Product Design

How Plywood, Cinder Blocks, and Sandblasted Glass Can Upgrade Your Kitchen

March 28, 2016

Walls of exposed brick, painted cabinets, pristine marble countertops, and wide-plank white oak floors: Sounds like a dream kitchen, doesn't it? But just because material like these are popular (and in some cases, traditional) doesn't mean they're the only options out there that fits your budget and desired look.

Here are eight materials we've loved seeing architects and designers using more of, and how to incorporate them in your kitchen.

Textural Woods

Instead of smooth cedar slabs or white oak planks on the floor, try something a little rougher around the edges—and let the pattern stand out on its own.

A plywood outdoor kitchen (left); lime-washed cabinets below the countertop (right). Photo by Balázs Danyi (via Arch Daily), Light Locations (via Remodelista)
  • Plywood—which is quite strong due to its glue-and-wood mosaic makeup and relatively cheap, too—can be fashioned into walls, flooring, or even custom furniture and surfaces that look far more sophisticated than you'd ever expect.
  • The process behind cerused (or lime-washed) wood works best on oak because it highlights its natural grain in stark white. Either keep the wood a natural color (great if you're using lots of it, as for cabinets) or paint it a bold color to make the grain really pop (best for accent pieces).

Cloudy Glass

Fear not the frosted finish! It's come a long way since 1990.

A Glassos countertop with a butcher block addition. Photo by Ike Edeani for Dwell
  • Glassos, which is a durable crystal-glass hybrid, will lend glossy translucence if you use it for a countertop.
  • For partitions between rooms (think kitchen to living), or windows where the objective is light rather than transparency (think bathrooms), sandblasted glass has a hazy, glowy look and offers plenty of privacy.


To get the creamy stony look of concrete at home, you don't have to call in a truck-sized mixing truck and a professional to pour a custom countertop.

A custom concrete kitchen (left); cinder block walls that are all things elegant (right). Photo by Dezeen, Albert Comper (via Remodelista)
  • A kind of malleable concrete that you can work with like clay, ShapeCrete is making it easier for homeowners to craft custom concrete accents (we love countertops!) on their own.
  • It sounds like it would look unfinished, but with the right decorations, exposed cinder blocks—part structural and part rustic, and naturally neutral grey—make gorgeous walls.

Oxidized Metals

Rather than depending on stainless steel to lend any sort of ambiance to a space, turn, instead, to metals that have patina on purpose.

This custom fridge cover in zinc is smooth without being glossy. Photo by Matthew Williams for Dwell
  • For fronting a fridge, as the material for a hood, or for topping a table, blue-grey zinc has a naturally antiqued look—and it's durable, naturally anti-microbial, and non-porous.
  • Rather than being polished, browned brass is aged on purpose, and it lends a much more subtle glint than full-shine glass. How great is it on René Redzepi's sink, below?
René Redzepi's browned brass sink (left); a tall zinc backsplash (right). Photo by Style Files, Kitchen Building

What inventive materials have you loved seeing in kitchen design as of late? Dream big in the comments.

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Amanda Sims

Written by: Amanda Sims

Professional trespasser.

1 Comment

Smaug March 29, 2016
I would also have my doubts about plywood walls (fire), brick walls (grease, washability) or wood floors (maintenance), particularly wide plank (warpage, dimensional instability) in a kitchen. There is, or should be, more to design than drawing a picture.