This Was Once an Unpopular Kitchen Color, but Designers Are Now Encouraging Its Use in Small Doses

The bold shade is being used as a much-loved kitchen accent all thanks to a trending color theory

red, blue and mint open plan kitchen living area
(Image credit: Owl Design)

In case you haven't heard, there's a new color trend on the block. It stems from a viral theory circulating social media dubbed 'Unexpected Red', and while it might be hard to pin down any meaning from the name alone, the idea itself makes a lot of sense once you see it in practice.

No prizes for guessing that the color in question is, of course, red. Many of us tend to shy away from using this bold shade in our designs, but it's fast becoming one of designers' favorite accent hues to elevate designs and throw in an element of surprise, especially in kitchens.

For years now, red has largely been considered too overbearing a color to use in a kitchen, a space that's become more calming and convivial in recent years. While it might not be a tone to take to all four walls, many designers are now encouraging its use in smaller doses, and it's all thanks to the new 'Unexpected Red' interior design trend. Keen to learn more about how to introduce this shade into your kitchen to make an impactful statement? We asked designers to tell us how it's done.

What is the 'Unexpected Red' Theory?

A fireplace in between dining and living

(Image credit: Jessica Hansen Tandem Interiors)

First coined by TikTok user Taylor Simon (@intayriors), the idea behind the unexpected red theory is that a random injection of red can make a room look seriously elevated and feel so much more design-worthy. In most cases, bright shades of the classic primary red are used for this color trend.

'The idea is to introducie the color red into your kitchen as a pop through accessories or accents,' explains Priya Vij, founder of Hapny Home. 'Red evokes strong emotions and makes for a naturally interesting visual choice given the boldness of the color. A little goes a long way, which is exciting from a design perspective.'

As hinted at by Priya, the theory can translate to the kitchen in many ways, but generally, it's all in the details. That could mean small soft furnishings like placemats or tea cloths, or stoneware accents such as plates, mugs, or even ceramic cabinet knobs.

There's also the connotations of the color red and what it can communicate when used wisely. Priya is an especially big fan of the viral unexpected red theory due to her Indian heritage, where the shade represents love and commitment in her culture. 'What better place to showcase it than the kitchen, which is often the heart of the home,' she says.

How should we decorate with red in a kitchen?

Red and wood tone kitchen with island and round drop pendant lighting

(Image credit: ©Francis Amiand for Fabrice Juan)

The great thing about a place like the kitchen where there are so many decor and kitchenware elements is that it offers untold possibilities for introducing color. The added benefit is that this space is one we can often overlook when it comes to curated, impactful designs. Often devoid of color or character - and a place where we typically settle for a standardized norm (think faucets, sinks, and hardware) - introducing a color theory like this one can go a long way, injecting a zesty effervescent feel where it's needed most.

On top of all this, while red might be a bit too overwhelming as a paint idea on your kitchen walls, its use in smaller doses - peppered throughout a space to draw the eye - makes so much sense. 'While red is a bold color selection for the home, it's more versatile than you might think,' says Priya. 'It pairs well with most standard hardware finish tones - from the warm golds of brass to the cool silvers of nickel and chrome and even with black.'

What all of this suggests is that red kitchens can be subtle, instead of simply overpowering or too stimulating. Take the design pictured above, for example. Surrounded by neutrals and natural wood tones, the small amount of red really sings, adding an unexpected burst of flavor and introducing depth and dimension to the simple cabinetry.

'In the same vein as an accent wall, you could have red cabinets or paint the inside of your cabinets red for a more subtle inclusion,' Priya suggests. 'Installing red fixtures (think plumbing or lighting) is a fun way to add a pop of color and draw attention without overwhelming the space. Given the versatility of red, it would be easy to complement your hardware with those fixtures seamlessly.' Used this way - or by simply decorating with a few red decor items inside the space - a feeling of cohesiveness is created that brings harmony to your kitchen, something professional designers always do so well.

What other colors or accents go with red?

a kitchen with a marble island and red faucet

(Image credit: Prue Ruscoe. Design: YSG Studio)

Though it may be a bold choice, and certainly it's earned itself a tricky reputation in the design world, there are plenty of colors that go with red. 'Gold, silver and black are all traditional choices that work well with red,' says Priya. 'If the point is to use red as an accent color, the space should be designed to let the red pop as much as possible. In terms of hardware, this means choosing a material and finish that will complement, not compete, with the red.'

For a cozier look, Priya suggests sticking to gold hardware. 'Gold and red is a timeless combination given the warm undertones of both,' she notes. 'For a more dramatic look, a nickel or chrome finish will introduce a cooler tone against the red without clashing. Matte or brushed finishes will be more subtle, while reflective polished finishes will draw more attention. A more modern look would be to pair matte black with red. While both are bold colors, the pairing is visually very clean.'

There are so many ways to play with this idea in your kitchen, and they don't have to be permanent design commitments either. Even if you're not a fan of red, see what difference a hint of this shade can make in your kitchen. Who knows - you may even be surprised.

Color & Trends Editor

Lilith Hudson is the Color & Trends Editor at Livingetc. Writing news, features, and explainers for our digital platform, she's the go-to person for all the latest micro-trends, interior hacks, and color inspiration you need in your home. Lilith discovered a love for lifestyle journalism during her BA in English and Philosophy at the University of Nottingham where she spent more time writing for her student magazine than she did studying. After graduating, she decided to take things a step further and now holds an MA in Magazine Journalism from City, University of London, with previous experience at the Saturday Times Magazine, Evening Standard, DJ Mag, and The Simple Things Magazine. At weekends you'll find her renovating a tiny one-up, one-down annex next to her Dad's holiday cottage in the Derbyshire dales where she applies all the latest design ideas she's picked up through the week.