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Wood vs. Laminate for Your Next Kitchen Remodel: Key Differences

Dec 9, 2022 3:30:00 PM | by Drew Saunders

One of the most challenging aspects of a kitchen remodel is paring down all the options available to you. And this is understandable. While planning your kitchen makeover, there are countless materials vying for attention. So, how do you know which option is right for you? Is there a surefire way to choose a more durable, aesthetically pleasing option that will boost up the value of your home? Let’s find out!

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Are wood cabinets better than laminate?

So, to make it easier for you, we’ll be tackling one of the bigger rivalries in the kitchen remodeling game: laminate vs. wood. There's an aesthetic prestige associated with real wood, whereas laminate is less vulnerable to damage and will maintain its beautiful appearance longer. But where does that leave you? Possibly stressed, overwhelmed, or worn out. 

Process or Production?

It’s process vs. production and both are looking to entice you to one side or the other. And while both materials are fantastic options for your cabinets, anything from your lifestyle and budget to upkeep is a valid influence on your decision.

For the purposes of this article, we’ll be looking at laminate as a process through cabinet refacing and wood, as used in a full remodel to better understand the longevity of a refacing job versus a full remodel and what both bring to the table.  

One of the first questions you should consider when it comes to laminate vs. wood is if you would prefer to have a natural, from-the-earth material or an engineered product. There are aesthetic and practical considerations for both. 

Traditionally, the most beautiful wood cabinetry is made from lumber that is stained, shaped, cut, and glued together. While your actual wood species options will differ from company to company, here at Kitchen Magic we offer three: maple, cherry, and oak. What’s the difference? Let’s dig in: 

What is the best wood to use for kitchen cabinets?

Oak – Known for its rich coloring and attractive grain, oak has become a staple material in many kitchen remodels. While some might consider oak as a singularly golden color, oak comes in a variety of colors, from pale tan to rich brown, to reddish tones.  

Maple – As maple has a very subtle texture and a ‘tighter grain’, this makes it the prime candidate of the three wood types for painting. Aside from painting, maple also comes in a variety of grain patterns and wood tones.  

Cherry – With a natural reddish glow that comes in rich, dark tones, and lighter golden reds, cherry is considered the more luxurious and elegant of this trio. The fine grain of cherry gives the wood a smooth finish. 

How to choose between the two?staining

Now, staining the wood cabinetry allows you to pick your favorite of the three and alter its color to match your design needs. After a stain is applied, a conversion varnish is added, then a seal goes over the wood to protect its integrity. This is a sealant that adds a level of resistance to moisture as well as durability. Manufacturers will pick topcoat sheens that complement the finish type of what would eventually become your kitchen cabinets. 

Laminate on the other hand is best considered as a process where the cabinet boxes are covered in a decorative high-pressure laminate and new cabinet doors are made using a decorative vinyl overlay that is fused to an MDF (medium-density fiberboard) substrate to match, a process known as thermoforming. This is a process known as refacing. Whether or not you might have reservations about this process, it’s important to keep in mind that laminate has come so far to the point where the design and characteristics have evolved in so many ways to match all design needs. 

While both wood and laminate offer their own unique possibilities, it’s also important to consider your budget. Lumber by nature is a volatile product and in recent years, its price has increased. Laminate has become a far more affordable alternative in past years when compared to wood.

Consider durability & upkeep

Granite Countertop and Cabinet Refacing

Wood is a beautiful material. It brings a natural aesthetic to your kitchen and is sure to turn some heads when entertaining. However, it’s important to keep in mind that since wood is a natural substance, it’ll be prone to aging and normal day-to-day wear-down. This means wood can be subjected to anything from oil residues from our skin, water and grease splashing onto your cabinets (as well as cooking spices, condiments, etc), kids and grandkids opening the doors with sticky hands to pets shaking off rain when coming back inside. And these are just to name a few of the harsher dangers that can be brought about in your kitchen. But this is all to say…if kept away from dangerous elements, wood will hold up…but only so much. Wood will also naturally age and change color especially when you factor in heating changes (normal in any house, from temperature to sunlight exposure).

Cabinet maintenance takes time & effort

If you’re considering wood, keep in mind that you should regularly dust and wash your cabinets (with a diluted Murphy’s Oil Soap solution for example). Also, try to preserve their integrity by keeping any hazards to a minimum.  Kids, pets, and food/water spills left unattended can sit and soak into any joinery of a cabinet door (prevalent in five-piece doors or doors with any kind of joinery).   

If you find yourself more of a homeowner on the go that wants a more maintenance-free option, this is where laminate might be an option for you. Laminate is considered more durable than wood and doesn’t age the way a natural material would. Laminate has been known to last and maintain its look for 30+ years and holds up better against normal everyday use. Whereas wood requires regular dusting and cleaning, laminate does not need as much attention to detail. The most effective way to remove stains is with a damp cloth and simple mild soap and tougher stains can be taken off with any mild cleaner. While wood requires strong attention to water in your kitchen, vinyl wrap (laminate) by nature doesn’t allow water to absorb.  

Examine all the pros & cons

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Are you still unsure which material to use in the upcoming kitchen renovation? Don’t worry because it’s time to get into some pros and cons, starting with laminate. 

With laminate, you’re getting a maintenance-free solution and a laminate that stylistically looks so authentic even a trained eye has difficulty discerning a difference - without sacrificing anything from durability to longevity. However, a consideration with laminate refacing is lines or seams that may be noticeable wherever pieces meet (particularly on the outside corner edges of cabinet boxes). Usually, this is more apparent with lighter solid colors. While in the grand scheme of a remodel, these lines often go unnoticed, it’s an important detail to note that could potentially affect your remodel from a stylistic perspective. 

With wood, you’re getting high-quality and beautiful material from the Earth. However, aging is inevitable, and your cabinets will eventually start to change color and wear down. However, for many homeowners, the style is worth this inevitable change and is considered a worthy investment for increasing the value of one’s home

Looking for a custom kitchen remodel? Call Kitchen Magic!

Do you find yourself gravitating towards a natural product that will require more attention or a product that will require less upkeep? It’s completely valid as a homeowner to not want to have to add one more thing to your already busy list. Whether you’re set on wood or laminate, both offer ways to completely reinvent your kitchen. However, you should now be better informed about what to expect when considering either of these materials for your next project. 

Ultimately, only you can decide which material is best for your kitchen. Luckily, the variety of options available means that the perfect option for your lifestyle - and your budget - is out there! Call Kitchen Magic at (866) 525-0012 or click to schedule a free in-home design consultation with a Kitchen Magic expert so we can help you get the most out of your investment.

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Topics: Cabinet Doors Cabinet Refacing

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