Designers and remodelers with cabinet shops can use custom finishes to create a one-of-a-kind kitchens for their clients. Vetto Sanchez, the manager of the custom finishing department in Benvenuti & Stein's cabinet shop in Evanston, Ill., says their clients are choosing finishes that give cabinets an antique look. “Customers are looking for a rubbed finish where you can see the grain of the wood,” Sanchez says.

He applies a base coat of color chosen by the client, then sanding the paint off the corners and edges so the doors and drawer fronts look aged. “Then I apply a clear coat to protect the cabinets and make them easy to clean,” he says. He says stone countertops with a honed rather than polished finish blend beautifully with this cabinet finish.

EXOTIC WOOD The cabinet shop has also tried to eliminate the use of stains by choosing exotic woods that have naturally-occurring color and variations. “We use wood that has those colors instead of trying to create those colors with stain,” he says. A recent trend is the use of willow. The wood's color and grain give it a rustic look. Sanchez usually finishes it with a wax that gives it luster, but still maintains an aged appearance. He has used the wood for cabinetry in wine rooms, home offices, and islands, as well as for bookcases and light commercial applications.

No matter what type of wood the customer chooses, Sanchez takes the time to arrange the pieces for each project. “For example, willow has five to seven colors in the wood itself. When you're using hundreds of linear feet, every board is a different color,” he explains, “I want the kitchen to have an overall balance.”

Linderman Designs, in Santa Ana, Calif., is known for its traditional cabinetry.

To create the furniture-look they want, Ed Linderman says, his clients are opting for stains and glazes. “The stain or glaze really highlights the details in traditional cabinetry like raised panels, carvings, or fluting,” he says. He usually pairs the glazed finish with paint-grade poplar or maple. When using stains, he prefers to use alder wood. He says combining two or more finishes in one kitchen is also popular. “We would use lighter color on the perimeter cabinets and a darker color on the island,” Linderman says.