Interior design inspiration and cabinet trends have a way of traveling west. This has certainly been the trajectory for 5-piece cabinet doors using engineered materials. Spotted in Europe in the late 1990s, 5-piece doors have gained heavily in popularity over the past few years in the North American market. Scour both the social sphere and other media, and you will see a dominance of shaker style cabinets in kitchens, bathrooms and home organization spaces.

While durability, technology and a wealth of finishes, colors and patterns have driven demand for these engineered products in the US, the demand for modern, frameless cabinetry to match has also risen. Two companies that have teamed up and raised the bar in response to these trends are residential cabinetry company UltraCraft and cabinet door manufacturer Northern Contours.

One of the nation’s top providers of full-access, frameless, semi-custom and custom cabinetry mainly for residential applications, UltraCraft is based in Liberty, North Carolina, and specializes in the fabrication of full-overlay, full-access kitchen and bathroom cabinets. The company catalog features more than 75 cabinet door styles in wood, 3D laminate (also known as 3DL or thermofoil), metal, melamine, acrylic and Eurotek veneer (5-piece 3DL doors). Altogether, UltraCraft offers customers a choice of some 10,000 door style-finish combinations.

UltraCraft confirms the demand for trending shaker cabinets and frameless cabinetry.

“The trend today is full-access cabinetry as opposed to framed cabinets,” said Scot Motzny, director of product development at UltraCraft.

Motzny noted that frameless cabinets had a 15 percent market share in 2006 and now account for fully 27 percent of the cabinetry market. As for trends in cabinet doors, Motzny said: “I see the market moving more toward non-wood products such as Eurotek and other 3D laminate styles because there is a large variety of trending colors, finishes and textures—looks that people want that are difficult or expensive to duplicate in a traditional wood product. Cabinet companies that utilize face frames have a more difficult time matching these non-wood doors with wood frames.”

UltraCraft buys components for its cabinetry from suppliers throughout the country, taking advantage of the many positives these relationships offer.

“There are a number of advantages to purchasing components,” Motzny said. “It gives us access to our suppliers’ knowledge and experience. Our suppliers are experts at what they manufacture, whether it is 3DL, melamine, wood veneer or some other material, and through our supply chain, we get the benefit of their deep expertise, as well as access to a far larger variety of materials and finishes than we ourselves could otherwise offer.”

Another benefit is efficiency. “Outsourcing components frees up our plant, our equipment and also our capital so that we can concentrate on producing our core manufacturing product, cabinets,” Motzny said.

UltraCraft buys its trending 3D laminate and Eurotek veneer from experienced cabinet door and component manufacturer Northern Contours.

Northern Contours is a Minnesota-based manufacturer specializing in advanced membrane press technology to produce 3D laminate doors in a variety of styles. In addition to pressing 3D laminates, Northern Contours’ expertise lies in flat laminating and edgebanding, miter folding, 5-piece door assembly, and machining and routing for contract components.

3D laminate is available in a wide range of prints, solids, metallic, marble, granite and woodgrain foils.

“Our expertise and our industry-leading technology open up design options beyond basic flat panels and end panels, giving designers the freedom to create truly unique products with the perfect blend of form and function,” said Lary Skow, president and CEO of Northern Contours.

The desire to offer the best product of its kind in the market is the driving factor behind Northern Contours’ 5-piece 3D laminate program, called its Portabella line. Over the past 15 years, Northern Contours has invested in state-of-the-art manufacturing capabilities and developed a significant presence in the world of 5-piece doors.

5-piece doors in 3DL begin with a membrane-pressed center panel. Membrane pressing uses heat and pressure to affix vinyl films or wood veneers to substrate material. Unlike melamine production, which involves saturating a paper product with resins to make it durable and them applying the saturated material to MDF board, the process requires no saturation, so 3DL can contour seamlessly to flat or three-dimensional surfaces.  

Skow explained how using wrapable 3DL to create the stiles and rails of 5-piece doors results in a superior product: “When a profile is wrapped in paper, it requires top coat to make it resistant to damage. That top coat is not flexible and does not wrap smoothly around contoured surfaces or specialty components. What’s more, once the saturated paper dries, the color changes. The surface becomes slightly yellowish and perceptibly shiny. The wrap marks become visible. What you’re left with is not a true match. Since the 3DL is not saturated in the fabrication process, it stays true to color.”

When it comes to today’s trends in residential cabinetry, Skow said, finish is the main driver, and so an absolute match in every aspect, including color, tone, finish quality, gloss and texture is critical.

The superior quality of a 5-piece doors in 3DL paired with the range of materials and capabilities was a determining factor in Ultracraft working with Northern Contours.

“When working on new products for our Eurotek door program for our Vision line, we utilize components from Northern Contours’ selections or will work with them to create a custom look. It’s a complicated process as we work on getting the best match possible for other cabinet components, such as moldings, accessories and finished end and interiors, which may need to be produced in various other materials. The colors and textures of the final product need to match as closely as possible,” Motzny said.

Indeed, even lighting is considered as part of the matching process. “When comparing colors across varying materials such as Eurotek, melamine and 3DL, what appears to match under fluorescent light might not match as well under LED, incandescent lighting or direct sunlight due the various materials’ absorption and reflection of the light,” Motzny said.

In an ever-evolving industry, what direction will cabinet trends be heading in the near future?

Skow weighed in: “In times of uncertainty, people tend to select design styles that are calm, simple and reflective of stability. Over the past decade, flat slab panels and shaker have been very popular. I think the trends are moving in the direction of a little more risk and definitely more individualization. I’m not talking about a return to heavily accessorized, embellished kitchens; no filigree or gold plate. But more individualization, more customization and a lot more variety— especially in finishes. There are more than 400 shades of white out there today.

“But the market is cyclical,” Skow noted. “Raised, recessed and contoured panels will come back as people begin to take more fashion risks with their color palettes, design styles and decorating details. And bear in mind: This design flexibility is the sweet spot of 3D laminate. Melamine just cannot compete.”