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What To Do if Your Kitchen Isn't White

There is definitely a trend toward "the white kitchen" that doesn't seem to be going away anytime soon.  Its crisp, its classic, and adds freshness and brightness.  Almost 100% of my clients these days are asking for some version of white cabinetry for their kitchens (and baths, and built ins, etc.), and I'll admit that white is my preference as well.  But what if you don't have a white kitchen, and don't have plans for a complete overhaul right now?  Or what if the period/aesthetic of your home doesn't call for white cabinetry?  What if you simply want to buck the trend and move toward something a little different?  Are there other options?  Of course.

Scenario 1:  Ugly wood cabinets that just aren't cutting it for you.  If this is where you're at, and a major renovation isn't in the plans, painting your cabinetry is the easiest route.  While paint that's applied to existing cabinetry on site isn't going to give you as durable a finish as a finish applied at the cabinet manufacturer's (I won't get into the scientific specifics of this in this post :)), you should still consider hiring a professional.  The investment in professional services will ensure greater durability in the long run.  Keep in mind though that if you have cabinets with a pronounced grain pattern (like oak), it will still be visible even when painted.  The overall aesthetic improvement may be worth it anyways though.

 Anne Turner

Scenario 2:  Wood cabinets that you want to keep, but a kitchen that needs to be refreshed in order to look more current.  There are a million-and-one houses in this country that were built in the last five years and contain builder-basic oak or maple cabinetry.  Maybe you're living in one of these, or maybe you moved into an older home with a lovely wood kitchen that you enjoy.  Whatever the case, there are ways to upgrade a wood kitchen that's not calling for a major renovation.  There are just a few guidelines to keep in mind.  First, I think its always smart to embrace what you have and work with it, not against it.  There's nothing worse than a wood kitchen that looks like its trying to be a white kitchen. If you're keeping your wood cabinets, keep the tone of them in mind when choosing new countertops, flooring and backsplash tile.  Generally, creams and warmer tones complement wood cabinetry much better than stark white subway tile and white Carrara marble.  Consider a simple backsplash tile (one that doesn't fight with the grain of your wood) in a creamy off-white or natural stone like crema marfil.  If marble countertops are your thing, consider Calacatta Gold instead of the cooler gray veining found in Carrara and Venetino marble.  

The backsplash pictured above is far from "simple" but I think its perfect because it picks up on the tones in the wood, and adds an element of incredible visual texture.  It works because the grain in the wood isn't too dramatic.  Also notice the warmth in those marble countertops--they beautifully tie the cabinets to backsplash.  This photo makes me want a wood kitchen!

I also like Cambria quartz surfaces in wood kitchens because of the variety of tones (many of them on the warmer side) found in their patterns.  For a period home, soapstone is a beautiful choice, and looks wonderful with white and wood cabinetry alike.

Scenario 3:  Its time to renovate, you've decided you want a wood kitchen but don't know what species or finish to choose.  Many homeowners know the "look" they like when they see it, but have a hard time pinpointing the details of what makes that look so appealing.  Clients who come to me asking for wood cabinetry will often be able to point to the color tones in certain wood species that appeal to them, but have no idea why or which species to choose.  Here's my take on a few of the woods that are current right now.

Rift cut oak - Oak has almost become a bad word in recent years due to its massive overuse in 80's, 90's, and early 2000's home construction.  People who ask me for wood species recommendations always say "anything but oak".  This is too bad, considering that there are so many ways to do oak beautifully.  My response is to always pull samples of rift cut oak, particularly white rift cut oak, to show the massive difference (and beauty) found in this cut and species.  

You can see immediately in this kitchen (done in white rift cut oak) that the grain is tighter, more uniform, and the color of the wood tends to be more neutral and beige as opposed to red or golden.  This photo almost makes the cabinetry look like there was a wash of stain applied to the oak, but even if it was left natural, this species looks fantastic.  And that amount of marble in a kitchen could make anything look good, right?

There are so many things that are breathtaking about the above kitchen.  It was featured in House Beautifiul in November 2011, and I love that the white oak has a patina to it.  I'm not sure what their process was, whether they limed the oak, or added a type of white wash, but the result is gorgeous, and almost timeless in the way that it is so uniquely done.  Convinced that oak isn't all that bad?  I have a few custom pieces in my home made from rift cut oak with a weathered grey stain.  I love them, and one of these days I'll get around to posting about those projects!  If you are leaning toward a rift cut oak, it is a great choice in terms of its rigidity and dimensional stability as well.  

Cherry - As for other wood species in cabinetry, I'm still seeing a lot of cherry, as well as quite a bit of walnut.  The key with these woods is to keep them natural instead of going crazy with different stain colors.  Cherry is a beautiful choice in period homes, and will darken and amber with age.  I've found that cherry cabinetry that has been stained in reddish tones has dated itself very quickly (a trend that is going away, but has been around for over ten years), but left in its original state, retains a classic appeal that stands the test of time.

Walnut - Walnut has a gorgeous natural grain, and kept in its natural state will allow this to show through.  I do find that darker stained walnut keeps its appeal longer than stained cherry though, due to its brown (not red) undertones that blend well with changing trends in interior design.  It also is a great accent wood that can bring warmth and character to an otherwise monochromatic kitchen.

Inview Interior Design

I blogged about this kitchen project here, and think its a great example of how wood can be used to warm up and add character to a white kitchen.  Again, the key to keeping this look crisp and classic is maintaining the natural color of the wood, as well as knowing where to incorporate it.

Here, vertical grain slab-style walnut doors work beautifully against the more traditional paneled and painted doors.  The mix of materials in this kitchen is what makes it so interesting.

Scenario 4:  Its time to renovate, you're open to a painted kitchen, or a wood kitchen, but have no idea which direction to go.  With so many beautiful things to choose from, and an array of inspiring projects that showcase all types of kitchen cabinetry, it can be hard to commit to one or the other.  My best suggestion of where to start when trying to narrow it down is to look at your lifestyle, and listen to your home.  Painted cabinetry (especially white) takes a great deal more care and attention to keep it looking crisp and clean.  Plus, all painted finishes are not created equally, and you will need to do your research (and be prepared to pay the price) to find a quality cabinet shop who understands the science behind creating a durable finish.  Even then, if you think the kids and the dog are going to wreak havoc on a white space, maybe wood is a better choice for you.

Listening to your home can be one of the best indicators when deciding which route to go.  Generally speaking, many period homes, lake home retreats, and also many mid-century style homes call for the warmth of a wood kitchen.  Additionally, if you're craving the cozy feeling that wood can convey, as well as the craftsmanship and attention to detail that can be showcased using wood, this may be the direction to go.

And with wood kitchen cabinetry, sometimes you can't get too much of a good thing, and "going big or going home" is definitely the way to go.  I'll leave you (and this lengthy post!), with some gorgeous images that showcase a unique mix of materials.  I'm especially intrigued with how rough and rustic the cabinetry is, and how well it pairs with cleaner elements in the space.  I love how they committed to this look--there's definitely no question that the homeowners here were after a wood kitchen!


Kathysue said...

What a wonderfully written post. I am a non-white kitchen gal. I painted my 1970 kitchen the same green as you have pictured above. You can see it here.....

Holly Gruszka said...

I always enjoy your posts Kristen and read them word for word. I will have to bookmark this for when we move to our next home. So many houses that I look at on the online real estate sites are the builder grade cabinetry. I also think if we were to renovate in the future that I would lean more toward a darker wood on the base cabinets and white cabinets for the uppers. I know how my little one has been on our white cabinets - they've wiped clean fairly easily but they've definitely shown more wear than the uppers where she can't touch them. And so glad you showed Traci's kitchen project too - that is a favorite of mine that I've seen recently.