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Custom Fronts: Bespoke Ikea Cabinet Doors Inspired by Nature

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Custom Fronts: Bespoke Ikea Cabinet Doors Inspired by Nature

Sarah Weal December 12, 2017

Custom Fronts launched at the start of the year as a stylish, sustainable kitchen design service that takes inspiration from nature. Founded by husband-and-wife team Rachel and Ian, it has attracted the attention of the design world, not least because the clean lines of their designs—made to order from their studio in Sussex—start at £29 ($39) per door.

“Our design philosophy is really quite simple,” explains Rachel. “We love simple design, but we’re not interested in the cold minimalist look. We think good design needs to have heart and soul, but it also needs to be affordable.”
Above: “Our design philosophy is really quite simple,” explains Rachel. “We love simple design, but we’re not interested in the cold minimalist look. We think good design needs to have heart and soul, but it also needs to be affordable.”

Ian—who studied fine art and was previously a landscape painter—has many years’ experience creating bespoke joinery and installing kitchens. He found it difficult to source kitchens that weren’t either high-end and unobtainable, or “pile-it-high, sell-it-cheap.” Together, he and Rachel had the idea to offer an affordable alternative: handcrafted, sustainable, FSC-certified wooden doors and fronts that attach to tried-and-tested, low-cost Ikea cabinets.

“We are influenced by Modernism and midcentury design, and Ian has always loved working with plywood,” Rachel says.
Above: “We are influenced by Modernism and midcentury design, and Ian has always loved working with plywood,” Rachel says.

The service offered is simple and seamless. If you have existing fronts you wish to replace, simply send the studio precise measurements and they will make up new fronts for you. If you are purchasing a new Ikea carcass, then the measurements have already been done for you and the hinge holes have been pre-drilled. You can choose from native or European hardwood, white oiled birch ply, or one of 14 colorways.

The studio is on the banks of the River Ouse, and the couple’s passion for the natural world is apparent in their pared-back, poetic palette. Muted tones such as Seven Sisters, Dungeness Black, Musk Mallow, and Downlands Path are named after the local landscapes that inspired them.

Three examples of the Custom Fronts colors: Windover Fog (“The color of fog on Windover Hill, home of The Long Man of Wilmington in Sussex), Lavender Light (“A light, silvery lavender that you may be lucky enough to glimpse over the sea on occasion”), and Darks (a word used by sailors, particularly smugglers, for nights when the moon does not appear).
Above: Three examples of the Custom Fronts colors: Windover Fog (“The color of fog on Windover Hill, home of The Long Man of Wilmington in Sussex), Lavender Light (“A light, silvery lavender that you may be lucky enough to glimpse over the sea on occasion”), and Darks (a word used by sailors, particularly smugglers, for nights when the moon does not appear).
There’s a choice of handles: You can opt for circular insets (shown), short or long square insets (see below), or none at all.
Above: There’s a choice of handles: You can opt for circular insets (shown), short or long square insets (see below), or none at all.
Rachel, whose background is in law, stresses that assembly is simple. “I’m not a maker at all and even I can attach the doors. You really don’t need a kitchen fitter.” The material arrives flat-packed, the panels screw on, and there’s a simple click and fix mechanism to attach the doors.
Above: Rachel, whose background is in law, stresses that assembly is simple. “I’m not a maker at all and even I can attach the doors. You really don’t need a kitchen fitter.” The material arrives flat-packed, the panels screw on, and there’s a simple click and fix mechanism to attach the doors.
The plywood edge bands are left exposed.
Above: The plywood edge bands are left exposed.

“Aesthetically, we’re not keen on edge banding,” Rachel explains. “We have very strong design ideas and we like to stick to them, but also, when you edge band a surface you create a point of weakness in the design. The edge will always be the first thing to go and it’s important to us that all our products are extremely durable and last for a very long time,” says Rachel. “Sustainability is really at the heart of what we do.”

The couple hadn’t planned to offer worktops, but, by popular demand, they have started to supply metal-topped birch ply surfaces that need to be cut on site by a kitchen fitter. Brass, zinc, stainless steel, and copper are all options. “We love metals because they are living materials that patinate over time and respond to how you use them. They take imprints of you, and you end up with something completely unique.”

The Dungeness Black fronts are “inspired by the old black fishermen’s cottages in atmospheric Dungeness in Kent.”
Above: The Dungeness Black fronts are “inspired by the old black fishermen’s cottages in atmospheric Dungeness in Kent.”

All colors are spray-painted using a high performance, eco-friendly, water-based paint. The studio is also happy to match to any color you like, for a truly customized finish. “People spend a lot of time worrying about what color to use in their home,” says Rachel. Her advice? “Just look out the window. It will always feel right.”

More in the world of customizable cabinet fronts:

Finally, get more ideas on how to evaluate and choose kitchen cabinetry and hardware in our Remodeling 101 Guide: Kitchen Cabinets & Hardware.

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