Can you build a kitchen in solid wood?

Can you build a kitchen in solid wood?

If you visit The Met on Fifth Avenue in New York, you can see this cabinet. It’s 186 cm high, 81 cm deep and has four drawers and a door. It is made of pine.


You might think it’s a fairly ordinary cupboard. So why is it here at The Met, along with all the art classics?


Well, this cabinet belongs to the history of arts and crafts. It was built sometime in the early 1800s by carpenters in a Shaker community, probably in New Lebanon outside of New York.


We do not know much about this cabinet: just that it is built of solid pine, and that it is still going strong after 200 years.


200 years is about seven generations. Grandma’s grandma’s grandma’s mother …


“You can’t make kitchens out of solid wood.”


Let’s take a leap in time and space, from the Shaker community in the 19th century USA to Scandinavia today. Here, within the kitchen industry, it is sometimes claimed that it’s not possible to build solid wood cabinets; that the wood moves, that it warps and that it won’t last.


We scratch our heads in amazement when we hear such statements. Because we know the history.


The story about chipboard


For hundreds of years, carpenters have built solid wood cabinets. But over the past 50 years, kitchens have instead been built of chipboard, coated with melamine. When you open a regular kitchen cabinet, this is what you usually encounter: White plastic-looking melamine.


“When you open a regular kitchen cabinet, this is what you usually encounter: White plastic-looking melamine.”


Particleboard and melamine are dead materials. Not many would say that they are beautiful, but one of their advantages is that they are static. This makes them easier to handle for the big manufacturers who want to mass-produce kitchen cabinets in their factories. It is the same manufacturer that claims, “It is not possible to build kitchens of solid wood”.


Not possible?


If the Shaker carpenters, with the technology of that time, could build cabinets that have lasted for 200 years, surely it must be possible today? Yes of course it is


On the art of building in solid wood


Of course it’s more difficult to build with solid wood. To handle the individuality of each piece of wood, it must be built by hand. It demands fingerspetzgefuhl, which robots lack.


 “With just a little TLC, solid wood kitchens can be maintained and last for a long time.”


It’s generally known that wood is a living material. It moves a little, swelling and shrinking with the seasons. And there may be tensions in the wood, which the carpenter needs to take into account, but if he has the right knowledge it’s no problem.


A living material grows old gracefully


We’re a bit biased of course: There is a reason why our company has chosen to build only solid wood kitchen, never chipboard. We feel passionate about wood. We like its characteristics, even if it makes the production more difficult and expensive.


Because we think that wood ages with dignity and we know that it lasts for generations. Flaws that occur over the years can be sanded, oiled and re-painted. With small means, massive wooden kitchens can be maintained and last a long time.


Characteristics of the Scandinavian Shaker kitchen


How we build our cabinets


Our kitchens are built according to age-old furniture manufacturing techniques. The cabinets are built from of planks, which are made of slats that have been glued together. The slats are carefully selected, and are turned and positioned to avoid the occurrence of tension.


OK, on the subject of tensions that can make wood warp: The fact is that the entire manufacturing process of wooden kitchens – from selection of materials, drying of wood to joining and painting – is optimized to counteract movement in the wood.


Long planks without knots


All glued panels are full length, that is, each slat is as long as the cabinet itself. No ugly joints. Just a look of beauty and harmony.


In our kitchen frames we have chosen to use knot-free pine. Pine is a classic wood in furniture manufacturing in Scandinavia, and it grows just around the corner from our joinery. Pine is climate-smart too.


“Pine is climate-smart”


Our cupboard doors and drawer fronts consist of solid ash with a panel in birch plywood. Ash and birch are harder than pine, which is great for the fronts. It is less sensitive to knocks and scratches.


How we make our cupboard doors


Our Shaker door has a classic design: It consists of a four part frame, and a centre panel. It is of the same construction as the door in the Shaker cabinet in The Met.


It is therefore a very durable construction, made to incorporate the intrinsic stresses of the wood. A wooden door won’t warp if it is made properly.


Variations in solid wood


As we have seen, wooden furniture has all the properties to last for a long time. At the same time it is important to know that a wood cabinet will never be 100% straight. The wood is alive and moves slightly.


If you are thinking of buying a solid wood kitchen this is something you need to know. If you cannot tolerate small deviations – that a gap between the door and the frame might differ a couple of millimetres from the top to the bottom – then you should choose a kitchen of non-living material, such as chipboard or plastic.


“As humans we are drawn to other living things.”


It’s all a matter of taste: On the one hand, the fact that wood is alive means it’s perhaps not 100% exact, on the other hand it is this very life that makes wooden furniture so appealing. We humans tend to like living things.


That’s why they have wooden cabinets that are 200 years old at the art museum.