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How to Choose a Kitchen Cabinet Color

We’re well on our way through the kitchen renovation! The cabinets arrived and we’ve been working on pre-finishing and assembly. If you missed it, I shared the design board a few weeks ago. To keep things affordable, we’re using ready-to-assemble (RTA) cabinets from Kitchen Cabinet Kings.

The vision is a modern classic with a hint of rustic that will tie in the stone fireplace in the living room, which is adjacent. Being in Montana (and born and raised here), I tend to lean toward rustic styles. I grew up in a log house and that’s what feels like home to me! However, my goal here is to merge that rustic charm with a bit of modern classic style. I’m not sure how to categorize it, but think stone, neutral earthy colors, and warm wood tones. With the kitchen at the heart of the home, it is one of the key rooms to set the tone for the whole house.

Modern Classic Kitchen Design

I have looong debated whether or not to do wood cabinets in here. It’s the classic rustic choice. Honestly, it’s been a little overwhelming to start from scratch and be able to do anything with this kitchen. Not bad overwhelming, it’s very exciting and I feel so fortunate to have the opportunity! But I’ve never done a kitchen completely from scratch. It could literally go any direction. After spinning my wheels for a bit, I realized I just had to make a decision on one thing. And that would set the flow for the rest of the kitchen decisions. In this case, I decided on black countertops.

Why not start with the cabinets? Well, you totally could! But I really wanted the dark countertops in here, so that was my starting point! And I think wood cabinets might look dated with black countertops. Which brings us to this week – choosing a kitchen cabinet color!

Things to Consider when Choosing a Kitchen Cabinet Color

Designing a Kitchen from Scratch

If you’re designing a kitchen from scratch, it can get overwhelming pretty quickly. Start by choosing the finish that’s most important to you. Give yourself a starting point and all the other decisions will start to fall into place. That could be the cabinets, countertops, flooring, backsplash, hardware, appliances – whichever is the most important piece in your vision for the space.

Once you have a starting point, you can start to narrow down a kitchen cabinet color.

If your starting point is your kitchen cabinet color, the sky’s the limit!

Working with an Existing Kitchen

If you’re working with an existing kitchen, consider the finishes that are not going to change. This includes the countertops, flooring, backsplash, appliances, and hardware (if you don’t plan to change it). You’ll want to select a color that compliments those existing finishes. Typically, you want cabinets to offer some contrast by going with a color that’s lighter or darker than the surrounding finishes. That said, I’ve also seen some beautiful monochromatic kitchens (single hue in varying shades and tints). It really is so much up to personal preference! But a safe choice is to pick a cabinet color that pulls in some colors from your countertops as well as contrasting them.

For example, in our previous kitchen we had brown granite-look laminate countertops. They had brown, black, tan, and gray specks to mimic the popular 90s-ish granite. We didn’t have the budget for new countertops, but I was able to paint the cabinets. I used Sherwin-Williams Alabaster (SW 7008), which has subtle greige undertones. The greige undertones played nicely with the browns and grays in the countertop while the bright color contrasted them and made everything “pop”.

DIY Small Kitchen Design

I went opposite with the island and instead complimented the dark in the countertops with a dark paint and then contrasted with the white countertop. I flip-flopped the colors, but still in the same undertones.

Let’s Choose a Kitchen Cabinet Color

Ok, so all those considerations taken – how do you actually choose a color? This is my process for choosing pretty much all paint colors in our home. And it’s exactly how I landed on the paint color for this kitchen renovation.

1 – Pinterest

I like to start by searching Pinterest for inspiration. I have a kitchen board FULL of beautiful kitchens in all sorts of different shapes, sizes, styles, and color schemes (follow along for Pinterest inspo!). When I find one that I really like, I head to the post to figure out the paint color. Then I start a list of potential candidates for colors. You can use your phone or a notebook for this. I try to find a few kitchens that have similar styles and figure out the paint colors in each one. Even though they make all look the same in photos, the paint colors are typically ALL different.

In the case of this renovation, I searched for “kitchens with black countertops”. A lot of the kitchens that popped up had mushroom cabinets and I LOVED that combination. So I started searching for “mushroom cabinet colors” and got a list started. One of my favorite ones that popped up is Chris Loves Julia’s kitchen in their modern colonial. Their cabinets are by Jean Stoffer in the color Bromley Taupe, which is custom. So I started to search for “paint colors close to Bromley Taupe”.

2 – Google

Once I have a few colors I think I’m interested in, I will search them on Google. So something like “Sherwin Williams Naturel cabinets”. I like to look through the images on google searches because there are usually a few that are just of a “normal” house – not as staged as the homes on Pinterest or Instagram. I think it helps give a better idea of the actual color without all the distraction of everything else looking perfect. Not that the beautiful staged content is bad! But I like to see the paint colors in a more modest home – more realistic to how they would look in our home.

Google search usually helps narrow down the list a bit and I’m able to eliminate some of the colors on my list from Pinterest.

At this stage, I go back and forth between Google and Pinterest quite a bit until I think I have a few solid options.

3 – Paint Chips

After narrowing the list down to a few colors, I’ll head to the store and pick up paint chips. I almost always end up grabbing more than just the few colors I’m there for. Once you have the paint chips, you can compare them side by side and see the undertones of each of the colors much better than on a computer screen.

I also like to grab a few of the colors that are kind of around the colors I have on my list. You really have to see them in your own home to get a good read on them. And they generally look completely different than in the store. If the color you thought you wanted ends up looking a bit “off” in your space, one of those side colors might end up being the right one. Which is actually what happened with our cabinets! I thought I was settled on a color. But when I taped the chips to the wall, it didn’t look quite right. We ended up going with a very similar one that I had grabbed as a “side” color.

Once you tape them up on the wall, you can really start to see the differences. Leave them in one spot for a few days so you can see them in all different lighting and weather. Then move them to a different wall to see how they look there. Paint plays such tricks on your eyes and will change drastically depending on the lighting, time of day, which wall, and what direction that room faces.

Sherwin-Williams has started to carry some larger samples that you can stick to the wall, though they cost a few bucks. Or you can grab 6 of the free smaller chips and tape them all together in a rectangle for a similar affect!

I grabbed a few of the larger samples but ended up just taping them to the wall as well, rather than using the sticker back. That way I could move them around the room more easily. But they were nice for seeing a bigger, solid sample of the color!

4 – Paint Samples

At this point, I’m usually ready to pick a color. However, it is recommended to get an actual sample of the paint to confirm it looks the same as the paint chips. There can be slight differences. Given this is a post on how to choose a cabinet paint color, I feel like I have to say the next step is to get actual paint and paint a few samples on the wall or on scrap boards that you can set in the room. But in all honesty, I just went for it based on the paint chips this time. There’s my full disclosure 😂

That said, I have done actual paint samples on other projects.

If you can’t decide between a few of the colors, or they’re super similar, grab a few sample containers. Paint yourself some bigger swatches, or scrap boards that you can move around the room. Or paint a plain white piece of paper that you can move around. That works really well also!

Make sure to put the samples on multiple walls and against the various finishes. Look at the samples in different lighting throughout the day and under artificial light at night. They’ll look different in each situation, which will help you narrow it down to one.

5 – Time to Paint

Then it’s time to go for it!

How to Choose a Kitchen Cabinet Color
  • Top Left: Sherwin Williams Loggia (SW 7506)
  • Top Right: Sherwin Williams Naturel (SW 7542)
  • Bottom Left: Sherwin Williams Shiitake (SW 9173) (our choice for the cabinets)
  • Bottom Right: Sherwin Williams Balanced Beige (SW 7037)
  • Middle: Sherwin William Pewter Green (SW 6208) (this will be the island color)

Since we’re gutting and redoing the whole kitchen, I wasn’t concerned with the paint color complimenting the existing countertop or backsplash. But this is the final wall color over here. So I wanted to first check the samples against that color. We also checked them against what will be the new flooring.

How to Choose a Kitchen Cabinet Color

Once I taped the samples up, it was pretty easy to see which was our favorite. In the store, I thought we would for sure go with the top left. But once I hung them up here, it just didn’t look quite right against the wall color. Our top picks were the bottom two.

Compared with the new flooring, the bottom right sample pulled a bit purple. The warmer tones in the floor accentuated those taupe-y undertones quite a bit. And vice versa – it almost made the flooring look a little pink. I ran an Instagram poll for extra advice, which ended super close between the bottom two! But we decided on the bottom left – Sherwin Williams Shiitake (SW 9173). Very similar but just a bit less taupe in the undertones.

How to Choose a Kitchen Cabinet Color

Though we don’t have to match the finishes on this side of the kitchen, I did want to see how the samples looked over here with the light hitting them from a different direction. So I taped our top two choices on these cabinets for a few days also to narrow it down. The bottom one is Shiitake. The top one still had a bit too much purple in the undertones, but it is a lovely color as well (SW 7037 Balanced Beige).

Paint Sheen

As far as sheen goes, it’s largely up to personal preference. But there are some standards or “guidelines” (said in the voice of Barbosa). Higher sheen paints are more durable. Flat is the least durable. These are the sheens I usually use:

  • Flat or Matte – ceilings
  • Eggshell – walls
  • Satin – trim and cabinetry

Ceilings are fine with a flat or matte finish since they normally don’t see a lot of wear and tear. I like eggshell on the walls for a bit more protection – you know, kids running bikes and swords and bouncy balls into them and all – but it’s still a soft finish that is easy on the eyes and doesn’t reflect and look shiny. I go up one more sheen to satin for trim and cabinets. It’s more durable and gives the trim and cabinets just a slight bit of shine so they stand out.

I’ve also seen people do trim and/or cabinets in gloss and high gloss and it looks incredible. It’s a very high-end look! Just not what I prefer in our current style of home.

Color Theory

Ok, so that’s the process, but how do you choose colors that go together, you ask.

That gets into color theory and how colors relate to each other. I’ve just started to study more color theory and it’s so fascinating! If you like to nerd out too 🤓, Chris Loves Julia did a wonderful series called “Color School” that goes more in depth.

But it’s not necessary to have a full understanding of color theory to be able to pick the perfect cabinet color!

Go through this Pinterest, Google, Paint Chips, Samples process. Once you get the samples into your house, your eyes will tell you what looks good or not. No need to get deep into color theory if you don’t want to. You’ll be able see if a color works or is a no-go!

How to Choose a Kitchen Cabinet Color

I hope this is helpful! This is the basic step-by-step I follow whenever I’m choosing a new paint color. And it’s exactly how I went about choosing the new kitchen cabinet paint color!

Good luck!

Do you have any other favorite hacks or tips for picking paint colors?

| Tylynn |

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Don’t forget to pin for later!

Follow along on Pinterest for more projects, crafts, recipes, and ideas to make home your own. And join me on Instagram to see things come to life in real time (and vote on decisions like paint colors 😉 ).

How to Choose a Kitchen Cabinet Color

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