The Ultimate Guide to Selecting The Perfect Colors For Painted Cabinets!

Blue island with marble counter and hardwood floors.

How do you even know where to start? This Ultimate Guide will help with the daunting task of selecting the color or colors for your kitchen cabinet painting project. We have over 20 years of finishing experience and we are a leader on “factory” finished cabinet coatings.

There are several areas in the space we will use to draw inspiration from as well as the other contributing factors that you may have overlooked. We know these techniques work because we use them daily when helping clients select colors for their painted cabinets. We have seen many color combinations from years of application and we have also seen online guides from DIY painting forums and articles that are misleading and could create less than desirable results. Fortunately, our clients typically ask for our help and we can often avoid these combinations.

How do you even know where to start? This Ultimate Guide will help with the daunting task of selecting the color or colors for your cabinet painting project. We have over 20 years of finishing experience and we are a leader on “factory” finshed cabinet coatings.

Table of contents:

Heading #1: Why Is This Topic So Important?

What is Contrast?

Should you do two colors?

Helpful links for color inspiration and selection:

1. The Importance of color in a space

We can’t stress enough how important this crucial step is in achieving a successful project! Relying on a manufacturers color chips alone is a huge mistake. Since these color chips are printed in ink, it will not be a true reflection of an actual applied finish. Ink chips do not reflect color or light in a true sense. They can be used as a general starting point but we highly recommend getting a paint sample and applying it to a minimum 12” by 12” sample board and using the steps listed below.


      1. Natural and artificial lighting: Using a combination of natural and artificial lighting in the space where the project is located, we recommend using different times of the day for both lighting types. Artificial lighting can completely change the look of a color when compared to natural lighting. Alternatively, natural lighting will change in a space depending on the time of day and which side of the house the space is on. North facing rooms will be the darkest, and South facing rooms will have the most light. When we check a color in a space, we really want to make sure the selection is acceptable under the different variations as natural lighting can make colors appear different and artificial light can make colors different depending on the type and temperature of the bulbs.

      1. Countertop color and material: Using the counters as a basis for a starting point is how we begin the process. By using these surfaces when selecting colors for painted cabinets we can use existing tones in the counters to dial in and narrow it down. Selecting a Navy Blue island color when you have warm Granite tones would be a mistake. However, if you have White quartz counters, it could work! Wood counters typically bring a warm tone to the space so we have to remember that upon color review and keep a warm tone feel throughout the space.

      1. Existing wall and trim colors: Once we get a couple shades that we like, we compare those to the existing wall and trim colors. Sometimes they can work and other times under the wrong lighting or shade it can create and undesired outcome. Fortunately, repainting the walls is fairly easy and a low cost way to make it work. The good news is that we can also take care of that for you!

      1. Fixtures and hardware colors: More often than not, these items are already being replaced, but it should remain a consideration nonetheless. If you are replacing the hardware and Faucet in your space, this decision should come after the color of the painted cabinets has been narrowed down. If they are not being replaced, contrast is the name of the game here. More on that in the next section..

      1. Floor type and color: Tile, Laminate or Hardwood? The subtle differences in floor type should not be overlooked! Once again, where wood can bring warmth into a space, tile will have the opposite effect by bringing a coolness to the space. Of course the color of the surfaces has an impact, but not nearly as much as the building materials do.

    What is Contrast?

    The definition of contrast: “the state of being strikingly different from something else in juxtaposition or close association.”

    How does this relate to painted cabinets? The most significant “wow” factor you can achieve in the space is by creating areas of contrast. Selecting similar shades that don’t create a “pop” will not do justice. For example, having black countertops with white cabinets and black hardware will create a significant effect of contrast as opposed to white counters, white cabinets and silver hardware. It makes all the difference in creating that magazine cover kitchen or bathroom! Alternatively, a white countertop, soft blue cabinets and the oh so popular gold hardware will create a stunning result! Since there are so many directions you can go, there is no limit on the available options in creating the look that is right for you. Think of the contrast of black and white, black will pop off white and vise versa, this is obviously a very simple explanation but for the purpose of this guide, you get the idea. Fortunately, we have done all types of spaces and seen quite a few stunning combinations and would be more than happy to help offer advice.

    Should you do two colors on painted cabinets?


    This is probably one of the most common questions that we are asked when consulting on colors for painted cabinets. There is no right or wrong answer as I believe it depends on a few factors.


        1. The size of the space and location: If we are talking a bathroom with his and hers vanities, the simple answer would be no. We want to keep the space flowing and by introducing multiple colors in this type of space, it would not look great. Now in a Kitchen it could work. The most common area for a secondary color is on an island. It is a separate are and it is a clean transition point. We have also seen it done when there is no island,however, it could be argued that depending on the layout it could be a mistake. We often suggest this in areas where there are clean breaking points between the upper and lower cabinets, like a pantry or refrigerator enclosure.

        1. Different countertop materials: We often have clients that will change out an island top and keep the remaining counters that are already installed. Whenever that is the case and we are trying to create contrast, we suggest doing a contrasting countertop color as well as a contrasting island color. A huge bonus for switching out only the island top is that it can save you thousands of dollars that could be allocated somewhere else in the budget.

        1. Other features of the location: When we look at the other features of the space, like backsplashes, existing countertops that are not being replaced, it can sometimes be too “busy” of and area to try to add secondary colors. The old adage of “less is more” can prove true in these scenarios. Sometimes keeping it simple is the best bet and can create an incredible space. Another aspect to consider is the natural lighting. Dark spaces should be countered with lighter colors and we would recommend a single color selection in those areas.

      We hope this guide helps you in your research for what can sometimes seem like the most daunting part of a cabinet painting project. We are here to help if you need assistance in color selection or design regarding your project. Please do not hesitate to head directly to our website for more information or inspiration!

      Helpful links for color inspiration and selection: