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Vancouver Interior Design – White Kitchen Cabinets; Advice for my Sister

By 02/12/2011February 21st, 201936 Comments

My sister Anita’s renovation starts this month and when she called and told me she was going nutty with the million different options, it helped me get inside the head of some of my clients and what they go through.

Just this week I got an email headlined ‘911 Paint Situation’. My client in Toronto had given BM ‘Cloud White’ to her kitchen cabinet company and ended up with ‘Ivory White’ instead.

She said “I am in full on crisis mode; the painters are at my house right now screaming for paint and I have no suggestions”. After an emergency 1 1/2 hour consultation where we discussed countertops, wall colours and selected hardware for the doors, she was calm again.

Anyway back to my sister.  She is clear she wants a white kitchen, after all she reads my blog. But that’s it.  Which white? She asked, “Well, what colour is your existing woodwork?  Let’s start there” I said.

“What about White vs. Stainless appliances, can I mix them up (above)?”  NO, I said, stainless always looks better than white, and it will start to look like you are waiting until they die one by one before you replace them.  Not a good look for a brand new kitchen. We compromised on the range, she said her white fridge is new so she can’t go to stainless with everything else.

“What about my oak flooring?”  She asked. “I think I’m used to the orangy, yellow look of them, should I keep the colour the way it is, since we are taking the lino out of the kitchen and continuing the wood in there?  It all needs to be refinished the same.”  My suggestion here was just to go with a medium brown tone:

In the 50’s house she’s in, going with any kind of gray tone would be way to trendy.. And of course espresso brown floors, would look totally out of place. You can’t really get away with keeping much old furniture with espresso floors, suddenly you need a contemporary furniture upgrade, stat!

What about the backsplash? One day on a whim, she was surfing ebay and sent me a link to this one:

“Aaaack”, I said, “Have you not learned a thing from my blog?  This is way too busy and more importantly, you don’t have a stitch of pink or red anywhere in your house!  How about blue glass subway tile?”

and white quartz countertops:

My sister loves blue and has had a crushed blue velvet sofa for 10 years. She says when we re-do her living room she wants the exact same colour.  So I suggested the blue backsplash because my sister insists her love of blue will not fade.

“Do we need to discuss all the other possibilities or does this feel right to you?” I asked.

Sometimes my clients need to know about all the other options before they feel comfortable they’ve made the right decision, and that’s part of the process. This way when your friends ask why your kitchen is white instead of a wood stain (for example), you’ll have the answer.

My sister insisted she trusts my opinion and was happy with the choices we discussed.

So we’ll bring in a blue sofa, some pale blue to tie in with the backsplash (the kitchen is opening up into the living room) fresh green drapes (like the photo above) or yellow, and we have a happy new house!

At the end of our latest conversation she sent me this email: “Woo Hoo!!!! Kitchen’s almost done. Thank you for the quick picks.  I’m so happy I don’t have to think about that anymore!!!  Yay, I feel like celebrating, it felt so complicated. There were so many options, I was drowning.  You make a good life raft.  Love, Anita”

Stayed tuned, this should be interesting.

If you would like your home to fill you with happiness every time you walk in, contact me.

Related posts:

A Something’s Gotta Give Kitchen Cabinet Dilemma
The Best Trim Colours; NOT Cloud White
2 Questions to ask before you Renovate vs. Decorate
Should you Surrender to the Temptation of a Trend?
Successful Interiors start with Space Planning

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  • Sara @ Russet Street Reno says:

    You are a wonderful sister. I will also be doing a white kitchen (brand new) later this year, I have no idea if I will get to pick the color white, or just buy a pre-fab white from a cabinet company. Either way, I think I've learned enough from you over the last year to make it beautiful!

  • Dee says:

    Such great advice for your sister or anyone really.


  • So tell me, can you work that kind of magic on my husband? I want to paint our dated oak white, but he'll never go for it. Got a 911 for that? LOL. Atlanta looked great — I'll get there eventually. Hope you're well!

  • Tamara Nicole says:

    You always have the best advice:-)

  • Grace @ Sense and Simplicity says:

    See there you did it – you threw your sister a life raft just like a good sister would. I like that she trusted your opinion on the blue backsplash and went with it. I hope we get to see after photos.

  • rouge says:

    Firstly, a thank you. My painters decided they were starting the exterior of my house in two days instead of two weeks' time and I've had to make some pretty snap decisions. The first (well, second) thing I did was to look up how to choose exterior colours on your blog.

    Secondly, a bit of a disagreement. I'm always uneasy around rules, because they don't allow for exceptions. So when I read " You can’t really get away with keeping much old furniture with espresso floors, suddenly you need a contemporary furniture upgrade, stat!" I wanted to send you pictures of my house. We've had espresso floors for the last ten years (bored with them now; want to change) and on them we've had sitting a mix of contemporary with antique chinese,french and english furniture and they look very funky indeed. Even if I do say so myself!

  • Anonymous says:

    Did you actually give your sister that advice for free???

  • Carla@DesignintheWoods says:

    I'm so tired of looking at orange oak floors. They turn more orange over time! I also love a white kitchen. Can't go wrong there. What a nice sister!

  • petras kunstblog says:

    I found your blog and am thrilled. You really are a color – professional. In the U.S. people are so brave with color. This is so great. I love colors.

  • Deborah says:

    Maria, I too am waiting for Anita to pick up her blogging pen again. It was fun to read about this sister act, and as always, I came away with some fresh ideas. I told Anita a while back that I could have sworn I heard your voice in my head as I was choosing a colour for my basement recently. Such is your influence, even though we've never met!

  • Loretta Fontaine (APPLESandRUBIES) says:

    Maria– That's what sisters are for! You both will be spending lots of time in her beautiful new kitchen!


  • Kathy @ Creative Home Expressions says:

    A happy sister and a happy client; what more could you ask for, Maria! : )

  • Ann says:

    Your sister is so lucky to have you…
    I wish I have one.
    Lovely advice for your sister's kitchen and great tips for us:)

  • Cathy Wall says:

    Love your blog and great advice, thanks for always sharing from the heart!
    A good sister and a good designer would do exactly what you just outlined, it's that collaboration, meeting of the minds that make great design! You obviously understand her tastes and her home so with your advice, that will be one very fun kitchen! BTW here is a solution to the white fridge, I just posted about it the other day…
    Enjoy your week-end…

  • creativeconceptsandcontracting says:

    What a great analogy – having someone navigate the design waters definitely does have the "life raft"! Wonder how long she would have loved that raspberry tile if you hadn't led her in the right direction!

  • Maria Killam says:

    Hi Anonymous, Haha, that's a good question, (based on my that post I wrote) my sister and I have worked out a friends and family discount and she is paying me yes.

    My sisters and their husbands both own homes and businesses, so should I spend ' my free time that I should be spending on generating MY business so that I can own MY home' working for them for free? No.

    And she respects my time and is doing all the legwork herself so that I can give her such a great screaming discount 🙂


  • Maria Killam says:

    Hi Rouge,
    Your furniture sounds like it would work with a dark floor, but if someone installs dark espresso floors without one stitch of that colour repeated in furniture in any way, it's like taking a black felt pen and outlining every single piece of old and dated oak furniture, for example.

    There are most definitely no 'rules' in design ever, only guidelines, so perhaps I should have said that.

    Your house sounds beautiful!

  • A Perfect Gray says:

    You convey the process of decision making so well and your writing style is so comfortable and easy to read. I always say, after reading your posts, 'why can't I think like that?"

    thanks, donna

  • Lazy Gardens says:

    “Do we need to discuss all the other possibilities or does this feel right to you?” I asked.

    A great time- and sanity-saver once you learn to let go of all the million possibilities and second-guessing.

    Each choice shrinks the remaining possibilities, so you don't even need to waste time on them. Her love of the blue couch eliminates a huge swath of color choices.

    I went to a granite yard for remnants to replace small counter sections next to the stove. Had samples of the existing floor tile (Saltillo rust/peach) and cabinet doors (deep walnut red/brown).

    My, did that shrink my choices! Almost everything they had had yellowish undertones (thanks for the undertone lessons!) and looked jaundiced and sallow. Out of several hundred pieces in the boneyard, I ended up with a choice between three remnants. So I picked the one that had a lot of the peachy/rust with flecks of a walnut brown. It blends well, and I'm DONE with that decision.

    Sometimes my clients need to know about all the other options before they feel comfortable they’ve made the right decision, and that’s part of the process.Drives me nuts to thrash through all the possibilities. Usually something in the requirements stage (must go with couch, must be drought-tolerant, etc.) precludes that choice.

    I try very hard at the beginning to get the client focused on the purpose (what engineers call "design requirements") of the project … get it in writing. Any choices I present are made in the context of how well they fulfill the purpose, how well they meet the stated needs. Rejected choices are presented in the context of how they didn't fulfill the purpose.

    I have had potential clients suggest that I "whip up a few options for them to look at" instead of their doing some serious thinking about what they really want and need. I tell them "No thanks, I'm not a mind-reader. Let's get your needs out in the open and see what's possible." I have lost clients that way, but they would have been more stress than they were worth.

    This way when your friends ask why your kitchen is white instead of a wood stain (for example), you'll have the answer. The only answer you need to know: Because I like it.

  • My House, My Garden says:


    Your sister is so blessed to have you!! If you are ever in a fight with her and feel lonely, you can be my sister for a day or two until you make up. 🙂


  • Lazy Gardens says:

    ADDING: The choice of granite severely shrinks the possibilities for backsplash. It has a lot of "movement" in it, so much that as a full countertop it would dominate the kitchen.

    Whatever the backsplash is will have to be very meek and demure to avoid a catfight between the surfaces.

  • Mitzi says:

    Just discovered your blog. I'm in the middle of a white kitchen makeover. I could really relate to that pic of the dozen or so white paint cards. Everyone keeps telling me "warm white" so I am on the search. Your comment about the trim color makes me wonder though. My trim is way too bright white. I will enjoy reading your archives and will likely find good advice about the trim and cabinet color.

  • Mary says:

    "It will start to look like you are waiting until they die one by one before you replace them."
    That's exactly what we are doing in regard to our appliances.
    Too funny!

  • Michelle Donald says:

    Great all round advice Maria – that's what we colour consultants do so well – make it easy for our clients who are usually confused by all the options available. Ofcourse beautiful greige walls would look especially great here as the pink undertones will love the white kitchen, mid tone brown floors, blue sub splashback and blue sofa but you're probably thinking aaargh! as I know you prefer yellow undertones.

  • Tammy@InStitches says:

    I hope we get to see before and after pics. As much as I hate my orange wood floors, I hate the idea of dust in every nook and cranny of my house even more. I think I'll just add more orange. Is that crazy ?

  • Sheila Zeller says:

    I love this post! You rock Maria!

  • Anonymous says:

    Glad you worked out a plan with your sister. quite frankly if you were my sister and plastered all over the Internet your private information about your personal business dealings, i would be a tad upset … I agree with you 100% that time is money and that perhaps they might pay you a small fee, but to state this in what I consider to be a graphic manner, is strange? Family and friends are important after all. And if we can't help out family, then who do we help?
    And it helps for your portfolio? And they tell friends? And they are supportive?
    Your True Colour Expert courses sound interesting – I know you love and appear to understand colour. Where exactly and who qualifies this "True Colour Expert" qualification?
    Are you a qualified interior designer? Not trying to pick you apart here, but if you put all this out there, so am interested to know?

  • A Color Specialist in Charlotte says:

    I was wondering what happened to your sister's blog. I enjoyed that one too! You're charging her? Ouch. Can't you say it's a birthday gift? That's always a touchy subject when one starts charging family members for services. Either way, she's lucky to have such talent in the family for handy advice. Myself, friends get a nice discount and family I'm forever grateful for helping me get where I am today so they get full services – free – for life 🙂

    I chose white (other than trim) for the first time just a few weeks ago for a sports themed kids room. My clients feel like they are getting ripped off if white was chosen instead of a color. Interesting isn't it?

  • traci zeller designs says:

    That's great advice for everyone … not just your sister! Did you want to just die when you got the picture of the pinky-red tile? AAAHHHHHHH!!

  • Brillante Interiors says:

    Right on, Maria, as usual. She will have the most beautiful kitchen with your help.

  • EleCat says:

    You mean to say that there are different whites? lol! Sorry for the sarcasm…. I remember getting a little 'wound up' (choosing house colours) when my husband would say things like, 'you can't go wrong with white, aren't whites all the same?'….. we had a similar grey discussion until I fanned out a mass of colour sample cards: all grey. 🙂 The blue (splashback) is a lovely peaceful colour. Not a colour I'd generally think of for a kitchen but it really is lovely. …………… P.S. -Glad you set 'anonymous' straight. Funny, she's still obviously following. 🙂

  • Donna says:

    Oh my Maria!! I can't believe I missed a post! This weekend…with all the illness at home..I just ended up coasting. I had a Saturday and Sunday post planned..but didn't even think about it.

    I LOVE 'seeing' and 'hearing' this discussion! It helps so much to understand what you are doing and how you apply the principles that you talk about so much. I bet Anita is so happy. :o)

    I love the colors you picked for her kitchen and livingroom. So pretty and 'spring-like'.


  • Tania says:

    Great post! When I was just beginning to think about what I wanted for my white kitchen, the first place I got inspiration was from your 'white kitchen cabinets' post. If you have a chance, please take a peek on how it turned out.

    Many thanks!

  • Scribbler says:

    I always enjoy your newsletters — such good advice and so nicely written.

  • megmat says:

    I have just started reading your blog as I have just started decorating my first home (I have lived in plenty of rented houses). I was deligted to see you use the 'blue splash back' kitchen photo because it is one that I have recently found and I had inlcuded it in my style file for my kitchen reno! That made my day! I used an interior designer to begin my decorating process but I love to learn for myself and your blog has been invaluable. Thank you

  • varsha says:

    i love your style .I was deligted to see you use the 'blue splash back' kitchen photo because it is one that I have recently found and I had inlcuded it in my style file for my kitchen reno

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