High gloss finishes entered the realm of kitchen cabinetry several years ago via the top European design houses. Since then the popularity of the look has increased, and high-gloss is becoming more prominent in everything from kitchens and baths, to closets and furniture. Materials technology has also advanced to bring high gloss to market across all price points.
At every level, high gloss has proven a very popular finish that will likely continue to thrive. Part of the allure is that the sheen can serve many different design functions. High gloss can create emphatic contrast, particularly when used with surfaces that reflect nature, like the dark, textured wood grains that are also waxing in popularity. A color trend that is increasing in popularity involves using high gloss for accent colors that really pop. But high-gloss can also be reductive. Take the white high-gloss kitchen for example. It is a perennial favorite for its sleek, clean, modern sensibility. In such an application the high gloss not only minimizes the attention to the surface, but goes so far as to defer the visual back into the open space of the room.
There are many ways to achieve a high gloss finish, and some of them also support other kitchen cabinet trends. Look for high gloss door and drawer fronts that have contoured edges and either integrated handles or no handles at all.
METHODS FOR ACHIEVING HIGH GLOSS
The classic approach to high gloss is to simultaneously apply paint and a high gloss lacquer to wood cabinets. This is best when it is professionally applied to ensure a uniform sheen. Lacquer is a good material for high-gloss finishes because it's easy to work with and can be sanded flat and polished to a high gloss. The problem with high-gloss finishes is that with crisp reflections surface defects are very obvious. While undoubtedly beautiful, high-gloss lacquer is not the most durable or water resistant finish. Considering that the kitchen is an environment that is increasingly being utilized as living space, lacquer alone may not be the best approach to high-gloss. There are however some very intriguing hybrid applications, including the use of premium high gloss lacquers on top of thermoformed doors, which both ensures an ultra-smooth surface and improves the durability of the finish.
Another high-end option for high gloss cabinets is solid acrylic panels. This relatively new material is increasing in popularity in the luxury European kitchen houses. The material is specially manufactured so that the high level of gloss is consistent throughout the panel. While this may seem a bit like over-engineering for a surface aesthetic, the solid nature of the material allows for easy re-finishing and repair, suggesting a long product life cycle. Additionally, solid high-gloss acrylic panels are waterproof and will not warp or yellow in the sun.
At a more moderate price point, high gloss cabinetry can be achieved by laying up a thin panel of acrylic on top of a substrate, generally thin MDF. The surface aesthetic is the same as the solid product, but at a lower cost. The panels typically receive an edge treatment that seals them and the substrate material can be specified to be water resistant.
Traditional laminates, both HPL and TFM, offer high gloss finishes. There are several ways that this is achieved, including specialty overlays and technologies that impart textures (including press plates, release papers and belts). Technical HotCoating is another method that is beginning to make its way into the North American laminates market. For this process PUR is heated and applied in an even coat directly over melamine. In all cases the panel is sealed. Laminates are typically scratch and water resistant, characteristics that are increased with HotCoating.
Three-dimensional laminates, also know as rigid thermo-foils are another option for high-gloss. These plastic films (typically vinyl, OPP and polyester based) are thermo-formed around the surface of a panel in a vacuum press. This method allows the high-gloss surface to wrap around contoured edges or profiles.
There is no doubt that high gloss finishes have captured the imagination of designers and homeowners alike. The plethora of materials that offer the aesthetic give specifiers the flexibility to play with highgloss, whether they are just test driving the look as an accent, or committing to an entire project with materials that will stand the test of time.
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