How to Choose a Wall Color for a Mixed-Materials Kitchen

July 5, 2017

There was a time when the rule of kitchen design was that everything must match. Those days are long-gone. Now designers mix-and-match cabinets, counters, and wall colors to create different effects. It’s not just color, either. Lighting, metals, and wood tones are all thrown into the mix.

The challenge for the designer is to make the differences mesh into a whole, and there are many approaches. Do you want everything to blend together? Is there something you want to stand out? Do you want different parts of the kitchen to contrast with another? Your wall color will play a huge role in answering these questions.

Here are some suggestions for choosing the best wall color for your mixed-materials kitchen.

Choose paint last

Most people choose mixed materials because they like two different styles or like a particular design that only comes in a few colors. Those special items should remain the highlights. If you choose a paint color first, you lose flexibility and can cause a clash.

Let’s say you have a red kitchen island and gray counters. The red stands out from the gray and it doesn’t clash with it. Since the red island is a focal point, you don’t want the wall color to clash with the focal point. A lighter shade of gray would be a good fit with this combination. It gives enough contrast to the counter while not pulling attention away from the red center island.

You may want to have your whole kitchen together first before you decide on a wall color. It’s much easier to paint your wall once rather than painting early and discovering the color doesn’t really go well with some of your mixed-material choices.

So how do you choose which paint colors to consider when you’re looking at all of your materials? It’s a matter of contrasts.


Sometimes the finishes can stand out on their own. Sometimes they need a little help to blend together. This is a matter of contrasts. Your wall’s background color needs to balance the contrasts between the finishes carefully to create a harmonious effect.

If your finishes have a strong contrast, the balancing color should be medium and neutral. Neutral colors are shades of brown, white, black, tan, and gray that go well with most other colors. As a simple example, a black and white kitchen is best served by a gray wall to balance out the extremes.

If your finishes already have a pleasing harmony, the balancing color should be lighter and neutral. This will keep the harmony that’s already present from getting disrupted. The wall color should fade into the background.

If you want your walls to be a highlight, that’s the time to go for a strong color that forces the rest of the elements into balance. However, this only makes sense if there are enough exposed walls to really make that special color show. If you have enough space on a kitchen wall that it could be considered an accent wall, that’s a good sign you could go this route. But if the only exposed kitchen wall area you have is what’s above your backsplash and under your cabinets, there may be too little of the bold color to pull everything together.

It’s also important not to go too far with your contrasts. Your kitchen may be a work of art, but colors that contrast too far will make it unpleasant to look at. High-contrast combinations that are opposites on the color wheel aren’t the way to go. Instead, pick analogous colors that are close to each other in shade.

Fortunately, most kitchen materials are made of neutral colors. Only a few things are likely to have a strong color, like a teal tile for instance. The more non-neutral colors you have in any room, the more difficult it will be to balance everything. The easiest way to balance non-neutral colors is to use colors that are close together on the color wheel and to use no more than three.

Metals may also have an underlying color that will push a color palette in a particular direction. Copper in a kitchen pretty much forces the use of a warm color palette full of reds and oranges. Blue and copper or purple and copper would be much more difficult to balance visually. Lighter metals like stainless steel or aluminum go well with cooler blues and greens.

Balancing Neutrals

To narrow down possible colors even further, there’s a third trick you can use. Most kitchen materials aren’t a single color. There are mixtures of colors. Stone, for instance, is made up of lots of different colors if you look closely.

Go through your different finishes and write down all of the colors you see. You may find that a single color dominates among most of them. That is the best color to tie the room together as a whole. Since neutral colors go with most other colors, choosing a neutral tone that is in most of the other items in the kitchen will provide the most balance.

However, your wall color can still be neutral and let some other part of your kitchen stand out. Take counters. If you have dark counters and most of your other surfaces are lighter, you don’t have to pick the gray option. You can pick a lighter neutral to help tie everything else together while still letting your counters make a statement.

As you can see, choosing the right color can be more tricky than it looks on the surface. But it can be done if you narrow down your choices carefully. Don’t be afraid to ask for paint swatches from your local paint store to compare with your chosen finishes. Sometimes you really can’t see how a paint will work until you see some in your kitchen. But with these tips, you should be able to narrow your selection down significantly. Good luck with your paint project!

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