The Fabulous Finish

It’s been around since before the dawn of man, but only recently have we begun to see the limitless potential of wood. Throughout history, it has been a servant of design. Typically used to construct the skeleton of an item, wood’s natural beauty was often overshadowed by layers of material including plaster, fabric, and paint.

But that’s all changing as wood begins to experience a little overdue attention, and this is most evident in an unlikely but appreciative place: kitchen cabinets.

“If you can dream it, it can be done,” says Clay Cox, owner of Kitchens by Clay, who sits amid a tapestry of wood cabinet door samples in his Fifth Avenue South showroom in Naples.

Cox is on the forefront of the wood transformation movement and his cabinetry work is anything less than one-dimensional.

Sure you can still paint it, but Cox says homeowners are looking for a little more depth and intrigue from their cabinetry and thanks to a very creative industry it is no longer out of the question.

Cox offers 43 standard finishes for cabinets; 13 are painted and 30 are stained. But it is the little details after the top finish, which can be added beyond these choices that are really making clients—jump for joy.

Admittedly, the current trend in South Florida right now is a simple shaker style cabinet door, which lends itself to the transitional look that is so popular. Most homeowners are choosing a light painted finish, but that is not where it ends.

“You can add an unlimited number of finishes to this basic design to really jazz up the look,” says Cox. “But the first step is to choose a good select wood.”

Cox says understanding how to chose the right wood is very important. Most cabinet exteriors in South Florida are made of maple. It is a nice hard wood that provides both grain and texture consistency. Some other wood choices are cherry, birch, and hickory.

Wood comes in a variety of natural shades including white, red, black, and green. Minerals and acids in the soil where the tree was grown help determine these variations.

To maintain a natural appearance, these woods can be stained in a variety of clear coatings that simply highlight their natural features, enhance their inbred color, or bring out hidden traits like grain complexity.

Add a glaze to the wood and you have a more complex end result. Glazes are slightly hued but retain the wood’s natural look underneath while deepening the finish with a dramatic color.

Painting wood essentially hides its natural features but creates the most consistent finish. Homeowners should be aware that painting wood doesn’t mean the finish will stay seamless forever. Wood is a natural fiber and thus expands and contracts with humidity. Over time, the joints in wood cabinetry will open slightly or slight cracks that separate the paint from the wood may appear.

Not satisfied with a stain, glaze or paint? No problem, there are as many wood cabinet finishes as there are cowboy boots at a rodeo.

But unlike boots, which evolve in character through years of wear, cabinets must go through a series of finish applications to obtain the final look before they are assembled. The more complex the look, the more steps it takes to create it. And depending on how much intricate detailing is desired, the process could take weeks or months.

“Creating highlights and special finishes is a step-by-step process,” says Cox. “But this is where it gets fun.”

While cabinet finishes in kitchens are trending toward the light simple shaker look, cabinet finishes in other rooms of the home are beginning to get more attention.

Typically this process starts with a medium coated finish. Rooms like libraries and bathrooms can use special cabinet finishes instead of extraneous décor to showcase a particular style.

One popular finish is antiquing a cabinet, which involves manually distressing the wood to give it uncommon characteristics that add intrigue. Some of the treatments include adding stress cracks, dings, wormholes, wire brush marks, and hand sanding natural wear areas like the corners.

A multi-step painted crackle finish can also be applied on select portions of the cabinet or on the whole face itself. Throw in some black fly specks or thin tail splatters and the cabinet looks like it came off a stagecoach bound for Oregon.

Cox is quick to remind homeowners that cabinets are not the only wood features that can receive a special finish. Many of the same cabinet finishes are repeated on crown molding, corner beading, and encasements that surround windows, doors, and appliances.

A fabulous cabinet finish is a great way to dress up a room or elicit a particular themed look. Beyond the forty-three standard finishes, the options really are endless.

Check out the special and current cabinet finishes discussed above and on display at Kitchens By Clay, with showroom locations at 300 Fifth Avenue South and 7935 Airport Road in Naples. A gallery of extraordinary cabinet finishes can also be seen at www. For a private appointment, call 239.431.5474