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Cabinet Finishes

How your cabinets are finished is the most visually noticeable feature in your new kitchen! Trends come and go, new materials and finish styles come on the scene regularly. But, for the most part, there are some basic categories that we utilize most often in kitchen cabinets.


Far and away the most popular finish in today’s kitchens is a painted finish. White paint continues to dominate as the most frequently requested color. Tones of grey, black, and blue are also very popular in accent pieces (islands, bars, etc.) as well as full kitchens.

A painted finish is carefully applied to a Maple or other wooden substrate (HDF or MDF) after careful sanding. The paint is sprayed on a multi-million dollar flatline sprayer, or (especially in custom lines) by a craftsman with a handheld spray gun. Heat is applied to bake the paint onto the wood, then a top-coat is applied to protect and seal the finish.

Products and processes vary based on the manufacturer, so if you’re curious, ask the professional you’re working with about their process.


Unlike painted finishes which simply cover and bond with the wood surface, stains actually penetrate and soak into the wood. So, when a cabinet is stained you are still able to see much of the grain after it’s finished. In fact, many stains actually enhance the look of the grain.

For decades, tones of brown have dominated the stained cabinet options. Though browns still remain popular, other stained finishes are becoming increasingly common. Grey stains, white stains, and even blue stains are being used regularly, and give a unique look to a kitchen.

Wood species that have harsh grain patterns, such as Oak, Quartersawn Oak, Rift Cut Oak, and Hickory, are trending right now in our kitchens. They look beautiful with a stain that gives them a true brown color, whether lighter or darker. 

A QUICK DESIGN TIP: We don’t love when stains have an orange, red, or pink hue to them. And some stains will reveal these undertones, especially in a Red Oak species. Select a stain that gives you a true brown color (as described above).

Upgrade Options

After choosing a “base” color for your cabinetry, whether paint or stain, you have the option to add special finishes to those colors as an upgrade. A quick word on each.


This is the process of taking a darker color (typically brown, black, or gray) and applying it to the whole door, or just the cracks and crevices. It is applied by hand-wiping, or by a tiny paintbrush. This process darkens the overall appearance of the doors, and highlights the details.


Some manufacturers offer a finish where they take a brush and gently wipe some of the paint (or stain) off the door, leaving small brush strokes in the finish. At times, you can see the raw finish in the brush strokes. This finish, when appropriately used, can give a kitchen a Beach cottage feel.


Particularly in traditional design, clients often want to have the illusion of age with their new cabinets. Glazing (above) is one way to accomplish this look. A rub-through, though, is probably the easiest way to make a cabinet look antique or distressed.

This finish involves sanding the edges of a painted finish until a significant amount of the raw wood shows through. The clear coat is then applied to the finish to protect it.

Other Distressing Techniques

Many manufacturers offer various other finishes where they beat up (literally with rocks and knives) and distress the doors in different ways to accomplish the look you want. 

Laminate/Textured Melamine

More contemporary styles often include options call Textured Melamines. These are designed to mimic the look of real wood, but are not as likely to warp or wear like natural wood. These are applied to a flat, slab door, making them perfect for the clean lines called for in modern design.

How is it made? In short, a great deal of heat and pressure is applied to a resin product and attached to a particle board or MDF core. 


Also popular in contemporary design, High-gloss Acrylic provides the clean, crisp aesthetic that modern clients love. It’s made of a very hard plastic compound that is made into sheets and then applied to a particleboard or MDF core. 

These cabinets are awesome for those wanting to maintain a clean environment (visually and actually). You can clean these cabinets with just about anything! They do not stain or chip or change color over time. They are nearly indestructible. And, they provide the modern look that many homeowners absolutely love. 


In today’s kitchens, finishes are as varied as ever! We are doing so many different finishes each week. Let us know what questions you have on cabinet finishes!