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How this company made plywood sexy again

My friend next door has a kitchen renovation at the moment (I'll show you the amazing Calligaris table that I ordered for her in a future post!) and she's been going at it for the last 3-4 weeks. And still has another 2-3 still to come. At times, she's had as many as three different crews in her home. It's been a long process, not particularly fun (yet!) and quite frankly, rather invasive. But it will give her the kitchen of her dreams and make her life easier and happier.

Kitchens are the hub of the house and for good reasons. As most of us crave open plan kitchen/ dining rooms, the focus shifts on kitchen furniture. It needs to look look good enough to want to stay there more and to feel comfortable bringing friends around.

One of the emerging materials to use in the kitchen is plywood. Not particularly excited? I know, I felt the same when I first read about it. After all, it is an engineered wood. When you think about your dream kitchen you are thinking 'solid wood', right? Well I guess it depends on how deep your pockets are.

But allow me to be a bit cynical for a moment: cars used to be made to last you 800,000 miles (yes, seriously). Clothes were used to be made so that they would be worn by three different children. And my mom's Smeg fridge and NEFF (I think) kitchen are now 34 years old. Well, those days are over.

We no longer buy something specifically so that it lasts a VERY long time. So my guess is that, even if you invested in a 'solid wood' kitchen that could outlast you, you'd be paying a fortune and still would be inclined to changed it again after, say, 15-20 years. Because it will feel well out dated by then. I think. And, you could have moved homes too. So if you can afford those dreamy £30-70k kitchens, by all means go for it and get some awesome photos so we can swoon over them.

So while there are several reasons to invest in a VERY EXPENSIVE kitchen, you may be looking for an alternative, more affordable option to achieve a dream space, on trend and at a fraction of the price. Here's where plywood comes into play. You probably have already pinned a few of the photos below on your Pinterest Board because you loved the look and didn't even realise that they are made of plywood!

What is plywood anyway?

Plywood is made up of layers of wood veneer glued together. It is different to particle board which is made of wood fibers glued and pressed together. Plywood has great construction longevity and compressive strength (the ability to bear weight). It also holds screws more efficiently and is far more resistible to scratches and dents. It is superior to MDF.

It comes in many different grades and is made of a variety of woods, that will give it different characteristics like strength, flexibility and of course the distinctive colour and grain. Do you know how to recognise it?

Why is it so popular?

So why is this material picking up now? Three reasons really. First, a lot of individuals prefer it for its minimalistic aesthetics. Scandanavian influences in interior design are still strong and having unpainted plywood on the front of your kitchen cabinets gives the space a very organic feel. And it also looks modern when combined with other modern materials like stainless steel or even warm metals like brass (more of that later!).

The other main reason is of course that it is more affordable. But just because it is cheaper, does not mean you should see it as a temporary solution as it is still very long lasting. You can use plywood fronts to update your kitchen, keeping the layout and with minimal invasion while still delivering an impactful update to a tired looking room. And why not update your work top at the same time?

Finally, it can be painted and thus customised to match your existing or intented interior decor. That means you can go for those really popular greys and blues (Hague Blue and brass accents anyone??) and then add a dreamy worktop on top (yes, I am talking about brass).

So who champions plywood kitchens in the UK?

You're hooked by now, I know. So without further a do, let me introduce you to CUSTOM FRONTS, a family business, run by husband and wife team, carpenter Ian Thurlby and Rachel Carroll. Custom Fronts design and manufacture custom-made wood fronts to fit IKEA 9as well as other brands) kitchen, wardrobe and sideboard cabinets.

They adopt the Scandinavian and midcentury principles of pared back, functional design and hand make all their products in a workshop in Sussex. I mean, looks at this blush pink kitchen with brass accents. It looks anything BUT IKEA (and the marble top is also helping the scheme).

They offer UK and Scandinavian made birch plywood doors - oiled, hand painted, or with Native, FSC Hardwood veneers. They also offer a beautifully minimalist and sustainable bamboo as an option and have recently introduced sycamore and smoked oak.

"We wanted to offer sustainable, high-quality kitchens and furniture with a simple, crafted aesthetic, at a reasonable price. All of our products have a provenance and a sense of place. We don't think high end design should only be available to those with deep pockets."

The concept is not entirely new. Swedish SuperFronts and Danish Reform both offer alternatives to IKEA cabinet fronts but note that neither is made of plywood - instead they use MDF.

Below: 1/ Smoked Oak; 2/ Painted fronts with a zinc top (new); 3/Grey and white marble. All photos: Custom Fronts. 4/ Oblong handles are offered as an option to all tall cabinets.

About their durability

The fronts are covered in Osmo Polyx oil which is extremely durable, water, dirt and stain resistant, natural and breathable. So touch as much as you like with dirty hands (well, you're in the kitchen after all!).

And as for their painted finish (see below), this is traditionally hand applied, using 4 coats, using an eggshell finish which has a Matt look, but at the same time is easy to wipe clean in an ultra non-toxic, durable paint (which apparently has 26 patents for performance, durability and non toxicity - they use Mythic Paint which uses the latest technology in paint, primer as well as colourant and are completely ZERO VOC and NON Toxic.

"Hand painting gives a gorgeous depth and texture with delicate brush strokes that simply cannot be achieved with spray-painting."

What's new for Custom Fronts?

Well, I did mention something about brass work tops... I already showed you a zinc worktop above, but Custom Fronts have already worked on projects where a brass worktop was involved. I cannot wait for the photos of that project!

Share your views below on this new brand and how you feel about updating your kitchen with plywood! You can follow Custom Fronts on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

All photography has been supplied by Custom Fronts at my request. This is not a sponsored post.



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