14 October 2009

Sensible Style: Winning Color Combinations

Sensible Style launched last July to answer your questions about how to get the most out of your kitchen. ... Among the most commonly asked are which colors and finishes work best together.

That's what we'll be looking at this time around, using the most popular cabinet finishes as our starting point.

Maple Mastery

Maple is a wood species, of course, not a color, but it's most often associated with golden or light to-mid brown-toned stains. These give you a ton of versatility in flooring, appliance and countertop combinations. Here are a few options to get you started...

Classic combinations: Dark gold and rich tan cabinets work well with black or stainless steel appliances and dark countertops such as black and dark green natural or engineered stone. Select a floor about two shades lighter or darker in the same gold or tan/brown family as the cabinets to coordinate.

Contemporary combinations: Dark gold and rich tan cabinets can also work well with grey tops - especially concrete and matte-finish quartz - for a more updated look. I would suggest pairing them with stainless appliances and a slate or slate-look floor. You could also opt for a bamboo in a coordinating gold or tan about a shade or two lighter than the cabinets.

Praline finish on Putnam door style pairs well with stainless appliances, grey tops and flooring. Courtesy of Masco Retail Cabinet Group, manufacturers of Kraftmaid Cabinetry.

Cherries Jubilee

Cherry is one of the most popular wood species on the market, and ranges from natural, with a strawberry blond finish to ruby to cinnamon and chocolate finishes. I have found the last two to be the most requested among my clientele, and the ones I've seen the most often in kitchen publications.

Classic combinations: Cinnamon and chocolate finished cherries work beautifully with natural stone tops in pale golds and creams for an elegant look. I would pair these with paneled or stainless appliances with minimal black accents for the richest look. A light tiled floor that picks up on the gold or cream tones in the tops will work the best. Because cherry tends to have stronger graining, I generally don't love wood floors with it, as the grain pattern in the cabinets and the graining of the floor can get too busy together.

Contemporary combinations: These cinnamon and chocolate-colored cabinets paired with monochromatic white tops give a very strong and updated look. Again, I'd opt for stainless appliances with minimal black accents, or paneled appliances, for the best match. A nearly white terrazzo, tile or stained concrete floor would compliment the contemporary look.

Cinammon finish on Mandolay door style coordinates stylishly with stainless hardware and fixtures, white tops and off-white flooring. Courtesy of Masco Retail Cabinet Group, manufacturers of Kraftmaid Cabinetry.

White Album

White cabinets run the gamut from builder laminates to high-gloss European lacquers. The most common whites you'll find are painted maple - my personal favorite - and foil-based synthetics that have a bit of a plastic look to them. I would suggest the painted finish for your white selection, as they have become more widely available in affordable stock cabinet lines and will give your kitchen a more timeless look.

Classic Combinations: White cabinets pair beautifully with white, paneled or stainless appliances. You can use black with them, but then the appliances get more of a focal point emphasis than they probably deserve, in my opinion. I adore white cabinets with black or dark green stone tops and mid-toned or dark stained wood floors. Another stunning, albeit less neutral, top is blue pearl granite. White marble or granite tops with white cabinets and medium to light wood or stone floors are another great traditional combination.

Dove White finish on Lindsay maple doors pair elegantly with stainless appliances, white stone tops and light wood flooring. Courtesy of Masco Retail Cabinet Group, manufacturers of Kraftmaid Cabinetry.

Contemporary Combinations: High-gloss lacquer finishes in white give a sharp, contemporary look to a kitchen. They work best with paneled and stainless appliances, though sleek white ones can also work. When going modern with a kitchen, you can go bold with an orange quartz or multi-colored recycled glass top or go sleek with grey or white. You could also add updated details like stainless toekicks and stainless and glass doors, but be forewarned: the more trendy you get with your accents, the quicker your kitchen will date itself.

Paint it black

Black cabinets have become increasingly popular in recent years, especially as accent cabinets, though you'll often see entire kitchens in black. If you have wood cabinets that you really dislike, painting them black can be an easy, affordable update.

Classic combinations: If you're opting for black as a hood or island focal point, it will work really well with stained cabinets highlighted with a black glaze, or mid-toned stained cabinets. It will also work well with white cabinets, but only in larger spaces. (It will make a small kitchen seem more cramped.) Too keep a space from getting too busy, I'd keep the countertops all one color -- ideally a light, natural stone -- if you're adding black cabinets as an accent, though I have seen wood tops on a black island in the same color family as the kitchen's wood floors, work well with this combo. Stainless and paneled appliances will work best with this grouping. Wood floors, as mentioned, are a winner here. If all of your kitchen cabinets will be black, I strongly suggest a light-colored stone top and light wood or tiled floors, tying into the countertop's main color theme.

Contemporary Combinations: Sleek black cabinets can work very well in a contemporary kitchen with solid white or other light-colored single-tone stone or concrete countertops and light or dark wood, terrazzo, concrete or tile floors. Stainless and paneled appliances will work best in this look.

This contemporary Allmilmo Wave kitchen in black and white works great with its light tops and dark wood floors.

Crayola kitchens

Color can really personalize a kitchen. It works in both contemporary or classic kitchens and is most often seen as an accent color. You can use it throughout if you're confident that you'll love it for years to come, and that future buyers of your home will like it, too. (Or you can use it just in paint and fabrics that are easy to change later.) If you're looking to make a dramatic statement with a strong cabinet color, it's best to go neutral with your other finishes. Stainless appliances will work with dark and dramatic colors. White appliances will work with pastels. Here are some fun classic and contemporary combos to spark your color imagination.

Classic combinations:

CWP's country blue cabinets stand out in an otherwise neutral room.

Sage Mocha and Cherry Caramel Java finishes pair well in this traditional Wellborn kitchen.

Contemporary combinations:

Orange delivers a citrus punch to this otherwise neutral St. Charles kitchen.

Seaglass sparkles in this St. Charles kitchen.

Racing Red revs up Snaidero's otherwise neutral Pininfarina kitchen.

Visit the Sensible Style box on the right column for links to all the posts in this ongoing series.


  1. ah, well that explains my fascination with pairing maple cabinets with gray quartz countertops. It's au courant.

  2. The white album kitchen is one of my favorites. It looks so neat elegant and very sophisticated.

  3. The combination “maple mastery” is stunning! I love the earthy color and the natural wood color. It’s very organic.

  4. Great and fantastic blog. I am interested very much in the subject matter of your blog, it’s my first visit. I like very much your way of presentation. I am so much interested to join your network. Thanks for sharing this post. Keep blogging. Concrete Sawing

  5. What style of cabinets would go best with colorful cabinet knobs such as vibrant blues, yellows, greens, etc...?

  6. i love that white kitchenette. simple and elegant

  7. Glad everyone enjoyed the post! Thanks for the great feedback. Pauline, sorry I didn't answer your question last summer on knobs. I'm a fan of simpler cabinet hardware. If I was doing vibrant shades, I'd do a muted wood tone that complimented the knob color -- e.g., cinammon maple with blue.

  8. We are building a new house and wanted to do antique white cabinets in the kitchen. We are thinking about doing Brazilian KOA hardwood flooring. Would this combination work or would you suggest a different color cabinet?

  9. I haven't seen Brazilian koa, but am familiar with the Hawaiian variety. The latter has very rich, warm red, brown, gold tones that would pair beautifully with creamy, white cabinets. Avoid any whites with grey or cool undertones. You want to harmonize with the strawberry blondes in the floor -- think of the whites you'd find on a magnolia blossom. Good luck with your project. I'll bet you'll have a gorgeous kitchen!

  10. I have a small kitchen that I am remodeling with upper alpine white maple cabinets and lower cherry cinnamon spice cabinets with accents to tie the two in. My countertops will be quartz Hanstone Bavaria. I am wondering what floor to place totalling 100 sq. ft. I was thinking a lighter solid hardwood one as it would offer some forgiveness when standing on it but the porcelain floors are beautiful as well. I would appreciate your opinion. Thank you.

  11. I can only give you general advice, but my aesthetic recommendation would be a solid, neutral tile that shares the countertops' hue. A cushioned mat in your work area will relieve leg stress.

  12. Hi Jamie:
    I love your blog and I'd really appreciate your professional input. I'm currently on the verge of physical and mental exhaustion due to many complications during our apartment reno. We got ivory cream cabinets and the granite floor is similar to this
    What palette of colors would you recommend for the countertops?
    I was thinking of something dark with a twist, like this one

    But my contractor says it'd be too much of a contrast, since my husband is keen on the idea of using granite as backsplash. I am, OTOH, open to anything that works, even if it's not conventional (I'm certainly not). Glass tile is more like me, I guess.
    Thanks a lot!
    P.S. The countertop area is 73" x 24" + 24" x 24". There's also a pass through: 62 1/2" x 15"

  13. Jacqueline, thank you for your inquiry. I offer distance consulting services that you're welcome to consider. Email me if you're interested in knowing more.

  14. Love the orange colors in the kitchen. Very fresh and modern.

  15. I agree! Tangerine Tango is the official Pantone color for 2012, as well.


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