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Aug 1, 2016

Clever Devices, Design Tricks Can Hide Or Disguise Power Outlets

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Today’s kitchens use more and more appliances and devices that require electricity, which threatens to create a mess of exposed outlets and tangled cords. Fortunately, designers have techniques to hide the clutter while ensuring every tool gets the juice it needs.
One of the biggest design challenges these days, with the popularity of kitchen islands, is how to handle their electrical connections, according to Meghan Lewellyn, a designer at Markraft Cabinets in Wilmington. “It gets overlooked or it gets misplaced,” she said. “Even as a designer you can forget about it until the last minute,” she said.
On an island, the sorts of techniques that might work elsewhere aren’t an option. No overhead cabinet is handy as a hiding place for outlets. Putting outlets around the side surfaces doesn’t work, because who wants to have cords dangling over a countertop?
The good news is that “pop-up” outlets are easy to place in countertop cutouts. “We have a lot of good ‘housing units’ that can be built into the center of an island,” Lewellyn explained. When closed, these are flush with the surface and unobtrusive. When needed, they open up with a pull of a fingertip.
Elsewhere in the kitchen, power outlets are typically being mounted under overhead cabinets, “to protect your backsplash design,” Lewellyn said. “Plugmold” strips have a very low profile and provide an outlet every few inches; these are typically installed where a cabinet meets a wall, and are often angled for convenience. These are the best option with frameless cabinets.
With framed cabinet designs, where the structure offers a deeper hidden area to work with, a shallow conventional outlet box might be mounted on the cabinet’s underside.
These under-cabinet power supplies are usually designed so the same wiring can also power LED lighting strips.
Another approach to hiding the electrical system is to put both outlets and small appliances behind closed doors, in a countertop-level appliance garage. Whether a traditional roll-up “tambour” door or a newer swing-up design supported on hydraulic pistons, the fronts of these spaces make the functional clutter invisible.
Base cabinets are also places to hide power sources, Lewellyn noted. An example: a “swing-up” shelf for a mixer, hidden behind closed doors when idle and supported on piston systems when in use.
Another popular feature is a charging station for smartphones, tablets and similar electronics, hidden in a drawer. Those can include conventional electrical outlets and USB slots; some even feature magnetic-induction charging pads so it’s not necessary to plug in the device that’s being charged.
Along with that accommodation for portable devices comes a trend of designing office areas, if not in the kitchen, then as harmonious cabinetry structures nearby in open-plan houses. When designing these home-office work areas, Lewellyn said, it’s important to plan for – and hide – not just power sources, but also data ports for computers.
How many outlets to design is partly a matter of predicting the future. It’s a sure bet that in coming years entirely new things will come along that nobody is anticipating today. In other words: Plan for more outlets than you think you’ll need now. You’ll be glad you did.
Some of that, of course, is determined by state and local electrical codes. On an island, Lewellyn noted, the bigger the space, the more outlets will be required.
Because of the skills needed to lay out circuits and run supply cables, kitchen designers work closely with the client’s general contractor and the certified electrician who will be installing the outlets, switches and lights. Lewellyn said she also involves the county electrical inspector at the layout stage to be sure everything planned meets the code.
An ideal design principal for a kitchen, then, is to have more than enough electrical energy at your fingertips, but designed so it’s invisible.
To explore the latest ideas in unobtrusive kitchen power supplies, visit the designers at Markraft’s Design Center. They consult by appointment, but drop-in visitors are always welcome to browse in the showroom. The Design Center is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, at 2705 Castle Creek Lane, just off Castle Hayne Road.
Since 1985, Markraft has specialized in cabinet and countertop design and installation in residential and commercial construction and custom remodeling. To learn more about Markraft, go to Contact Markraft at 910.762.1986 and like Markraft on Facebook at

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