Conventional wisdom says to use neutral colors or simple wood stains for anything as permanent as kitchen cabinets. Homeowners craving a burst of color have generally been advised to bring it in through easily changeable items like curtains or seat cushions.
But home-design TV shows and blogs are changing that calculus by showing colorful, painted kitchen cabinets that look like a commitment worth making.
Lately, “the natural materials are just not satisfying people,” says Maxwell Ryan, a designer and founder of ApartmentTherapy.com. “People are loving contrast right now,” including kitchens with bold colors and stark contrasts of black and white.
Designer Brian Patrick Flynn recently filled the kitchen of HGTV's new “Urban Oasis” giveaway house with bright blue cabinets and a blue island in the center of the room. This cheerful color fills the room with energy in a way that traditional stained-wood cabinets couldn't.
“I think designers love painted cabinetry in kitchens because, as opposed to wood, it's the strongest way to create a defined palette,” Flynn says. “It's a great way to really add tons of personality to a space that's more about task than it is decoration.”
Ryan, Flynn and Massachusetts-based designer Kristina Crestin offer advice on how to fill a kitchen with on-trend colorful cabinetry while still having a room you'll love for years to come.
“Do you want it to be timeless and you might always love it but might never be jazzed about it?” Crestin asks. Neutral cabinets, especially white ones, remain a safe and popular bet. But she says homeowners who are drawn to bolder colors and use them thoughtfully often end up happy.
Sometimes, the answer is putting color on only half the cabinets.
“Since I'm a fan of going big, I can go with fire-engine red cabinets all over and never flinch,” Flynn says. “However, if a client is hesitant about that much color in the kitchen, I'm a fan of doing the lower cabinets or just the island cabinets in a color, then going white or gray with the others.” This approach, he say, “will balance out the intensity of the cabinets and also make sure there is some visual breathing room so the eye can rest.”
Colorful lower cabinets can also look great combined with open shelving on top, Ryan says. Or paint the lower cabinets black, and then tile or paint the wall behind the upper, open shelving in a bold color you love.
“If you can get away with less storage,” Ryan says, this open-shelf approach makes small kitchens feel larger, while the colorful wall behind the shelves adds personality without being as overpowering as a full room of colorful cabinets.
Pairing bold cabinets with natural elements like slate or stone flooring and countertops can also make this look easier to live with long-term, Crestin says.
Embracing the blues
Although black cabinets are trendy (Ryan just did his kitchen with black cabinets and white countertops), Crestin says many homeowners fall in love with a blue kitchen.
Blue shades, especially navy, can feel “historical and timeless,” she says, but also a bit more exciting than basic wood or crisp white. A stately navy blue is a safe bet that can then be enlivened further in ways that are risk-free, like “layering on a spring green or chartreuse” through dish towels and curtains.
Choosing your shade
“My rule for choosing the right color is to stick with those that have gray, white or black undertones, versus those with yellow or yellow-beige undertones,” Flynn says. “Once the sun goes down and you use your interior lights, the color will probably read somewhat true to its values. However, those with beige undertones when mixed with artificial light will instantly read way more muddy than intended.”
If you're ordering new cabinets, ask about getting a custom paint color for a slightly higher charge (probably as much as a 20 percent upgrade) rather than settling for a shade you don't love, Crestin says. If it's not possible to order the exact color you want, consider ordering cabinets unpainted and hiring a painter once they arrive.
Or if you're comfortable with ambitious DIY projects, you could paint new or old cabinets yourself. But Ryan points out that while older cabinets made of solid wood can be sanded and painted successfully, the results are often different with cheaper ones.