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Kitchen Design CT: Types of Wood and Finishes for Kitchen Cabinets

The single largest expense for most kitchen remodels is the cabinetry, which can account for about 30 percent of the total cost of a kitchen remodel in CT. (NKBA)

The cost of kitchen cabinets varies, mainly depending on the wood species you choose. Regardless of the species you choose, the price tag will be high, so choose what you love. To help, we will describe the color, characteristics, and prices of the types of hardwood Wellborn offers for kitchen cabinets, as well as some manufactured alternatives.

Natural Wood

Basic Vocabulary:

Wood grain: wood grain can be straight, curly, coarse, or smooth (image via

Heartwood comes from the center of a tree. It is made of dead cells and serves to support the tree.

Sapwood is located closer to the bark and carries water, sugars, and minerals from the roots to the leaves. The color of sapwood is usually lighter than the heartwood.

Open-grain wood has larger pores, more texture, and more distinct grain patters compared to closed grain wood, which is naturally smooth. Large pores on open grain wood can be filled to create a smooth surface.


Color: As the name implies, cherry is a warm, rich, red color. The original color will evolve to become deeper red if the kitchen cabinets are exposed to sunlight. Certain types of windows and window treatments can slow the aging process. For example, Velux skylights filter harmful UV rays, while providing plenty of natural light.

Grain: Very soft, but can be brought out with staining.

Character: Cherry is a beautiful and interesting wood because of its natural streaks of gum, pin knots, and pitch pockets.

Durability: Cherry is not as hard as other species, but for kitchen cabinets, it is plenty durable.

Price: Mid-range

Texture: Smooth

Stain and Finish: Many people opt for a darker stain to achieve a more uniform color. Stains helps maintain a uniform color scheme as the wood darkens over time.

Character Cherry

Color: The heartwood is red with mineral streaks and stains. Character cherry includes the sapwood as well, which is usually light pink. The colors will vary from piece to piece, but will range from pink to dark brown.

Grain: The grain pattern is still subtle, but flowing. Stain can bring attention to the soft elegant grain.

Character: Randomly occurring knots, worm holes, tracks, gum pockets, streaks, burls, blemishes and natural splits are what give this species ‘character.’

Durability: The wood’s hardness is soft to medium compared to other hardwoods.

Price: Mid-range

Texture: The wood is smooth, with the exception of some open knots.

Stain and Finish: Character Cherry has a naturally rustic appearance. Its distinctive features are most noticeable when the finish is a light or natural tone. Character cherry is one of our favorite choices for CT custom kitchen remodeling.


Color: Hard maple is generally light in color and more uniform than other wood species, but there is some variation. The color can range from creamy white to light reddish brown. Mineral streaks are common.

Grain: The grain pattern is usually straight and even, but it can be curly. The grain is fine and does not require filling.

Character: Maple can be one of the most uniform hardwoods, but some pieces include more distinctive features, including bird’s eyes, fiddleback, and mineral streaks. Read below to learn about character maple.

Durability: Dense

Price: Mid-range

Texture: Maple has a fine texture, but it is not as smooth as cherry.

Stain and Finish: Stain makes mineral streaks appear darker and can increase color variation. A clear finish allows you to appreciate maple’s natural luster and soft grain. Maple lends itself to a light modern CT kitchen design.

Character Maple

Color: The dominant color of character maple is light, usually a creamy white or light brown, sometimes with red hues. Streaks are common. The minerals in the soil affect the color of the streaks. Character maple has more color variations that regular maple.

Grain: The grain is generally straight, but character maple often shows curly wood grain patters as well. Each piece varies.

Character: Character Maple is marked by randomly occurring clusters of knots, open knots, pin holes, worm holes, sugar tracks, gum and bark pockets, and mineral streaks.

Durability: Dense and durable.

Price: Mid-range

Texture: Fine texture, but includes some open knots and splits.

Stain and Finish: If you appreciate the natural earthy features of character maple, we suggest a light or natural finish. Dark stains and paints hide subtle features.


Color: Ranges from creamy white to pale brown (image via dendo.cnre.vt.ed)

Grain: Generally Straight

Character: Some might call poplar ‘uninteresting,’ but others enjoy its simplicity.

Durability: The wood is on the soft side.

Price: Poplar is one of the cheaper hardwoods. Natural wood is never cheap, but poplar is a good choice to achieve a quality kitchen remodel in CT with a limited budget.

Texture: Fine and even

Stain and Finish: Poplar looks great with a medium or dark stain, or a painted finish. If you are more interested in paint color than wood character, poplar is a great choice. It has the distinctive features of natural wood, but it holds paint well and creates a cleaner look. This is a great choice for a modern kitchen design in CT.


Color: Red oak is multi-tonal.

Grain: Oak is known for its pronounced grain patters, which may be straight, arched, or pointed. The wood grain is coarser and more noticeable than other species.

Character: The character of oak comes from the interesting grain pattern, but it can overwhelm kitchen cabinets. Wellborn kitchen cabinets are made from oak that has ben manufactured to show straighter grain lines. Wellborn selects oak with grain patterns that are still more noticeable than other species, but on the narrow side for oak.

Durability: Oak is one of the stronger hardwoods. It is durable and stable.

Price: Mid-range

Texture: Oak is open-pored and the grain lines provide texture, but it is an easy wood to work with and can be sanded smooth.

Stain and Finish: Oak holds stain and finish very well, which makes it a popular choice for CT custom kitchen remodeling. Light finishes show the wood’s character and color variations. In terms of finish options, oak may be the most versatile for kitchen design in CT.


Color: Hickory is even lighter than oak, but has more color variation. The heartwood can brown, sometimes with reddish hues, or creamy yellow. The sapwood is much lighter. The color of each panel will differ, which creates some of the most visually interesting kitchen cabinets.

Grain: The grain is straight, but coarse.

Character: The beauty of hickory comes from the variations in grain and color.

Durability: Hickory is heavy, hard, and stiff.

Price: Mid-range

Texture: Hickory is open-grained, meaning it has more noticeable texture.

Stain and Finish: Stain can accentuate hickory’s contrasting colors. Painting hickory would hide a lot of its character.

Natural Wood Alternatives

Medium Density Fiberboard

MDF is a wood product that is made by combining small wood fibers with a wax resin to form panels. It is much more dense than normal particleboard, and it holds screws better. MDF creates durable kitchen cabinets with smooth surfaces that can be painted. MDF is less expensive than natural wood, and certain finishes can create a wood grain appearance:


Color: Usually white or almond

Grain: Themofoil can be made to replicate the appearance of wood. If you want an authentic looking alternative to natural wood, thermofoil is a better option than laminate.

Durability: Thermofoil kitchen cabinets consist of a vinyl film that is applied to a slab of MDF. The surface layer resists scratches and is less likely to chip compared to other painted surfaces.


Grain: The outer layer of laminate is a resin-saturated paper that has been fused to particleboard or MDF. This paper can replicate the look of wood.

Durability: Laminate cabinets are extremely durable, but they are also heavy.

Price: Laminate kitchen cabinets are less expensive than natural wood cabinets.

Stain and Finish: The choice is yours, but it will come as-is. You can choose a solid painted surface, or a wood-grain surface.

If you are interested in CT custom kitchen remodeling, stop by our Meriden showroom to see some of our favorite kitchen designs in CT and speak to our designers. Our online portfolio shows several completed kitchen remodels in CT. For kitchen cabinets, we recommend Wellborn. All wellborn kitchen cabinets feature the WellGuard Finishing system, which has been can withstand water, coffee, oil, ammonia, soap, alcohol, detergent, mustard, crayons, tea, vinegar, citric acid, and more.

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