Do Your Homework on Cabinets and Casework

They get slammed and banged or sometimes doused with water or chemicals. And yet, they’re expected to hold up for years no matter what abuse they receive. Cabinets and casework on college and university campuses are a vital yet often unappreciated component of every facility. While they may not get much notice unless there aren’t enough of them or they don’t work, facility personnel know that specifying the best cabinet for a room takes careful consideration.

Many factors have stayed the same for decades. While much has remained constant, several trends are and will continue to impact the market.

What’s the Use and What Gets Used?

Multiple considerations are the same whether the cabinets are being installed in an office, classroom, kitchen, music suite or laboratory.

“You have to determine how the cabinets will be used, by whom and how often,” says Mark Catton, president of Murphy Catton, Inc.“Form follows function. Personnel must carefully look at these three considerations as the answers will impact the materials and construction of the cabinets and casework.”

Catton says that cabinets and casework at the college and university level must be able to withstand lots of heavy traffic. Because of this, operations and maintenance requirements are becoming an increasingly important part of every purchasing decision.

“The market has become very sophisticated when it comes to operations and maintenance,” Catton says.“Requirements for this area are often an important part of the design process and may be mandated in the Request for Proposal. Facility personnel want to know up front what is required to maintain the cabinets and casework and the anticipated cost for this outlay. Products that wear well and that are easy to touch up heavily influence what gets specified when operations and maintenance is factored into the design process.”

Chip Albright, vice president of Sales for Collegedale, says that load-bearing capabilities, particularly in laboratories, are an issue. “Designers and facility personnel must consider what equipment will be used in an area as this certainly impacts the products that are specified. Heavier equipment or equipment of odd sizes impacts purchasing options.”

Albright also says that moisture and chemical use in an area also warrants discussion. “Laboratories have very different requirements from other areas, such as boardrooms or kitchens,” he says.

When it comes to labs, Albright says that an excellent resource is published by the Scientific Equipment and Furniture Association (SEFA) The organization’s SEFA 8 publication, Laboratory Furniture, Casework, Shelving and Tables Recommended Practices, contains extensive data regarding what furniture is appropriate for labs. The publication is based on test results and includes no material bias.

Security is also an issue. Locking cabinets may be required, particularly in rooms with multiple users or fairly open access. Non-locking cabinets are appropriate when an exterior door can be locked to provide security or when access is limited.

Design, Aesthetics and Sustainability

Both Catton and Albright agree that aesthetics have been and will continue to become more of an issue, an opinion that is shared by Ron Vaughan, vice president of Sales and Marketing for Steve Ward & Associates.

“Cabinet and casework manufacturers have much more flexibility when it comes to production today than they did in the past,” Ward says. “They can customize more and offer customers more flexibility in design. We’re still waiting to see how this will play out in the market.”

Ward says that past technology enabled manufacturers to produce products from 15 to 48 in. in three-in. increments. Units were modular, in the sense that they could be specified, but only within the three-in. range. Current technology enables designers to specify a 46-in.-wide base cabinet, as one example of the customization that is now available.

Finishing procedures for veneers have also become more advanced, which enables manufactures to offer more options in this area. Manufacturing technology now also allows production with tighter reveals on the sides, which again means more options when it comes to design.

“Facility personnel, in addition to use, must obviously weigh cost verses flexibility and customization,” Ward states. “Flexibility or customization usually had a higher price tag, but advances in manufacturing capabilities are changing that dynamic somewhat.”

It does appear that wood, plastic laminate and metal, in that order of preference, will continue to be the types of cabinetry and casework installed most frequently in college and university settings. The change will come in the level of customization as information regarding its possibilities is shared between manufacturers, designers and facility personnel.

One increasingly important consideration, as it is for most products, is sustainability. Many colleges and universities are making purchasing decisions based on a product’s sustainability as it relates to both materials used in its construction as well as overall production requirements. This is perhaps one reason that wood is the preferred option in many instances.