Colour My World

The Debate of Color vs. Classic White in Kitchens:

In 1971 (ok, so I’m dating myself), this iconic song by the band “Chicago” could be heard on airwaves and at weddings across the country. Now, 47 years later, Bilotta designers will be talking instead about coloring your kitchen.

Color Fan

Senior designer Randy O’Kane and design assistant Debbie Karipides both believe there is no downside to the classic white kitchen. They love its clarity, purity, cleanliness, and literal representation of a fresh start. Randy and Debbie have a few preferred whites: Farrow & Ball’s “All White No. 2005” and Benjamin Moore’s perennial favorite, “Super White”.

Farrow & Ball Whites
Photo Courtesy of Farrow & Ball

Farrow & Ball claims this white will appear clean and fresh no matter what other color is held against it. And Benjamin Moore describes their white as “illuminating and almost sparkling”. Like many designers, Randy and Debbie love having the opportunity to reinterpret the classic white kitchen so each one is unique and one-of-a-kind, regardless of which white a customer chooses.

Rutt Classic Kitchen
Kitchen by Randy O’Kane, CKD & Weil Friedman Architects

Designer Carol DeBear, on the other hand, loves color in the kitchen. To her, an all-white palette, while certainly safe, is in most cases just plain (no pun intended) boring. While very few would argue with the fact that color can affect mood by invoking feelings of happiness and excitement, and that color has even been shown to whet diners’ appetites, most people are afraid to use color in their interiors. Carol asserts that color and contrast are essential for visual stimulation in our homes and, especially, in our kitchens where friends and family gather. She illustrates her point with an analogy. Try to envision a home cooked meal with beautiful platters of food, an abundance of wine, and all the inviting aromas that accompany them. When you do that, are you seeing white in your mind’s eye? Of course not, you see color!

Benjamin Moore Bordeaux

And if you still feel compelled to go the safe route with white cabinets, then enliven your kitchen with color in your countertops, backsplash or floor tiles, and most definitely on your walls, which is the easiest surface to change. Carol encourages clients to think of colors found in nature or food that are pleasing to the senses, such as a pop of green, cobalt blue, or Bordeaux red. She’s also a big fan of choosing cabinet hardware and pendant lighting in matte or brushed brass, whose warm gold tones provide the perfect antidote to the cold white and stainless steel kitchens of years past.

White & Walnut Contemporary Kitchen
Kitchen by Senior Designer, Tom Vecchio with Architect, Eva Bouhassira

Designer Jeni Spaeth has, quite frankly, grown weary of the pure white kitchen, and she makes a compelling argument for NOT doing white: in some homes, a white kitchen is akin to trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. You can attempt to force it, but it could end up being a costly mistake. Take, for example, a mid-century modern house that’s filled with natural wood and flagstone, and is open to views of trees and nature. In many cases, these kitchens are also open to the rest of the house. Having grown up in a mid-century gem herself, Jeni firmly believes that this type of house cries out for wood tones, or warm earthy paint colors such as terracotta, green, or blue.

Benjamin Moore's Green and Earthy Neutrals

If the kitchen in this type of home is (as it often was) small and self-contained, then a case might be made for a white kitchen. But if it’s an open plan, then it’s possible that a potential buyer looking for a collector’s grade vintage house might view a white kitchen as incongruous with the rest of the home. And guess what? Your asking price just plummeted by at least $50,000! Even in more traditional homes, Jeni feels the same principle applies: if the kitchen is open to the rest of the space, you should look to the colors of the home’s décor to inform the choice of kitchen colors. If your color scheme consists of grays and cool blues, then a white kitchen might actually be the perfect choice. But if warm tones like rose, coral, brown, green, or maroon reign in your home, then colors such as rich cream or taupe might result in a more harmonious match.

Anyone who knows senior designer Rita Garcés knows that she adores exuberant color. It suits her extroverted personality and is the hallmark of her own personal style. As a result, she relishes the opportunity to work with adventurous clients who desire to embrace color in their homes. But even Rita would be the first to admit that color isn’t for everyone. Remember 1987 when we were all reading “Color Me Beautiful” (ok, dating myself again!) to find out what color season we were so we knew whether we should wear neutrals or brights? Well, the same principle applies to home design, and on this front Rita is in agreement with Jeni Spaeth. As timeless a classic as a white kitchen is, not all spaces are well suited to the color scheme.

Walnut & Symphony Blue Bilotta Kitchen
Kitchen by Jeni Spaeth with Interior Designer Jane Bell

Rita also feels that an open plan space may call for another hue and, certainly, a healthy dose of texture, to better define its individual character. And Rita reminds us that many environmental factors impact the choice of color and its color value: the amount of natural light and the direction of light exposure; the type of artificial light and its color temperature; and even ceiling height and the volume of the space. Rita feels gray has already seen it’s fifteen minutes of fame as a trend, and that design is turning to warmer tones such as “greige”. While most designers are conservative when it comes to color, Rita loves to combine these neutrals with bold accents of jewel tones or terracotta (yes, its back!), such as one of her favorites, a red brick color called “Frieze”. But if you’re determined to do white, remember that not all whites are created equal!

Senior designer Jeff Eakley has always been an astute student of design trends, and in his dogged perusal of shelter publications, he’s noted a marked trend towards more fearless use of strong color in the kitchen. He’s seen high gloss lacquer fire engine red contemporary stunners, cobalt blue or lime green painted Shaker cabinets in otherwise traditional spaces, and even black or eggplant cabinetry, yielding a jewel box effect.

Eggplant Purple Bilotta Cabinetry

Now truth be told, these are most often the spaces belonging to architects and designers, who are known to boldly go where no client has gone before. Or it’s a homeowner who knows they’re not going to be putting the house on the market anytime soon, so they decide to simply do what they love and let broad appeal be damned. But even though these color extremes represent just a small percentage of kitchen remodels, they are the seeds from which overall trends are planted.

Bright Green Benjamin Moore Paint
Photo Courtesy of Benjamin Moore

But Jeff has been in the kitchen business for well over 30 years, and there’s one “trend” he’s witnessed throughout his career: the white kitchen. Despite the periodic ebb and flow of interest in the countless variety of shades, it has always been an enduring mark of design style, and shows no sign of disappearing any time soon.

High-Gloss White Contemporary Kitchen

This post was written by senior designer, Paulette Gambacorta. Paulette has been designing kitchens with Bilotta for over 22 years.

Colour My World - the Debate of Color vs. Classic White in Kitchens