HomeHome Updates: Tips & IdeasDecorating Ideas and How To'sWhite Kitchen Cabinets – 3 Palettes to Create a Balanced and Beautiful Space

White Kitchen Cabinets – 3 Palettes to Create a Balanced and Beautiful Space

Posted on April 10, 2017 by KylieMawdsley

A White Kitchen: 3 Different Ways

Do you have white cabinets and don’t know how to make them look good? It’s no wonder. If you visit Pinterest or Houzz you’ll be smacked UPside the head with inspiring white kitchens, yet given no guidance as to how to actually CREATE one.

Thank GOD you have me. Just joking (kind of).

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Now there are MANY ways to do white kitchens, including glazing, 2-tone, and other wild and wonderful ideas. But today, we’re going to focus on the 3 foundation palettes that white kitchens revolve around…

Ideas for a white kitchen with high, low and medium contrast paint color palettes with countertop and backsplash. Kylie M Interiors Edesign

Creating a Low Contrast Look With White Cabinets

A low contrast kitchen is simple and relatively seamless as there isn’t a huge shift between the colour/depth of the cabinets, countertop and backsplash.

White kitchen cabinets with white bevelled subway tile backsplash, navy blue le creuset accents. Kylie M Interiors Edesign, online paint color consulting and blogger

In the above kitchen, even though the backsplash and cabinets are both white, the bevelled edge of the tile adds a bit of visual interest.

White kitchen cabinets, Sherwin Williams, marble subway tile backsplash, white, gray veined quartz countertop LG, stainless steel appliances. Angled range hood Kylie M Interiors Edesign (3)

The above kitchen is another low contrast combo. Notice the subtle shift between the soft gray tones of the countertop and backsplash with the white cabinets, with the veining in the backsplash and countertop adding a bit of interest.

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

Built by Kustom Homes 

While the backsplash in the above kitchen stands slightly off of the countertops, it’s still a passive, lower contrast combination.

Benjamin Moore Gray Cashmere helps this small bathroom feel bigger and brighter

The perfect example of a low contrast palette with soft, off-white cabinets. The above bathroom is soft and subtle right from top to bottom!

Read more:  The 8 Best Benjamin Moore WHITE Paint Colours

Key elements of a low contrast white kitchen/bathroom

  • Cabinets: White or off-white
  • Countertops: White or light coloured. The countertop can have some visual interest in it, but nothing that is overbearing
  • Backsplash: White, off-white or a subtle shift off of the countertop and cabinets
  • Flooring: In a kitchen, the flooring is usually medium toned. In a bathroom, you’ll often find light or medium-toned flooring

How to create a low, medium or high contrast palette in a kitchen or bathroom with white cabinets. Kylie M INteriors E-design and Online Decorating and colour services

Ways to add interest to a low contrast palette

  • Slightly darker grout on the backsplash – this will show off the pattern of the tile layout
  • A unique tile layout on the floor or backsplash (ie: herringbone pattern)
  • Medium to dark-toned flooring
  • A backsplash or countertop with some visual interest (ie: veining in the countertop/textured or mosaic tile backsplash)
  • Shiny cabinet hardware and plumbing fixtures (polished nickel or chrome)

Creating a Medium Contrast Look With White Cabinets

This is usually my happy place. The medium contrast kitchen offers some shifts between products so that there is a combination of either:

a) One product that is white or off-white and two products that are medium toned (ie: white cabinets with medium-toned countertop and backsplash )

b) Two products that are white off-white and one product that is medium toned (ie: white cabinets, white backsplash and medium-toned countertop)

Open layout kitchen and dining, subtle country farmhouse style. Maple cabinets painted Cloud White, gray quartz, soapstone formica and rustic wood supports with stainless steel

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

See before and afters of this kitchen:  Maple No More!

A few things to note with the kitchen above (which happens to be my old one, I even cleaned off the empty wine bottles and KD boxes for you – yay me)

  • The contrast between the white cabinets and countertops is medium. The countertops definitely sit off of the white of the cabinets, but they don’t POP
  • The backsplash is more in line with the colour of the cabinets, while still pulling a few of the creamy tones out of the countertop
  • The paint colour adds some interest and contrast without going over the top
  • I used my bar stools and island base to add some real contrast and depth to the palette, without committing to contrast on a long-term basis
  • BTW – I also saved major bucks by doing an affordable, but AWEsome laminate on the perimeter countertops and quartz on the island

Small bathroom decorating idea. Glass mosaic tile on wall behind vanity. Cambria Galloway. Kylie M Interiors. E-decor and Online Color consulting. Based in Nanaimo Bc

The above bathroom is on the border of medium and high contrast. While the accent tile and countertop aren’t particularly DARK, they do make quite an impact when paired with clean white cabinets, particularly because both the countertop and tile have a lot of variation and action in them.

Read more:  Sherwin Williams 4 Best White Paint Colours

Kylie M Interiors Edesign. Oak cathedral style arched cabinets painted Benjamin Moore Cloud White, travertine tile backsplash, beige countertop, navy blue Ocean Floor island.

The medium contrast kitchen above shows you how you can still create a striking, strong look without having to go super dark. There is a really nice balance between the softer, slightly more medium-toned contrast of the backsplash and countertop with the stronger island colour.

Key elements of a medium-contrast white kitchen or bathroom

  • Cabinets: White or off-white
  • Countertops: More medium-toned in comparison to the white of the cabinets
  • Backsplash: Either the same colour as the cabinets or closer to the depth of the countertops
  • Flooring: Usually a medium to dark colour (light/white super sucks to keep clean in a kitchen)
  • Paint Colour: Usually light or medium-toned, but can be slightly darker

Ways to add interest to a medium-contrast palette

Medium contrast palettes tend to have some visual interest already, so you don’t need to go too far to finish things off!

  • Backsplash or countertop with some detail in it, rather than a solid colour
  • Backsplash with texture (ie: a stone like travertine or slate)
  • A medium toned paint colour on the walls or island
  • Black or shiny nickel hardware

E-design, virtual online colour consulting expert. Kylie M Interiors. Paint ideas. Benjamin Moore, Sherwin Williams (1)

Click on the above image to see my available packages – fun AND affordable!

Creating a High Contrast Look with White Cabinets

The high contrast white kitchen is the most striking of the bunch. Again, there are usually two products that blend together somewhat (cabinet/backsplash usually) and one product that hits it HARD with a high contrast jolt of dark gray, black or brown.

Cambria Ellesmere black quartz countertop, white kitchen cabinets and off-white light gray subway tile backsplash. Kylie M Interiors Decorating and Design

This is the PERFECT example of a high contrast kitchen. The wicked quartz countertop pops off of the white cabinets.

High contrast white contemporary kitchen with black granite and white cabinets. Kylie M Interiors

Read more:  The 3 Best Whites for Cabinets

With the gray island (which you can just see a wee willy wink of above) the palette is toned down a bit and considerably lower contrast, offering some relief to the palette.

High contrast whtie kitchen with black countertops and farmhouse stainless sink. Kylie M interiors

Kylie M E-Design

The kitchen above is another great example of a HIGH contrast palette.  The white cabinets (that are also glazed) are in striking contrast to the black granite countertops and slate toned flooring. Notice that the backsplash is a mix of both light, medium and dark tones, which is a great way to transition a high contrast look.

Key features of a high contrast white kitchen

  • Cabinets: White or off-white
  • Countertop: Dark
  • Backsplash: Can be light, medium, dark, or a blend of light/med/dark
  • Flooring: Any depth of flooring (light, med or dark).  Usually medium or dark in a kitchen, but any depth in the bathroom
  • Paint Colour: Any depth of paint colour on the walls

Ways to tone down a high contrast palette

  • Keep any tile pattern more simple (backsplash or flooring)
  • Keep the countertop pattern simple (compared to a busy granite or quartz with a lot of veining)
  • Do not do black cabinet hardware as it is high contrast on white cabinets
  • Limit the amount of shiny/reflective finishes

Now, of course, there are many other things that go into creating a beautiful room, but hopefully, these tips and ideas will get you off on the right foot!

Want some help? 

Check out my E-Design and Online Colour Consulting Packages!

Kylie m e-design, online decorating and design consulting expert.Benjamin and Sherwin paint colours

Kylie M Interiors Edecor and Edesign


Sherwin Williams 4 Best White Paint Colours

Benjamin Moore 8 Best White Paint Colours


  1. Hi
    We like the Cambria Torquay Design for our kitchen. The cabinet colour is OC17. After reading this post, I now understand what look I like. . Can you please suggest a Cambria design that we can pair with Torquay – say Torquay on the island and perimeter with onother design. Porcelain tile on the floor / a light grey/beige color.
    Thank you so much / we are running out of time! I wish I had found this post earlier. Thank you so much

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  2. I am interested in painting my kitchen and kitchen cabinets all white in the medium contrast. Can you tell me what paint is best for 10 ft. Ceiling showing rafters and what contrasting white colors for walls and cabinets. The kitchen windows face out to the bay facing west. Kitchen gets a huge amt. of sun. We are using Quartz-Ocean Jasper. We will using white subway tiles for back splash and any lighting over island will be a brushed nickel. Just not sure what whites should go where. Hopefully you can give me some much needed suggestions!! Thanks 🙂

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  3. Hi Kylie

    I love your Medium contrast kitchen. What colour paint is used on the walls? Thanks!

    Your site has been a great source of information for me as I am painting/updating my entire home.

  4. I just have to say, you put out on a ton of great articles. We were already using to figure out how to choose paint colors for our house. Now we are nearing the deadline for making choices on our kitchen remodel and we feel blessed to have found this article by you. My wife is doing a white kitchen and the designer for the remodeling company has been completely useless. We have been left to research everything on our own and white kitchens are not as easy as they seem. We have been to 12 locations looking at quartz slabs trying to find the right one for our bright white transitional cabinets. This article puts a nice framework on white kitchens. I wish I had seen it previously but am happy I’ve found it now. Bright white cabinets with silestone eternal statuario quartz is where we are now, so low contrast and we will add interest with the backsplash. Their are a lot of off white quartz slabs that look different in lighting and photos and look beige or dark against bright white cabinets. Sounds like elements of your medium and low contrast approaches would help in that situation. There are a lot of people out their trying to match their bright white cabinets to a marble-look quartz countertop and driving themselves crazy.

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      Thank you for this comment Jonathan! You’re right, quartz is DAMN TRICKY, and as you said, what you THINK is ‘white’ is anything but!

    2. Agreed -we chose silestone eternal statuario quartz as well and it is stunning. The designer recommended a bright white subway tile that matches beautifully to SW High Reflective White but I feel like the subway tile is too white for the countertops. It is white – unlike a lot of quartz which is more of an off-white but it isn’t quite as bright as high reflective white. The countertops match up better to SW Pure White but finding a white subway tile that matches Pure White has been a challenge! I’m half tempted to change to a grey subway tile!

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