9 No-Fail Strategies for Using Color in a Modern Kitchen
With sleek, simple designs, modern kitchens are a blank slate waiting to be brought to life with color. Use these tips to successfully embrace color in contemporary kitchens.
One of the most popular kitchen styles, modern kitchens banish visual clutter in favor of sleek lines. From neutrals to vibrant hues, colors stand out in a contemporary space due to the absence of other architectural features. Therefore, modern kitchen colors are a big decision—but one you can be confident making. Start with two principles of modern kitchen design, contrast and balance, and then let your creativity flow to find the look you'll love.
1. Create Contrast
Contrast is one of the defining characteristics of modern kitchens. According to the National Kitchen and Bath Association (NKBA), cabinets, countertops, appliances, and lighting have the most visual impact in a modern kitchen. Consider these areas when looking to add contrast. "The most common colors for kitchens are a neutral with contrast," says Vancouver-based designer Corey Klassen. "For example, white cabinets with dark counters, Hale Navy cabinets with white counters, or a vertical grain rift-cut oak in a light-tinted stain and a gray counter." Just remember, not every surface has to be different. You can paint your walls and cabinets the same deep gray, then use a countertop material that pops against it. Or, choose two different colors for upper and lower cabinets for signature contrast.
2. Find the Right Balance
Because color can be the most prominent feature of modern kitchens, it helps to follow the 70/20/10 rule (or 70/30 rule for kitchens with two colors). There are two ways to approach this guideline. First, think about the room's colors. Identify a main color for 70% of the kitchen, then assign a more dramatic accent for 10%. Finish the look with a third color that balances the other shades; this should be about 20% of your color scheme.
You should also consider where those colors are used and apply the rule to surfaces and other visual real estate. For example, you can divide your space by cabinetry, walls, and backsplash or by cabinets and walls, island, and decor—it all depends on your space! Remember to include things like bar stools, lighting, and appliances when planning your modern kitchen color palette.
Wondering where to start? Choose cabinet colors first. "Designers that are kitchen and bath focused will generally lean toward selecting cabinet colors as a priority because these finishes carry a lot of visual weight and are a large percent of a project budget," says Klassen.
3. Tap Into Psychology
Is the kitchen a place you go to feel energized and inspired? Or do you cook to relax and rejuvenate? Is it a place where you work and seek productivity? The colors you choose for your kitchen can affect more than just its looks. "Color offers us the ability to set the tone for a space, whether that color is used in a big way with a lot of impact or in a small way to add unexpected interest," says Hannah Yeo, Color Marketing & Development Manager for Benjamin Moore.
Kitchens continue to be more than just cooking spaces, and how you want the room to work for you can help determine the colors you choose. Warm colors like reds and yellows can wake you up and make you hungry, while cool blues and greens can help you feel calm and focused. A color's shade also plays a role in how you respond to a room. A saturated hue, like a bright Kelly green, is energizing, while a soft pistachio color is more soothing. Lighter shades also tend to be more happy and uplifting.
4. Try a Monochromatic Look
Like pretty much every other style, an all-white palette is a popular modern kitchen color scheme. In fact, 52% of modern kitchens were white or off-white in 2019, according to an NKBA trend report. But popular as they might be, neutrals aren't the only option when it comes to single-color modern kitchens. "I have noticed a return to a monochromatic scheme, meaning an all blue, all red, all yellow, but they vary in value and tone. For example, dark, mid-tone, and light blue," says Klassen. Contrast is key to a successful monochromatic color scheme, so utilize texture and finishes throughout your kitchen. Try mixing an ultra-reflective glass backsplash with matte paint or lacquered cabinets with a large-format textured wall tile.
5. Turn the Color Wheel
According to the NKBA, grays, beiges, whites, blues, blacks, and sepia tones top the list of modern kitchen color ideas. But the flexibility of modern kitchen design means any color is on the table. Complementary color schemes use colors opposite each other on the color wheel, such as blue and orange or yellow and purple. These less traditional color pairings fit perfectly in modern kitchens. And while you might not want to take a 70/30 approach, complementary colors are ideal for small accents and decor items.
6. Embrace Saturated Colors
Clean colors (think chili-pepper red rather than a muddy burnt orange) are standard in contemporary kitchens. This is a space where you can be unafraid to commit to the darker, more saturated color at the end of a paint sample card. "Jewel tones were emerging a few years ago and now it seems like an emerald green finish is nearly everywhere," says Klassen. "But pastels, black, deep blue, and even violets have been gaining a foothold." Most modern kitchens are a no-pastels zone. However, even softer hues, like Benjamin Moore's 2020 color of the year First Light, can be a bit unexpected yet right at home when paired with clean lines and dark contrasts.
7. Feature Reflective Finishes
Chrome, polished brass, and other reflective finishes are the norm for modern faucets and hardware. However, contemporary kitchens have permission to go a bit glam, so incorporating bright metallics in light fixtures, seating, and accents, is also fair game. And when it comes to choosing modern kitchen paint colors, consider what the hue will look like in a high-gloss finish.
8. Utilize a Backsplash
Large-format tiles and slab backsplashes are having a moment, and the minimal grout lines, paired with matching rather than contrasting grout, suit the modern kitchen aesthetic. Plus, backsplashes have a convenient, high-impact, mid-range location in the kitchen. In a space with neutral cabinets, this can be a great place to add a pop of color. Or use your backsplash to bridge upper and lower cabinets of different colors.
9. Go Natural
Wood and wood-look cabinets are popular in modern kitchens thanks to their ability to warm up the cool finishes associated with the style. When incorporating wood cabinets, double down with sophisticated natural accents like leather and hides, rattan, stone, and minerals. "I love moody dark kitchen cabinetry against white walls and maybe some fresh green plants as accents," says Yeo.