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Painting Kitchen Cabinets: How to Pick the Best Paint Colour

Posted on February 4, 2019 by KylieMawdsley

 

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!

Kylie M Interiors Edesign, cloud white kitchen cabinets, granite countertop, glass subway tile backsplash. south facing. online consulting

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’.

Kitchen with Chelsea Gray, subway tile, black laminate countertop, stainless steel, Gray Owl paint on the walls (3)

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

How to sample paint for cabinets

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!

Revere Pewter kitchen cabinets, Cambria Brittanica warm quartz, URbane Bronze island, oak wood floor. Kylie M Interiors Edesign

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

hexagon subway tile backsplash. Maple cabinets painted Cloud White, soapstone formica countertops and gray quartz with kitchen decor

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

Hexagon marble tile on wall behind vanity, quartz countertop, High Reflective White cabinets. Kylie M INteriors Edesign, online paint color consultant

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.

White shaker style cabinets, white quartz countertops, Coventry Gray island and Stonington Gray walls

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.

Read more: The 8 Best Benjamin Moore White Paint Colours

Read more: The 4 Best Sherwin Williams White Paint Colours

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.

The best white for kitchen cabinets with marble. Sherwin Williams High Reflective White. Kylie M INteriors Edesign, online paint colour consultant

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

Kitchen cabinets painted Benjamin Moore Ballet White, glaze, Cedar Key walls, travertine tile floor , red orange brick walls. Island with wood top. Kylie M Interiors Edesign, client photo (3)

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!

Maple wood kitchen cabinets painted Benjamin Moore White Down. Kylie M E-design, online virtual paint consulting. Granite countertop, backsplash, glass cabinets, maple wood flooring

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

Cloud White cabinets, hexagon subway tile backsplash, formica soapstone countertops. Kylie M E-design

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)

Caesarstone bathroom countertop Bianco Drift with gray and greige tones. Maple vanity painted Benjamin Moore Metropolis. Kylie M Interiors E-design and Color Consulting

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

  • #dontdoit

If you want to paint your cabinets a WARM colour and you have COOL toned countertops/backsplash

  • #stepbackfromtheledge

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)

Budget friendly bathroom update ideas, formica calacatta marble laminate countertops, hexagon tile backsplash. Chelsea Gray vanity. Kylie M E-design

#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

Pine wood flooring, farmhouse country style kitchen with red dining room backdrop and wood island. Kylie M E-design

Open layout white kitch with gray painted island, teal accents. Sherwin Williams Dorian Gray. Kylie M Interiors E-decor, Online Consulting, decorating and design

Read more: The 3 Best Gray and Greige Paint Colours for Cabinets and Vanities 

REMEMBER, there are ALWAYS exceptions, I’m just here to cover the most common queries.

Kylie M Interiors Edesign, Classic Gray, Sherwin Williams Pure White cabinets, Mindful Gray island and white oak floor with wash

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’).

white subway tile and granite countertops

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! 

edesign, virtual paint colour consulting. Kylie M Interiors Benjamin Moore, Sherwin Williams color expert. marketing (29)

Chat soon,

Kylie M Interiors, decorating blog, e-design, online colour consulting expert. signature



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Comments

  1. I have painted BM linen white cabinets that I would like to paint a brighter white. They are chipping a little now. Is it possible to paint them myself or do I need to hire someone to paint them? thanks!

    1. Post
      Author

      Hi Magda! Well, it depends on a few things…

      1. How excited you are to do prepwork. You’ll want to sand/feather those chips out, along with giving the cabinets a once over sand/clean/prime, it’s definitely a commitment
      2. What type of cabinets you have. If they are smoother, ie: maple, it can be trickier to do a good DIY as it’s MUCH easier to see the flaws vs a grainy wood like oak.

      If you feel TOTALLY confident in your prep/painting skills and commit to what is a pretty major project, then yes. Otherwise, I’d hire out. It’s such a major part and if it isn’t done right it will cost more to fix them!

      ~Kylie

    1. Great article! We are currently trying to pick cabinet colours for a house we just bought. Our countertops are a darker blue quartz and so is out back splash. Any tips? I’m trying to avoid white.

      1. Post
        Author

        Ooo, that can be TOUGH. Some homes do best with wood cabinets in the end! I mean, without SEEING the cabinets, you could maaaaybe pick up some kind of gray with a blue undertone, ie: SW Tinsmith, but its hard to say!

  2. I want to change my countertop and I have no backsplash also, I am keeping my existing cabinets. Where do I start first the backsplash or counter. Also what should I bring with me when I go to look for this. Thank you

    1. Post
      Author

      Hi Diane, I would DEFINITELY start with the countertop first! Take your cabinet paint sample with you (or a drawer front) a sample of your flooring (or atleast a good photo of it 🙂 Once you’ve got your countertop picked you can coordinate the backsplash in!

  3. I just picked orientalists white granite.. we have white cabinets ets (dove white) and the granite looks greenish…
    Was supposed to be taupe black white gray… so picking a backsplash .. the architectural gray seems to go with counter tops, but it also enhances the green undertones.
    I am panicking… building a house, for excto make a quick decision… help!

  4. Useful practical information with photos to demonstrate your specific points is well appreciated! I have a 10 year old builder kitchen with warm busy counters and builder cool white cabinets. I have hesitated replacing the conflicting backsplash as it won’t completely solve the problem, but it will slightly improve the situation. Your point of keeping the elements in the same visual plane cohesive makes sense and I appreciate the way you explained it. Thanks!

  5. Hi. Great information.
    We have picked a white quartz with grey veins and decided to go with glossy white subway tiles, Benjamin Moore eagle rock cupboards and drawers.
    This is for our basement… what do you think?

    1. Post
      Author

      Hi Maha! EAgle Rock is beautiful. It’s a solid medium toned warm gray, so it has brown and purple in it. Now I can’t tell you it will suit your quartz as gray will have undertones of either blue, green, purple or a mix of those, so it will depend on what your quartz has! 🙂 I can say that a slightly safer bet would be SW Dovetail.

  6. I have read this post 100,000 times and I am still at a loss at what color to paint my cabinets !:/ I am currently waiting for your suggestions for my dining room and have finally convinced the hubby that the dark kitchen and olive green walls (with even darker olive green trim,,,,ugh!!) has to go. We have a quote for all (cabinets, walls, trim and ceiling) but now its color-picking time, but unfortunately you are out of stock ….boo 🙁 Luckily, the contractors use Sherwin Williams paint so we are all good there, but the want to use semi-gloss… better stop that in its tracks!! Guess I’m off to the Sherwin Williams store. If I am not back in a week or so, call 911 🙂

  7. Hi Kylie,
    I recently painted my sunroom/living room SW Canvas Tan 50%. That room connects to our kitchen through a pennisula. I am wondering what shade of white I should paint the pennisula, and all of the cabinets. I am imagining something warm, but not yellow. I like the crisp clean look of white, but not stark white. Also wondering what shade of gray for our new quartz countertops that I want to purchase. Thoughts? Thanks!

    1. Post
      Author

      Hi Heidi! You will definitely want to choose your countertop before the cabinet colour as the countertop will TOTALLY dictate your white options! That being said, Canvas Tan isn’t a colour that I’d normally put with a gray quartz, but that being said, I haven’t seen it 50% lighter and there are some gray quartz countertops that could humour a warmer wall colour like Canvas Tan. In the VERY near future I will be offering ‘countertop selection’ on my site, but it’s just not quite ready to launch yet!

  8. Question to Kylie or maybe Sherwin Williams color consultant
    I am trying to find info about Sherwin Williams trim and cabinets emerald utherane trim , is comes with two base colors, extra white and hi hide wide ( versus regular pant hi reflective white). I wanted my cabinets to be the lightest white.
    How different is hi hide white form HRW?
    Thank you!

  9. Hi Kylie, great post. Quick question – what is the color of the kitchen cabinet in the 1st picture you’ve posted under Tip 2 – we like that color and want to test it out

    1. Post
      Author

      Ahhhh, good choice Brijesh! That’s actually my own kitchen. While the manufacturer had to match it for me, it’s basically Benjamin Moore Revere Pewter approx. 25% darker :). A warm gray with a soft green undertone.

  10. Hi Kylie – I stumbled upon your site a few weeks ago and I am so glad I did! Your articles are so comprehensive and I now have a better understanding of “undertones” in paint colors. Can you please tell me what the cabinet color is and name and colour of the granite and backsplash in the kitchen under tip #4. I love it! I was considering painting my cabinets BM Muslin and having Caroline Summer granite for my island with black backsplash. Going to do what you did and use laminate for the base cabinets. Do you think this would jibe? Living in Newfoundland, as you might imagine, my choices for granite are limited. Thanks so much! You are an inspiration!

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