When selecting kitchen cabinets, it's inevitable to raise the question of whether to use paint or stain.
Both are in vogue, depending on the type of application and how it fits into the kitchen design. Because there is no right or wrong answer, it helps to consider the design and functionality of both.
The white kitchen has become popular in recent years, as home buyers look for that crisp, clean look. In a white kitchen, the cabinets often are painted or, in more contemporary settings, covered with laminate.
When buying a semi-custom or custom home and searching for painted cabinets, the sky can be the limit. While white is popular, some people prefer the more subtle look of cream. Others want a dramatic blue or black paint.
In more moderately priced housing, there typically are two to four paint options from mainstream cabinet manufacturers. The colors often are neutral, such as ivory, white and cream.
Painted cabinets offer a smooth texture and a uniform consistency. Some mix and match the colors, using one color for the perimeter cabinets and another for the island. Those who like a stark contrast, for example, might want black cabinets on a center island and blue or black cabinets on the perimeter.
When buying cabinets with a light colored paint, consider the cooking and cleaning habits in the household. Since white is a light color, it will show smudges and dirt. Dust, however, will be easy to hide.
"Obviously, if you've got a tomato in your hand you don't want to grab the cabinet door," said Maureen O'Neill, a senior designer with Abruzzo Kitchens in Schaumburg.
On the other side of the fence are those who prefer the rich color tones of stained wood. Cabinet stains are available in a wide range of tones, from clear to butternut to mahogany. Wood stains often add a rich look and focus attention on the wood graining.
In a rustic kitchen with knotty pine cabinets, a clear stain would highlight the character in the wood. In a traditional kitchen with rich cherry cabinets, a dark stain would add drama.
In many subdivisions, stained wood takes the lead over painted surfaces, said Anita Borgen, selections coordinator with KLM Builders, which is constructing homes in Spring Grove, Richmond and Antioch.
Before deciding, home buyers should think about the overall theme they are trying to achieve. "Some cabinets will lean better toward French Country and some will lean better toward sleek contemporary," Borgen said.
French Country kitchens, for example, often have white painted cabinets with a casual, rustic flair. The cabinets often are paired with bright colored curtains and a few well worn, but classic furnishings.
In a contemporary kitchen, a flat panel door made of maple wood is a better fit. Because contemporary often translates to sleek, the cabinets would have flat panel doors and a clear stain.
The paint or stain can be supplemented with a glaze, which adds yet another dimension to the overall look. In many cases, the glaze is applied and partially wiped off to create a unique, two-tone appearance.
"When they wipe it off, it dulls it down," said Robert Lord, president of Robert Lord Builders in St. Charles. "Anywhere there is detail, those areas will actually pop."
Among the popular paint colors is a warm cream. The paint then is accented with a chocolate glaze that adds contrast. Glaze requires more labor and, thus, is more costly.
"It can increase the cost by 15 to 50 percent," Lord said.
When deciding between painted or stained cabinets, there also are many functional aspects to consider. While manufacturers often do their best to apply coatings to help dust and food particles slip off the white painted cabinet, it is inevitable that a few specks of dirt will stick.
Those who can't stand the sight of dirt - particularly as it appears to jump out on a white surface - might be happier with a stained cabinet. Often the stain has a medium to dark tone, which can help hide soil. Those who don't mind wiping off the cabinets periodically to remove smudges and dirt might be content with painted cabinets.
Do you want painted or stained cabinets in your new home? It is not always an easy question to answer, as much depends on the desired look and the selections offered through the builder. Before taking the plunge in one direction or another, do a little research into the look, design and function of the cabinets.
Allison E. Beatty is a Chicago-area freelance writer. If you have questions or information to share regarding new home buyers' product and design choices, write to Choices c/o Chicago Tribune, New Homes Section, 435 N. Michigan Ave., 4th Floor, Chicago, IL 60611. Or, e-mail:email@example.com