Consumers Craving Eco-Conscious Materials for Kitchen Cabinets

Clare Tattersall

Walnut cabinet

Home design trends are constantly changing, but the ongoing pandemic has influenced how we view our spaces, unlike ever before. People have gone from having to be home because of government stay-at-home orders and employer policies to wanting to be home in an environment that expresses their personality, tastes, and holistic views. This has fuelled a remodelling boom that has seen kitchens among the most renovated rooms. In the heart of the home, consumer preferences are moving away from the white painted cabinets that have been so popular toward warm, earthy tones, greens and blues, sometimes playing out with different shades in different zones (think sage on cabinets and hunter green on the island). This aligns with homeowners’ burgeoning desire to bring the outdoors inside. What’s more, a growing number of consumers are opting for natural materials for cabinetry that support their environmental goals.

Out of fashion for a while, wood is enjoying a revival thanks, in part, to it being a renewable building resource. The warm look of solid walnut and oak are among customer favourites, coveted for their characteristics – the variations of grain structure and shade add depth, interest, and texture to the kitchen. These two kinds of wood also offer design flexibility. They go well with many styles, from rustic to modern, and provide a neutral backdrop for a variety of colour palettes. Eco-conscious homeowners are particularly interested in wood cabinets made from sustainably harvested materials, so Forest Stewardship Council certification is a must if wanting to reach these green consumers, as it signifies your products come from responsibly managed forests and meet strict requirements of air quality and other environmental standards.

Oak cabinets

An even healthier choice for the planet (and home) are reclaimed or salvaged wood cabinets and those made of beetle-killed pine that adds both history and character to kitchen design. Beetle-killed pine is the term used for pine trees killed by the mountain pine beetle. The rice-sized insect is wreaking havoc on forests in Western Canada and the U.S., already decimating more than 100 million acres of timber at an 80 to 90% kill rate. The beetle bores into the wood and ultimately suffocates the trees by cutting off their water and nutrient supply. What’s left behind is a barren forest filled with blue-grey-stained, needleless trees. This harvestable dead-standing timber is increasingly being used for wood products like cabinets. If left in the forest, the dead trees will eventually fall over, decay, and become fuel for catastrophic wildfires or release their carbon back into the atmosphere, resulting in higher greenhouse gases. Consumers often prize its distinct blue ‘stain’ (from the fungus carried by the mountain pine beetle that stops the tree from producing its natural defense resin) since no two kitchen projects will look the same. And because it is an all-natural and organic product, no stains or paints are needed to enhance the wood.

HempWood Cabinet

Wood isn’t the only natural cabinet material that’s rising in popularity. Alternatives include bamboo, lyptus, and hemp wood. Bamboo is a grass but looks most like other woods on the market, making it highly desirable. Where it stands out is it grows incredibly rapidly, regenerating in less than a decade, which makes it a renewable and sustainable resource. As well, it’s generally stronger and harder than other hardwood options and is touted for improving indoor air quality; bamboo is considered an effective carbon dioxide absorber and oxygen emitter, so it can help purify toxins like formaldehyde from the air.

Newer to the cabinetry scene is lyptus, an engineered product from a hybrid of two species of eucalyptus tree that reaches maturity in just 15 years, much faster than it takes most hardwood to grow. Its appearance and feel are similar to that of mahogany, red oak, and cherry, and it has a vast colour range from light pink to darker earth tones. Then there’s hemp wood, which, like lyptus, has only recently been considered for cabinetry. Hemp wood is made from the stalks of the hemp plant. It grows in a 90-day cycle and is 20% stronger than American white oak. It’s also naturally non-toxic and lacks added volatile organic compounds. New Brunswick-based Eastland Group of Companies was among the first in the world to make cabinets from HempWood – the brand behind the only cabinets made of hemp on the market today. HempWood cabinets don’t take primer or paint like other woods, which gives them that rustic look that’s so in demand today.

Clare Tattersall is an interior designer and decorator in Toronto, and the editor of Canada’s floor covering magazine, Coverings.

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