/ Color

Understanding the Three Types of Color

Colors can be broken down into three basic types—primary, secondary and tertiary colors. Categorizing by types makes it easier to understand the colors and their relationships. Using solely colors of one particular type is one way to create an easy color scheme.



Primary Colors

These three recognizable hues—red, yellow and blue—form the primary colors. No colors can be combined to create these three colors, and all other colors include at least one of these hues. Using these bold tones with proper execution, a kitchen will make a dramatic design statement.

Secondary Colors

When two primary colors are mixed together, they create a secondary color. The three secondary colors—green, orange and purple—produce a fresh and lively palette.

Secondary Colors - Color Wheel

Tertiary Colors

Created by mixing a primary color with a neighboring secondary color, the six tertiary colors offer a wider range of possibilities with their six hues: red-violet, red-orange, yellow-orange, yellow-green, blue-green and blue-violet.


More in this category:« Color Combinations

The Basics of Color Theory and Usage

Color makes a huge impact on the space it fills. The right shade or texture can make your kitchen look bigger, smaller or even cheerier. Knowing how your color choices will affect your kitchen design can help you develop a color scheme that improves your room's overall design while also filling it with your favorite hues.                                                                                                                                         

Depending on what you want to accomplish with your space, the colors you choose can help you achieve it. The effects of color can create the illusion of a changed space. Cooler, lighter colors can help make a room feel bigger while warmer and darker colors can make a space smaller or bring a high ceiling down farther.


Stainless steel cabinets in metallic and red finishes.

Similarly, the textures you choose will change the look and feel of your kitchen. The texture effects of stainless steel with its sleek visual interest will vary from the impact of wood's natural warmth. Meanwhile, a combination of the two will lead to an entirely different design.

Finally, nothing makes a big impact in your kitchen like bright colors. A splash of orange or turquoise brings a bold look to your design when done right. Discover where the best spots are for your favorite saturated shades.

More in this category:Color Effects »

See How Textures Add Contrast and Visual Interest

Kitchen with textured/patterned wall effect

Courtesy of Keystone Kitchen & Bath

Mixing tones and textures can give warmth and visual appeal to any room.

Texture adds contrast and interest to your kitchen surfaces. Think of texture in both tactile and visual terms. The texture of some materials becomes apparent when you feel it. Others have strong patterns or designs that create visual interest. A good design will typically mix three to four textures in the kitchen.

Here's how some products and materials can add texture to the kitchen:



Laminate and solid surface

Smooth tactile texture; visual interest from decorative patterns


Smooth surface with visual interest from granules and patina


Smooth finishes with visual interest from wood grain: maple offers cleanest, less grainy look; cherry has a little more grain; and oak and pine show the most


Unglazed offers rough tactile texture, while glazed will be smooth; visual interest comes from patterns and cut


Generally smooth to the touch but visual interest from pits and discolorations

Stainless steel

Smooth feel with sleek visual interest

Vinyl and linoleum

Smooth surfaces with visual interest from decorative patterns

Architectural details

Both tactile and visual texture from materials such as pressed metal, plaster, exposed brick and concrete, and exposed beams and rafters

More in this category:« Color EffectsBright Colors »

Things to Consider When Picking a Color Palette

Close up of someone matching color swatches to a small jug

Choose a scheme that fits your home's style, your kitchen's design and your taste.

There are many options for designing with color. There is not one way only. However, no matter the colors we choose, we must consider the following:

  1. Will the scheme be memorable?

  2. How will the palette meld with the building's architecture?

  3. What kind of emotions will the colors inspire?

  4. Will it leave a strong taste in the mouths of the occupants?

In the kitchen, the cabinets are the major color. Besides the cabinet finish, you also need to consider the appliance finish, the wall color, and the colors and materials for the floor and countertops. Think about how all these elements will work together. You can use the architectural style of the home as a starting point.

Choosing a white, chromatic, or natural scheme is one way to approach designing with color. Everybody is familiar with the white scheme: Almost everything is painted white and that which isn't white has meaning underlined by the fact that it's not white. The white palette says tasteful, modern, spare. You can introduce other colors through patterns and geometric shapes, which give nuance to the look.

The chromatic scheme applies color to every surface. Its effect is to create a stronger mood that's more stimulating and current.

The natural scheme is in right now. It uses neutral earth tones and saturated jewel tones and finishes like brick, concrete, wood, and metal. It communicates earthbound, honesty, and straightforwardness.

-Faith Baum, architect, part-time faculty member at the Rhode Island School of Design


The Right Hue for You

Small dark kitchen with bright contrasting cabinets.

Testing various shades of your desired color will help you choose the right shade that best fits your space.

Once you grasp the fundamentals of color design, you'll want to find the hues that are right for you. The problem lies in determining just which shade of paint, perfect finish or bolt of fabric will make your kitchen's design come together.

Discover how to build your own color design with color schemes. Whether you want to simply add color to a white kitchen or develop a nature-based color scheme, you'll find the basics of what you need to get started here.

Knowing what influences color design will also help you make your own design choices. Color influences indicate how cultural, political and social moods impact design. If you recognize how these influences may change design trends in the future, you can save yourself the headache of switching out wall colors or window treatments down the road.


Perhaps one of the best indicators for choosing color is your own personal energy system. The Chakra System provides a holistic approach to design solutions. Even popular shades like yellow go beyond design by aiding digestion and more.

Finally, don't overlook the importance of your countertop color. While walls and cabinets are important, your countertop will serve as the background to many of your everyday accessories. And with expanding technology for countertop materials, your choices range from neutral naturals to brightly saturated solid surfaces.



More in this category:« Bright ColorsColor Schemes »

Keeping an Eye Open for Inspiration

Close up of flowers in kitchen

Color is deeply personal, so be sure you choose tones that make you feel comfortable.

What brings color to living? Everything from fashion to politics to transportation; always look for influences where you wouldn't normally expect to. Take note of car interiors, cosmetics, the names of fragrances. It's vitally important to keep your eyes open to inspirations. Embrace all that you see, taste, smell, and hear so the whole world can be your influence.

We seek sustainable gardens, architecture, and life through eco color. Organic in nature, this is the greening of products for the home, colors like yellow-greens, earthy tans and dewy blues.

The international marketplace brings stylized, romanticized looks. Look toward new directions in the coming years-colors based on Morocco's clay pots, Native American turquoise and countries like Vietnam will rise in popularity. In this time of patriotism, look for multiculturalism in color.

Metal is a huge influence on color. Transportation is sleek with silver exteriors and brushed aluminum interiors. When you strip away the glitz, the essence is color. Silvers and charcoals will be on the rise, with an increase in rust and deep yellow-coppers that remind us of home-cooked meals.

The search is on for a comfort zone-comfort from today's stress and sense of the unknown. Colors that are at once familiar and soothing-muted blues, reds, tans, and browns-still radiate with newness.

Neutral is taking a new stand. A neutral is anything that makes everything in front of it look good. But it isn't beige anymore, and these aren't wallflower colors. The introduction of stronger colors requires stronger neutrals. Colors like red, plum and grays will be the new neutrals; acting as a catalyst to give other colors a boost.


-Mark Woodman, Color Marketing and Design Manager for Duron Paints, and member of Color Marketing Group

More in this category:« Color SchemesChakrachology »

Make Color Work For You

Kitchen with bright blue walls and brown cabinetry

The warm yellow used on the walls and ceiling in this kitchen helps expand the space and heighten the ceilings.

A rule of thumb says to color a room with a 60-30-10 split between three colors: use one color on a majority of the space, a little bit less of another, and an even smaller amount as an accent color. In the kitchen, your major color might cover the walls or the cabinets; your secondary color the floor; and your accent color the countertops.

You can use color to influence how large or small the kitchen feels:

Desired Effect

Color Choice

Expand space

Cool, light, or dull colors; minimal contrasts

Shrink space

Warm, dark, or bright colors; maximum contrasts

Lower a ceiling

Warm colors and dark tones

Heighten a ceiling

Cool colors and light tints

Shorten a room

Warm or dark colors

Lengthen a room

Cool, light, or dull colors; limited contrasts

Hide an undesirable feature

Surrounding color




Don't Be Shy: Use Bright Colors in the Right Places

Woman arranging flowers in kitchen

Even the right flowers can bring a splash of color to your kitchen.

Because the cabinets typically represent your greatest expense and need to stand the longest test of time, you may be more comfortable choosing a style in a more neutral finish. Same goes for the countertops and flooring. But let yourself have some fun slapping the brighter, trendier shades on your accessories, small appliances and decorative items, including:

  • Backsplashes 

  • Flooring insets and borders

  • Window treatments

  • Tablecloths

  • Placemats

  • Dish towels

  • Chair covers

  • Paint trim

  • Wallpaper

  • Artwork

  • Tiles

  • Sinks

  • Faucets

  • Coffeepots

  • Blenders

  • Toasters

  • Throw rugs

  • Plates and bowls

  • Pitchers





Bold Red and Yellow

bold red and yellow
Photo: Kelley Miller

"Although this is a saffron yellow kitchen from Plain & Fancy, that was not the greatest color achievement in this design. Inside the glass doors and on the wine rack is a custom red color that matches the red leather of the barstools. We sent a swatch of fabric to Plain & Fancy, and they color-matched it to the paint they used.


"The red pendant lights add further visual interest, as does the brick wall behind the stove. The kitchen features honed black granite, while the lighter granite on the island really pulled out the colors. The clients are very dynamic and wanted to add one more element to contribute to the "wow factor" through the red. This design used a color that turned the space into a visually stunning kitchen."


Designer: Kelley Miller
New Look Kitchen and Bath
Front Royal, Virginia

Soothing, Warm Shades

warm kitchen colors
Photo: Christopher Covey

"In this kitchen with the similarly toned elements-the maple cabinetry and antique French terra cotta floors-definition comes from the walls. The soothing white counters are made of Eurostone, which has embedded seashells in it; the gold nuggets coordinate with the cabinets, emphasizing warmth. Green gives the kitchen punch. Though it was built monochromatically, the backsplash is composed of recycled iridescent glass tile that has some green tonalities. We actually tried another color, more of a sage, on the walls first, and it just didn't do it-it looked too wimpy. Color is very particular; changing it just a shade totally changes the look."

Photo: Christopher Covey

"The selection of an olive green wall with the red and green touches in the 1920s poster offers the desired contrast. The inspiration came from a Cole Haan shoebox; we were taken by surprise at the stunning combination of that particular green and red, and how they worked harmoniously with the rest of our elements. The desired effect: A dynamic, refreshing small space."


Designer: DeWitt Beall
DeWitt Designer Kitchens
Studio City, California