Love white, neutrals and pale greys for a kitchen, but worry they’ll leave your cookspace devoid of character? No way!
Houzz UK deputy editor. I’m an interiors journalist and editor, previously for the… More
A strictly restricted palette can make for a super-stylish kitchen – but the risk of creating a bland, featureless space lurks in the shadows, too. Fear not. Fans of kitchens devoid of colour-clutter will love these ideas for livening up a cookspace without dipping into the colour wheel.
Soften a white-out
There’s a lot of appeal in a bright, all-white kitchen, but this look is the hardest to convert into an interesting, welcoming space.
This kitchen has no issues there, and it’s all down to several details: the dark grout creates texture on the wall; the lighting is really unusual and adds a designer-y edge to the space; and that floor – rather than being cool and hard (say polished concrete) or gleamingly contemporary (perhaps smooth rubber or vinyl), it’s soft and probably original to the property. It’s simply been painted white.
If you don’t have floorboards to show off but like the effect, consider adding white-painted wood panelling to a wall or two instead.
Let the bare bones shine
If you’re lucky enough to have wonderful period features in your home, like the shutters, floorboards and ceiling mouldings here, give them space to breathe.
Perhaps the all-over wash of calming greige in this elegant Georgian kitchen is the biggest design choice that lets the room itself take centre stage. With walls, floor and units blending into one another, there are few distracting lines to break up the visual plane, drawing the eye to the various interesting features instead.
Equally, choosing materials with a heritage feel – marble and solid wood – is a gentle flag that this is a period setting. The choice not to include a large, modern island is another key decision that gives this kitchen a sense of historical gravitas. Instead, an antique wooden butcher’s block-style central unit fulfils the necessary functionality, but also adds character (without bulk – the sightlines beneath it keep the profile minimal).
Choose lighting with care, too: notice there isn’t a ceiling spot to be found in this room. The wall units are underlit, but attractive and period-sensitive modern designs are wall-mounted or hang elsewhere.
Mix shades and textures
Things get easier when a few other shades are introduced and layers appear. Even though here the only ‘colours’ are greys, creating a monochrome space, the fact they’re not the same grey and they’re on different-style units adds a dash of quirk.
All those textural surfaces, too, go a long way to taking away any starkness you might otherwise risk in a pale cookspace.
Choose three or four tonally soft shades that blend comfortably into one another, and dot variations of them all over the kitchen, in artworks, panelled features, furniture and even utensils.
Work in a few elements with character
Period-style lighting has already been mentioned, but here it’s used in quite a different setting.
This kitchen is proudly modern, with handleless units, slick ovens, a large, contemporary island and LED under-cabinet lighting strips. There are, however, a couple of characterful touches that nod to a heritage kitchen without jarring. Along with those island lights, there’s also the dark grout and flat metro tiles (very Victorian bathhouse), and the industrial bar stools. More subtly, the KitchenAid mixer has a pleasing vintage feel, too. Take away these four elements and you’d be left with a very blank canvas.
Choose three or four items you can work into your contemporary kitchen design that deliberately add character. These can be substantial if you’re at the planning stage – tiles, lighting and so on – or they can be quick add-ins if it’s already done but feeling a little soulless – try an interesting artwork, displaying some beautiful chopping boards or a striking kitchen table and/or chairs.
See more kitchen tile ideas
Keep gadgets hidden
All the flashy, futuristic kitchen gadgets you love using may make cooking a dream, but how beautiful are they? For an interesting rather than impressively functional look in a pale kitchen, where everything can look a little flat, only display your most beautiful gadgets.
In a trad-style space like this one, a stovetop kettle and vintage plates or dishes on display are the perfect shortcut.
In a more contemporary kitchen, look out for really beautiful tools – a set of minimal Japanese bamboo utensils hung on a wall would fit right in, yet also add warmth and interest.
A special mention, too, to the worktop lamp in this scheme. It’s amazing how something as simple as soft mood lighting after dark can transform a kitchen from a workspace into a spot where you find yourselves lingering, long after dinner’s over. No space on the worktop? Look for a stylish clip-on for a shelf or a plug-in wall light.
Think ‘living room’
This is a really good example of how an open-plan space can be the perfect foil for a sleek, minimal white kitchen. Here, the handleless, floor-to-ceiling kitchen itself is glossy and about as uncluttered as you can get, but it’s far from cold or stark, thanks to the room in which it’s housed.
The rest of the space is also all-white. (Style tip: it might feel scary, but see how wonderful things look when they’re all painted white.) However, the further away from the cookspace you get, the more homely elements creep in.
For this sort of Scandi effect, think in a strict palette of white and black, with dashes of wood, faded terracotta or rattan.
Store with style
This relaxed coastal kitchen may look as if it’s been thrown together with an enviably casual attitude, but just look at the discipline going on on those shelves!
Take heart that such displays do take effort – but also that they can be hugely effective. In a pale kitchen, collections of glass, or stacks of neutral or white crockery, will stop your cookspace from looking off-the-shelf without impinging on the space. Perfect for wannabe minimalists who can’t stop collecting, too.
Started a collection? Here’s how to display it
What colour is your kitchen? Share photos and tips in the Comments section.