Green-Powered Cabinetry

FSC-certified and with low- or no-VOC binders and glues, Neil Kelly Cabinets were green before green was cool.

March 31, 2009

A sampling of the work Neil Kelly has done over the years. The company uses only FSC-certified wood inits cabinets with no added urea formaldehyde.

Neil Kelly first started cranking out high-end cabinets in 1966, first as a division of Neil Kelly Design/Build Remodeling and since 2001 as a stand-alone company based in Portland, Ore. "We're pretty much a custom shop," says Tom Kelly, Neil Kelly Cabinets' Chairman of the Board and Owner who is also the president of the design/build arm today. "We have standard doors, of course, but we always build frameless cabinets. We don't get into making fixed-frame models, but otherwise we make a wide variety of cabinets."

A decade ago, the company introduced its innovative Naturals Collection featuring no added formaldehyde agri-board panels, binders and glues; responsibly produced certified wood veneers; and low-VOC glues, adhesives and finishes. "We came out with a full range of environmentally friendly materials and construction techniques. I can say with almost 99.9 percent certainty that we were the first FSC-certified cabinet maker in the U.S.," says Kelly.

The company periodically uses reclaimed wood, but all other wood is FSC-certified. "It requires a fair amount of accounting, so there's a chain of custody from the forest to the mill. That adds some burden on the cost and it varies all the time," says Kelly, adding, it is very important for companies that want to make green claims to get it right.

"That's the only way you build a green cabinet. Everything has to be reviewed for its environmental friendliness. Ten years ago the lesson we learned was about adhesives. A lot of companies sort of forget about that. It's always important for us to say 'No added urea formaldehyde,' and we're very careful," he says. There's no added urea formaldehyde, or NAUF, as well as any industrial melamines.

Optional interiors of NAUF plywoods or NAUF MDF are also available. The company offers a five-year limited warranty against defects in workmanship and materials. According to the company, the proprietary soy flour-based binders used in its panels resulted from research by Oregon State University scientists using "biomimicry" techniques based on experience with shellfish.

"Hardware," he says, "is a bit of a different story. With pulls, there's a fair amount of product on the market with some eco story. But with slides and such the only option really is reclaimed steel. I wish there were more green options."

Because of the success of the Naturals Collection, the company switched all production methods to those using the same home-friendly, healthy materials and methods.

It's just as well. Kelly points out that starting this year California's air quality regulations restrict the emission of formaldehyde, a cancer-causing chemical found in kitchen cabinets, shelving, countertops and ready-to-assemble furniture. Legislation in the future will likely continue down the stringent path, Kelly says, so it's time to do the right thing for the environment.

Although the company avoids toxins, it isn't skimping on craftsmanship. Each order is custom crafted to exacting standards using the aforementioned frameless European-style construction.

The company organizes its product line into four distinct collections: the Signature Collection, the Craftsman Collection, the Transitions Collection and what the company says is the "evolving" Mid-Century Modern Collection. it also recently introduced a no-added urea formaldehyde closet collection.

If you have ideas or comments, e-mail Nick Bajzek at

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