sanctuary with blacks, greys and walnut. Maybe your cabinets are to become a bold accent in striking red.

To Reface or Not to Reface?
When it is time to redo the cabinets, designers overwhelmingly reiterate the same point: it’s best to go all the way. Refacing is an expensive and time-consuming option that can leave owners with less-impressive results than purchasing new units. Yet, that doesn’t mean it’s never the right choice.

“For a cost difference of maybe 10 per cent, you could get entirely new cabinets,” says Poppitt. “Though, there are times when refacing makes sense, such as if you’ve just completed a kitchen within the last five to 10 years.”

Poppitt says other reasons include a sentimental attachment to the cabinets in place, or if the units were highly customized to fit the space. While a professional paint job might give you the colour alteration you are seeking, refacing is a better choice when cabinets are showing significant wear.

A rule about refacing: you need a solid base. For the expense, only high-quality wood or other materials should be considered. This isn’t just for the longevity of the cabinet, but for the feasibility of working new material into the structure. Over time, joinery can loosen, seams can separate and hardware can become unreliable. Depending on the severity of cabinetry distress, replacing may be the only option.

“Refacing isn’t as easy as undoing a door and clipping it back on,” says Poppitt. “In order to match everything you want the entire structures to be redone. And refacing means you can’t change the layout, the placement of the valance or the toekick. It’s a limited way to change the aesthetic.”


THE RIGHT HARDWARE > Changing the hardware on your cabinets can shift the look completely, and even create unique mixes for your style, says Jonathan Poppitt, owner and CEO of Thomas & Birch Cabinetry. Looking for something modern? Try brushed nickel pulls or stainless steel squared knobs. Popular antique looks include oil-rubbed bronze knobs, wrought iron pulls or black hammered pyramid pulls — especially if country chic is your aim. Cup pulls in any varnish give an industrial new-age or old-age look, while customized Art Deco handles add funk. For a classic feel, find oval knobs finished in antique English gold or in vintage glass or ceramic. Key pulls are highly decorative and offer a historic touch to any modern style. Don’t forget about function, says Poppitt — whatever you select should give you a small thrill of satisfaction each time you touch it. 1 Asbury polished nickel cup-style pull from Top Knobs (line available at Urbana Kitchens); 2 Du Verre oil-rubbed bronze argyle pull, and 3 Oil-rubbed stacked pull (line available at Cantu); 4 Ashley Norton 1376 traditional bronze appliance pull (line available at Victoria Speciality Hardware); 5 Antique-finished square knob, and 6 English gold round knob (both available at Harbour City Kitchens)

The Fun in Function
Functionality is one of the main reasons Larsen sees people redoing their cabinets. A client may no longer wish to get on their hands and knees to search through a cupboard, or the drawers may no longer move smoothly amid new appliances. Your cabinetry makeover should take into account storage, accessibility, layout and drawer movement — and there’s plenty to choose from.


This clear-finish walnut cabinetry from Jason Good Custom Cabinets features lift-up doors with continuous handle hardware for easy overhead access. Photo: Joshua Lawrence

Corner drawers prevent that awkward deep-cupboard search by twisting out from the side of your counter. Pocket doors are great for small spaces and become a surprise space saver by sliding back in on themselves. Track doors eliminate their swinging-door counterparts by sliding along a track. Flip-up drawers use a hydraulic mechanism to raise the door up, rather than out. Sliding doors use a similar mechanism to pop out, and are great at hiding high-use areas. Tambour doors offer another chance to camouflage daily clutter by sliding down like a garage door while glass doors give you maximum viewing.

By considering these factors, your cabinet makeover can restore your kitchen as the heart of your home — that welcoming sanctuary where design meets function.