Now You See It, Now You Don’t

Gone are the days when homeowners would proudly display their latest high-end appliance and its maker. Today’s kitchens are all about discretion, tucking appliances away, and the more secret compartments, the better. “It has to do with the current trend of clean and simple lines in kitchen design,” says Clay Cox, owner of Kitchens by Clay, which has two locations in Naples, Florida. “A lot of our clients are asking for custom wood panels for everything from their dishwasher and refrigerator to their wine coolers and beverage centers.” Right now, it’s not about how ornate you can make a kitchen with moldings or woodwork or turned legs—it’s about creating smart storage solutions and integrating appliances seamlessly, turning the kitchen into one smooth unit.


While high-end appliances are routinely designed with this seamless look in mind, it’s not a look that can be purchased off the shelf at a big box store. In fact, Cox says, the onus is on the kitchen designer to ensure the planes of the kitchen and design panels don’t “pop out.” The homeowner must choose panel-ready appliances which, in and of themselves, have a raw, unfinished look. “Putting the panels on is an added cost on top of the appliance price, but homeowners who want this style kitchen think it’s worth it,” Cox says. “We’re currently designing a kitchen right now that has eight different appliances that will be hidden away.”


There are limits, of course, to integrating appliances—to date, no oven ranges can be integrated with panels—but for the most part, the options are as endless as are the designer’s imagination. Cox says he can put custom cabinet doors on a dishwasher or trash compactor. He has even tucked a full-size washer and dryer into a client’s kitchen. There is an element of magic in this type of design. Appliances are not always on full display in a parade of stainless steel. They are often hidden and integrated to become ‘one’ with the kitchen cabinetry.

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This cabinetry cleverly hides away the dishwasher with a single door covered by a panel, concealing them from view. “We will put the same hardware on the panels that we use for the rest of the cabinetry,” Cox says. “The same idea works for undercounter appliances for all purposes, and we can also integrate them into the actual cabinets.”

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When it’s done right, the viewer should do a double take. “If it wasn’t for the handles people might not know it was a refrigerator,” Cox says. The glass doors on the side of this piece from Cox’s showroom enclose shelving that can be used for additional food storage or dishes. For people who have budgetary limits, Cox can use a counter-depth refrigerator and build cabinetry around it. Either way, Cox says he hasn’t put a true free-standing refrigerator in a kitchen in years.

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On appliances such as a wine cooler, a glass door reminds the viewer what’s stored inside, while the wooden frame and hardware maintains the semblance of the surrounding cabinets.

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“People are always surprised when they come to our showroom and see what we can do with paneling,” Cox says. “For years we could do nothing with microwaves—we just had to work around them. Now they take the place of a drawer and everything looks beautiful and clean.”


Written by Elisa Ludwig