Your Guide to Two-Tone Kitchen Cabinets

modern two tone kitchen with blue island space for stool seating, white cabinets, wood floors, quartzite countertops

Not sure whether a two-tone or three-tone kitchen is right for you? It helps to know the rules!

When you know the rules, you can play with color in your kitchen. You can express yourself and create a gorgeous, unique look. Plus, two-tone cabinets in kitchens are on-trend and have been for a long time.

Is it OK to choose two contrasting kitchen cabinet colors?

Yes! It’s more than okay to mix kitchen cabinet colors. Want to know how to do it the right way?  Whether it’s a small kitchen or a big one, a galley, L-shaped, U-shaped, or has an island or peninsula, we have advice on what to do and what not to do! Do you like classic black and white cabinets or prefer bold and bright colors? Would you prefer more muted pastels? Read on for the details of how to make two-tone cabinets work in your kitchen, for your taste. We have plenty of color combination options.

two tone kitchen green island white upper and lower cabinets wood floor

Are 2-color kitchen cabinets still in style?

Yes. Though the 2-color trend began around 2000, this trend has longevity!

That’s not to say there haven’t been shifts within the trend. For example, during Covid, everyone was painting with gray, white, and neutral colors. Even McDonald’s was doing it. While that trend might stick around a little longer, we see more people tired of these color schemes.

If you want color and life back in your home, now is the time! Colors bring joy, so the 2-tone trend looks modern and will be around for a while.

What does it mean to have 2-tone or mixed kitchen cabinets?

It means that your cabinets are two different colors based on where they are in your kitchen. You might have your lower cabinets be a different color than your upper cabinets or your island cabinets be different than the rest of your cabinets.

There is a method for choosing which cabinets are which colors. You start by picking one primary accent color, like blue, green, a pastel color, or even black. You combine it with one neutral color like white or wood.

So, for example, you can choose a lovely accent blue for your kitchen island, then choose white for your upper and lower cabinets. The blue island creates a focal point that draws the eye.

Want more color? Also choose your lovely blue accent for your lower cabinets as well.

Why should you choose two tones for your kitchen cabinets?

There are four reasons why you should choose contrasting colors for your kitchen cabinets.

  1. Mixing and matching your cabinets adds additional color to the room, which can brighten your mood.
  2. Mixing and matching your kitchen cabinets allows for personal expression. Show off your unique style!
  3. They are fun! And it makes your kitchen fun to live in and cook in.
  4. When two-tone cabinets are done correctly, they add to the resale value of your home. Buyers who haven’t seen two-tone kitchen cabinets done before almost always love it.
two toned kitchen wood island wood floor white upper lower cabinets

When is it a good idea to choose two colors for your kitchen cabinets?

Consider mixing and matching your kitchen cabinets if one or more of the following is true:

  1. You have a large kitchen. A large kitchen offers many possibilities.
  2. You have an island that can be transformed into a focal point.
  3. If you’re in your forever home. You can do whatever you want when you’re in your forever home!
  4. If you’re not in your forever home, but if you’re willing to invest in working with professionals, you know the job is being done right, and the colors are adding to the resale value of your home.
  5. If you want to express yourself by adding more joy and color and brightness to your life!

In truth, if the cabinets are done well, most people can benefit from two-tone kitchen cabinets.

When is it a bad idea to mix colors for your kitchen cabinets?

There are only two cases where we’d tell you to be hesitant about mixing and matching your kitchen cabinets.

  1. The first case is this: you have a very small kitchen. If the colors aren’t chosen with precision, the entire scheme might look busy and provoke a sensation of stress rather than a sensation of joy. A small kitchen also offers additional challenges, such as figuring out what colors to make the tall appliances (if you’re going to make them look like cabinets) or what color to paint a tall pantry. Do you match them to the wall or the base? These decisions can make a difference in a small kitchen, but they are not as much of a concern in a large kitchen.
  2. The second scenario is when you have an enclosed kitchen that lacks symmetry. For example, a U-shaped kitchen will lack balance if you want to make the bottom and top different colors; part of the U almost always lacks top cabinets, and the lopsided result never looks good.

Related: 12 Kitchen Remodeling Mistakes to Avoid and What to Do Instead

Related: Gorgeous White Kitchen For A $175k Kitchen Remodel Budget

 

tone tone kitchen white cabinets royal blue island wood floor

How do I choose two-tone cabinetry colors?

Ask yourself the following questions about your entire kitchen to make sure the two-tone cabinets you have in mind will work with the entire design.

Question: What colors do you like? What woods or neutrals do you like?

Most people feel more strongly about one question than the other, so choose the question you feel strongest about first.

The color you like will be your primary accent. The wood or neutral color will be your main color.

If you like white, you don’t even have to know what woods you like because you can choose white as your neutral. If you’re doing this alone, white is easy: you can match it to almost any other color.

If you’re working with a designer, you can take advantage of their design expertise. Designers are very good at mixing colors and knowing whether it will look good.

An example that’s trending now is white cabinets with islands that are painted a rich sage green. It’s gorgeous!

Question: Do you want glass, laser-cut wood panels, or textured glass?

If you’re using glass in a two-tone kitchen, you can make the interior of the cabinets a different color. If your kitchen is big enough, that could be a third color, though most people choose just two. It also depends on your decor style; a Mexican-style kitchen could use more colors.

For example, in one kitchen we did, we used quarter sawn oak and glass cabinets. We added off-white inside the cabinet and used sage green for the bottom cabinets.

Question: What kind of flooring would you like?

Here in northern California, we often like to see a little warmth on the floor. In our sage green and white scheme, we’d suggest something warm but light-colored, like Scandinavian natural wide plank wood flooring. These floors gleam under natural light and take absolutely nothing away from your cabinet scheme.

Alternatively, you could go for a contemporary, bright floor, like a 30×30 white tile.

It’s best to avoid a darker floor. In northern California, there’s too much dust and pollen coming into most homes to make darker floors an appealing option. You’d have to clean them almost every day.

Question: What will your backsplash be?

You can use the backsplash and flooring to tie the accent and the neutral color together. You can also do this with accessories and kitchen cabinet hardware.

Your backsplash is an opportunity to add more color. You might use a pattern or multi-colors that are combinations of the other colors you pick. You can also make your backsplash monochromatic and light. It all comes down to your preferences. The tile could be the sage from our example, tying in with the island. There are so many 3D, textured tiles now to choose from!

Question: What countertop material and pattern do you want?

We recommend keeping your counters neutral since we’ve added so much color to the cabinets. Avoid waves and patterns unless you want to reset the backsplash and have the backsplash be plain instead.

Don’t be afraid to revisit previous choices. Some materials don’t go well together. Our designers can help you combine all your choices into a single, unified scheme that will make your kitchen look amazing.

Does the kitchen island have to be the same color as the cabinets?

Definitely not! Choosing a different island color is often the basis of a two-tone kitchen cabinet design. Most people with two-tones mix and match by making the island a focal point and allowing it to be a different color than the kitchen.

Should the island cabinets be lighter or darker than the main kitchen cabinets?

That depends! The island should always be the primary accent color, not the neutral that goes with the accent. Many accents are darker colors, but most are pastel. Regardless, if you have one, it goes on the island, whether it’s light or dark.

The darker the color, the better it is for the base cabinets vs. the upper cabinets. If you’re choosing dark colors, this is the easiest way to pull everything together without having to pay really close attention to the rest of the material selection. It can be done the other way around, but it’s not as easy to pull off correctly.

What are the most popular kitchen cabinet color combinations?

These three different color schemes are popular for all generations right now:

  1. Blue (from periwinkle to navy, to sea blue) with white.
  2. Sage and mint tones, with warm tones like vanilla or off-white.
  3. Blue or green tones with light wood.

My favorite right now? Lighter tones with black or charcoal accents. Black and charcoal accents really set off any colors they’re up against. Quarter-sawn oak mixed with black stain is absolutely lovely—but only in larger kitchens!

two toned kitchen white cabinets pastel blue island tile floor

Lifestyle and home considerations for choosing two-tone kitchen cabinets

Here are some things to think about.

  1. Dirt! Do you have a millennial family with kids in middle school and people traipsing through your house all day? Avoid dark colors that will show off a lot of dirt. Don’t have a big family full of kids but still want to keep the windows open? Avoid dark colors. I have to dust my own dark cabinets every three days. If we got more rain, this wouldn’t be an issue. Of course, if you have regular cleaning help, you can get away with almost anything.
  2. Natural light. You need a lot of natural light to pull off dark colors because dark swallows light. If you have an all-black kitchen, it will feel dark unless you add lots of lighting. This is the case even if you have natural light because once the sun sets, you’ll have the lights on.
  3. Interior lighting. Here, you want to pay attention to the tone of the lighting. For example, you don’t want warm lighting in a blue kitchen. You need cooler lighting unless you want to turn the blue into purple.

Not sure whether you have sufficient lighting or what the tone of your lighting looks like? Ask your designer!

 

two tone kitchen blue island white lower cabinets wood floor

How do I mix colors on the island and the upper cabinets and lower cabinets?

When you are creating a two-tone kitchen, you have three choices for mixing colors.

  1. You can turn the island into a focal point and use the accent color on the island only
  2. You can mix the colors of the top and bottom cabinets, and if you chose to accent the island, you’d put the island accent on the bottom cabinets only
  3. You can do both!

Often, the island alone is enough to add a bit of color, and focusing on the island means making a smaller commitment to the two-tone scheme. If only one part of your kitchen is chosen for the accent, it is most often the island.

There’s no need to mix the colors of the upper cabinets and lower cabinets if you don’t want to—many homeowners love the stand-alone accent island look.

If you mix the colors of the top and bottom cabinets, the accent will go on the bottom or base cabinets. This is especially true if your accent is dark. If you put the darker color on the top, you’d have to do something with the floor to ground the room more. This is harder to do right, so you’ll want a designer’s help.

How should I mix black and white kitchen cabinets?

Make sure the black goes on the bottom cabinets, or if there’s an island, add black to the island.

Adding black handles or fixtures to the white cabinets creates a more striking visual.

You can modernize the scheme with a lighter-colored floor like Scandinavian white wood to anchor it.

While you could pair black and white cabinets with checkerboard flooring, you don’t have to.

Black and white kitchen cabinets have been popular since 1982 and will probably never go out of style. We see them resurfacing as a trend every 5 to 10 years.

Large kitchen with Charcoal and white cabinets, paneled Sub Zero fridge and freezer, ceiling mounted hood, light LVP floors; two toned cabinets

How do I work with darker accent colors for two-tone cabinets?

Use the darker color on the bottom cabinets!

Make sure you have enough light, too.

Darker accent colors require a big, airy kitchen.

Otherwise, your kitchen will look cramped and unpleasant

Are 3-color kitchen cabinets in style?

Three-color kitchens are in style but require a very large kitchen. They will not work in a U-shaped or galley kitchen.

In a 3-color scheme, you’ll use:

  • One big, loud, bright, or vibrant color
  • A neutral
  • An accent color

The accent color in a 3-color kitchen will always be a lighter tone.

My dream kitchen includes two-tone cabinets!

Italian styles inspire my dream kitchen. I’d choose floating cabinets with lights underneath. I’d want a table that slides off the island and I’d install full-extension drawers. My cabinet interiors would be as pretty as their exteriors, and I’d definitely choose a 3-color scheme with my favorite play colors!

Ready to play with color?

If you’re ready to explore a two-tone or three-tone kitchen in your home, contact us! We’ll help you design the stunning kitchen of your dreams.

Here are some of our two-tone kitchens to look at for inspiration:

Walnut Creek Green Island and White Cabinets Two-Tone Kitchen

Pleasanton Periwinkle Island and White Cabinets Two-Tone Kitchen

Alamo Wood Island and White Cabinets Two-Tone Kitchen

Walnut Blue Island White and White Cabinets Two-Tone Kitchen

Walnut Creek Wood Island and White Cabinets Two-Tone Kitchen

Alamo Wood Melamine Island and White High Gloss Cabinets Two-Tone Kitchen

Gray Island and White Cabinets Two-Tone Kitchen

Pleasant Hill Wood Inset and Slate Gray Cabinets Two-Tone Kitchen

Danville Gray Island and White Cabinets Two-Tone Kitchen

Lafayette Turquoise Island and White Cabinets Two-Tone Kitchen

San Ramon Wood Island and White Cabinets Two-Tone Kitchen

 

 

Kat Mullen

Kat and her husband, Scott Westby, own and run MSK Design Build, an award-winning design-build firm located in the San Francisco East Bay. With over 10 years of experience in design-build construction for high-end remodels, Kat enjoys sharing her knowledge, experience and expertise. Kat's favorite part of the design build process is hearing her client's vision for their home and helping to make their dream into reality.

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