Get Cooking with Bold Colors


I recently noticed I haven’t been asked to design a completely white kitchen in a while, and I can’t say I’ve missed it.  I’m not knocking them though.  They have a classic beauty that will stand the test of time.  And they also leave lots of room for a pretty backsplash or colorful artwork or even just your colorful self-standing in one.  But bold is back and it’s coming to a kitchen near you.

Where have I been going bold in my kitchen projects?  Well, contrast is in so I’ve been using much more black. And when I say black, I really mean colors that “read” as black.  So, it can be a genuine black, but it can also be a very deep gray, green or blue.  I’ll use that dark color on a kitchen island, or maybe on all the lower cabinets, or even on the range hood.   

Remember though, when practicing this loosey-goosey mixing of cabinet colors and textures: beware of the 50/50 mix.  Your kitchen should have one main “color” (paint or wood) and your accents should be, well exactly that… accents. Use them sparingly.

It’s like sprinkling pomegranate seeds on top of your salad.  Well, hey, isn’t that a nice surprise? But if you then ate your chicken stuffed with pomegranate and cooked some pomegranate rice and poured pomegranate wine -- well then, it’s no longer a refreshing surprise, right?  So, same with your kitchen.  Minus the seeds.

That said, there are also stunning kitchens that use just one dark and moody color for all the cabinets, especially those in homes with open floor plans where you can balance that use of contrast into other areas of the house.

I am currently completing a renovation that includes a large pantry, all of which I’m painting black.  Open shelves, lower cabinets, upper cabinets -- all of it.  It’s even got black soapstone counters and a dark jewel-toned green for the backsplash.  There is a window in there (also trimmed in black) that offers some natural light, and I over-lit the space with 3” recessed lights on dimmers.  I know it all sounds crazy on paper, but wow it’s looking amazing!  And believe it or not, it’s really not too dark in there.

The challenge of working with these dark, rich colors is to not rob the house of its serenity.  But when handled properly they really won’t.  Sure, we talk about “adding a pop of color to the island” but with these colors that island doesn’t really pop, it actually recedes right into the comfort of the other cabinets.

Where am I not using bold colors? On the kitchen walls.  Unless they are the exact same color as the cabinets.  Otherwise, there usually just isn’t enough wall there to get the bang that you want.  And even worse -- the wall space available is usually chopped up. It’s surrounding a window, or a strip between the cabinet and the door trim.  Lots of odd skinny spaces. I usually pick something fairly close to the cabinet or trim-color for the walls.

Another element that softens up spaces and feels right at home in the kitchen is wood. With its natural tone, wood brings a very nice organic warmth to a space that at times can feel a bit clinical with all of our appliances and countertop gadgets.  I’ve been using it as the material for open shelves, or accent cabinetry, or in the ceiling.  Wherever you put it, let’s celebrate its return.  Because wood is a workhorse. It hides fingerprints and doesn’t chip or show wear as quickly as the painted finishes do.

The wood I like isn’t the knotty pine in your grandmother’s kitchen.  Nor is it the ubiquitous over-shellacked oak you had in your first apartment.  The wood I like comes with a matte finish and sometimes a light neutral color.  It reads more neutral-tan, than brown or espresso. And more Scandinavian than American Colonial.  It can be crisp and clean, or weathered and reclaimed.   But either way, I love the feel of what it brings to a space.       

Does all this talk make your toes curl a little bit with discomfort?  Fear not you white kitchen lovers -- there is room for all of us in the pool.  I don’t use these colors all the time.  I’m working on a beautiful, converted carriage house with a ridiculous amount of personality in all of its original details.  It’s got oval windows and barn doors and transomes and arched windows.  I’m letting all that detail do the talking and am recommending a family of very light neutrals.  Bold colors here would make the home feel a little too busy.

As a designer, my job is to offer you guidance.  To advise you of the pros and cons of your inclinations.  To inform you of what’s in or what’s out. And to make recommendations with all that in mind.  But the only person that really matters in the end, is you.  Ok, and maybe your spouse.  And to a lesser extent even your kids. But going with your gut is almost always the right start.

So, if you’re not a black pantry person?  Great to know! Who cares?  We’ll just do something else awesome.  But maybe we can keep some of the wood shelving.

american colonial, paint, designer