Picking a Paint Colour that Matches Your Backsplash & Countertop
When it comes to updating a kitchen, painting the cabinets is one of the BEST bang-for-buck ideas out there. But, unless you have pro-skills and the patience of a saint, it ain’t for the faint of heart.
So, I’m going to share some tips and tricks for getting it right the first time, as not only have I consulted on HUNDREDS of cabinet projects via my E-Design, I’ve also painted DOZENS of pieces myself (because I am a glutton for punishment). And keep in mind, that there are SO many exceptions and other considerations (ie: flooring/exposure/style/etc…) and I can only hit SO many things on my weee lil’ blog. What I’ve tried to cover are the BASICS and some tips to get you on the right path. And if you need advice from there, I have a FAB E-design service and would be more than happy to help!
And I know this is going to hurt, but guess what?
It’s not about what you want – it’s about what your kitchen needs
Now, if you and your kitchen want the SAME thing, then hells bells, we’re on a roll! However, on a weekly basis, I find myself talking clients off the ‘white cabinet cliff‘ and into colours that are more suited to their kitchen and it’s specific needs.
Your kitchen needs to be able to visually support the colour of the cabinets – and not every kitchen can support bright white, gray or whatever cabinet colour is on-trend. In fact, more often than not, I’ve discovered that kitchens prefer a soft white, off-white or even cream. But, how do you figure out what the right colour is?
You keep on readin’.
Tip 1 Test your paint samples the RIGHT way
Did you know that the FINISH of your paint will affect the way it looks? That’s right. So, if you make a cabinet paint sample in an eggshell finish (typical wall finish) and love it, that doesn’t mean you’ll love it in a satin finish, which is a more common finish for cabinets. The higher the sheen, the more light it will reflect. This reflected light can make a paint colour look a bit lighter and brighter than you’d expect it to (compared to matte/eggshell finish). You might even find that the wee paint chip that SEEMED a wink too dark for your cabinets, actually looks PERFECT when you sample it in the right paint finish because it looks a bit lighter.
Sample your paint in the same finish/paint you’ll be using on the cabinets. This will cost you more in samples but will be worth it
- Sample on a whiteboard/canvas
- ALWAYS do 2 coats
- Leave a white perimeter around 2 sides of the board as this will help to show you the level of contrast there is
- Judge it ONLY by how it looks vertically, NOT horizontally. Light reflects differently off of a horizontal surface vs a vertical one (it always looks lighter horizontally). Sure, lay it down with your countertop to make sure it jibes, but choose it based on how it looks on the upright
You can also order paper paint samples (some stores have them in-stock) and these can work pretty well as they tend to have a slightly higher sheen. Just do what my client did (above) and tape them to something white so you can see the depth/contrast.
Tip 2 The colour family of your backsplash & countertop will guide your choices
You need to figure out whether your backsplash and countertops are in a warm family or a cool family (and they should be in the same family). And this applies to white backsplashes, multi-coloured ones and even metal ones!
If you have MOSTLY warm tones in your backsplash/countertop
- You’ll want to look at warm colours for your cabinets (including warm whites)
- Warm colours include: off-white, cream, white that leans yellow or orange, brown, beige and some greiges
See the before and after of these painted cabinets HERE
If you have MOSTLY cool tones in your backsplash
- You’ll want to look at cooler colours for your cabinets
- Cool colours include blue, green, purple and gray or white (with those undertones)
- Some warm grays and greiges can humour cooler colours
- It can also include a clean, crisp white
And yes, it was hard to get a photo of this bathroom without being in it! Not that I’ve ever been camera shy…
If you have SOME cool/warm mixed together
This CAN give you a bit of flexibility to venture into warm OR cool, however…
- When it comes to whites, you need to go with the MAJORITY colour (so if your backsplash/countertop are MOSTLY warm, you’ll want to go with that)
- This could be a good opportunity to do a something different on the lower cabinets or the island
And when it comes down to it – SAMPLE SAMPLE SAMPLE until you hit the right spot (it’s my motto with wine and men as well – just joking on one of those Tim).
Tip 3 Look at your backsplash FIRST and countertop SECOND
Most people refer to their countertop when choosing a cabinet colour and sure, it’s VITALLY important, however, the backsplash is MORE important. Why? Well, the backsplash and cabinets are on the same vertical plane, which means they are initially more visually connected to each other and pass through your vision at the same time. Let’s hit that one…more…time.
The backsplash and cabinets are on the same vertical plane, which means that they are more visually connected to each other than the cabinets and countertops.
This means that because your countertop is horizontal, it actually plays second fiddle to your backsplash when you’re choosing a cabinet colour. Now, if you don’t have a backsplash, that’s a whole different project and you can just move on to Tip 4, but for the rest of you, let’s take a closer look at things.
If you have a tile backsplash that is white or off-white
- If you are wanting white cabinets, your backsplash and your cabinets have to be the SAME WHITE.
- And yes, it can be a painful process trying to figure out which white is your white (I prefer Pinot Gris myself), but if you get it WRONG you’ll have a WAY bigger problem.
- If you’re wanting coloured or darker neutral cabinets, you need to coordinate colour families. If your backsplash is a crisp clean white, your cabinets will prefer a cooler colour/neutral. If your backsplash is slightly warm/cream, your cabinets will prefer warmer colours/neutrals.
And what happens if you miss the colour boat? Well, for example, if your backsplash is a soft, slightly warm white and you choose a clean, crisp white for your cabinets, your backsplash could look yellowish in comparison. If your backsplash is pretty damn white and you choose a soft, warm white for the cabinets, your cabinets will look dingy and yellowed in comparison.
If you have a backsplash with mixed colours/shades
Of course there’s a WIDE range of cabinet colours out there, however, most of my clients are looking for some form of neutral. What you want to do is find the NEUTRAL that is in your backsplash and pick that up on the cabinets.
- If you are wanting white/light cabinets, you’ll want to find the LIGHTEST colour in your backsplash and match it (undertones and all)
- If you are wanting medium toned cabinets, you’ll want to MATCH one of the light-medium depth colours in your backsplash
- If your backsplash has multiple mixed shades but NO white – you probably can’t paint your cabinets white, there will be no visual connection
And keep in mind that there are ALWAYS EXCEPTIONS, it would be virtually impossible for me to cover EVERY scenario (I’m good, but not THAT good). What I try to do is hit the most common colour conundrums.
So, THAT covers the backsplash and its needs. Now we’ll look at your countertop for our next clues…
Tip 4 Look closely at your countertop
Once you’ve narrowed down the colour candidates based on the backsplash, you can look at your countertop to make sure everything still jibes. If your countertop and backsplash don’t look good TOGETHER, you MIGHT want to check out Tip #6.
On the other hand, if you don’t HAVE a backsplash, this would be the first place to start!
See the before and after HERE
If you want white or off-white cabinets
- You might think that having black or relatively solid coloured countertops guarantees you any white, and while they can make life a bit easier, you still need to consult with your flooring, backsplash and appliances (black / white). And sadly, I can’t cover all of these things in one blog post which is why I refer to as many links as I can to help you along
- When choosing a white or off-white paint colour, you’ll want to match a white or off-white that is in the countertop. If you have an off-white in your countertop and choose too BRIGHT of a white for the cabinets, they won’t connect well. You must choose the same type of white. If you don’t have a white or off-white in your countertops OR backsplash, we might then look at other products in your room such as the flooring for guidance using the same rules
See the before and after of these painted cabinets HERE
If you want cabinets with a bit of depth to them (non-white)
- Find that colour IN your countertop and/or backsplash. If that colour isn’t in your products, it will be hard to paint your cabinets that colour (the exception are black and white countertops which have more flexibility)
See the before and afters of these cabinets HERE
If you want to paint your cabinets a COLOUR (non-neutral)
- You’ll want this to be a colour that is in the countertop or that directly complements/accents it
If you want to paint your cabinets a COOL colour and you have WARM toned countertops/backsplash
If you want to paint your cabinets a WARM colour and you have COOL toned countertops/backsplash
Tip #6 How to pick the best colour for an island or lower cabinets
Often, the countertop is actually the DIRECT inspiration for the secondary cabinet colour (ie: lower cabinets or island). This is where you’d find a light/medium/dark colour that is living in your countertop and apply it to the cabinets as a complement to the main cabinet colour (which is usually white or a soft neutral). In this case, the countertop plays a BIGGER part than the backsplash.
There are 2 ways to pick a secondary colour…
#1 – Match a colour in your countertop
You can match it PERFECTLY or do a lighter/darker version of it (same undertones, different depth)
#2 – Complement/contrast a colour in your countertop (and/or backsplash)
This is where you can get a bit more creative and dabble in teal, navy blue and the likes, just make sure that it actually complements the countertop and doesn’t fight with anything in your room
REMEMBER, there are ALWAYS exceptions, I’m just here to cover the most common queries.
Why do I keep saying that? Because I just KNOW that my comment section will get flooded with these exceptions/questions otherwise. And for MOST of these exceptions, I do need to refer to my E-design as photos will show me what’s going on in your room and the questionnaire will help me to figure out what you’re HOPING you can do!
Tip 6 What do I do if my backsplash and countertop DON’T look good together?
You’d be amazed at how often I come across this – a backsplash that has been poorly chosen/matched to a countertop. And it ALLLL comes down to Tip #2 and #3. So, if your cabinets/countertop aren’t a hot combo, you will want to favour your backsplash because the backsplash/cabinets are in the SAME eyeball and it’s more important that THEY coordinate (that being said, if things are lookin’ real fugly, a backsplash is WAY cheaper to replace than a countertop – just sayin’).
The above photo was a tricky one, but a great example for you to check out. You can see how the white of the subway tile is TOO white/stark for the warmth of the granite. And while my client wanted white cabinets, I recommended that she actually went into warm gray cabinets, hitting up those flecks in the countertop as a way of creating a ‘happy medium’ between the warm and cool colours in her products. If she STILL wanted white cabinets after our little discussion, she would have to choose the best white for the BACKSPLASH, not the countertop (and those are WAAAY different looking whites…and it would’ve been terrible).
Tip 7 My 2 Fave Cabinet (and trim) Paints
In my world, there is one CLEAR fave for cabinet paint…
Benjamin Moore Advance in pearl finish. And no, I don’t get paid to say that, I pay myself in wine and personal high-fives – that’s it. Seriously though, this is a GLORIOUS paint and gives a close to factory finish look (not including your painting skills, which I can’t account for). I tried the semi-gloss one time, just to SEE what it was like and if you like surfaces that you can see your own reflection in, then you’re golden.
I also like Sherwin Williams Emerald Urethane. And because it says ‘urethane’ a lot of people seem to think it’s an oil paint, but it’s water-based and anyways, NOBODY uses oil anymore – well, except 65-year-old painters, they love that stuff. I find the sheen of the Emerald Urethane to be JUST slightly lower than BM Advance, which is why I lean toward BM. I’ve heard of a few complaints re: SW All Surface Enamel being a bit gummy, so I’ve stayed away from that one.
And these paints aren’t CHEAP my friend, but if you’re looking to save money – you should look elsewhere as when it comes to cabinets, you need it done right the FIRST time. GOOD prep, GOOD primer and GOOD quality application products (oh, and good advice helps too – wink wink).
I know you probably have questions and while I try to cover as MUCH as I can with my blog posts if you need some one-on-one help…
Check out my E-design services where I can VIRTUALLY visit your home!