Choosing Kitchen Paint Colors

Try out a fresh color scheme with these picks for cabinets, walls, and more.

blue kitchen

From cabinets and paint to backsplashes and flooring, there are a lot of opportunities within your kitchen to add a punch of color. But how do you put together a scheme of colors that look good together? With so many colors and shade variations, it can be a challenge, but what a great challenge that is.

Boston-based interior designer Jean Courtney revels in the complexity of putting together a color-rich palette, especially in a kitchen. "White cabinets? No problem," she says. "But I think you're missing an opportunity if you don't introduce some color somewhere else in the room."

But which color -- or colors? That seemingly simple question drives homeowners to stare at paint chips until they're dizzy and to cover their walls with so many samples that they look like crazy quilts. The human eye can distinguish about 7 million different colors. Some go together, others don't. It helps to understand color theory, but even if you know that nearly every warm color has a cool complement, that doesn't mean you'll like that particular combination.

No wonder so many people choose white. But there are many whites -- cool, warm, and neutral. So where do you begin?

Let Cabinets Lead

kitchen baking station

"Choose your cabinetry finish first," Courtney says. One of the most popular finishes is "natural" -- a clear finish that brings out the inherent color of the wood. Of course, if you decide to paint your cabinets, then that color -- or mix of colors -- drives the scheme.

Next, consider the countertops, backsplash, flooring, and appliances. In an open kitchen, surrounding rooms become part of the overall palette. The things you're most likely to paint -- walls, ceiling, and trim -- come last. "It's like fitting together a big puzzle," Courtney says. "Everything has to blend and flow."

Consider the Light

dining room

Natural light greatly affects the perceived color of a surface. Northern light is cool, for instance, and it's often best to counter it with a warm color. But as the sun moves or drifts behind clouds, colors shift and change. Artificial lighting changes colors, too. That's why it's so important to apply samples where the colors will be used and in context with other colors and materials -- which also affect perception.

Courtney also considers the reflective qualities of colors and surfaces. Dark, rough surfaces swallow light, while pale, smooth surfaces reflect and magnify its effect.

Track Trends

kitchen island storage

Which colors reign? Neutral paint colors -- especially white -- remain classic choices for painted cabinetry. "We offer four different shades of white," says Sandy Nierengarten of Crystal Cabinet Works in Princeton, Minnesota. "All four are in our top 20 finishes."

If you're looking for popular kitchen paint colors, paint companies introduce fresh new palettes every year. Fashion runways, cultural movements, and hot travel destinations all influence the trends.

Not every paint color for kitchens works well, cautions Jackie Jordan, director of color marketing for Sherwin-Williams. Many cooler colors, especially certain blue-greens and grays, don't look good with food, so use them sparingly. Same goes for intense, trendy hues. Sprinkle them around in accessories. Buy some old wooden stools for your island and paint them. "It's a great way to make an impact with color, and it costs almost nothing," Jordan says.

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