Choosing colors for kitchen cabinets can be quite a task – after all, your units make up a large part of the overall look of the room, so your color choices carry a lot of weight. In addition, it is not something we are quite used to doing compared to, for example, choosing a color for our walls. The wrong decision can be disastrous when it comes to kitchen units, especially when you’ve just paid to have a new, freshly painted kitchen installed.
But how do you confidently choose the right kitchen color ideas for your units? We tapped a few of our favorite interior designers for their tips and tricks on choosing the right color for not only the characteristics of your space, but also the decor style you’re trying to create.
While you may be tempted to just pick a color you love for your kitchen cabinets straight out of the showroom, remember that these colors will likely look very different in your own space. Much of your color choice depends on how much light the room receives, its orientation, and more.
“As with any room, consider the amount and type of natural light that a room gets (or doesn’t get), as it has a transformative effect on color,” says Andrew Griffiths, founder of A New Day Design Studio (opens in new tab). “Understanding that will help you decide which shades will work best, whether warm or cooler.”
After all, there are some colors that you should avoid in north-facing rooms or risk your room feeling cold and stark.
‘It’s important to consider a kitchen’s orientation when considering cabinet colours; if it faces north, cool blues can add to the cool feeling,” says Saskia Howard, creative director at Howark Design
(opens in new tab). ‘Warmer tones such as yellow are preferable to brighten up rooms with a northern aspect.’
Smaller, dimly lit kitchens do better with muted or cooler color ideas for kitchen cabinets, as these reflect light and make the space feel airier. Plus, a full-gloss paint can brighten up the mood of the room, create depth and, with its watery effect, add more mood to the room.
2. Consider different colors for upper and lower cabinets (Image credit: Heju)
Kitchen cabinets make up a large part of the visual bulk of a kitchen, so being smart with your painted kitchen cabinet ideas can work to your advantage.
“We’ve been exploring a lot of two-tone kitchens lately, which helps break up the geometry of the space and highlight and define certain areas,” says interior designer Cat Dal, founder of CAT Dal Interiors.
Using lighter cabinets mounted on the walls in a small kitchen layout can help them visually recede, ensuring that the room does not feel top-heavy, while there is good reason to consider dark units for the bottom of the room.
“Lighter colors on entry level kitchen cabinets may not be a practical choice if you have dogs or small children as they can get dirty or scratched,” says Saskia of Howark Design. ‘Consider a darker color on lower cupboards and contrast with a lighter color on upper cupboards.’
3. Think about combinations, tone and texture (Image credit: A New Day Design Studio)
Cooking is all about mixing ingredients to create something greater than the sum of its parts, and when it comes to designing a modern kitchen, the same can be true if you get the concoction right.
“When it comes to kitchen color combinations, we want to make more of a statement with the island, as it is often centered in the center of the room and acts as the heart of the home,” says interior designer Cat Dal. ‘So we previously added wooden slats, and then brought the island ‘off the floor’ by designing almost more of a piece of furniture than a heavy solid unit.’
“We also painted the island a darker richer color which looks very smart to contrast a more neutral kitchen,” adds Cat.
“The most winning kitchen color combinations are those that bring you joy or a smile on your face,” says interior designer Andrew Griffiths. ‘Kitchens are generally something we don’t change very often, so it’s incredibly important to go with colors you love rather than the colors you think are a safe bet.’
4. Paint vs. stains (Image credit: Maestri Studio. Photo credit Nathan Schroder)
Wooden kitchen cabinets are a huge trend, so something to consider when planning your kitchen. The color of the wood will depend on the variety chosen, but this can be changed by using stain, which will have a significant impact on how the cabinets will look, but also how you maintain your kitchen.
“Paint is by far the more popular option for kitchen cabinets,” says Ashok Basoya, founder of Ottimo
(opens in new tab). ‘The wide range, versatility and easy maintenance of painted cabinets make them a popular choice. Also from a designer’s perspective, varnish wins as it allows designers to play with color, look and feel. The right paint choices can help the kitchen look smaller, bigger, cozier, cooler, gourmet or homely.’
“While paint does not respond well to touch-ups in case of scratches, it can easily be painted over with the same or a different color to create a completely new look,” says Ashok. “Since most painted cabinets also use MDF as the base material, they are also budget-friendly.”
“Staining is an interesting option for large kitchens,” says Ashok. ‘The large size gives breathing room to the colored cupboards, which give the kitchen a warm, cozy feeling. An interesting variation is to combine stained and lacquered or metallic cabinets at different levels. This breaks the monotony of plain colored cabinets and creates a modern, interesting kitchen. It also prevents the stained cupboards from becoming overwhelming.’
“Cabinets in the natural, unstained finish are preferred over painted surfaces, as the latter has a higher tendency to wear over time with the frequent exposure to wear and tear,” says Melissa Lee, founder and principal of Bespoke Only.
Which finish is best for kitchen cabinets?
Depending on where you buy your kitchen from, your choice of finish may be limited. But if you’re buying a custom kitchen or repainting, be sure to make decisions along with color that will affect your space.
Choosing the right paint for kitchen cabinets is important because it affects how durable your cabinets will be in the long run. These devices are subjected to constant touching, pulling and slamming, with implements routinely sliding in and out. This can lead to scratches and chips, but you can reduce this by choosing the best kitchen cabinet paint.
In general, the more matt a paint is, the less durable it will be. A full gloss paint can not only give a room a luxurious look, but it will be more resistant to scratches (although it can show fingerprints on doors more dramatically). In modern interior design, however, matte finishes tend to be the more popular, but satin and eggshell paints strike the balance between durability and good looks.