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WWMD: Will a White Kitchen Work with my Existing Granite Countertops?

By 07/22/2020September 30th, 202026 Comments

You know how much I love a white kitchen. But sometimes, a white kitchen is not the best choice. Here’s my advice for a a two readers who want to know if a white kitchen will work with their existing granite countertops. Because, you cannot simply ignore your earthy granite countertops and just paint your cabinets white and/or install white subway tile and call it a white kitchen. Here’s why.

What would Maria Do

I came across your YouTube channel today! I am desperate for some advice. My girlfriend and I just bought an older home and we are slowly changing some things … (EVERYTHING).

She doesn’t want to change the granite countertops. So, my best bet was to suggest we make everything around them white.

Here is my worry: White won’t drown out the messy granite. We are painting all the cabinets white and we painted the entire house Sherwin Williams Agreeable Gray. Now we are looking for a backsplash and flooring. Will white subway tile be too much? What do you suggest for floors? I’ve attached some photos. Please let me know what you think.

Ariane’s Kitchen Renovation with cabinets already painted white

Will a white kitchen work with my existing granite countertops?

This is a great question because I fear many people are doing the same thing – trying to design a white kitchen around their existing granite countertops (or even their existing earthy flooring or backsplash tile). You know I LOVE A WHITE KITCHEN. But this, my friends, is when a white kitchen is not the best choice.

white subway tile with granite

Some of the backsplash tile Ariane is considering.

As you can see, white isn’t always the answer. I know, I can’t believe I’m saying this… but it’s true.

Adding new white subway tile will simply look like NEW combined with OLD (yesterday and today).  These glass and linear cuts are especially too cold and contemporary for the earthy granite. Similar to this kitchen with creamy countertops and a white backsplash and cabinets below. It just ends up looking like we decorated all around something old.

Yesterday and today all in one kitchen.

It will be obvious that they were installed at different times and the goal for any renovation is that when the renovation is complete, everything should STILL look like it was installed intentionally and at the same time.

Thinking about a white bathroom, but keeping your existing tile? Read this: How to refresh your bathroom without replacing the tile.

existing granite countertops

Here’s a close up of Ariane’s granite countertops.

You cannot ignore the granite just by adding lots of white (because white is current), you must work with the countertop that is staying.

Paint your cabinets a richer colour

One strategy is to paint the cabinets a warmer complex cream or greige to better relate to the granite, but there are other ways to update your kitchen if you don’t want to change your granite.

The solutions used in both kitchens that I talked about that had 90s granite in this post would help solve the dilemmas here. That is painting the cabinets a rich colour that better balances the granite.

As a bonus, a deep cabinet colour can help disguise a less-than-current cabinet door profile better than white which puts every panel and edge into high relief.

Pay attention to the kitchen details and styling

It’s also important to note that it’s the DETAILS that take an average builder kitchen (with OLD granite) and bring it into 2020.

This kitchen renovator (below) paid careful attention to the details that would update their peach granite. They removed cabinets and added stained wood shelving (a nice update for many older kitchens).  But what’s important to notice is that the natural wood tone of the shelves they installed perfectly repeats the peachy colour of the granite.

They also repeated the colour in copper accessories, wood cutting boards and a hit of terracotta and WHAM, the kitchen feels new again.

Because the colour of the granite wasn’t ignored, careful consideration of the details makes it looks right and intentional.

Bigger than the Three of Us

Although the rich navy cabinetry contributes to the success of the kitchen above, a similar trick was used in this kitchen below with white cabinets.

Technically, this countertop should also have been paired with cream countertops/backsplash but the overall READ (pink beige/brown) of the countertops was repeated in the brown, wood-stained countertop on the island, the wood hood fan detail, as well as the baskets.


Look at what the kitchen was BEFORE. This transformation took a lot of creative vision!


So, what would Maria do?

Let’s go over this again. . .  If you are keeping your granite countertops, you simply cannot ignore them and paint your cabinets white and/or install a white subway tile. A white kitchen without regard to the existing hard finishes (whether you’re keeping the existing floor, countertops or backsplash) will not give you the fresh new look you’re hoping for. It is very likely to backfire and make the old finish you’re working around stick out even more.

Get out your brushes and rollers and paint your cabinets a deeper colour, and/or repeat the colour of the granite with wood tones in an intentional way. Pay attention to the layout of your uppers. Could you remove some and install nice open wood shelving instead to repeat the granite colour and give you opportunities for styling?

Here is another similar kitchen dilemma I received from a reader the other day:

Can I paint my kitchen cabinets blue grey and introduce black hardware with my existing granite countertops?

I do think it’s a good idea to paint the lowers a blue grey colour. It would definitely help make these countertops disappear, again, just like this kitchen (below) which I talked about in this post about how to update your 90s granite a few months ago.

Here is the kitchen from that post below. Along with the rich cabinet colour, see how the details and styling are what makes it work.

Beautiful way to update a kitchen with 90s granite by Chris Loves Julia

The beadboard backsplash painted the same colour as the cabinets lends a moody and modern English country look that balances the earthy granite. And the woody, pink beige tones of the granite are repeated in the wood accessories prominently displayed.

Stuck with a design element that sticks out or looks wrong? Repeat it.

It doesn’t take much to repeat an element that is a bit of an anomaly to make it look like it belongs.  If this kitchen (above), with its almost white floor also had white cabinets, the granite would stick out sorely as being wrong IF it wasn’t repeated in relatively large doses somewhere. Wood floors can sometimes repeat the brown tones of earthy granite successfully, but usually, it will need a bit more than just flooring.

Back to my reader’s kitchen, they also asked if 2″ x 8″ polished white subway tile would work here.

Mr. Build-it

What would Maria do? Well, if the granite is staying, introducing a white herringbone backsplash (like this one above) would make the countertop feel even more dated and out of place.

Subway tile installed in a brick pattern would look more like it was installed the same time as the granite instead of a fancy installation like the herringbone. AND, clearly any white tile would be much better than what is there.

Is black hardware a good kitchen update?

And as for black hardware, there is not enough black in this kitchen (shown again below) to continue repeating it in the hardware and new ceiling fan. Really, the raised bar top technically should never have been black in the first place.

Which brings me to a point that I think is important to make right now in the black trend: just because black is trending, does not mean it is the answer for updating every kitchen. A black faucet and hardware plunked into an older kitchen with granite countertops will not magically make it new. It’s better to opt for a softer finish for a more timeless look in most cases.


So if you’re stuck with a finish that feels earthy? Don’t ignore it! Pair it with a richer colour palette and make sure to repeat the colour of your earthy finish (granite or tile) in other elements of your design and styling.

Meg White Interiors

Now, over to you, my lovelies. Since the black and white trend has completely obliterated this kind of granite in a kitchen, if you have a granite countertop like this, maybe the first place to look is dark and dramatic to take the attention away from it?

What do you think? Yay or Nay?

If you’d like to make sure that your kitchen colours and finishes end up perfect, try my Classic Kitchen eDesign package.

Please note, the smaller eDesign packages are still marked SOLD OUT, but my Bathroom package, kitchen package, renovation and new build packages, plus the Exterior Bundles are still available. My subscribers will the the first to know when they open up again. Thank you for your patience!

Trying the nail down the perfect white colour?  Download my White is Complicated; A Decorator’s Guide to Choosing the Right White.

Related Posts:

Why Does Travertine Backsplash Look Wrong in a White Kitchen (and how to fix it)

Do This Before you Choose a Cabinet Colour

Ask Maria: Help! My White Kitchen Cabinets Seem to Change Colour

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  • marina says:

    Hi Maria,

    I see the concept. I thought the countertops are easy to remove .. Like we can make new windows in the house, not to mention removal of some tile .. haha
    Anyway I am far from buying the house, but I will take into account your color advises…

  • Lorri says:

    Ariane’s granite has charcoal streakst. Charcoal cabinets would look great, I think.

    • Lorri says:

      Typo: “streaks”

    • Claire says:

      Ariane’s granite looks like Kashmir White, the same stuff we have in our bathroom. Despite the poor lighting in the photos Maria got, that granite does look good with cabinets that Maria would classify as off-white as opposed to cream. Just avoid pure and blue whites, despite the grayish blue colors in that granite. There is too much warmth in other areas for that cold of a white to work best. Subway tiles in any white shade will look too clean without some texture—matte or irregular glaze. What about lighter solid color subway tiles that pick up one of the colors in the granite? There are a number of colors to choose from—lighter tans, blue grays, pale warm gray (the base color of the stone). There isn’t that much light in the space, so going dark on the cabinetry may prove oppressive. PS: Seal the heck out of that granite and do it often. It’s incredibly porous.

  • KJG says:

    I love these creative ideas for updating kitchens; could even say that designing with older but still very functional granite is the new environmental chic look! it does bother me to see older granite being automatically smashed with sledgehammers on these home improvement shows.

  • Diane Kipp says:

    Very informative and helpful post, as always, Maria – thank you. Can I assume the same principle holds if a different piece of the kitchen is being retained while other elements are updated? I am planning to keep my maple kitchen cabinets (light cherry stain) but had hoped to update to white quartz countertops and a white backsplash. (Will also be replacing the floor with an as yet unknown wood look LVT.) From this post, now I am thinking I will need to go with an earthier tone counter and backsplash? And then I assume I have to repeat the cabinet color somewhere?

    • Maria Killam says:

      Ack NO. I would absolutely install off-white quartz and backsplash in a maple kitchen. Maria

  • Cindy says:

    Once again excellent article. As always I learned so much. You offered the best solution, although i bet they are face palming at the thought of painting those cabinets again, i agree, it would totally be worth it.


  • Christian says:

    That last photo — of the bright blue cabinetry — is phenomenal!

  • Sandy says:

    Hi Maria,
    I love the use of a deep color to bring warm earthy granite up to date in your examples! Totally agree. Thank you again for training our eye on the details that make design look so good.

  • Lynn says:

    I want to preface my comment by saying that you are a brilliant color expert whose blog has inspired and guided me for years! However, I’m concerned that the dark rich colors on cabinets, beautiful as they are, will soon be outdated like the colorful kitchens of the ’60s (I grew up in an aqua blue kitchen with cocoa color counters). I was surprised that you didn’t lean more into a warm white or creamy cabinet paint color. If Ariane goes with dark cabinets, what would you suggest for backsplash?

    • Maria Killam says:

      The granite is ALREADY dated, so in order to stretch out that kitchen reno and make it feel way more current (than it will be in the wrong colour) THAT is why I’m suggesting that we introduce COLOUR over white. If she goes with dark lowers for example, she could do a more cream backsplash and cream uppers. No matter what, white doesn’t work with that granite UNLESS she were to take out some uppers and repeat the granite in some shelving like the inspiration kitchen shows. What makes even a timeless white kitchen feel slightly dated are the new details that someone in current day would incorporate. Like pantry walls, upper shelving, appliances towers, etc.
      Hope that helps, Maria

    • Laureen Dane says:

      I love the 90’s granite kitchen updated to the modern English country look. What is the dark grey blue colour on the cabinets?
      Thank you.

      • Sheree L says:

        Laureen Dane, if you click on the link under the photo, it will take you to the website Chris Loves Julia. You can read their whole blog post on their kitchen reveal. In it, they said the color is Thunderous by Sherwin Williams. Hope that helps!

  • Liz Bufo says:

    As always Maria, terrific summary and suggestions! So what colors did you recommend to Ariane to solve her dilemma? If she was to paint her cabinets- which of the off whites/creams relate best to her granite?

    • Maria Killam says:

      What I’m saying is that Ariane could paint her kitchen Navy. Or definitely her kitchen needs to be in the realm of cream so that the granite doesn’t stick out.

  • Mid America Mom says:

    Long time no post! Those decoratives can go a long way as any home stager also knows. Don’t forget the throw rug or counter stool. In a previous kitchen of ours with the 4″ splash – I put up art in the remaining space. Not that popular Word stuff (it did not exist back then except in a retro kitchen – aka Diner) but prints with color and we even took into account the color and style/size of the frame. And I cannot help but think of the large piece of art Maria that you placed in your sisters kitchen. Recently I have been working on updating the canisters on the countertop which has become a bigger hassle than I ever imagined. Google and pinterest is my friend and my foe!

  • Vanessa says:

    As always Maria, a very helpful post! One thing I haven’t been able to find in your posts is kitchen cabinet colors when countertop, backsplash and floors are already white. Would it also be a rich color, if the hard finishes will not be changing and cabinets won’t be updated? My kitchen has 4×4 white tile for counters and backsplash, and larger white glazed Saltillo tiles on the floor. Our oak cabinets were painted a mahogany color years ago. While they could use a refresh, it doesn’t sound like white cabinets are the way to go. Would love your advice or a post on what would work best for an update in situations like these.

  • Sheree L says:

    Maria, I just love when you help readers with a real life issue. And granite counters are so ubiquitous in my area (I have one too!), so I appreciate your insight and suggestions. My whole house is kind of “earthy” and will probably always be that way, but I do live in the Phoenix area in a kind of “southwest style” home, so it’s okay 🙂 Because I could never afford to redo all the granite counters and travertine floors, it’s good to know how to decorate around those things. I made a few minor mistakes before I found your blog, but with your wisdom, I’m learning!

  • Bri says:

    I’m noticing so many people are using open shelving instead of upper cabinets lately. However, one thing that I think people would be wise to consider is where they live – if you live in an area prone to earthquakes, open shelving could potentially lead to more damage if/when breakable items fall off during an earthquake.

    The practical scientist in me can’t help but notice these things – just another thing to consider when designing your kitchen! 🙂

    • D Johnson says:

      I completely agree. My guests think it’s weird that I still have my child safety latches on my kitchen uppers (my kids are in college). But my family has lost too many glasses and dishes in So. California earthquakes. As much as I love open shelving, I’ll have to admire it from afar.

  • Lisa says:

    I first discovered you 17 months into an 18 month building project. Oh how I wish I had discovered you earlier, you could have saved me SO much money and stress!

  • Lucy says:

    Maria your examples and solutions are normally spot on but I am having difficulty with the kitchen with grey granite and brownish subway tile plus the black bar top. To me this is such a hodge podge that nothing could make it look right unless the backsplash was removed. Have you ever specified painting a backsplash in case the client could not afford to remove it? There are now paints that bond well with tile. I have seen some that look great.. Your advice to accesorize is always good as long as it doesn’t add insult to injury.

    Love your posts as usual!

    • Maria Killam says:

      Hi Lucy, I’m so glad you mentioned this, yes absolutely the backsplash needs to be replaced, I just felt that a polished herringbone subway tile would look very ‘today’ while the kitchen is still 90s. Therefore a regular brick pattern would be better. And yes painting this backsplash would also be good!
      Thanks for letting me know I missed this critical piece of advice in this post! Maria

  • Nancy says:

    I thought of this post while looking at an old 90’s design book this morning. There were some well-designed kitchens that still look fantastic today and it’s because of great design. I think when inheriting granite in a kitchen that didn’t age well, it makes sense to study how 90’s granite was handled in spaces still hold their own. One mindset can be making the kitchen more of what it should have been all along (i.e. what’s the overlap between what looked amazing then and what makes your heart sing today). Your point about painting the cabinets a color was especially apropos!

  • Coni Lucas says:

    Maria, I live n a 50 yo mobile home with some updates. I did replace floors with Farmhouse vinyl. Inhave had to rip out kitchen section & lower cabinets to replace subfloor. The upper cabinets r fine. I painted them a light grey outside with lite green on back, no doors.
    Now I need 2 coordinate bottom cabinets and countertop. Im leaning toward the shaker with a granite top of blk & white with movement n the design.
    Is granite 2 elegant for a partially updated mobile home? Will the lower shaker b compatible with flat wood open tops? Do I get white lowers, gray? Paint uppers white? Im financially restricted but really dont want laminate. Also dont want to spend $1500 on granite counter n an older” retro” mobile home. Any advice appreciated.

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