How to Use Two-Tone Cabinets in Your Kitchen

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.

Many homeowners choose a single color for their kitchen cabinets -- and that's a solution that works perfectly well. But two-tone cabinets can make a visual impact of another kind, adding variation that adapts well to styles such as traditional and modern. Here are a few ideas to integrate two-tone cabinets into your own kitchen.

  • Use the second tone as an accent. If you're on the fence about two-tone cabinets, then strive for highlights versus true color balance. What that means is, pick a small spot -- a built-in desk, for example -- 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 very high-ceilinged kitchen.
  • Try a contrasting material to add a second color. 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, a sunny yellow kitchen works well with a warm wood island base. A stainless-steel rolling cart offers a charming contrast to the cool blue of navy kitchen cabinets.
  • Use white as a neutral bridge between two colors. 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 percent of a dominant color, 30 percent as a secondary color, and 10 percent as an accent color. For kitchen cabinets, white is a good choice for a third color in a mostly two-tone cabinet composition. That may mean a few uppers painted white to allow resting places for the eye or to balance a very strong tone with a very light hue.
  • Strive for balance. Choosing a two-tone cabinet color combo means paying special attention to the color balance in your space. There are a few design tricks to 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 -- a vibrant orange -- demand more visual energy and need to be balanced with a more neutral hue.
  • Always use 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.

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