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Can you have White Cabinets with Espresso Hardwood Floors?

By 06/03/2014January 28th, 201736 Comments

I was on google recently, and three times in a row, with different searches, this post kept showing up right at the top: How to completely mess up your kitchen remodel: a step-by-step tutorial.

espresso floors

This is the kitchen she coveted

This DIY blogger named Kelly is a great writer and so entertaining. She generously shared her mistakes so that others could avoid making the same ones.

Under ‘Huge Mistake #1″ here is what she shared:

When we went cabinet shopping, we shopped all over: big box stores, tiny cabinet makers in boutique shops, weird warehouses in the ghetto, you name it. At one place, there was a “designer” wandering the showroom to help customers choose their finishes. I told her that I had dark wood floors and wanted white cabinets. To which she replied: “Oh, you don’t want white cabinets. That’ll be too stark a contrast with your floors. You need cream.”

 That was where her first mistake snowballed into a kitchen that she does not madly love.

And she should right?

Kitchen Renovation

This is her kitchen now.

I have often wondered how someone could have a Pinterest board filled with images of their perfect kitchen and end up with something that doesn’t look anything they thought they wanted.

Now I get it. 

Even more than when I wrote this post: Ask Maria: Help, I Don’t Want the Same Kitchen as Everyone Else!

Anyway, I wrote this post about white vs. cream kitchens in September 2009, where I said that brown goes with creams and white goes with black.

The exception to this is with floors. When I read about this designers (bad) advice it struck me that my readers might think the same thing with that post.

I want to be clear, this is a general guideline to keep in mind when you are thinking about brown vs. black.

Medium brown floors are the new timeless colour but can you have a white kitchen with them?


If you install espresso brown floors (every single speck will show, but that is besides the point) can you still have white cabinets?


Neutral as Denim

Flooring reads a lot like denim unless it’s really red or some designer colour. The same rules do not apply regarding white/black vs. cream/brown.

For the record, after reading Kelly’s awesome post, I wanted you to make sure you had it right!

You know I live to make sure your kitchen is a space that fills you with happiness when you walk in the door which means there can be no room for advice taken THAT literally : )   xoxo Maria

Related posts:

How Important is the Colour of Wood vs. Wall Colour

5 Steps to a Kitchen You will Love!

Which Flooring is the Best for your Kitchen? Tile or Hardwood

If you would like your home to fill you with happiness every time you walk in the door, become a client. On-line or In-person.

To get your exterior colours right, download my How to Choose Exterior Colours with Confidence webinar and get my go-to list of colours.

Download my eBook, How to Choose Paint Colours – It’s All in the Undertones to get my complete step-by-step system on how to get colour to do what you want and to make sure the undertones in your home are right, get some large samples!

If you would like to learn how to choose colour with confidence, become a True Colour Expert. 

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  • bfish says:

    I’m perplexed by the “now” Kelly’s kitchen. If white is ostensibly too stark a contrast with dark brown floors, why are all of the doors and trim (and lower cabinets appear to be also) bright white? Sorry Kelly, but it makes the cream upper cabinets look dirty (and their pinkiness isn’t harmonious with bluish-gray walls). And the backsplash has the same problem of not working with the wall color but I can see that the tiles are okay with the cream and her counter stools pick up the earth tones.

    It still looks way better than my un-remodeled kitchen though, so enough said!

  • Mary-Illinios says:

    At least Kelly can fix her kitchen with some paint & a new backsplash.
    This reminds me of a post you did in January 2013 about dumb designers. I still feel bad for that reader.

  • I agree with the above reader, why on earth would they go with the cream cabinets and then have all of the other woodwork be white?

  • Paula Van Hoogen says:

    I’m wondering also, who/what changed her mind about a light or white counter top? And backsplash.
    The cabinets can probably be painted, but the rest is too difficult/expensive to change. Also the boxy floor plan didn’t need more colors and elemants to break it up. I guess she knows that by now. I clicked on her link, but it won’t open. Says: Page Not Found.
    Poor girl! I think I would at least paint and rip out the back splash. But I don’t know her husband!

    • Maria Killam says:

      HI Paula, OMG after all that, my first link didn’t work, thanks for letting me know!

      I think she was so generous posting this on her blog! And it gets her A LOT of hits given it was at the top of google searches 🙂 so smart!

    • KA says:

      Click on the picture. She lost her confidence even though she found a light counter she liked. She made an expensive mistake and made more afterwards. They were do it yourselfers for the most part. The counter guy made the holes too close for her faucet to work properly, etc. She can paint the cabinetry, but it won’t be as good a finish as the factory which made them originally.

      I design kitchens and baths and the best ones to do are the ones where the client has a photo she’s trying to “copy.” I had one yesterday from Santa Barbara where they had a flood thanks to their fridge malfunctioning. She brought in an iPad and with a picture and we talked about did she like traditional or modern? Open shelving? Bumped out top mount old fashioned sink? Fancy toe kick embellishments? She lives in a traditional home but would prefer a glass modern high rise, but isn’t going to change everything in her house since she has young kids. The top mount sink was inappropriate since she was shorter than I am. Not doing a real marble counter but one out of quartz. White subway tile just like the photo on the iPad. Floor will be wood to match the rest of the wood in the house. Easy.

      The ones that are hard are the ones that have no idea and can’t make a decision.

      The ones I like most is helping women in their 60s and 70s get what they want after YEARS of dreaming. If they have wanted cobalt blue their whole lives and they REALLY want it, I’m going to help them get it. They have scraped and saved for it and I’m going to help them realize their dreams, pointing out potential improvements and helping them avoid pitfalls from having seen thousands of clients and the problems we’ve solved before.

      • KA says:

        BTW, the cobalt blue kitchen went with everything in her house and she bought blue bahia granite and EVERYONE who came in to this realtor’s house loved it. She’d had lived in Beverly Hills and it suited her and she died a few years afterwards from cancer.

        Another one who had had cancer 3 times came in to buy and said wait to cash the deposit because I find out if it has spread to my lungs. Her husband said do it anyway. I said do it anyway so you have a beautiful place to recuperate in a place similar to the inspiration home above. She did it, loved it and enjoyed it for about 3 years, but eventually died from the cancer. Better than living in the original from the 1960s dark beach condo from before.

        Just finished one for a couple whose husband had to have his leg amputated the day they were meeting to sign with their general contractor a few years back.

        Real clients have real problems in their lives. It’s easy to criticize, but real life interrupts and sometimes compromises have to be made.

        When I did mom’s, she didn’t want to move out if they became disabled, not realizing my sister would become disabled and have to move back in with my parents so they could take care of her. For the rest of their lives. So the living room is on hold as they contend with all that.

        • Dawn says:


          You sound like a great person! Really enjoyed reading about your clients and how you helped them.


          • KA says:

            Thank you–I have made so many friends from doing their kitchens. It really can change your life for the better if it is done right. I could easily write a book about it. I may ask Maria for referrals to her resources.

            My arthritic dad said, “These roll trays are the best thing about the kitchen.” I said “Dad, I wouldn’t have let you guy NOT GET the roll trays.” I now takes 10 minutes to clean up after dinner whereas before it would take 30 to pull out everything, stack it and put it back. When I did the bathrooms, with their toilets not being standard sizes, I laughed and said I could write a book about toilets, embarrassing as that is!

      • Paula Van Hoogen says:

        You are so mercifully right KA!
        I need to take off my “Wanna-Be” decorator badge and put on my ministering hat…..because at the end of the day, it is, indeed, about caring how PEOPLE feel in their home.

        • KA says:

          Paula, I don’t disagree with what you’ve written AT ALL, but I see how people can end up like this when they don’t take the advice. I’ve had people get bids from me, not go with me and then second guess everything their contractor does. Then when the cabinets are in, “Oooh, they are the wrooong color. Do I tell them to take them out? do I tell them to re paint them?”

          How do I know what’s your agreement with them when it’s not my job to do their job? You went with them.


          “The granite or quartz counter is in and now the refrigerator won’t fit or won’t open–what am I going to tell my designer/general contractor to do?”

          Well, you didn’t go with me and my team because you thought they were cheaper. There are solutions to these issues, but you didn’t want to pay for our expertise.


          Only thing was I wish we could have done it all in one session because I’m excited to get going on my own things! 🙂

  • Paula Van Hoogen says:

    Also, a good carpenter can redo that crown molding to connect it with the ceiling. Small detail, but obvious.

    • KA says:

      Good carpenter is the key. Fitting the molding to the ceiling is an issue because rarely is anything in a house a straight line.

    • Rebecca says:

      As a kitchen designer, that caught my attention right away. The crown needs to go to the ceiling, or be a good distance from the ceiling.

  • Paula Van Hoogen says:

    Ok, sorry to be a pain here, but….if there’s only ONE chance for a pendant light—make it larger and make it really sharp. Cap off or change the ceiling mounted fixture and add a modern, LED rod with tiny, AIMED, lights. Under cabinets lights are better, in any case.
    OK, I’ll shut up.

  • Rhonda says:

    I wish Kelly had been my friend! I would have told her to STOP when she didn’t get the cabinet color she wanted, which resulted in her NOT getting the dream kitchen she wanted. We’ve made enough mistakes along the way, building and outfitting a house, to have learned that when it’s not what you really want, to fight! Make them change it! Yes, it will cost extra money, but in the long run, it might be more cost efficient. And the important thing, you are happy! I agree with the others, the cabinet color just looks wrong with the trim color and the crisp blue walls. While the brown counter and tiles are nice, it’s a far cry from her chosen marble and subway tile. The cabinets could be painted, but she is stuck with the rest, due to the financial investment. Makes me sad!

    • Rhonda says:

      All that being said, Kelly did make lemonade out of a lemon and did the best she could. At least she has an attractive, clean, new kitchen and new appliances and can relax and enjoy her babies now!

  • AnneElise says:

    My POV; if a designer gives advice you’re unsure of, find another designer. And if a contractor doesn’t follow your directions, ARGUE with him/her until you win.

  • Janet says:

    Thanks for sharing this, Maria, and thanks to Kelly for sharing her story.

  • Kathy says:

    Maria, I know she is not seeking your help, but would you do to “save” this kitchen? Paint the cabinets white? Change the wall color? Or?

  • Katherine says:

    Why not just paint the upper cabs white to match the trim, and eventually tear out and replace back splash with white subway tile? And yes, a larger, more decorative pendant would be nice.

  • Katherine says:

    Oh, sorry, just looked at the pic again and saw that all cabs are cream, so I change my original suggestion to repainting all cabs white to match the trim.

  • Oh what a heart wrenching story! How courageous of her to share it so others can learn from those mistakes. The biggest concern I had, was that she trusted the ‘designer’. I’ve found that it’s very rare to find a REAL INTERIOR DESIGNER, in a showroom, I call them salespeople not designers. (Of course there are exceptions but I’ve seen so many of my clients hire me as they trusted ‘designers’ in big box stores or show rooms). My heart goes out to this woman.

  • Kim says:

    I purchased some of your color boards awhile ago and they have helped me so much, especially in choosing whites. I have a lot of different home projects, and one of them is repainting trim to the right white. Reading about Kelly’s experience reminds me how glad I am to have the color boards. (COLOUR!) My painting season is about to begin again as I can open my windows for fresh air!

  • Kay says:

    What a sad experience, and how generous of her to share it. I wonder how quickly her kitchen was done (from concept to execution)? If I had not thought about my kitchen for so long, and put it on hold for six months, and discovered and consulted with Maria, I could be in the same position, with a kitchen greatly improved from what I had before but far from what I really wanted. With such an important (and difficult) room, time is your friend.

  • Teri says:

    I have beautiful not espresso dark maple flooring with white cabinets in my kitchen. The cabinets and trim are a warm white (SW Greek Villa) Beautiful! Wouldn’t change a thing. You can find photos on my board for Our House

  • Just moved into a home that has the right color wood floors and white cabinets. BUT, they came with mocha pink beige countertop and backsplash! Bummer.

    • BillP says:

      You are lucky. Cabinets and floors are the expensive part. It is easy to change countertop and backsplash.

  • Lorri says:

    Wow. My heart goes out to her, but she’s a good writer!

  • KJ says:

    Wow, what a great post by Kelly. I know these are totally “first world” problems, but it’s painful to have to live with mistakes when you are “into” design and how your home looks. I always try to remind myself “don’t throw good money after bad”. It’s hard because the quick fix usually involves matching what’s “wrong” already in a room or home. It can be hard to hold out for the vision you have. I do think Kelly should paint her cabinets white and change her backsplash to a marble subway with a bit of brown/gold, NOT gray in it. Lowe’s has some great marble Venatino tiles right now for cheap:

    But buy twice as many boxes as you think you need, pick out the ones that match your countertop and return the rest.

  • DY says:

    Maria, Google provides personalized search results based on information they have about you (previous searches, emails through Gmail, etc), so this link might not be at the top for someone else searching the same terms. Just thought you should know the search rankings are not set in stone (and that Google is following you!).

  • Gilda says:


  • gayle says:

    I’ve been looking for the right quartz countertop to go with white Schrock cabinets in my kitchen (a small U-shaped kitchen that is separated from the dinette set by a peninsula.) This small kitchen and dinette area flow into my family room, btw.

    First, I was going to go with off-white cabinets that the company calls a “neutral off white” (Coconut is that off-white color from Schrock, a Masterbrands company). However, my round glass top dinette set has dark brown wrought iron chairs with light brown (tan, I guess) upholstery. I really love the dinette set.

    Because the dinette set and chair sit so close to the peninsula, I didn’t want anything busy in the way of the quartz choice, but I just couldn’t find anything that I thought looked good with off-white cabs. Everything seemed “blah” to me and I simply don’t want brown quartz.

    Therefore, I switched by cabinet choice to the white rather than the off-white and found the Viatera quartz named Waltz or the Silestone named Daria as a second possibility. Waltz is beige with some interesting yet delicate movement and Daria is more yellow but very delicately so.

    Now, reading about don’t put brown with white has freaked me out! Going from wood cabinets all these years to painted white is a very big move to begin with, especially when we’re talking about one big room–kitchen, dinette, family room. I started to love the look of the clean white and now the off-white cabs seem dull and “dirty” plus I never found any quartz I loved with them.

    Do you think the dark brown wrought iron chairs will be too stark with the very white cabinets behind them? There really aren’t that many cabinets as I’m taking down the 1980s cabinets over the peninsula. Thoughts?

  • Maria says:

    Hi Maria (we share same name),
    I wonder if you can advise what colour caulking (silicone) has been used with these white kitchen cabinets kick boards against dark timber flooring? And also against white skirting boards? Would you use White or dark coloured caulking?

    I would appreciate your suggestion with this dilemma of mine.
    Many thank and hope you can help.


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