GET EXCITED! 5 Color Palettes & Design Schemes to Wake Up A Builder-Grade White Kitchen

You asked, I delivered: We’re talking white kitchen cabinet color palettes today. Maybe you thought I was done when I tackled espresso last time, and frankly, so did I, but the comment section in that post was a resounding DO WHITE CABINETS, so do white cabinets I must. Today, instead of focusing on a hard-and-fast palette, I, instead, pulled together a few different styles because the white kitchen cabinet is the white T-shirt of the design world: you can dress it up or down depending on how you style it.

This post applies to anyone with white cabinetry, but specifically to those with builder-grade, flat-front or Shaker-style kitchens devoid of character. So many of these were put into our homes and apartments after the craze of cherry and espresso died down, and they can tend to feel a bit 2012. But GOOD NEWS! They don’t take that much to bring them out of a just-dated-enough haze to get you feeling excited again. Let’s do this.

The Deal With The Moodboards

I’ve repeated these same rules in every one of my previous kitchen color palettes posts and I’ll do it again here:

  • The products selected aren’t necessarily absolute picks, but rather jumping-off points for you. Pull inspiration from the color, the material, the shape, or the design era.
  • Every board has a paint blob on it, which can be used on walls, on cabinetry (uppers, lowers, all cabinets, even islands or stand-alone display cabinetry), or as a color to pull in for any additional accents or furniture you may have or need in your kitchen.
  • The shelf on each board is more representative of the wood tone that works best, which can be brought in through a shelf, yes, but also countertops, cutting boards, etc.
  • The soft goods like the rug and shades, again, are a visual starting point for you. A runner fit on the board better than a 4×6, but use the best shape and size for your space. Same with the window covering, though you can hardly ever go wrong with a Roman shade, tbh.
  • And finally, the backsplash tile included is just in case you’re looking to do a small amount of demo for an existing backsplash, or even just want to find something similar in a peel-and-stick to lay overtop of your current situation.

White Cabinet Helpful Tips

You know when you have too many options and your brain just kind of freezes? I think this can happen a lot with predominantly white kitchens. So many of the ones I stumbled upon on Pinterest and Instagram while diving around for inspiration were fairly free of color, pattern, or texture. It was a white cabinet, white subway tile, white or gray quartz, nickel hardware and see ya later. I don’t know about you, but I just don’t want my kitchen to look straight out of an office building, you know? Displays at IKEA are more interesting than that, tbh. But it doesn’t take much to make your white cabinetry come to life, so you have that going for you. There are no undertones to work around or pull from like with oak or cherry, it’s kind of just a blank slate.

So because of all that, my only real tip is don’t put the foot on the gas all the way. Let’s go a nice, safe, and comfortable 45 mph. Meaning, maybe go with an interesting light fixture, a fun combo of hardware, a great barstool or dining chair. Everything can’t be a star because then nothing is a star.

If You Have A Good Neutral Foundation But Want To Step It Up: Add Just A Hint Of Burgundy And Cognac

The Inspiration:

design by rashida banks | photo by keyanna bowen | from: rashida’s totally transformed kitchen reveal (that includes one of our favorite “new classic” kitchen trends)
design by rashida banks | photo by keyanna bowen | from: rashida’s totally transformed kitchen reveal (that includes one of our favorite “new classic” kitchen trends)

If you do nothing else today, click on the link to see the “before” of Rashida’s kitchen. No, it doesn’t really have anything to do with today’s post, but it’s mindblowing what a little paint and some cosmetic changes like swapping the backsplash can do for a room. You did it? Amazing right? Okay, let’s continue.

I totally understand that not everyone craves as much color, pattern and visual layering as I do, so we’re starting off with just a touch of color. In Rashida’s kitchen, she went with a beautiful rich burgundy, figgy purple, and amber but only in her styling. If you stripped that all away, her space would be creamy white, marble, and brass. I think these work particularly well since they’re on the warm end of the spectrum and balance the cool tones of the neutrals, but you could easily pick another hue to play with to similar effect.

The Moodboard:

Where Rashida went with a black and brass pendant, I used that as an opportunity to splash in some color. You could totally keep that fairly neutral and use small decor to bring in a touch of color, instead. I love the addition of a true oak, whether as shelving, inside a cabinet, behind the island, or even as a countertop. Don’t underestimate what bringing in a cutting board in a similar wood tone would do for your space, too. I’m a big fan of bringing creams in to make the bright white cabinetry feel more inviting and homey, and that’s easy to accomplish through rugs, window coverings, and even the wall color if you feel like painting. Oh, and a dash of black here and there never hurt anyway…quite the opposite.

1. Brushed Stone Carrara Marble Subway Tile, 2×8 | 2. Creamy White by Benjamin Moore | 3. Custom Floating Shelves | 4. Solid Cabinet Knobs, 5 Pack Bright Gold | 5. 5 Pack Bright Gold Solid Zinc Alloy Cabinet Handles | 6. Butte 18″ Cone Aged Brass Pendant | 7. Rosa Bar Stool | 8. SAFAVIEH Handmade Flatweave Montauk Salinda Casual Cotton Rug in Ivory/Light Grey | 9. Prestige Series Woven Wood Shades

If You Want Some Color And Warmth But Still Want It To Feel Inviting And Comfortable: Brass, Oak, Rich Green & Neutrals

The Inspiration:

design by julie rose for velinda hellen design | photo by sara ligorria-tramp | styling by emily edith bowser | from: a kitchen makeover that focused on small changes for a big impact (julie and velinda did it again!)
design by julie rose for velinda hellen design | photo by sara ligorria-tramp | styling by emily edith bowser | from: a kitchen makeover that focused on small changes for a big impact (julie and velinda did it again!)

Allow me to take a tiny bit of creative license here. “Arlyn, this isn’t a boring, standard white kitchen.” Of course it isn’t. Our beloved EHD alums Julie Rose and Velinda Hellen were at the helm of this, so you know it’s going to be good. BUT BUT BUT. It inspired me to create a more family-friendly (but chic) vibe, nonetheless. I love how they mixed up the wood tones here with dark walnut and red oak (I think?) combined, as well as the touches of green with blue undertones. The dining area with the built-in storage mixes white(ish) cabinetry and a rich wood paneling and countertop which is another solid inspiration point for anyone looking to add some character to their standard white Shaker fronts.

The Moodboard:

Instead of a marble and brick backsplash like in the kitchen above, I opted for this absolutely gorgeous green Pratt + Larson tile from their Craftsman glaze line. To me, a Craftsman is the epitome of the “family home” (I may be biased considering I live on a street littered with them and often dream of what life inside is like) so I pulled a bit from that aesthetic here but kept it a bit more modern with ribbed brass hardware, a Nelson saucer pendant and walnut bentwood bistro chairs. I went ahead and picked yet another creamy non-yellow beige here as my paint blob because I love it with the creams and woods. Feel free to use that on walls, or, if you’re feeling VERY adventurous, crafty and have a ton of time on your hands, on your actual cabinet fronts and frames (eek).

1. C360 Craftsman Glaze Tile | 2. No Filter by Clare | 3. Heritage Ledge | 4. Francoise Kitchen Knobs Set of 2 | 5. Francoise Kitchen Handle | 6. Nelson Saucer Bubble Pendant | 7. Natural Elm Wood Kitchen and Dining Room Chair | 8. Waite Flatweave Rug | 9. Liz Polyester Linen Roman Shade Cord Lift

If You Love A Hip, Trend-Forward Vibe: Cream, Blonde Woods, Rounded Silhouettes

The Inspiration:

design by natalie myers/veneer designs | photo by charlotte lea
design by natalie myers/veneer designs | photo by charlotte lea
design by natalie myers/veneer designs | photo by charlotte lea

When I saw this fun, modern kitchen by Natalie Myers, I knew readers here who have similar flat-front white cabinetry would want to see it, so I decided to bring it into the mix here. This is squarely a modern vibe but it still feels approachable, inviting, and fun. My biggest takeaway is the fluted wood exhaust surround and the crema zellige tile. These two design choices add so much soul to an otherwise all-white space, don’t you think? I think someone could do a fluted or scallop wood on the backside of an island if you have one or around a hood like Natalie did here.

Oh, and if you haven’t noticed by now, cream + white = making white feel less stark. Bonus points for some red- or yellow-toned wood somewhere like a pendant light, cabinet hardware, barstools or all of the above.

The Moodboard:

The only thing this mooboard is missing is some terra-cotta accents, tbh. A tea towel here, a pretty planter or bowl there. It would really make these warm neutrals sing. Speaking of the warm neutrals, I kept the wall color super white (the same Extra White by Sherwin-Williams that Emily used in the farmhouse) because I think this aesthetic needs it. Otherwise, the creamy backsplash and textiles might get too muddy and not lean contemporary.

I borrowed a page from Natalie’s design book with a simple brass finger tab pull mixed with a sprinkling of a VERY fun split circle wood knob. I carried that wood into the pendant lighting, and into the barstools that emulate the arch of the designer pick above but at a fraction of the cost. I also think those curved lines add to the Cali Cazh look.

1. Zellige Unmounted Square in Parched Vellum | 2. Extra White by Sherwin-Williams | 3. 1″ Single Bead Tambour – Red Oak | 4. Floating Lines Single Shelves – White | 5. Semicircle Wooden Handles | 6. Lincoln Collection 3-1/8 in. Satin Gold Contemporary Drawer Edge Pull | 7. Margo Metal Pendant | 8. Meru Counter Stool – Mindi | 9. Timka Vintage Turkish Runner Rug | 10. Luxe Linen Blend Curtain

If You’ve Always Loved Brady’s Old Kitchen: Black, White, Brass & A Dash of Mint

The Inspiration:

Blast from the EHD past! I kind of feel like Brady’s kitchen from his previous apartment single-handedly brought back the black-and-white checkerboard floor. Yes? No? Maybe so? Anyway, black + white + brass is always a winning combo and a no-fail design solution for almost any vibe you’re going for. It can lean modern or classic depending on things like tile choice and styling. One of the tiny details I pulled from that first picture of Brady’s kitchen is the strip of minty sea glass green from his vintage tilework. Then, a mix of knobs and cabinet latches gives it that little extra punch of interest.

The Moodboard:

Give me a hex mosaic tile any day, friends. I love the minty flower pattern and it’s just what a serious black-and-white design scheme needs to take it into “touch of vintage/classic vibe” territory. The matte black and brass pendant as well as the leather sling barstool are cool and a little edgy so nothing here feels overly 1950s. All the other whites are just as crisp as the cabinetry to keep the contrast and energy high.

1. Retro Rosette and Quad Hexagon Patterns | 2. Affinity Tile Merzoni Checker Ruzzini – 17.88″ Square Tile | 3. Extra White by Sherwin-Williams | 4. Large Oval Cupboard Latch | 5. Round Dish Cabinet Knob | 6. 8″ Arched Shelf Bracket Set Of 2 With Shelf | 7. Endicot 15″ Pendant | 8. Rake Black Leather Bar Stool | 9. Macro – Medium Gray Flatweave Wool Rug | 10. Classic Woven Cordless Roman Shade

If You Want To Feel Like You’re In The English Countryside: A Mix Of Wood Tones, Blue & White Tile, Beadboard & Brass

The Inspiration:

I left my favorite for last because that’s what we’re supposed to do right? Finish off on a high note? This whole thing is a *look* that’s not for everyone, but I just want to sit in here watching the Great British Bakeoff, sipping an English breakfast tea with a biscuit, judging how stodgy my Victoria sponge cake turned out. The first space is by Arthty Ragupathy and literally stopped me in my tracks. Can we all pause for a minute and wonder if we’re allowed to put a cafe curtain under a Roman shade? Wait…should I do this in my own kitchen where I need some privacy in the breakfast nook? Fascinating. I love the addition of gray on the floor and textiles to bring a cool lightness to this galley.

In the second photo, from one of my favorite kitchen design companies Plain English, my eye went straight to the blue and white tile above the range which just adds in so much character. They’re both friendly and charming without going overly ornate or fluffy, and that’s a look I can get behind.

The Moodboard:

Did I mention that this is my favorite board I created? The amber glass fluted pendant, the walnut wood cutting board (which is actually an inspiration for a countertop), the peg rail, the not-quite-gray-not-quite-blue paint color (try painting the peg rail in that!), the spindle leg vintage dining chair. Be still my heart. If you can’t do a floor swap for a checkerboard, a rug in the beloved pattern is an easy no-reno way to bring in that look if you love it. I also included a combo of blue-and-white tile and beadboard that I think would be lovely together (beadboard below a rail or shelf, tile above…or vice versa)!

1. Maiolica Tratti Porcelain Wall Tile – 4 x 4 in. | 2. Motor City by Clare | 3. 32 sq. ft. 3/16 in. x 48 in. x 96 in. Beadboard White True Bead Panel | 4. Hanging Basket | 5. 6-Peg Maple Shaker Rack Unfinished | 6. Atlas Homewares Bradbury 3 Inch Center to Center Handle Cabinet Pull | 7. Atlas Homewares Victoria 1-1/4 Inch Mushroom Cabinet Knob | 8. Walnut Edge Grain Butcher Block | 9. Antique 1900s Bentwood Spindle Back Farmhouse Chair | 10. Francis – FRA-01 Area Rug by Chris Loves Julia x Loloi | 11. No 918 Brinley 2-pc. Tab Top Window Tier | 12. American Vintage Stripe Glass Pendant Lamp in Amber

AND I’M DONE. The last post I did on the espresso cabinetry, I swore would be my past in this series, but who am I to turn down the cries of help from others with lifeless white kitchens? I certainly cannot, and did not. I do, however, think I’ve finally reached the end, and boy was it a fun ride. Be sure to go check them all out because even if you’re not working on sprucing up a kitchen, there are so many color palettes to choose from to help inspire another room in your house (with or without cabinetry).

*** Color Palettes to Try For: Honey Oak | Cherry | Espresso/Dark Stained ***

Until next time…

Your friend in design, Arlyn

Opening Image Credits: Design by Rashida Banks | Photo by Keyanna Bowen | From: Rashida’s Totally Transformed Kitchen Reveal (That Includes One Of Our Favorite “New Classic” Kitchen Trends)