Should Your Kitchen Cabinets Be Darker or Lighter Than The Walls? Designers Unanimously Agree

The question of whether to choose lighter or darker kitchen cabinets and walls can be a challenging decision but experts share key tips and advice

A kitchen with dark green cabinets and white walls
(Image credit: Molly Culver Photography. Studio credit Shannon Eddings Interiors)

Creating a sense of harmony through color is one of the many important design decisions in the kitchen. This space has several elements like the backsplash, countertop, flooring, walls, and cabinetry, and balancing and creating the right mixture of complementary and contrasting colors and textures is essential.

For now, let's focus on the harmony between the cabinetry color and the walls. To understand whether the kitchen cabinets should be light or dark, we sought the help of experts. Here's what they had to say.

Should kitchen cabinets be lighter or darker than walls?

A kitchen with dark green caibents and white walls

(Image credit: Stacy Zarin Goldberg Photography. Studio credit Unique Kitchens & Baths)

Experts are of the opinion that both options have their advantages and disadvantages. While lighter kitchen cabinet colors reflect more light, giving the illusion of a larger space; darker ones give the space some depth.

'I prefer darker-colored cabinets against lighter walls in a kitchen as it adds depth and grounds the kitchen in the space,' says Kashi Shikunova, director at Yam Studios. 'This contrast creates a bold feature, lending a sense of luxury and higher quality to the overall ambience making the smaller space feel more special.'

'Instead of a contrast, you could also consider the kitchen cabinets and walls to be the same color,' says Grey Joyner, founder of Grey Joyner Interiors. 'This can help the room seem bigger.'

What color should I paint my walls if my cabinets are dark?

A kitchen with a blue green cabinet

(Image credit: Sarah Strunk. Studio credit Micah&Co)

'If the kitchen cabinet color is dark and the kitchen is small, consider painting the walls a few shades lighter to provide contrast,' says Grey. 'Say the cabinets are black, I would do the walls in grey. This adds light to the room and makes it feel larger. If the cabinets in a kitchen are dark and the kitchen is large, I select a color that is lighter but complementary to create a dramatic effect.'

Also, along with dark cabinets, consider pairing them with light-colored countertops and a backsplash to open up the room. Using statement lighting fixtures and bold accessories can enhance the overall design aesthetic.

What color should I paint my walls if my cabinets are light?

White kitchen with gold hardware, light wood floor and beige backsplash

(Image credit: Lance Gerber. Design by Joshua Smith Inc.)

With lighter cabinets, you have plenty of choices for wall colors. For a striking two tone kitchen, consider a darker wall color — perhaps a few shades darker than the cabinets. You could even experiment with other darker tones like navy blue, teal, or burgundy. This scheme would work best in larger kitchens where the wall colors don't make the space feel too caved in. In smaller kitchens, you could go for more earthy tones like taupe, mid-tone grey, or olive green.

'It’s important to consider the orientation of a kitchen when considering cabinet colors with the walls; if it faces north, cool blues can add to the chilly feeling,' says Saskia Howard, creative director at Howark Design. 'Warmer tones such as yellow are preferable to brighten up spaces with a northerly aspect.'

Should you match the kitchen cabinets with the island?

A kitchen with white cabinets and a dark wood island

(Image credit: Fiona Susanto. Studio credit the Stylesmiths)

While deciding on colors for the kitchen cabinets and walls, do remember to take note of the island too, as it is among the larger surfaces in the room and immediately visible.

If you want to play safe, you could consider a kitchen island color along with complementary tones as that of the walls and storage.

'I love to do the island in another color as it adds another layer of color to the space,' says Grey. 'I also love to pick an island material like marble that has an interesting pattern with colors that complement or even match the kitchen cabinets. Darker islands look great in a small to mid-size kitchen as it grounds the whole room.'

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Design Editor

Aditi Sharma Maheshwari is the Design Editor at Livingetc. She is an architecture and design journalist with over 10 years of experience. She's worked at some of the leading media houses in India such as Elle Decor, Houzz and Architectural Digest (Condé Nast). Till recently, she was a freelance writer for publications such as Architectural Digest US, House Beautiful, Stir World, Beautiful Homes India among others. In her spare time, she volunteers at animal shelters and other rescue organizations.