Ask Maria: Must my Kitchen Coordinate With the Dining Room?

Ask Maria
I’m am a big fan and follower of your “Ask Maria” series. I’ve never done anything like this before so I thought I’d give it a go. 
We’re looking to update our kitchen and our dilemma is what color to paint our cabinets and island. Our cabinets are in good condition so we can’t justify replacing them. The sink, faucet and appliances will be swapped out for stainless. We’re also looking to replace the countertops to either granite or quartz. 
We needed additional storage and added the dark cabinets in our dining room which adjoins the kitchen. My husband and I want to see the blonde cabinets go but can’t agree on what to do. One item I will have is a subway tile backsplash. I love the white fresh look with Carrera accents (maybe backsplash?) and he would love to have grey cabinets. His one concern is whatever we end up doing not looking dumb with the dark cabinets in the dining room.  
So here’s where I seek your professional advise because I’m stuck. What do you suggest we do? Should we repaint the cabinets white, grey or dark like in the dining room? Or, a dark island with white cabinets? Dark with white quartz countertop? Ahhhhhh it’s all so overwhelming. 

askmariakitchen

This is such a great question because it’s such a common dilemma.

Here’s why neither of you can decide what to do: your Maple kitchen was most likely installed around the early 90s. Then the Tuscan Brown trend came along, and during that time, you decided to add millwork into your dining room.

Great idea, right?

Unconsciously or not, you made the decision to ‘move forward’ when you ordered them. Your kitchen was dated, so it made no sense to introduce more maple cabinets in the dining room.

But then, the brown trend came and went before you had time to get to the kitchen.

Now we are in the grey trend. Painting the cabinets espresso to coordinate with the dining room might seem like the right thing to do to update your kitchen, but if you do that, the entire kitchen will immediately look about 15 years old, depending on where in the country you live.

Why would it look 15 years old (here in the Westcoast)? Because that’s how long the brown trend has been around.

Just like I said in this post, if I’m looking at anything but a white kitchen, I can tell you within five years when it was installed.

But let’s move on, shall we? Some of you have brown kitchens, and I don’t want you to get cranky. This is just my opinion. It doesn’t mean its right.

Okay, so how do we fix this dilemma?

espressopluswhite

McGill Design Group

Well, technically, your espresso cabinets should be painted to coordinate with your new kitchen (above). Except to work better with your dining room, your countertops should be cream not white.

The white or cream you choose will depend entirely upon the countertop. Since you mentioned that you like Carrara marble and might want to include that in your backsplash, that would dictate a true white colour for your cabinets.

However, this would not work when you got back around to your dining room because it looks like you’ve got a more earthy granite countertop there. This dictates that you paint your kitchen an off-white or creamy shade.

If you paint your cabinets grey and leave your dining room as is, it will look like “brown trend over here, grey trend over there.”

Yesterday and Today.

whitecabinetsgranite

{via pinterest}

In a perfect world, your granite should match the dining room (similar to this look above), but if you don’t want to keep going with the same granite, choose a solid off-white quartz and paint your cabinets off-white. (You will find all the details, including which whites to choose, in my White is Complicated e-book).

Thank you, Heather, for sending in this question. Your dilemma will help many others who have the same one!!

If you have a question for my Ask Maria column, email it here.

Thank you so much to all of you who bought my set of 25 white and grey large samples from Sherwin Williams! 100% of the proceeds will go to CARE to help the people of Nepal.

Related posts:

White Kitchen Cabinets

How to Mix Yesterday and Today in your Renovation

5 Steps to a Kitchen You’ll Love

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  1. We are having a similar discussion about what to do for a Bulters Pantry that will be between the kitchen and dining room. Kitchen will be white cabinets, white fantasy granite, and marble subway backsplash. I would like to see the BP in same white cabinets as the kitchen with all glass upper cabinets, and black granite counter top. It was suggested by the “interior designer” for us to consider a cherry cabinet in that area, and I think it will look too dark. Looking for the classic BP look. Any suggestions?!

    • I have an actual BP in my 100yr old house and it has wooden countertops. Why not consider that…much softer on you dishes and less noisy, visually as well as acoustically. BTW, just wondering if plain white subway might be less busy with your granite countertop.

  2. You can date a kitchen by the color of the cabinets. So what? It just proves that it is impossible to always have the latest trend. If the kitchen is in good repair and works then why can’t that be enough? I think the dining room server looks nice as is and the painted kitchen cabinets would look nice. She might not make BH&G but she might make Apartment Therapy for ingenuity and self acceptance.

    • Amen Donna! Thanks for your comment, this post was not intended to make anyone feel bad about the choices they have made, simply to help someone in a similar situation!
      It’s your house, you can do whatever you want!
      Thanks for chiming in, you speak for many I’m sure! x Maria

  3. Hi Maria.
    My first thought was to paint it all white…including the dining room cabinets.
    My husband thinks I should get a tattoo that says “Paint it white”. Because that’s my mantra.
    Which I got from you, of course.

  4. Definitely paint the kitchen cabinets white. I would use the same white to paint the inside of the dining room cabinet and leave them the same otherwise. I would also paint the kitchen stools, black. I would tie it together with matching quartz on the countertops in kitchen and dining room. Also, get an inexpensive stainless steel appliance package.

  5. I have been having the same debate in my new build. Our kitchen is huge and on the perimeter is a coffee bar/bar area that wraps around a wall. Our cabinets in the kitchen (including the island) will be mission style in BM Simply White. However, I toying with the idea of doing a BM Gettysburg Gray on the bar area to treat the bar area as a built in custom piece. I want to use the same style cabinet, pulls, and countertops to give it a cohesive feel, but I’m adding glass cabinets, a wine fridge, Miele coffee maker, and wine rack to make it stand out as a separate piece of furniture. Its not in a separate room (like an actial butlers pantry) so I’m torn between being too bland and too bold.

  6. I’m wondering when white cabinets, white subway tile will also be dated advice like the brown trend. We gutted our kitchen in 2007; White, black, carrerra. So yes, I love it too. However, I think at some point People should stop doing the same thing over and over and get back to being creative and who they really are. Myself included. When I get to have MY forever home – it will have happy sunshine yellow or beachy turquoise cabinets!

    • MWare I have never gotten from Maria that you shouldn’t “be who you really are”. I have gotten that whatever colors you use, the undertones should work together and flow from room to room. I think she would clap and cheer to see someone install sunshine yellow or beachy turquoise cabinets…..as long as they didn’t mix them with earthy granite. Current…retro…..color and pattern trends come and go. What never has and never will look beautiful is mismatched undertones and clashing patterns!

  7. I would paint my cupboards an off white/ cream color and paint the island to match the dining room. That will make a nice contrast with the cabinets behind and also make your rooms more cohesive. Instead of granite, perhaps go with a solid countertop that coordinates. I love your espresso cabinets in your dining room. They almost look like a china cabinet with the narrower top of glass panels.

  8. I would paint the kitchen cabinets white or off-white and the island the same dark color as the dining room cabinets. This would tie the two areas together. If money allows, I’d install the same counter tops throughout the two spaces. I’d also rearrange the left side of the kitchen by moving the fridge to the very end and have a carpenter build an inexpensive cabinet around the fridge for a built in look. I’d replace the above range microwave with a nice decorative stainless steel hood and get a small microwave for the counter or kitchen shelf.

  9. Donna, I feel that since she bothered to ask Maria about this, it matters to her that the cabinet and countertop finishes in the two adjoining rooms coordinate nicely. Clearly, the writer, like most of us here, is looking for something beyond just a kitchen in good repair.
    I’d add that the dining room has such a small piece of granite, and wouldn’t be very costly to replace, that I’d pull it off and have the kitchen countertop installers also replace the dining room countertop to match. Then, she wouldn’t be limited by the existing dining room countertop material.

  10. This may be a dumb thought, Maria, but… if they’re not married to the expresso cabinet in the dining room, would it be possible to paint the cabinet the color of the wall and make it look more like a built-in? To me, right now the dining room looks “busy” with the three different tones of the floor, the table and the cabinet. If they could fairly easily eliminate the expresso color which is throwing everything off, then they could have free rein in the kitchen. I’d definitely go with white cabinets – it looks like a smallish kitchen and the white would help it look more expansive, and inspiration for white kitchens is endless.

  11. I really like the idea of an off white kitchen leading to the existing dining room. To me it says less about trend and more about the different feel and use of each room. The dining room is lovely as is.

  12. Couldn’t you also do a black on white/white on black combo?

    In other words, install a honed black granite countertop in the kitchen (i would also square off the island by eliminating the corner angle while at it) with white painted cabinets and a creamy marble countertop in the dining room and leave the cabinets as they are?

  13. And when updating your appliances, definitely get a counter-depth fridge, so it does stick out into your kitchen as much!

  14. Not that this is at all relevant to the solution, but I think those cabinets are oak. That further dates them. I think they should have a different style barstool, as well. It seems like too much furniture of a similar design. I guess this dilemma highlights why I’m not a huge fan of the open concept. I love an eat-in kitchen, but don’t always want to look at pots drying while sitting in ad adjacent room. It’s just a hard place to keep perfectly tidy at all times.

    I like your ideas, Maria. I hope the HO lets us see pics of the final choice.

  15. I don’t know if this in in their budget, but whatever they do with the maple cabinets, they’d look so much better taller and with some glass like the dining room. I’d choose anything over maple… anywhere, anytime. When we elevated our Townhome kitchen cabinets and added some, not all, glass doors w lighting, it made a world of difference. In fact, had my husband said, “No,” it would have been a deal breaker!

  16. I think the cabinets are actually oak. I am looking at the same cabinets in my kitchen that were installed when this house was built in 2003. Hate them. But now I have open concept and don’t know what to do with any of it. So I have a table & chairs, a love seat recliner, nothing on the walls and I am at a loss. Maybe I need to do an ask Maria and soon! Your suggestions are brilliant as always!

  17. Maria, To me this is a delima because there are too many styles going on here. The floor is dated because it went with maple cabinets and her dining set. When she installed her built in cabinet cabinet in the dining room and painted it espresso she sent the style a whole different direction. In order to save money, she should repaint the dining room cabinet to match the kitchen. Put subway tiles to give her a newer look. If she keeps the walls gray, she could grout in gray. Bring in some colored bar stools probably in a green to go with her maple looking floors and pull the color thru by adding accessories. End of my opinion!

  18. Another trick she might try (that admittedly has nothing to do with color) is to get some mock bun feet or little legs for the lower cabinets in the dining room to make them look more like furniture.

  19. Excellent question for Ask Maria! Because the two rooms are so close to being one big room, I do think the two rooms should coordinate. If it were me, I would use the same colors throughout. Paint the cabinets in both rooms the same color, and use the same counter top. And I would spring for bar chairs in the same color as the dining chairs, or refinish them to be similar. When colors and finishes flow from one room to the next, all the spaces tend to look roomier.

  20. We remodeled our K in 2013. Took a wall out between the D & K, leaving a 12″-14″ header at the top to visually give some definition between K & D areas. Our house was built mid-’50’s, and cabinets were older than that with new fronts added, and bulkheads remained. The K was small, especially with a bar in the middle which nearly ran into a lg. frig! (Bar was new addition, so we moved it to the lower level where it serves nicely for workshops.)
    New cabs in K go to ceiling (requiring a ladder which my sisters see as a real danger). Uppers are SW Dove Grey, Lowers are darker, but NOT charcoal. New cabs on the old wall area, face DR. Carpet is soft grey, so colors are compatible throughout all 3 rooms. We now have one long wall going from front of house to back, the same soft “plummy” I chose 10 years ago. Colorist decided on a medium-bright, fresh green for rest of K. Ceiling is a soft white with grey undertone, and the header between made it possible to do that without having to re-paint the ceiling of D & L areas.

    At 73, this is my last “major” house project. This house is approx. 2800 sq. ft., and often feels too large for me, tho’ husband says he’ll die here! (No lg. family.)

    Whatever your decisions, accept that there will be some things you wish you’d done differently. SPEND $ ON LED LIGHTING!!! Under cabs, maybe inside. We added 2 solar tunnels in ceiling, which I love. (Had put one in a windowless bath.)
    Our paint supplier told me that “most people” re-do their homes about every 10 years…window treatments, flooring, remodeling, painting, appliances. (He didn’t mention furnace, AC, water lines, changes in lifestyles- those “fun” parts of owning a house. Guess I’m not that easily bored-or wealthy.) Go with your gut when you make your decisions, and accept the fact that there WILL be some things you’d have done differently. The physical realities do not make a house a home; YOU do.

  21. I learn so much from your posts, Maria, but this time I think I will differ. I noticed that all the trim and doors are bright white. And the writer says they are going to replace the counters.

    I personally like the idea of painting the cabinets dark like the ones in the dining room, and installing the same white marble counters and backsplash both in the kitchen and the dining room (which doesn’t look that big) like the photo from the McGill Design Group. What do you think of that?

  22. Would installing the same marble counter top in both space be an option? Freshen up the paint color in the dining room to make it less earthy, then paint the perimeter cabinets dark to match the dining, and have the island white.

  23. It seems to me that it will look nice to have an off-white kitchen and keep the dark cabinetry in the dining room. Won’t that look similar to kitchens with white/off-white cabinetry and a contrasting color on the island? If all of it were white/off-white, it seems like it would be too much of the same. I would probably like to change the dining room furniture though, from wood to white/off-white. But I am most definitely not a professional! I just enjoy looking at beautiful design. 🙂

  24. I think it’s absurd to say that espresso cabinets are “dated.” That is a classic color. Not everyone likes the all white look. We just built our home 5 years ago and purposely chose the espresso cabinets and tan granite and off white brick backsplash and it’s so classy and timeless. We get nothing but oohs and awws when people come over. Now that tacky maple is horrific. I think people should stick with light or dark. Even the gray looks drab. I love gray sofas and area rugs but not cabinets.