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  • Writer's pictureEric Goetting, COO, Millwork

Finishing Strong: Shop Series Part 5

Choosing the right finish or veneer for your custom cabinets.

The majority of custom cabinets we do at MN Builders boil down to two options—Full Overlay or Face Frame with Flush Inset—but when it comes time to match that style to a finish, that’s when the real fun begins.

From the relative simplicity of painted wood to the sophisticated elegance of an exotic custom veneer, the custom cabinet world abounds with options that combine a striking visual presentation with lasting durability.

With so many ways to move forward, we understand that this decision can feel daunting, but fear not! Each choice represents the freedom and opportunity to design a cabinet solution that perfectly aligns with your life, taste, location, and usage—and MN is always here to help.

A word about durability.

Dazzling presentation aside, one of the significant benefits of opting for custom cabinets is the exceptional quality of the build and materials that enhance overall durability. Regardless of the finish you ultimately select, rest assured it is designed to last. That said, some finishes are easier to touch up than others, and it's important to consider practicality alongside aesthetics when making your final decision.

Before settling on a finish, take some time to reflect on how you plan to use the space where this cabinet will live. Do you have a bustling family? A rambunctious dog that loves climbing on everything? Will the cabinets be located in high-traffic areas and subject to daily use? The answers to these questions will help guide you toward the right finish for your specific needs.

Customize your colors (and your convenience) with painted wood.

Choosing a painted wood finish is straightforward; all you need to do is pick a color that complements your taste. (For added depth and character, some homeowners opt to add a glaze, which involves applying a thin, translucent layer of color on top of the base paint.)

Depending on the complexity of your custom cabinet installation, you can have your cabinets painted in the shop or on-site. People with relatively complex installations often have their cabinets painted on-site, since a finish looks the most seamless when it’s applied after everything is assembled. It also makes future touch-ups a breeze, as you can have the paint name or leftover paint on hand, and touch up any scratches yourself. For more straightforward installations, painting off-site is perfectly acceptable and removes one more on-site task from your already long to-do list.

Laminate/Acrylic: The painted look without the painted touch-ups.

Prefer a painted look without the hassle of touch-ups? Look into a laminate or acrylic finish. These synthetic materials come as pre-fabricated sheets applied directly to the cabinet surface, offering a wide range of design possibilities, including mimicking the appearance of wood grains and stone. Acrylic finishes, in particular, boast a high-gloss, mirror-like look currently in vogue.

Aside from their visual appeal, laminate and acrylic finishes are highly durable and resistant to scratches, moisture, and stains, making them ideal for locations that see lots of people, pets, or sticky hands.

Unveil the beauty within with natural wood.

For those who believe that when it comes to beauty, nothing beats what nature provides on its own, a natural wood finish is an excellent choice. This path involves choosing the natural wood color and grain that you like best, and treating that wood with a clear stain or sealant that allows the wood’s natural beauty to shine through. So many wood options are available today—maple, oak, cherry, walnut, and birch, to name just a handful—each with its own characteristics, making it relatively easy to find a style that resonates with you.

Remember: When selecting a natural wood finish, you'll also have the opportunity to decide on the type of wood grain and its direction to create your customized look. A clear finish is then applied on top of the wood to preserve its grain pattern, color variations, and texture, while offering substantial protection against wear and tear.

Touching up a clear wood finish is relatively simple, especially with less exotic wood choices. A little furniture polish or a wax stick from the hardware store can work wonders on minor damage.

Go a cut above with the beauty and complexity of a custom veneer.

At the opposite end of the simplicity of the painted wood option lies the exquisite realm of custom veneers: highly complex finishes that utilize natural wood veneers applied to a substrate. This type of finish allows discerning homeowners to handpick the log that will serve as the source for their veneers and then carefully arrange the sheets like the pages of a book to match wood grain patterns in various ways for a striking visual effect.

The artistry and collaboration involved in this process make custom veneers a show-stopping design choice. However, due to the complexity of their construction, custom veneers are more challenging to touch up, and repairs may not precisely match the original. We advise our clients who appreciate the artistic value of this type of one-of-a-kind, visually stunning cabinet front to place them in areas of the home that see less wear and tear.

Finish with flying colors.

Your finish choices don’t end with custom veneers. Even more spectacular (and expensive) choices include copper-clad finishes and cerused/wire-brushed techniques that are as labor intensive as they are visually stunning.

The point we’re trying to make with this post is that when it comes to choosing a finish that’s right for you, there’s no wrong answer. We’re fans of every finish and with a little self-reflection, research, and consultation with a pro you trust, you’ll find the perfect finish for your lifestyle, design preference, and practical use.

Stay tuned for the next chapter in our blog series, where we'll delve into the guts of your cabinets that help keep all the things you put into them organized and easily accessible. The journey to your dream cabinets is full of excitement and possibilities, and we're here to guide you every step of the way.


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