Step out of the single color zone: Two-tone kitchen cabinets can work with a variety of kitchen styles. Here's how to pick the just-right color combination.

By Kelly Roberson and Jessica Bennett
Updated February 25, 2020

All-white kitchens had their time in the spotlight, but we're ready to leave this look in the 2010s and welcome color back into the kitchen. One of our favorite 2020 kitchen trends, two-tone kitchen cabinets are all about embracing contrast and eschewing uniformity. The happy medium between all-white and hue-soaked kitchens, this look has been steadily gaining popularity over the past ten years, and we're now seeing tons of dual-color kitchens flooding our Instagram feeds.

The best part about this timeless kitchen trend: Two-tone cabinets let you play with color without going all in. Splash a daring hue on the island or one wall of cabinets. Layer neutrals on top, color on the bottom. Or choose two complementary neutrals and bring in color with appliances or accessories. Here are a few ideas to integrate two-tone kitchen cabinets into your own cooking space.

patterned wall and floor in pale blue kitchen
Credit: Brie Williams

1. Strive for Balance

Choosing a two-tone cabinet combo means paying special attention to the color balance in your space. A few design tricks can help you do that. For starters, instead of picking two completely different colors (yellow and blue), vary the tonality in a single color (light yellow and dark yellow). Paint lower cabinets the darker hue and uppers the lighter one. If you have distinct colors in mind, think about their brightness and lightness. Very bold colors (like vibrant orange) demand more visual energy and need to be balanced with a more neutral hue.

deep blue cabinets in white modern kitchen
Credit: Jeff Herr Photography Inc

2. Use the Second Tone as an Accent

If you're on the fence about two-tone kitchen cabinets, then strive for highlights versus true color balance. What that means is, pick a small spot such as a short stretch of cabinetry or a built-in desk and use it to try out your color variation. Another way is to paint only the crown molding and do it in a slightly dark tone to add a definitive border to a kitchen with high ceilings.

Kitchen with patterned tile and island
Credit: Brie Williams Photography, Inc.

3. Try a Contrasting Material

If choosing a second color seems intimidating, think of it in different terms: Pick a secondary material that complements the undertones in your primary color. For example, blonde wood and white-painted cabinets make a natural pair that offers contrast without overloading on color. Or consider warming up the cool blue of navy kitchen cabinets with a darker stained wood.

modern kitchen with dark cabinets below and white cabinets above, black and gold oven range
Credit: Dane Tashima

4. Use White as a Neutral

Choosing a trio is a commonly used design trick that helps to ensure visual balance; it's often referred to as the 60-30-10 rule. For color selection, it translates to 60% of a dominant color, 30% of a secondary color, and 10% for the accent color. For kitchen cabinets, white is a good choice for the third color in a mostly two-tone cabinet composition. Try painting a few uppers white to allow resting places for the eye or to balance a very strong tone with a very light hue.

white and green kitchen with vintage range
Credit: David Tsay

5. Always Reference the Color Wheel

Choosing colors is a tricky feat; that's why there are books, magazines, websites, and professionals devoted to it. If you're committed to a two-tone kitchen cabinet creation but unsure where to start, use a simple tool: the color wheel. In general, adjacent or analogous colors on the color wheel work well together, as do complementary colors, which are across from one another. A pair of neutrals with similar undertones (like warm white and taupe gray) also form a no-fail combo.

Comments (2)

March 25, 2020
What are the paint colors in kitchen #5 with the warm white and taupe-grey?
March 19, 2020
Perfect topic and nicely defined how to balance 60-30-10 with color wheel reference. It certainly reassured me on how to finish my current kitchen refresh! Thanks