09 May 2010

Reader question: Can I have three finish colors in my new kitchen?

The following question came from a reader with whom I've been corresponding for the last few months as she undergoes a major renovation of a historic home.
I was wondering if you might discuss the use of color in kitchen cabinets in a future post, especially multiple colors. When I Google the topic, I often just get black and white, or wood and white or wood and black, etc.

I just got color samples in from Timeless Kitchen Designs, and we are leaning toward a combination of three different paint colors for the cabinets. Walls will be a neutral I've yet to settle on,  the floors will be a nearly uniform gray slate, I'm getting hammered zinc counters and a Shaw's Original sink.

Upon showing certain people our color choices, I have heard the comment that we are breaking a few "design rules" by having 1) more than two colors featured in the kitchen and 2) featuring those colors on the cabinets instead of on the walls or as accessories. I believe the thought is that the room will be too busy, or perhaps we will tire of these colors one day and be unable to change them without a great deal of trouble, or if we need to sell (no plans to, ever) no one in their right mind would buy a house with these colors in a kitchen.

It is true that I am unable to google a kitchen with this combination of colors, or even many kitchens with more than two cabinet colors. However, this just makes me like it even more! So, from a professional point of view, are we making a mistake? Would you advise clients to tone down the colors, or get what they love regardless? We don't think we will regret it, but it is somewhat frustrating to feel so proud and excited and have people come in and say we should stick with all off-white, or something like that.

I obviously will get what I love regardless, and I did defend my choices, but was met with shrugs and 'well, okaaaays'....Are we just more 'out there' than the average kitchen remodeler? It's not like I'm picking lime green/magenta/day-glo pink, after all.
Thanks for the question and before I wade into an answer, congratulations on choosing Timeless Kitchen Designs. Kevin Ritter is an artist in every sense of the word and I cannot wait to see what he does in your home.

Now, onto your question. I searched the web for some multiple finish kitchens and as luck would have it I came across one by Kevin, so you're in good hands. If I believed in signs I'd definitely call it that.

Look! Three paint colors!

Here are some others using three finishes and all of the following rooms are by Medallion Cabinetry. I have their image library, so these shots were easy to come by.

See? The rooms shown above look fantastic and I encourage you to throw that in the faces of the naysayers who disapprove of your choices.

I hate it when I hear someone say that something breaks a design rule. Especially when it's being said about color combinations. Short of some technical rules about form and function, there aren't any real design rules. Whatever design rules exist are trumped by the Great Commandment (at least according to me). That Great Commandment is of course Be Intentional.

Generally, the people who tell you that you're breaking a design rule are getting this nonsense from HGTV or the Garden Web and I'd ignore their "advice" without hesitation. It sounds too like they're worshiping the graven image of resale value, another dead end when we're talking about a kitchen such as the one you're planning for.

But back to my Great Commandment. When your finishes follow a narrative and they make sense for the room they're in you're on the right track. Being intentional isn't so much a question of the finishes you're using, it's more about the motives behind them. Based on our conversations, your motives are spot on and you have terrific taste. So be confident and enjoy your multiple hues. When your renovation's completed, your naysayers will go home to their off whites and envy you. Go for it!


  1. As I was reading this post and before I got to your comment saying the same thing I was thinking in my head, "It sounds like this person has received some HGTV advice." Great minds...


  2. Oh yes, listen to Paul--that's good advice. ("graven image of resale value" -- I choked on my coffee, so thanks.)

    I love doing 3-color kitchens, but I don't get many. The last one I did the client ended up with a moss green sideboard, taupe cabinet on the main walls with a couple of moss green wall cabinets to tie in the sideboard, and a pecan-colored island.

    I think most people don't think they can pull off that many colors, so it does help to have someone with the experience to help you see the vision through. Also, I find it easier to achieve multi-colors in kitchens with higher ceilings of 9' and 10' high ceilings, like above, but that's probably just me.

    Will there be pictures? (she asked hopefully.)

  3. Great minds indeed Sharon. All these rules of design folks get on my nerves.

    Kelly: I'm glad I could start your day off with a guffaw. It's true though, Lordie it's true. I'm dying to see photographs of this place when she's finished with it too!

  4. I love doing Kitchens with more than two colors. Gives the Kitchen a very unfitted feel. Especially wonderful for European or Country kitchens, since in the "Old days" Kitchens evolved over time. When done right it creates a feeling it has been there forever.

  5. Great advice Paul, 3 colors is great when it works with the concept and the house. I don't think I've ever done more than 3 in one kitchen (maybe that's the "rule")? I'd like to pay a visit to the (Mac)temple of these "graven images" - with a few cans of spray paint

  6. I'm with you Sue, give me an unfitted kitchen any day.

    Sarah: Now people are going to the "the rule of three" has to do with colors. Hah!

  7. I find this topic very interesting! Great post!

  8. Thanks Gina, happy mother's day!

  9. The first kitchen is what I'm hoping ours looks like someday. Will you remember that when the time comes to re-do ours? I see so many things that like and I know I'll have to go digging through your website to find all of them, but the look of that first one really grabs me. I think something like that would look great in our place.

  10. Of course HGTV would disagree, most of their "experts" are bubbly 25 year olds with boob jobs and freshly minted real estate licenses.

    I remember this issue came up when my Mom was setting up the first showroom, and her response to my questioning if that was a 'good idea' was this: "Sure! Mother nature mixes woods and colors all the time, why can't we? Go take a look at the forest."

    Happy Mother's day! :)

  11. I love it! Feels more organic and less sterile. In a related question what is Paul's non-rule for mixing hardware finishes? Say chrome and stainless in the same room... TELL ME!!!!

  12. Great question. Fantastic response. Awesome selection of images to drive the point home.

  13. Melody: Timeless Kitchen Designs is in Malvern, PA. That's practically in your back yard and you home is screaming for one of Kevin's unfitted masterpieces.

    Ade: Fantastic point, I never thought of it that way. Your Mom's a smart one.

    Saucy: By now you should have my archives memorized by chapter and verse but I'll cut you a break. I believe mixing metals was my first reader question more than a year ago. Ecoutez: http://www.kitchenandresidentialdesign.com/2009/02/reader-question-what-about-mixing.html

    Bill: Thanks! All those rooms need is some tile from Avente.

  14. I'm sorry. I panicked. I'm reading them now!

    I was probably going to do it anyway just figured I'd ask so my big reveal would be less awkward. ; )

  15. I love the look of kitchens with cabinets in different colours and/or materials. Great to see that you're encouraging your reader to go with what she loves. That's what design is all about -- surrounding yourself with things you love and that make you happy.

    I hope your reader will let you share some pics of her kitchen when it's done :-)


  16. Saucy: Mixed metals rock!

    Kelly: Wait a minute. I thought design was all about people surrounding themselves with things I love...

  17. Love all those kitchens! Swoon!

  18. Coming soon to an island continent near you I hope.

  19. Three colors? I believe that's called a "triadic" color combination. It's a classic! Whoever writes those "rules" isn't very well educated. (Was is someone very young and bubbly with a boob job and a stint on HGTV?)

  20. HGTV's always behind all of these hackneyed "design rules." I blame them for resale value obsessive compulsive disorder too.

  21. I am a complete and total non-designer. The uniting factor in all of the photos that you have shown is that each piece is highlighted as a singular, stand-out/stand alone piece of furniture. It is a look that I LOVE. On to the results post....

  22. Kathy: The look you notice is what a couple of the design gang here have called out. It's called an "unfitted" kitchen and its goal is to lend the appearance of furniture that's been shoved into a kitchen. It's a look pioneered by my old pal Bill Draper and his studio Draper DBS in New Hope, PA. I'm pretty keen on it too.


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