It’s really hard to pull off a trendy kitchen design that actually outlasts the trend. Your kitchen cabinets may be good quality and expensive, but that doesn’t equal timeless. Here’s my advice for a reader who wants a fresher kitchen, without a costly major renovation.
My dated cherry kitchen cabinets were expensive! Must I still paint them?
Over the 20 years I have been in this business, I have come across this question often. However, I don’t think I have ever directly addressed it on the blog, so here’s the question:
“I am struggling to deal with “Tuscan Leftovers” in my kitchen. The whole house was this way with the previous owners. Once we painted the walls BM Pale Oak (per your edesign consultation) and introduced our furniture in shades of grays and blues we feel like it is now calm and serene. Except for the kitchen which is a dark tuscan corner set in a very bright and open condo.
When we moved in, we were sure we were going to paint those cabinets white because we have always had white cabinets and like them. But even I, who loves white cabinets, started thinking like a man: “that sure is expensive cherry”. (They are natural cherry with a cocoa glaze.)
We can’t do an entire kitchen renovation, but I’m wondering if we were to change the countertop and backsplash to something lighter would that be enough to freshen up the tuscan? And maybe even the lower the hightop bar on the peninsula so that it is all one level and lets in more light. While I don’t want to go to that expense if it is going to look like a little bit of new and fresh combined with the old, I truly hate the granite. Perhaps in the living room pictures you can see that our style is somewhat modern but with some traditional touches also.
If that is indeed the way to go I have no idea how to marry the floor tiles, the existing cabinets and the countertops/backsplash. If you suggest that we paint the cabinets we could probably do that as well as the countertop, but again I don’t know how to pull it all together. Basically, how do I make this old design look fresh?
Thank you or any insight you can provide. I’m sure there are others dealing with the same issue.”
Third Rule of Design: Expensive Does Not Equal Timeless
So first, let me just say that I completely understand you’re dilemma. If you have a good quality kitchen, it does seem wrong, not to mention wasteful, to rip out perfectly good finishes when they are far from being worn out.
And, in the end it’s YOUR HOUSE, you can do whatever you want.
But the reason you’re asking this question is because, you know it could look so much better and fresher.
And, just because you paid a lot of money for a designer bag, or a designer outfit, for example, that doesn’t automatically make it current, or BEAUTIFUL.
Solid Wood Does Not Necessarily Make a High End Kitchen
Whenever I warn my readers about the perils of a trendy kitchen, it’s mostly because I have seen enough kitchens in my time to know that a fabulous, TRENDY kitchen done well, and so well that you won’t want to rip it out 10 years later, is REALLY HARD to pull off.
There’s nothing special about this kitchen (and I know I can’t offend you, dear reader, because you inherited this one) it’s the kind of pedestrian, run-of-the-mill, kitchen no one would look at twice — the type of kitchen installed by cabinet makers all-day and all-night.
Before you get offended because your kitchen looks very similar to this one, what I mean by ‘pedestrian’ is simply because it’s just a kitchen with uppers, lowers with no added details to give it personality.
So, let’s set aside that it’s expensive cherry and ask yourself how long you want to live with a kitchen that does not fill you with joy when you walk in?
If the answer is ‘Not a minute longer’ then it’s time to get your paintbrush out.
Plus, I would definitely take out the ‘bar’ when you replace the countertops and make the entire peninsula, countertop height.
Photo on the right: Stephanie Kraus Designs and Kyle Smith Born
Option 1 (above)
This would definitely be my first choice, I would paint the lowers taupe to tie in the floor tile. Then go with off-white uppers, and a solid off white countertop and backsplash.
Option 2 (below)
Introduce taupe countertops to relate to the floor and paint everything else cream:
Because a countertop is installed on the horizontal, it is a nice way to repeat an earthy floor because it is not too dominant visually. Taupe contrasts nicely with soft white, cream cabinets.
Don’t Ignore Your Floors When you Update Your Kitchen
What I would advise you NOT TO DO, is to install any kind of countertop that looks like marble. This is such a common DIY mistake, I see it all the time. It only creates the dreaded ‘old floor, new countertops’ kind of look.
- Because you need something to repeat the earthy taupe tones from the floor to create a cohesive and intentional look. You cannot simply ignore an older tile floor and install a new white kitchen.
- And often with a tile floor, that something, should be the countertop which is a similar stone like material installed on the same horizontal plane so it creates a sense of balance when it relates directly to the floor.
- This earthy floor has a PATTERN. If you install a competing marble pattern, it will disappoint the expectation that it should relate. The patterns will clash and make the floor look even more wrong, and OLD.
If the plan is to update the floor sometime in the future, I would go with option 1, painting the lowers and installing solid off white quartz with no pattern. This way, when the floors are replaced, the lowers can simply be painted to completely refresh the look.
On the other hand, if the floors are staying for the foreseeable future, tying them in with relatively solid taupe countertops instead is also a great choice.
When a Two Toned Kitchen Works Best
The other reason why it will work well to paint the lowers a different colour than the uppers is because she does not have a pantry that makes this choice difficult. I often advise against a two toned kitchen when there are elements like pantries or housings for wall ovens that span both the lowers and uppers. That’s when it starts to look arbitrary and unbalanced to introduce two cabinet colours.
Taupe is a Great Choice to Update an Earthy Kitchen
Here’s another taupe kitchen with a backsplash that has been repeated in the decorating. Note that the earth toned backsplash is the star of this kitchen and was chosen before the cabinet colour.
When you have an earthy finish in your kitchen, it work better to repeat it rather than ignore it. That way it looks intentional and integrated.
Red and Orange Wood Tones Simply aren’t Coming Back Soon
The truth is, cherry is simply too orange/red to be either timeless or current.
Even if they WERE back in tomorrow, they would be combined with a totally different colour combination that would take them far away from the dated look we’re looking at right now. With a respectful nod to the wood gods, I would not hesitate to paint cherry cabinets and appreciate how well made they are, UNDER that fresh coat of paint.
Related post: An Open Letter to my Lover on Decorating
Resist the Temptation to Install New Black Fixtures and Hardware
My other hot tip is DO NOT install black hardware in this kitchen.
Because there’s not a stitch of black in here. Right now, black plumbing fixtures and hardware are trendy. So it’s easy to assume adding them will “update” your kitchen. However, if there is no black already in your decor or finishes they will just stick out as wrong and draw undue attention to themselves.
It’s Hard to See What is Possible when you are Attached to What Is
I can’t stress enough how important it is to take an honest assessment of what you’ve got and make the best of it.
And yes, that usually means reaching out for expert help. Because it can be difficult to make an objective judgment of what needs to happen in your own kitchen. Whether you love the look of it or not, your kitchen is like a good friend. You’re familiar and attached. You might even have become friendly with the warm cherry cabinets.
I know there are existing colours that I have already decided I’m going to live with (for now) in my house (specifically my exterior siding colour and porch) so much that I don’t see them anymore.
And it’s freaky to face decisions on how best to stretch your budget. When you look at the cost of painting cabinets and replacing countertops, you need to feel confident that you are going to get a worthwhile and beautiful outcome.
Trying to figure out where to start and where to spend can be overwhelming. Without the reassurance of an unbiased and experienced eye, it’s easy to get paralyzed with indecision.
And it’s especially tricky when you are working with a bossy element like a tile floor that’s not changing. Or an existing stone fireplace in your great room (which you also cannot ignore when updating your kitchen).
If you would like help with the best options for your kitchen refresh, you can find my popular Create a Classic Kitchen eDesign consultation here. I will walk you through the best options for your kitchen renovation so you can make the best of your investment and be assured of a beautiful result.