Should you REALLY paint your kitchen cabinets white? We’ll see!
It can be DARN tricky to pick the right white for your kitchen cabinets, because it’s not just about what YOU want, it’s about what your KITCHEN wants, and kitchens can be pretty finicky.
I have MANY E-Design clients who are desperate for a white kitchen, either a brand-new one or via painting their existing cabinets. However, they don’t always have the finishes to SUPPORT a white kitchen. Maybe they have a particular beige tile flooring or black appliances* that they don’t plan on changing. Maybe the rest of their home has wood trim and doors or other finishes that just won’t suit a fresher look in the kitchen. Whatever it is, I often have to break it to them that white would not be their kitchen’s best friend. And nothing breaks bad news better than a glass of wine and a slightly manic Ginger, right?
It’s important to take a close look at a) if your kitchen and home can visually support a white kitchen and if it CAN, then, b) choosing the white that suits the rest of your finishes and furnishings and not just choosing the white that suits your fancy.
You need to choose a cabinet color that actually suits your HOME, not just your personal tastes
So, to help save at least a BIT of your sanity, I’ve got some great tips to help you decide not just if white is right for your home, but which type of white you should be looking for!
1. Which type of white suits your countertop?
In the ideal world, the surfaces in your kitchen are all well-coordinated and will suit a particular white (and if they don’t, you may have a bigger project in your near future). For this question, take a good look at your countertop and figure out which TYPE of white it has in it (we’ll get into what to do if you don’t have any white shortly).
Does your countertop contain a clean crisp white or a warm white/off-white/cream?
CLEAN WHITE COUNTERTOPS
If you have a clean white in your countertop, you’ll want to look at clean white paint colors for your cabinets, in other words, ones that have little to no color/tint in them. You’ll want the whites to flow so that they are the same TYPE of white. Bring paint samples home. Do they seem a bit more yellow/blue/pink than the white in your countertop or do they really blend in with the existing white?
Sherwin Williams High Reflective White
WARM WHITE, OFF-WHITE OR CREAM COUNTERTOPS
If you have an off-white or warm white in your countertop, then you’ll want to look at warm white paint colors for your cabinets. It’s also important that the undertones suit each other. So, if the white in your countertop is warm with a touch of yellow – your cabinet’s white should follow suit. If the white in your countertop is warm with a touch of orange or red, there’s a good chance it’s actually an OFF-WHITE, not a white, which means you may have to head into the warm off-white range (there aren’t great whites with orange/pink undertones).
While many try to squeeze this next early 2000s granite countertop into a white palette, it will only DATE the look of the countertop. Instead, a soft off-white is a MUCH better approach (as shown)…
Are Off-White or Light Depth Painted Cabinets the Best For YOUR Kitchen?
See more of this project HERE
Not quite sure WHICH type of white you have? Read this – The 5 Types of White Paint Colors
My countertops don’t have white in them, what now?
If neither your countertops nor backsplash have white or off-white in them, then what color family are they in? Are they warm or cool? Shades of gray, brown, or a bit more colorful? These are all things you need to consider before choosing your cabinet’s best white.
Of course, here is where anal Kylie comes out and says that you also need to consider whether you have WARM grays or COOL grays, as well as considering their undertones. Cool grays often prefer true or cool whites, whereas warm grays often prefer true or warm whites (are you exhausted yet? Wine helps). And don’t worry, I’ll be introducing you to some GREAT white paint colors shortly!
See more of this beauty HERE
Shades of greige tend to suit a slightly softer white, not TERRIBLY warm or creamy, but definitely not a stark white or a cold one. And of course, there are exceptions based on personal style/specific color, I’m just here to get you on the right path!
See more of this project HERE
And remember, there’s a WHOLE WORLD of great paint colors that might suit your kitchen even better than white as shown with this kitchen island below…
BROWN, NEUTRALS or EARTH-TONED COUNTERTOPS
If your countertop is in the warmer, earth-toned end of things, then you’ll want to pick that up with your whites and choose soft, warm whites or even off-whites (examples coming up shortly).
See more of this makeover HERE!
If you have a cool color that is dominant in your countertop (ie: blue/violet/cool green), you’ll want to choose a true or slightly cool white that suits that particular color/undertone (the odd cool colored countertops suits a warm white).
If you have a WARM color that is dominant (ie: yellow/orange/red), then you’ll want to pick a warm white that picks up on that particular color/undertone – and there is NO warm countertop that will prefer a cool white over a warm one. Examples of warm and cool whites are coming up shortly!
And please don’t be overwhelmed, these are ALL things that I consider when I do my E-design consultations, so if you’re struggling, you know who to holler at (well, you know who to email – I never answer my phone). I also have a super-effective SEARCH FUNCTION and more articles for you to learn from!
2. Will your backsplash look good with white cabinets?
In the ideal world, the backsplash would coordinate with the countertop which would coordinate with the floor – but this isn’t always the case. Backsplashes are a TRICKY one and it’s so easy to just miss the color connection.
I recently did an E-design with a client who had a GORGEOUS home and wanted a white kitchen and it was DARN hard to get give it to her. What her COUNTERTOP wanted in a cabinet color was a warm white or off-white. What her crisp clean white subway tile backsplash wanted was a crisp clean true white paint color. AND, because she wanted to keep the backsplash AND it’s on the same vertical sightline as the cabinets (meaning it connects quicker with the cabinets than the horizontal countertops), we had to humour the backsplash BEFORE the countertop.
So, while I suggested the best white for the situation and what she was asking for, I STRONGLY SUGGESTED a few other solutions that would ‘bridge the gap’ a bit more. In her case, it made more sense to choose a medium-toned warm gray that suited her countertop AND her backsplash. And while it might not be the white kitchen she had in mind, it would look better in the long run. And let’s be honest, in the ideal world she would get a new backsplash (or countertop), but in the REAL world, sometimes we have to work with what we’ve got!
This next kitchen is another example of a client who was hoping for white cabinets. But as far as the backsplash, countertop and flooring were concerned, it was a HARD no.
Instead, I suggested saving her money by keeping the cabinets as-is. Once she’s ready to remodel the kitchen (in a few years), she could then create a nicely balanced palette from scratch. In the meantime, a more suitable paint color on the walls and updated light fixtures would make a HUGE difference to this space, giving it a fresher face.
And this is NOT an anomaly – I see this ALL the time. White subway tile is SUPER popular and just like choosing the best white for cabinets, you also have to choose the best white SUBWAY TILE for your countertop, and so often, the default ‘white subway tile’ is used when something else might be a bit better.
3. Is your existing trim color going to work with your new white cabinet color?
A lot of my clients hope to keep their current trim color when painting their cabinets (the less painting the better). However, it can be a HOT mess once you start mixing whites and I’m a HUGE believer (understatement) in having whites consistent in a room, which means it’s BEST if your trim matches the cabinets. So, you have two choices…
- See whether your trim color is the best color for your cabinets. Assuming the trim color was chosen to suit the countertop and backsplash, it should work for the cabinets as well. This is the IDEAL situation.
- HOWEVER, I’ve found that not enough attention is given to trim and it’s OFTEN the wrong color for the room. In this case, you may want to choose your new cabinet color and then paint the trim this color as well.
The reason why this matters and why your trim and cabinets should be the SAME white is that one white can EASILY make another white look dingy/yellow/green/cool/etc…in comparison. This might not seem like a big deal, but if you’re even REMOTELY sensitive to these things, it’s friggin’ horrendous.
Click HERE or on the above image to see available packages
4. Does your home even SUIT a white kitchen? Maybe not…
This is a big one (that’s what she said…). Does the rest of your home SUIT a white kitchen? Can your KITCHEN support white cabinets? (FUN QUIZ HERE!)
Not every home suits a white kitchen for a variety of reasons including furnishings, existing hard finishes and SO much more, which we’re getting into next…
5. Do you already have a whole lotta wood – trim, floor & more?
If you have a home with a lot of wood trim/doors/built-ins, white cabinets can be tricky. You DON’T want the kitchen to be the only white thing in the area, it needs something else (other than the ceiling) to visually support it…something such as trim, home decor and furniture pieces. It’s SLIGHTLY easier to pull off an off-white/cream kitchen with wood trim, but a ‘white’ kitchen might not make sense on the large scale.
If you have a whole lot of WOOD in your home, you’re going to have to work hard to make a white kitchen feel at home!
If you stand in the rooms that are ATTACHED to your kitchen, would they all flow if your cabinets were white? Do you have enough white in your other rooms (ie: trim/built-ins/decor) to support a white kitchen?
The Best Paint Colors for Wood Trim
6. Do you have any other major considerations?
If you don’t have windows in the kitchen, this isn’t as much of a problem, but if you have beige windows, then white cabinets are probably a no-go. There ARE exceptions depending on the countertop/backsplash you choose, but it’s a tough sell. Beige windows can look dingy up against white cabinets and the overall approach will appear poorly coordinated.
This one is picking up on that little * that you might’ve noticed way earlier. Some people don’t mind the look of white cabinets/black appliances. Personally (and decoratively), I find it WAY too high contrast for a kitchen, unless PARTICULAR things are in place (which I’ve covered in this blog post).
A two-tone kitchen is a GREAT example of a happy medium with black appliances
Beige appliances are a SUPER tough sell with white cabinets and it’s basically a hard-no. I would rather you spend your money on new white/black/stainless appliances so that down the road, you can paint the cabinets whatever color you (and your home) want.
If you stand outside and then walk in, would a white kitchen feel WEIRD compared to your exterior? Maybe you could consider a WARM white, but not a cool/crisp white? This is often the case with exteriors that have earth tones/warmer colors on them vs grays and cool tones. And again, window color can play a BIG part.
This is the exterior of our new home. Does it look like a ‘white kitchen’ kinda house to you? HECK no.
Don’t worry, our exterior will look DRASTICALLY different come Springtime when we get some fresh paint on it!
The Best Cool or True Whites for Cabinets
- Benjamin Moore White
- Benjamin Moore Super White
- Sherwin Williams High Reflective White
- Benjamin Moore Chantilly Lace
- Sherwin Williams Extra White (links below)
Benjamin Moore Chantilly Lace
And while I could go into morbid detail about these colors, you could also read these…
- The 8 Best Benjamin Moore White Paint Colors (the details on the above colors listed)
- Sherwin Williams 4 Best White Paint Colors
The Best Warm Whites & Off-Whites (creams) for Cabinets
- Benjamin Moore Simply White
- Benjamin Moore Cloud White
- Benjamin Moore White Down
- Sherwin Williams Alabaster
- Benjamin Moore White Dove
Benjamin Moore White Down (see more of this project HERE)
Sherwin Williams Alabaster
SAMPLING CABINET PAINT COLORS WITH SAMPLIZE
Samplize is BY FAR the easiest and most affordable way to sample paint colors, however, they come in an eggshell finish. It’s important to note that cabinets are almost ALWAYS painted in a satin finish. This slightly enhanced sheen can slightly lift and brighten colors.
Here are just a few reasons why I recommend Samplize to my clients…
- samples arrive ON YOUR DOORSTEP in approx. 1 business day, depending on location and country
- at $6.99, they’re more affordable than the samples pots/rollers/foam boards that are needed for traditional paint sampling
- if you keep the samples on their white paper, you can move them around the room
Visit the SAMPLIZE website HERE
CHECK OUT SAMPLIZE HERE!
The Pros & Cons of Off-White & Light Depth Painted Cabinets
The 4 Best Sherwin Williams White Paint Colors
Benjamin Moore 8 Best White Paint Colors
The 3 Best White Paint Colors for a North-Facing Room
Benjamin Moore 3 Best Warm White Paint Colors
Not sure which white is best for your kitchen or bathroom cabinets?
Check out my E-Design services – I’d love to help!
ORIGINALLY WRITTEN IN 2018, UPDATED IN 2021
You moved again?! I can’t wait to see what you do with this one!
I agree…gray would be best in that kitchen pictured with the subway tile!
Hi Kylie, I’m thinking you’ll be revising your ‘black appliances” recommendation, especially as the up and coming color trend is black and white (goodbye grey)! I’m beginning to see more and more white/black and less grey….
I agree though that there are way more considerations for color than what the current trend is, as you point out homes with lots of wood wouldn’t play well with an all-white kitchen. I’m also a big fan of decorating with colors YOU like and not being a slave to the current trend.
I know, isn’t it funny! I have seen more kitchens with the black appliances/white cabinets, but without putting key things in place (ie: dark countertops) I just find it too graphic (personally AND decoratively). Things are always a-changin’ and I agree that gray is slowly (slooowly) fading…
Congratulations on your new house. Can’t wait to see what you do with it.
I totally agree with the white teaching above. It’s easy to make mistakes with white….and not every home needs white!
This such a great post and very helpful. Helped me deicde between Extra White and Pure White. My counterops looks very similar to the ones pictured with the subway tile backsplash. It is so hard, I have a counter top with warm whites and going with SW Pure White but want a cool color (mint, cool blue) on the walls so bad. I hope those undertones don’t clash!
I’m new to your site, but you are amazing with sharing your knowledge and your time. I am a fellow designer and see a kindred spirit in you. Great reading and I’ve learned new things about color and paint!
Good luck with your new house and thank you for your generosity! Best, Jenine Beck
Jenine, what a lovely note to get – THANK you! 🙂
So I took your suggestion of picking a countertop first. I really like the look of MSI Quartz in Ash Gray. Are you familiar with that shade of quartz? I am wondering what shade of white would be best for the cabinets. Thank you! I really appreciate your website.
Hi Heidi, sorry I’m not at all familiar with that!
Great article! I’m am redoing a bathroom and have a lot of whites going on. I’m doing a Florentine Carrara porcelain tile and a Quartz countertop in Arctic White. Both are very crisp. Floor is gray/brown oak plank tile. The Carrara has both the brown and the gray in it although very subtle. And then there is the free standing tub and sinks which are more a traditional white. Ugh!!! Can you offer any advice? I’m refacing cabinets and am confused on which way to go.
Sandy, may I ask what white you went with? Thanks in advance! Ashley
My wife and I have been planning some upgrades to our home now that we’ve been earning more money. It really helped when you suggested keeping the same tone of white for the entire kitchen from the flooring to the countertops because we’re very pleased with the white hardwood flooring we have in the kitchen and wanted to make adjustments elsewhere instead, like the cabinets for example. I’ll be sure to remember your tips when looking for a remodeling contractor who can help us out with the rest of the fixtures. Thank you!
You’ve been a great help to me over the years, Kylie.
My walls throughout the entire living area are SW Kilim Beige (trying to match an ugly fireplace at the time). My husband says that is not changing. I also have nice wood windows and trim and darker wood floors. We are updating the kitchen and can paint the cabinets with new countertops and backsplash. Would Dover White work for the cabinets? (I don’t have Benjamin Moore available in our little town). I need a serious off-white/cream as white will be too stark.
I also have dark wood floors and killem beige walls! What white did you choose for cabinets? Did you go with quartz or grant countertop?