Color in the Kitchen: Creating an Atmosphere with Deliberate Color Choices

A section of the kitchen showing how yellow, lime and blue color themes can be blended to perfection.

Go bold or opt for a more neutral atmosphere in your kitchen by using bright colors or neutral colors.

When it comes to using color in the kitchen, anything goes if that’s your personal taste.

That’s the general consensus of designer panelists at the Color Talks panel at the Kitchen and Bath Industry Show (KBIS) in Orlando in January. 

“A lot of people turn to me and these esteemed panelists not to ask ‘What should I do?’ but for permission to actually do what they’d like to do,” said designer Nate Berkus, who a decade ago was knighted our national tastemaker by Oprah Winfrey. Other panelists included interior designer Laurel Bern, color consultant Amy Wax, creative director Daniel Germani, color expert Andrea Magno and moderator Alena Capra.

A personalized approach to design is a driving force for the plethora of new products that were on display at KBIS. In other words, the trend is that there is no trend and that which your heart desires is likely available for you to find.

Designers can help point clients in a direction once they know their tastes and can help them achieve their vision by sourcing the products and applying the finishes that will meet their goals. The client-centered approach is a reaction to an era where automation and one-size-fits-all dominated many industries, complete with poor customer service.

But the top tier, or 1 percent, of affluent homeowners never gave in to this, and maintained their autonomy in choices for their homes. Designers catering to such clients always held that clients’ tastes should take the lead and now we’re seeing this view blossom across the economic spectrum.

And how does this relate to color?

“We all know our favorite outfit, we all have the favorite shade of lipstick ... It’s such an intensely personal decision,” said Berkus. “If you find yourself wearing autumn colors and you feel really beautiful in that, chances are you’re going to feel good in a family room with that same palette. So I say, put blinders on in terms of all the noise in the industry and really focus on what makes you feel the best in your space.” 

Germani agreed, responding that “trends are not for everybody. If you do not like the trend, then follow your heart. Your home is where you live, where you educate your kids, where you have fun, where you love your partner … your dogs and you need to be cozy. You need to feel that home is yours.”

When choosing color for kitchen cabinetry, the size of the kitchen matters, said Bern. A small kitchen is enhanced by monochromatic cabinets. “If it is a big kitchen, I like to break it up and do the island in a different color.”

Germani admitted his own bias regarding cabinetry: “I love textures and I love woods. I love to combine different grains. When I design with wood, the grain tells a story. You can combine textures and colors” with your cabinets.

Both designers revealed that within their clients’ preferences is a range of options for how they can play out. That’s where the designer’s role emerges, in helping clients with the particulars that enhance their larger vision. If a client likes dark wood, for example, the designer can incorporate that in any number of ways, using stains, a mix of different woods or natural wood cabinetry combined with lacquer finish on some of the cabinets.

Wax stressed taking the long view on color choices, because once you make them, you’ll live with them for many years. “You can go the white or off-white safe route. If you’re going to choose a bold color, it’s a big commitment and you need to love that color. When you first walk in the room, it will be the first thing you see. It gives your kitchen a strong sense of identity,” she said. “It needs to stand the test of time.”

Berkus feels strongly about maintaining neutrality in the kitchen and suggests going with “the whole range of neutral greys from putty to Dior grey to charcoal.” You won’t question yourself later if you choose from within a classic color language that’s been around since 1920. After all, you’re going to have countertops and hardware and bring in objects like decor and kitchen wares that have color, so if the backdrop is neutral, it leaves room for all these other colors to come in.


Berkus is currently working with LG Studios to design a line of stainless steel appliances. “We are launching black stainless steel. We’ve had such tremendous feedback when people see it in person, but such trepidation when I’m talking about it on television or in an interview. … It’s almost misnamed because it has a patination and depth to the finish that almost feels like bronze. There’s a warmth and a timelessness to the finish that we worked very hard on.”

Bern advised being thoughtful about appliance decisions. “If you’ve got an all-white kitchen with red appliances then it really draws your attention. If that’s the most important part of your kitchen to you, then you may want to make that bold statement.”


“I think what is next are these surfaces that are absolutely non-porous,” said Germani, referencing materials like acrylic, polyester, and engineered quartz.

The more color options, the more personalized your kitchen. Anyone who is in a position to create a kitchen from scratch or remodel the one they have is choosing from almost unlimited options in terms of counters, cabinetry, appliances and accessories.

Sarah Kinbar is a freelance writer and editor for leading print and online publications. Formerly editor in chief of Garden Design, she has also written and edited for Cottage Living, Modern magazine and Orlando Arts. You can find her on Google+.

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