What color should I paint my cabinets if my walls are gray? Design experts' 7 favorite color pairings
Our kitchen cabinets are ripe for rediscovery when it comes to color, but if you have existing gray walls that you don't wish you change, you may be wondering what kitchen cabinet color combinations will work harmoniously.
Getting complementary color combinations spot on isn’t always simple. Here, design experts tell us their favorite no-fail, classic, and brave kitchen color pairings, plus color trends for the year ahead.
There are no hard and fast rules about what colors should be paired but we can learn a huge amount from nature, where colors harmonize and partner naturally. Colors never need to match; they just need to sit happily together.
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What color should I paint my cabinets if my walls are gray?
Naturally, you’ll want to select kitchen cabinet paint colors that you’ll be happy to live with for a while to come. But you might also want to consider the decorative power of each hue, especially when paired with gray. Different kitchen cabinet colors have particular benefits you may wish to exploit in your predominantly gray kitchen. Some can brighten and visually enlarge the room, while others may inadvertently be making your kitchen feel small, for example.
Look at how they react with each other – some will recede while others will demand attention,' says Joa Studholme, color curator, at Farrow & Ball. 'When using different shades in adjoining rooms, they should both have the same tonal weight.'
We’ve asked a panel of industry experts for their views on what accent colors work well with gray for them – using a color wheel will help you get it right.
A compact kitchen with little natural light – or perhaps dark-painted walls you love – really benefits from white cabinetry.
‘If you want to steer away from whites and creams, a great compromise is a smoky grey scheme, using a smoked oak wood paired with a matte grey paint,’ says Tom Howley, design director of the eponymous kitchen design company. ‘Pair these tones with very light-colored countertops, and your kitchen will look spacious and airy.’
Other ways to boost space in small white kitchens include pale stone flooring which accentuates the room's height, and pendants that add plenty of artificial light and lots of character. But the ultimate saving graces are the simple Shaker cabinetry and crisp concrete countertops and charcoal gray wall.
'The beauty of a neutral gray-and-white kitchen scheme is that it provides a wonderful scaffold upon which to hang accents of color,' says Henriette von Stockhausen of VSP Interiors.
Natural wood or wood stain
When choosing gray for a kitchen, or any space for that matter, it is important to think about accent colors for grey. Pure grey is made from black and white. However, most greys will have a hue and this provides a good signal as to where to go next, says Betsy Smith of Graphenstone Paints.
‘The key to bringing cohesion to spaces is to keep to the same undertone for walls, ceilings, and kitchen flooring. Identify hints of colors in flooring or cabinetry; walnut, for example, has a red tinge, and oak is more yellow. Jute is quite pinky while seagrass is greener, cork is orange and natural stones have a whole spectrum of hues. Use these clues to inform color combinations.
In this dark kitchen cabinet scheme, chunky countertops bring an air of authority, while grey marble, from Italy, works well with smoky timber cabinetry. Interior designer Fiona Barratt-Campbell says, ‘The kitchen is made by a local artisan joiner. The handles are also custom, and something different to the usual pull bar.’
Conjure up a classic kitchen look by painting cabinets and woodwork in a barely-there buttery yellow. This easy-on-the-eye shade is a masterclass in how to create a timeless Shaker kitchen.
Yellow is a welcoming, joyful, vibrant choice, agrees Dominic Myland of Mylands. It works well as an accent color or as the main color within the room. Rich, golden yellows pair well with a range of accent colors.
‘Try monochrome accents for a modern interior – what color scheme could be more contemporary and inspiring than yellow and gray? For kitchens, yellow and mid-gray is a warm combination that feels calming and bright at the same time.’ Offset with tactile materials like gray marble and stone and accessorize with simple furniture, earthenware pots, and tongue-and-groove paneling.
'I'm inspired by American Shaker architecture and love the way that they use yellow and gray together. It brings a lot of personality to a traditional design,' declares Greg Dutton of US-based Midland Architecture. 'We went with a buttery yellow. I call it a near-neutral because it’s understated in the way that neutrals are but still gives a lot of pop.'
Red and navy
Gray and navy are two key kitchen colors that show no signs of abating in popularity. Teaming both of these with crimson can work wonderfully – as you can see in the pale gray kitchen above by Painted Furniture Company.
The key is to balance the three shades successfully – and you can see how well this works here. The navy units and island form the backbone of the color scheme, and the soft gray walls add the contrast between them and the crimson units and range cooker. The chunky marble countertops create a decorative touch that looks fabulous against the flat walls.
If you are looking for painted kitchen ideas, plums and currants are good natural red shades to consider, so why not use both in your gray kitchen?
'Decorating with gray is a versatile color to scheme with as it can carry cooler and warmer tones such green, blue and pinks which can successfully offset and balance other colors,' says Katie Lion, senior interior designer at Kitesgrove.
Here, the window units in a deep currant contrast beautifully with the more plummy tone of the kitchen island and wall unit. Nature is always a great source of inspiration, so use it to guide your color choices.
This kitchen doesn’t have much natural light, so using a tried-and-tested color combination of purple and pale gray is a good way to add warmth without making the space feel dark. The natural stone wall and barely-there gray-pink walls help lift the scheme too.
We all want our kitchens to feel more relaxing, but being the hub of the home that often wears a lot of different hats it can be tricky. Color can have such an impact on the tone of a room however, picking a color that encourages calm and serenity is the easiest way to try and create those zen-like vibes in your kitchen. Green is proven to be one such color, and pale greens even more so, as they are colors we see so often in nature our eyes really easily adjust to the shade. It can even lift a 'sad' color like gray. However, avoid going too dark either with green or gray, or you might feel you’re entering an oppressive pine forest.
'The client wanted a green kitchen to go with her pale gray walls, so there was a lot of back and forth about the exact shade of green it should be. Sometimes you can’t be sure until it is painted on the cupboards and you see how the light falls on it,' explains Irene Gunter. 'This was certainly the case in this kitchen. We eventually settled on a color called Bay Leaf, which is a very calming and soothing green, not particularly punchy but still clearly a color. I may be biased, but I think it’s the most beautiful color combination in the world!'
Wondering how much it costs to have kitchen cabinets painted? Stop right there and consider not painting them at all, and going for a more natural look.
‘Instead of painting the cabinets, we had them stained a neutral black, which preserved the naturalness of the wood grain and texture,’ says interior designer Richard Felix Ashman of this stunning kitchen in a converted Hudson Valley barn. ‘We used solid ash, which accepts ebony stains beautifully. I suggest keeping sheens to a minimum on the paint or stain finish, for a natural feel, especially in a more rustic or traditional space.’
‘By bringing in dark materials and layering the space with dark textures, particularly against a gray wall, you can create a feeling of warmth and luxury,' says Gary Singer, director of Eggersmann Design.
What kitchen colors go with gray?
Gray is a wonderfully versatile color – it harmonizes well with almost every other hue, making it a most adaptable neutral and giving good reason for its popularity, says Helen Shaw, director at Benjamin Moore.
Pure grey is made from black and white. However, most greys will have a hue and this provides a good signal as to where to go next, says Betsy Smith of Graphenstone Paints. ‘The key to bringing cohesion to kitchens is to keep to the same undertone for walls, ceilings, and floor. Identify hints of colors in flooring; walnut, for example, has a red tinge, and oak is more yellow. Jute is quite pinky while seagrass is greener, cork is orange and natural stones have a whole spectrum of hues. Use these clues to inform color combinations.’
Caramel and beige are other great pairings for gray. Many designers say that this is the color replacing gray, but we think they can work well when combined. 'Caramel works well with almost everything,' says Lindye Galloway, founder and chief creative officer at Lindye Galloway Studio + Shop. 'I specifically love the way it works with gray but it can also be complementary to white, off-white, brown, blush, even yellow, teal, and orange. The color combination of gray and caramel makes a space feel very inviting in most settings.'
Decorating with gray has been de rigueur in interior design for many years now, but if you want to add a playful addition of color, then painting your kitchen cabinets is a great way to add dimension and definition.