97% of the kitchens I tend to post or pin are painted kitchens. I just love the freshness of a white or cream kitchen, or the interest of coloured cabinetry. It fits the cottage/coastal vibe that I tend to be drawn to.
But up until January we were planning on having wood-tone cabinetry in our kitchen. Long ago Sean and I debated this, and I figured I’d make a concession to have wood cabinets, because I knew they could be beautiful, if we did them right. I studied wood kitchens to figure out what works and what I loved.
When we got to the builder showroom for our RTM, though, we couldn’t find the just-right tone of stain. The closest one was just a little too dark/espresso, and any lighter it went too red or yellow for me. That was when Sean suggested we go with painted cabinets. Um. Yes.
And even though we have a painted kitchen, I still believe a wooden kitchen can look amazing. I understand people’s complaints about how painted kitchens show the mess, or just aren’t their style. So here are a few wooden kitchens that inspired me, from when we were headed that direction, and a few observations about what makes a wooden kitchen work.
(But in the end this is my input, you just go with what you love!)
This kitchen by Priscilla Wikkerink was my primary inspiration picture for a wood kitchen. I love the wood tone - a perfect chocolatey brown - not too dark, too red, or too purple. In general, my rule would be to keep your stain neutral. If you look at a stain and you can pick out an obvious colour (red, orange, yellow) it’s probably going to feel either dated or overwhelming. If it stays within neutral tones: browns, beiges, greys, it’ll be easier to live with for a long time.
I also love the contrast with the wood in this kitchen: crisp shiny chrome hardware and a clean white backsplash. Especially in wood kitchens I think some contrasting fresh white keeps things feeling contemporary and light.
Design by Gideon Mendelson
This kitchen by Gideon Mendelson was another one I kept in mind. Notice the contrasting countertops. But also notice the very high ceilings and plentiful sunlight. Here’s the kitchen from another angle:
Design by Gideon Mendelson
I’m not saying you need to have a ginormous kitchen to go with wood. (That last kitchen was quite small.) But be conscious of the size and openness of your kitchen, and how much natural light you have. If your kitchen is airy or big or open you have more freedom to use darker wood tones than if your kitchen is darker, closed in, or small. If your kitchen is smaller and closed in consider taking some steps to lighten it up and keep things from getting too dark:
- Use lots of contrasting white, shiny materials (like in the first kitchen). Reflective surfaces and light walls, counters, and backsplash will keep things from getting too heavy.
- Consider open areas with no upper cabinetry to lighten things up. Whether you put open shelves up or just have open wall space for art (I love art in a kitchen!), it’ll let the space breath a bit.
In Keri Russel’s kitchen pictured below, the dark wood is balanced out by the frosted glass panels in the upper cabinets, a small open shelf area for cookbooks, and light countertops and walls.
To keep things light you could also consider a two-tone kitchen (wood lower cabinets with light painted upper cabinets). It’s a trend that’s stuck around for a while now, and I think it’s nearly made its way to classic. With this look your lowers should be dark, while your uppers are light to keep the look balanced to the eye. Also, I don’t know about you, but it’s my lower cabinets that tend to get dirtier, so it takes care of that issue. And then the lighter upper cabinetry keeps things feeling fresh and light, not heavy and closed-in. (This is an especially good solution if you value your closed upper storage and open shelving is not your thing.)
Design by Tracery Interiors
The upper cabinets really recede in this kitchen by Tracery Interiors, keeping things feeling open (even if there weren’t soaring ceilings it would work. But I think it is a really good way to go if you do have angled ceilings, so it doesn’t feel like your cabinetry ends abruptly.)
And looking at this kitchen, having the lower cabinets in wood plus using some great hardware makes the cabinetry feel more furniture-like, which I dig. You can see how the right hardware gives the same look in this next picture too:
This kitchen has black painted lower cabinets, but it would still totally work with wood. And I used it because Tommy Smythe did this kitchen in 2004 - almost 10 years ago, and people still love it. Proof of the endurance of this two-tone look.
If a more modern aesthetic is your thing a wood kitchen is a GREAT way to go, as it can add the texture and warmth often needed in a modern space. Besides, a slab-front door (which is the go-to for a modern kitchen) can feature the grain of a beautiful wood perfectly.
Design by Robert Bakes and Cecil Baker & Partners, Photograph by Thomas Loof for House Beautiful
Notice in this kitchen by Robert Bakes and Cecil Baker & Partners how they use two different wood colours. This is something people are often afraid of. But pay attention a few things that make it work:
- They kept things neutral. Both wood tones are neutral - beige, brown tones. Neither one is too yellowy or red. And the stone backsplash and walls are greys and whites, not colours. In this kitchen they let textures take centre stage, and didn’t bring in a bunch of colour to compete for attention.
- Also notice that they use wood in three areas (floors, cabinets, island countertop) but restricted the space to only two different colours of wood, since the countertop essentially matches the floors.
Photograph by ACP/CAMERA PRESS for Red UK Online
Here is a great modern light wood kitchen. Notice: lots of white, open shelves. An easy recipe for success! Yet, if you love colour (and all my talk of keeping things neutral depresses you), see how the accents of bright yellow make this kitchen feel so cheerful and colourful?
And most of my inspiration shots tend to be a darker tone, since I was going for a chocolatey or walnut look. But the trend right now is definitely a bit greyer and paler and more rustic, since “reclaimed wood” is the look du jour:
In the end, though, pick a neutral tone that you really love, and don’t worry about the coming and going of trends!