The 5 Golden Rules to Help Choose a Color for a Small Kitchen That Designers Swear by

Not sure which way to go when it comes to choosing a color for a small kitchen? Here's how designers approach it for spaces that never feel apologetically designed

a small blue kitchen
(Image credit: Benjamin Moore)

Choosing the right color for a kitchen can be a trial for anyone — especially when it comes to cabinets where your choice feels a little more permanent than what you choose to paint the walls. However, with a small kitchen, there's even more at stake. The color isn't just about what's in style, it's going to really affect the whole vibe of the room — whether you want it to feel as big as possible, or something a little more cozy and characterful is up to you.

Of course, not everyone has the guiding hand of a designer to help them pick the perfect palette for a small kitchen, but if you're unsure how to make this all-important decision, we asked some of the best ones we know how they approach tackling the kitchen color conundrum for small spaces.

Opinions and approaches differ from designer to designer, of course, but here are the 5 things you should consider for a small kitchen that works successfully when it comes to color.

1. Go light and bright 

A New York apartment with extendable dining table

(Image credit: Joe Kramm. Design: Ahmad AbouZamat)

If your goal is to make your small kitchen feel bigger, you'll realistically want to stick to a lighter color palette. 'Generally, opt for lighter shades when choosing a kitchen cabinet color for a smaller space to make a space feel more open,' says Bob Bakes, Head of Design and co-founder of kitchen design studio Bakes & Kropp.

Sometimes, this advice is met with a little disappointment, but we're not saying you have to stick to a plain white kitchen cabinet if that's not what your heart desires. There are plenty of kitchen cabinet color trends that are more exciting than simple neutrals — and after all, color is only one facet of how you can interpret your style in a kitchen.

'This doesn't mean that you have to sacrifice personality or style; you can still incorporate accents to add character,' Bob explains, 'however, these accents should be balanced with a lighter base color.'

2. Choose something that adds depth

an all black small pantry

(Image credit: Diana Paulson. Design: KLH Homes)

Not all designers agree that light colors are the only options for small kitchens however. 'We always hear that if you want to make a space feel larger, make it brighter,' says kitchen designer Gabrielle Fabbri. 'I stuck to that for quite some time, but then I began to really embrace darker moody spaces. You have to think of the design as a whole.'

Darker kitchen cabinet and wall colors can work just as well for small spaces where you want to make an impact. The space above, designed by KLH Homes, is actually a small pantry — an addendum to a larger kitchen but that embraces an all dark color scheme.

'Our client had seen a dark pantry space that she loved, and we were thrilled to run with this concept - especially since you get a lovely peek of the space through a doorway in the kitchen,' explains Liz Hoekzema, creative director and co-founder of KLH Homes. 'We pushed the concept further by 'dipping' the ceiling in the same paint as the walls and cabinetry (which is Sherwin Williams' Iron Ore) — reasoning that the natural light + view to the outdoors on the east end of the space would make up for the extra layer of moodiness.'

It's a design that draws on the power of balance, creating a small space that feels almost like a jewelry box.

3. Go low contrast 

A kitchen with sage green cabinetry, open shelving, and island

(Image credit: Michelle Pullman. Design: Union of Art Interiors)

While the choice of color might be a bit more open-ended, designers do suggest keeping the scope of your palette on the simpler side if you don't want your small kitchen to feel visually cluttered.

'Opting for a low-contrast color scheme is important,' says interior designer Emily Taber-Moore, founder of Studio Henree. 'Coordinating colors among walls, kitchen countertops, cabinets, and woodwork fosters a sense of expansiveness.'

'Avoid abrupt shifts between dark and light hues, as they tend to visually divide the room, potentially making it appear smaller,' Emily adds.

4. Match cabinets with the walls 

a black and white kitchen in a modern cottage

(Image credit: Marco Ricca. Design: SISSY+MARLEY Interiors)

One such way to stop these visual breaks when deciding on your kitchen color scheme is by matching the wall color with your cabinets. 'Don't stop at the cabinetry think about the wall color as well,' designer Gabrielle Fabbri says. 'If you go with a dark cabinet, pair it with something that carries that color onto the walls.'

This is a great trick even if you want to create a two-tone kitchen, too. 'If you do dark bases, you can always do light-colored wall cabinets and match the wall paint color to the wall cabinets as a trick to the eye,' Gabrielle adds. 'I recently painted my kitchen Tanner's Brown by Farrow and Ball, the walls, and the cabinets. My New York City galley kitchen has never felt larger.'

5. Don't focus too much on size 

a wood kitchen with marble backdrop

(Image credit: Jean Bai. Design: Lexie Saine Design)

If there's one mistake you can make when choosing colors for a small kitchen, it's really about feeling trapped into making it look bigger or brighter when that's not how you want to decorate the space, says interior designer Lexie Saine.

'The size of the space remains constant, whether you choose white cabinets, a matching countertop, and backsplash,' Lexie tells us. 'Instead of sticking to the expected, consider embracing a vibrant, bold color or a distinctive wood tone, mixing materials for added visual interest. This approach introduces dimension and character, ultimately making the space feel more expansive by infusing it with personality and individuality.'

'It's not about the color being light or dark; it's about choosing a palette that breathes life and character into the kitchen, transcending the limitations of square footage,' Lexie adds.

Luke Arthur Wells
Freelancer writer

Luke Arthur Wells is a freelance design writer, award-winning interiors blogger and stylist, known for neutral, textural spaces with a luxury twist. He's worked with some of the UK's top design brands, counting the likes of Tom Dixon Studio as regular collaborators and his work has been featured in print and online in publications ranging from Domino Magazine to The Sunday Times. He's a hands-on type of interiors expert too, contributing practical renovation advice and DIY tutorials to a number of magazines, as well as to his own readers and followers via his blog and social media. He might currently be renovating a small Victorian house in England, but he dreams of light, spacious, neutral homes on the West Coast.