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The Short List: Jaclyn Wike on the Key Facets of Cabinetry and Wood Trends

by Peter Thomas Ricci

Jaclyn-Wike

Jaclyn Wike is the proprietor of Chicago’s Studio Swann design firm.

Every week, we ask a real estate professional for their Short List, a collection of tips and recommendations on an essential topic in real estate.

This week, we talked with Jaclyn Wike, an interior designer who specializes in kitchen and bath design and is proprietor of Chicago’s Studio Swann design firm, on how agents can understand cabinetry, wood color trends and wood species’ better to sell their client’s homes.

Walnut is Hot – Walnut a hot wood right now in custom kitchen cabinetry, and is recognized for its beautiful wood graining. If a client has walnut cabinets in their kitchen, call it out on the MLS and when showing a home! Walnut is an up-charge wood species when it comes to cabinetry, and is normally found in a natural or a brown-toned stain color in kitchen cabinetry – the darker colors of stain tend to wipe out the natural beauty of the graining, which is what it is appreciated for.

Why Alder? – About 10 years ago, we started seeing alder gain in popularity here in the Midwest. Why? For many years, it was quite popular in Western state homes, and to this day, it’s all over the millwork and molding there. So many Chicagoans love skiing in Colorado, for example, and have that wood in their second home there, that the wood gradually gained in popularity here in the Midwest. Another thing to note about alder is the wood is soft and will not hold up to “denting” as well as denser, harder woods, such as cherry. Yet, it has beautiful natural graining.

Tired of Cherry? – Some of us are so over this wood; for so long, it has been the choice for cabinetry and furniture. But don’t discount cherry too fast. It holds up well to the wear and tear of life, and I happen to love it with a darker, java (think eggplant combined with a black) toned stain. Cherry is an interesting wood, as it will change color quite a bit and darken within six to 12 months of the cabinetry being installed within a home. At about the one-year mark (depending on the amount of light in the area where the cabinetry is), the cherry will settle into its “final” color. Cherry has a lot of red in its natural coloring, which doesn’t mesh well with today’s trending coloring of the grays and black or white glazes – when done in a java, though, it is quite fabulous and on-trend.

Oak…Really! – Yes, oak. We are seeing a renewed interest in oak. In larger cities and moneyed towns, we are answering the call for oak in the reply of rift-cut and quarter-sawn oak. The difference between these is simply the way they are cut from the log. Quarter-sawn simply means the log is cut into quarters (hence, the name) at a radial angle. Quarter-sawn also is noticeable because of its flecking, which in today’s design trends can be beautifully enhanced with liming/cerusing, which is the process of opening up the graining with liquid and a wire brush, and then filling that open grain in with, typically, a white or gray color, which beautifully enhances the graining. That process is labor intensive. Rift-cut, which tends to be the most expensive of the oak cuts (it has the most waste), is a perpendicular cut to the log’s growth.

Expect oak to begin to climb in price. Here’s why: While we here in the U.S. love international design (it’s no longer European design; it is really now international design), they in turn value our design and the way we live. With the new money economies emerging from Asian countries and Russia, they see oak as being very American in design, and hence, those two economies are raising the value (and the price) of the wood species. Oak (and marble!) are very valued products in their cultures, and with those countries climbing in wealth, we are already noticing an increase in the cost of oak.

Trends from International Design – This past April at the Italian version of our Kitchen & Bath Industry Show in Milan, the overall tone of cabinetry and countertops was dark. Because we see a lot of design trends come in from international design, expect to see more dark colors in kitchens here in the U.S. And, thanks to the Internet, today trends are travelling across “The Pond” faster than ever. The one exception to the trend of darker cabinetry was the “natural looking” wood finishes. Imagine a kitchen, or part of a kitchen, finished in the color and texture of the common two-by-four. That was seen across the board at the show.

Wondering How to Differentiate the Wood Species? – Next time you walk through a higher-end furniture shop, take a moment to read the sale tags on the different pieces. Secondly, always ask your client what species their cabinets are. Between those two, soon you will begin to discern the woods – and never be afraid to ask what the wood is. I’ll let you in on a little secret…those of us in the design community have to sometimes ask as well.


Jaclyn Wike was influenced by the furniture industry from an early age. Realizing her love for interior design, she pursued and received her BS in housing and interior design from Appalachian State University. In 2003, she moved to Chicago to further pursue her passion for design. She joined a high-end design firm specializing in kitchen and bath design in the iconic Merchandise Mart, and quickly became one of their top designers. She further enhanced her portfolio by designing unique bathrooms for Kohler before opening Studio Swann.

Jaclyn is an AKBD (Associate Kitchen and Bath Designer) as accredited from the NKBA (National Kitchen and Bath Association). Feel free to contact her at Jaclyn@StudioSwann.com with any questions on cabinetry, design or kitchen and bath trends.

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