By Lois O’Malley, Kitchen Designer, Snaidero USA Los Angeles
White kitchens are still – and always - in very high demand but make no mistake: white is not an easy color to design with, so don’t think a white kitchen will fit into your interior decor in a breeze.
It’s a simple assumption to make. We think that white is white, end of story, it’ll just go well with any other color. Wrong. Just as it is for all the other colors, there are actually infinitesimal shades of white and matching different white elements is surprisingly difficult to do.
So, for example, choosing a white kitchen without thinking about the white your walls are already painted with can cause you to have to repaint the walls once you install your kitchen and realize the two whites are different and don’t go well together.
Here are a few considerations to help you understand how not all white kitchens are created equal.
IDENTIFYING WARM AND COOL WHITES
When considering white for your kitchen cabinets, just as you’d do with any other color, start by looking at all the pre-existing elements in the room, such as paint, furniture, fabric, curtains, etc.
If you already have some whites, you have to determine if they are warm whites (i.e. with yellow/green undertones) or cool whites (with blue/grey undertones) and choose a white that will blend well with them. Keep in mind that the warmer whites are always going to appear darker, while the cooler ones will actually appear whiter.
If you are confused, think of the difference between incandescent and LED lights. Incandescent light has a yellow/warm tone, while LED light has a blue/cool tone (although you can now get warm LED light, which mimics incandescent light). When you look at the two, you can tell the light they produce has a slightly different color. It is the same thing with warm and cool whites.
COMPARING WHITE KITCHENS TO SHOW THEIR TRUE COLOR
Here’s the tricky thing about white: When you look at any shade of white by itself, it will appear white (as in “as white as it can get”). However, when you compare different shades next to each other, all of a sudden you discover how very different they are. Let’s look at an example of this. Here’s a white kitchen:
It’s actually a warm white, which has a yellowish cast to it that is further enhanced by the bronze elements in the kitchen. Still, it looks white.
Here are two more white kitchens, in a white that is a cooler than the first one we saw above.
Both kitchens use Snaidero’s Arctic White, but when compared side by side, it doesn’t seem to be the same white. This is because of the different lighting that was used in the two pictures and the fact that the white cabinets are surrounded by different materials and colors. The dark wood cabinets make the white appear a little darker than it is the case in the kitchen where the white is juxtaposed to yellow cabinets. Also, high gloss lacquer (kitchen on the right) is a reflective finish, so it makes the white take on the hue of whatever other colors are near it.
Now, let’s look at another kitchen in Arctic White. This one has blueish undertones because the cabinets are in the shade and used in contrast with blue cabinets.
At a quick glance, it might not appear that much different from the previous white kitchens. So, let’s look at all the kitchens again, this time side by side.
Now you can see how the fourth kitchen is unmistakably the whitest and coolest in color.
THE EFFECT OF LIGHT ON WHITE KITCHENS
As we’ve seen, the lighting you choose will have a specific effect on your white kitchen. For example, even if your cabinets are the whitest of white, the use of incandescent or warm lights will cast a slight yellow cast on the white. On the other hand, cool lighting will make the white appear to have a blue or gray cast.
How the lights are positioned is also important. When light is hitting white cabinets directly, they will appear much lighter than if the light was not pointed directly at them. This happens with all colors but even more so with white because white is technically the absence of color, so it takes on whatever color is shining on it.
If we go back to look at one of our white kitchens from before, you can see the difference between the bottom of the pantry unit in the background (hit directly by the light) and side of the base cabinets on the left (which is in the shadow and therefore look much darker).
MATCHING WHITE WITH WOOD CABINETS
When mixing white with other colors – dark or light – the right shade of white to choose will actually be determined by the other color.
For example, here are two white kitchens combined with two different types of wood. The first kitchen features Teak wood, fairly light and warm. For this, we should use a warmer white that will complement the warm tones of the teak.
In the second kitchen, the floor and the tabletop of the island extension are in a darker wood. For this, a cooler white is a better fit to pick up the cooler gray tones of the wood.
DIFFERENT WHITE KITCHENS CREATE DIFFERENT ATMOSPHERES
In addition to choosing a shade of white that matches (or complements) the other elements in the kitchen, you’ll want to consider the overall feeling you want to create. Some people like a warmer shade of white and feel the cool whites are too stark and sterile. Others feel the warmer shades appear dingy or dirty and prefer a cooler white that will look bright, crisp, and super modern.
Putting the “white” in your white kitchen is a very personal choice and not the no-brainer you might think. The good news is that there is a shade for everyone.