Cabinets often take up most of the visual weight in a kitchen. A lot of homeowners paint their cabinets white to make them visually recede, then focus on injecting a little color and personality through smaller surface areas such as the backsplash or countertop material.
But if you’re looking for a kitchen with big personality, then choosing a livelier color for all of those cabinets — and something more neutral for the backsplash and countertops — is a winning strategy. The designers of the following kitchens have done just that.
1. Cheerful Yellow
Designers: René Chambers of Chambers Interior Design; Cooper Design Builders
Location: Portland, Oregon
Size: 130 square feet (12 square meters)
Homeowners’ request. “The clients have a great eye for details and design, so they wanted to do something really special in the kitchen of their older Craftsman home,” designer René Chambers says. “They wanted to increase the storage and the overall feel of the space, but they were really hoping for a wow factor while staying true to the classic style of the home. I wanted them to be able to walk into their kitchen every day and truly love their unique new space.”
Cabinet color. Yellow Oxide by Benjamin Moore. “We chose this color after trying several greens and yellows,” Chambers says. “The clients were looking to go beyond the standard maple or oak stained cabinets. They wanted something more unique and unexpected.”
Other special features. Mocha-colored quartz countertops and a backsplash of handmade biscuit-colored subway tile contrast the yellow cabinets. Three handmade feature tiles set off the stove backsplash.
Designer tip. “It was hard to not go with lots of gray when it’s so popular and that’s what you see everywhere in design right now,” Chambers says. “We started down that road, but I wanted it to have a more classic Craftsman look. Then, once the clients saw the benefit of going with the mocha quartz counters, we were able to really embrace the warmth of the Craftsman style.”
“Uh-oh” moment. “When we were trying the different yellow paint colors for the cabinets, I was concerned it might come off as too dull or dingy and not fresh enough,” Chambers says. “We knew it was going to be a lot of color, so we had to get it just right. Some of the colors we tried were just too school bus yellow or green-yellow once we got them on a larger sample and in the room, and that was definitely not what we wanted. We took our time and looked at a lot of colors, and in the end I think we got the perfect one.”
2. Minty Green
Designer: MacKenzie Cain of Habitar Design
Size: 64 square feet (6 square meters); 8 by 8 feet
Homeowners’ request.Update a small galley-style kitchen to include more countertop and storage space. “We ended up deciding to wrap the cabinetry around along the unused wall and create a U-shape-style kitchen,” says designer MacKenzie Cain. “This allowed for more cabinet storage and workable counter space. We also addressed every single drawer, cabinet and floating shelf to make sure everything had a specific place and function.”
Cabinet colors. High Park on the upper cabinets and Bone Black (both by Benjamin Moore) on the lower ones. “The homeowner loved the color green and wanted to implement it into the kitchen in some way,” Cain says. “Selecting two colors in the kitchen allowed for an easy transition and natural contrast between the upper and lower cabinets. Staying with neutral colors for the rest of the materials allows for the green to be the focal point.”
Other special features. Dark gray quartz countertops that mimic the look of stone. Bright white triangular backsplash tile. A mix of matte black cabinet pulls on the lower cabinets and glass-and-brass knobs on the uppers.
Designer tip. “The most effective decision to make this kitchen design successful was addressing every open and usable potential space,” Cain says. “We went with slim appliances to allow for more cabinet storage. We talked about every drawer and door, adding inserts for spices, pots and pans, Tupperware, silverware, cooking utensils, etc. Everything had a specific place before moving forward in construction, which ultimately made the space that much more functional in the end.”
“Uh-oh” moment. “Since the kitchen style was a bit more eclectic and we were adding a handful of different finishes, colors and materials, there [was] a worry or hesitation that it may [have been] too many different materials and become too busy,” Cain says. “We looked at a lot of options and discussed many possibilities as well as had 3D modeling of the design to help with visualization. In the end, the homeowner decided they wanted something more unique and pushed past the risk, moving forward with the mix of materials for the small space.”
3. Buttoned-Up Blue
Designers: Christi Petty and Cindy Aplanalp-Yates of Chairma Design Group
Location: The Woodlands, Texas
Size: 137½ square feet (13 square meters); 12½ by 11 feet
Homeowners’ request. Turn a front porch into a secondary kitchen with full-size appliances and an adjacent laundry room.
Cabinet color. Mysterious by Benjamin Moore. “The final result is bright and fun, just like our client, and she has expressed [that] that very detail brings her so much joy,” designer Cindy Aplanalp-Yates says.
Other special features. Aged brass hardware. Simple white subway tile. Antique barn doors. The countertops are Neolith that looks like Calacatta marble.
Designer tip. “The success of this space draws from thinking outside the box, really looking at the area from each angle and figuring out how to use the space better,” Aplanalp-Yates says. “A client who trusted us to see what they couldn’t allowed us to design an interior that is exponentially better than their previous kitchen.”
4. Beautiful Beige
Designer: Christina Wikman
Location: Woburn, Massachusetts
Size: 240 square feet (22 square meters)
Homeowners’ request. Knock down a wall to open the kitchen to a living area and make room for a large island; replace dated knotty pine cabinets, laminate countertops and vinyl flooring.
Cabinet color. Dropcloth by Farrow & Ball. “We wanted the kitchen to feel light and airy but not sterile,” designer Christina Wikman says. “We also wanted a bit of a paired-back European feel. We opted not to use white cabinets but instead a warmer tone. Dropcloth is a ‘greige’ that leans toward beige.”
Other special features. Honed Carrara marble countertops that will “gain a patina over time, adding to the lived-in, country-European look,” Wikman says. “The hardware is unlacquered brass, which also gains a patina over time and makes the kitchen feel like it has been there a while and [is] not brand-new.” The floors and floating shelves are white oak.
Designer tip. To keep the budget low but still achieve a high-end look, Wikman added custom door fronts to off-the-shelf cabinet boxes. “This gave us the high-end feel we were looking for but at a fraction of the cost of custom cabinetry,” she says.
“Uh-oh” moment. “This is an older home, and the additional weight of the stone and the large island posed an issue where the floor was not properly supported,” Wikman says. “So we had to remedy that situation by beefing up the floor joists and ensure there were no structural issues. The kitchen falling through to the basement would not have been good.”
5. Deep Blue and Forest Green
Designer: Crystal Blackshaw
Location: Oak Brook, Illinois
Size: 425 square feet (39 square meters); 17 by 25 feet
Homeowners’ request. Keep the layout but refresh the aesthetic to match that of the rest of the home. “These homeowners were not afraid of color or going bold with the design,” designer Crystal Blackshaw says. “The overall theme is edgy, glam and with a bit of Versace.”
Cabinet colors. Hale Navy on the perimeter cabinets and Forest Green (both by Benjamin Moore) on the island.
Other special features.Marble perimeter countertop. Granite island countertop. Dark stained floors. Marble-and-brass inlaid-tile backsplash. “It’s pretty bold and there’s a lot of it, so we decided to take it all the way up to the ceiling. ‘Go big or go home’ was our motto here,” Blackshaw says.
Designer tip. “First and foremost, if you’re going to change any aspect of your space, then choose quality materials,” Blackshaw says. “If you can’t afford to do it right, then wait till you can. Luckily I had a very stylish client with amazing taste, so some of our more adventurous decisions were an easy sell, but most of the time I tell anyone who will listen to trust the designer. Take chances and do not follow trends.”