How to Avoid the 5 Most Common Kitchen Mistakes

I’m travelling and leading my first, SOLD OUT Specify Colour with Confidence workshop in Chicago this week. The second one in Chicago is next weekend, we are ALMOST sold out but have 2 spaces left if you have time to jump in. Register here.

Tricia Firmaniuk, my fabulous Virtual Design Assistant, wrote this great post about kitchens. Let me know what you think!

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Here’s a kitchen I found listed on Zillow that has clearly been recently renovated.

And while the outcome is not terrible, I don’t think you will find this kitchen popping up all over Pinterest.

So I thought we could pick it apart, not to be critical or mean, but because this is such a common scenario, and then we can gain some useful insight into why so many renovations fall a little short of expectations.

Contemporary Kitchen with Emser Tile Lucente Random Sized Glass and Stone Glossy Mosaic in Grazia Linear, Pendant Light:

From Zillow

First, let’s talk about the use of pink beige walls. Wha?? It would make sense if you were working with a bossy pink beige travertine tile for example, but why introduce pink beige here at all? Maybe the adjoining room dictates pink beige, in which case the kitchen should never have been gray.

What I see at play here are several of the mistakes that we see frequently leading homeowners astray when they tackle DIY renovations:

  1. Worrying about a white kitchen being cold

This is a big one. We hear this concern often from our eDesign clients, so let’s get into it.

It’s likely that the wall colour choice is an attempt to “warm up” a white and gray kitchen. This is one of the perils of thinking of colours in terms of absolute “warm” and “cool”, rather than in terms of distinct undertones.

If you look at this kitchen through the lens of Understanding Undertones, you can easily see that the pink beige walls don’t relate at all.

First, if you’re installing a wood floor (NOT a blotchy wood look tile like they have here), your kitchen will have plenty of WARMTH with a wood floor.  White and wood is a magically balanced combination, white is crisp, bright and airy and wood is warm, patterned and grounded and best of all mostly NEUTRAL.

The floor tile here unfortunately is a good example of what not to choose when shopping for a wood look tile.

Something much less busy and more solid would have been much prettier and more convincing. It’s a common pitfall to fall in love with the more “interesting” looking small samples with seductive variations in tone and colour, but once you install it wall to wall, those patterns become repetitive and busy, not pretty at all. A quieter tile here would have given this kitchen the “warmth” of a wood floor.

The reason Maria so wholeheartedly promotes white kitchens is that they are timeless (even if they also happen to be trendy at the moment). The idea is to create a neutral and classic, white and wood backdrop so that you can get creative with decorating and styling, changing it up as frequently as you like for years to come.

Here’s a white kitchen that is beautifully styled (below) with natural finish cane backed bar stools and pretty gold pendants.

Related post: Ask Maria: Will my White Kitchen be Cold?

Victoria Hagan via Elle Decor

2. Trying to match hard finishes and paint colours to your wood floor.

This is a classic rookie mistake. It’s possible that they felt they needed to coordinate the paint colour with the “wood” floor here. However, your wood tone is RARELY a major consideration when choosing a COLOUR for your interior.

This is so common. When faced with choosing colour and with not much else yet in place to consider, people often default to fretting over their wood colour to inform their choices. When really, you need to make some decisions about decorating and the look and feel of the space to inform your colour choices, not look to the wood.

It’s like asking the grass what colour your flowers should be.

Let’s take a moment to get our dopamine levels up by looking at some gorgeous kitchens where the wood floor appears to be ignored in the other fixed elements to glorious effect.

©MandyOliver2015 for Nicole Davis

From Nicole Davis Interiors

In this kitchen above, the designer has used pretty wood stools and cutting boards to bring a bit of “warmth” into this white kitchen. NOT beige quartz, tile or paint.

From Coastal Style Blogspot

Here’s a creative way to add warm wood to a modern white kitchen, a large vintage surfboard!

Imagine sitting down with the little sample of solid white quartz and a sample flat panel glossy white cabinet. You might be worried about it being “cold” or boring right? This is why you need to have the end result in mind. It’s easy to imagine panicking and picking out some “more interesting” busy, bossy countertop material at the last minute, losing the powerful simplicity and restraint of this design.

3. Installing a trendy backsplash

How do we all feel about the backsplash in our specimen kitchen?

Since pencil mosaic is no longer the backsplash heart throb of the moment, it reads as not being very current. It’s pattern competes with the  busy, stripey floor in an unpleasant way, and if we want to get super picky, it is a bit too blue for the green gray quartz on the perimeter cabinets.

Now we have pink beige walls, green gray quartz and blue gray backsplash tile. Hmmm, that’s three undertones plus white and wood. The wall colour really needs to pick a lane here. I think I would go with a pale blue gray like BM Horizon OC 53 because look at how the choppy this feels with the pink beige meeting with the blue gray of the tile and the white of the cabinets.

Here is how the kitchen would look with blue gray walls BM Horizon OC 53

And this is the problem with installing a backsplash in any other colour than white, you have now chosen a PERMANENT wall colour FOREVER.

Matching the backsplash to the countertop is another common mistake. Your backsplash will look much better blending with the cabinets and walls on the vertical plane where it interacts more than with the little strip of countertop.

Which brings me to another often missed consideration in kitchen design in general.

4. Not Managing Contrast and Transitions

See how there is an awkward little pink beige upside down U shape framing each window? Wouldn’t it be better to run the backsplash all the way up to avoid drawing attention to these silly floating shapes by painting them a contrasting colour? Or, the walls could coordinate with the cabinets or the backsplash to eliminate some transitions here.

Even better, install a white backsplash and it will blend seamlessly with the cabinets and window frames and eliminate a whole whack of awkward transitions here.

Here it is with a white backsplash, prettier right?

A white backsplash is not ALWAYS  the answer.

In some contemporary, high end kitchens, the designer might intend for the backsplash to read visually as a continuation of the floor or countertops for a custom look. Like in this glamorous, masculine kitchen below.

46 Marvelous Designs of Masculine Kitchen

But in the average transitional home, a white backsplash is the most classic and goof proof choice because it blends with the cabinets which are the other vertical element in the design, so you don’t have to manage the shapes it will carve out of your space and be a brilliant layout whiz to make it work, see?

A dark or mid-tone backsplash in a white kitchen will always create some Tetris like shape action, and you’d better know if it’s a shape you want if you consider going that route.

Image result for tetris

How fun is this analogue wooden block Tetris set! via The University of Oxford

Anywhere you create contrast you draw the eye. If you create soft transitions by keeping elements the same colour, you eliminate a lot of unnecessary visual noise. A well composed space uses contrast deliberately to direct attention to focal points and create balance.

Glossy tiles -- basic subway tile in a herringbone pattern -- cover the entire wall behind the vent hood for a high-impact, low-maintenance backsplash.:

From Better Homes and Gardens

So, I don’t know about you, but since this is a real estate listing, yes, I might buy this house if if met my needs despite the cosmetic issues in the kitchen and immediately change the backsplash, paint, and floor, (or maybe not, it could get expensive), but for the same amount of money or less even, this kitchen could have been so much more classic and appealing.

Which brings me to the final critical mistake homeowners make when they renovate their kitchens.

5. Not getting professional help

Kitchen renovations are not cheap and mistakes are expensive. If you don’t design kitchens all day long, it’s much too easy to fall into the mistakes of inexperience. And you probably don’t know where to start and what comes first and then next and why. And that’s totally fine, because hopefully you only have to do it once!

So hire someone to figure out the best layout and functionality for your kitchen rather than wasting space, and take advantage of our convenient eDesign consultations to make sure the undertones of your finishes and colours are perfectly coordinated for the most classic look possible for your kitchen here.

If you need help determining which package is right for your needs, email us here.

Thanks Tricia for this fabulous and helpful post!

We’re in Chicago this week and next and I’m excited to explore in between our two courses here!

Okay which tip are you taking with you today?

Related posts:

The Right way (And the Wrong Way) to Install Porcelain Wood Floors

5 Steps to a Kitchen You Will Love

Selecting your Kitchen or Bath Backsplash: Accent Tile or Not?

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  1. Hi Tricia,

    Your writing really does sound like Maria! Great job! Funny, I just published a kitchen post too! Mine focused on floors and it’s my kitchen. I agree with all of your talking points here completely. There’s a lot that’s wrong with the space, but your color and back splash choices went a long way to helping it be a better space.

  2. Here are my thoughts on the 5 biggest kitchen remodel mistakes:

    1. Not making sure your appliances fit the cabinets
    2. Not making sure you have enough clearance in the walkways
    3. Putting one appliance in front of the other so their doors impede each other
    4. Putting a dishwasher in a corner
    5. Not having enough clearance for the doors to open on certain models of refrigerators

    • Agreed. Flow is important too. Like how you prepare your food. In the first picture, the refrigerator is right in front of bar stools. When you pull your food out, where are you going to put it? It should preferrably be near a sink or prep area. The sink is across the room, and the prep island blocked by stools. Some of these kitchens are just too big to functional effectively too. I love that galley kitchen in the photos. But that maybe because I am more of a chef type, versus big family. So you have to think about that as well. Do mock ups and simulations of how your flow works best.

  3. I have to say I am still a fan of the pencil backsplashes and see them in many rehabbed houses I stage. I hadn’t heard they were falling out of favor, and all I can say is they don’t seem to be holding back the houses I work on here in northern NJ! Also, I love the wood-look tile (I would have SAID it was wood) in the top photo, although I agree it clashes a bit with the pencil backsplash. My other disagreement is with all-white kitchen with white backsplashes and white countertops as well as white cabinets — ugh, where’s the contrast and interest, other than in hardware, a hood, and light fixtures? Guess it’s my personal preference to have more interest, even with white subway tiles with dark gray grout, for instance.

  4. Hi Maria! Take the Architectural Boat Tour if you like that kind of thing. A fun visit would be to BAM (Broadway Antique Market) and then a neat furniture consignment shop in a close suburb of Oak Park called Divine Consign (nice town to visit anyways). Regarding the post 🙂 Oh how we fall in love with the interesting! We briefly looked at a very distinctive floor for the kitchen and entry and then saw a photo of it installed — glad we did – yikes! What we choose actually looks much like our subflooring which is from the 1920’s. It is a rustic plank look, had to go vinyl as the floor is about 1.5″ off from one side the to other in the kitchen and the entry has a hump!, and we are pleased. DIY style and we went with a more cost effective product as longevity was not a concern (move or get bored). My takeaways. 1. The tile… I would rather see a plain wall painted than trendy. 2. Use accessories to help warm a space. We choose items with red.

  5. Great analysis
    I think the main problem is people nowadays get too scared into “we should renovate the kitchen before we sell”. Then they tend to do it in a hurry, with materials that might be cheaper and in stock right now, and without taking enough of their time on educating themselves on the issue. By educating I mean simple old reading 🙂 that helps a lot
    And yes, this is not such a bad example because many times is much much worse and harder to fix.

    In the new house we bought, the previous owners installed a new kitchen that had no relationship whatsoever with the house. zero. But. It was shiny white and had granite countertops. I imagine that I’d be happier with whatever old kitchen they took out to install this white(check) granite(check) thing, even only it’d be less wasteful to remodel it.
    Luckily we were able to re-install their kitchen in the garage so didn’t feel that bad ripping out new and shiny.

    Remodel your kitchen for yourself-then I bet you’ll take your time on it. Learning always yields better results..or at least it should 🙂

  6. Great post and points. Except for #4. I am all in favour of white kitchens for a timeless look (always have been), which also allows me to decorate and style the room in different ways throughout the years. But I wouldn’t do an ‘all white’ kitchen. To me that is exactly the look that brings about the ‘cold and stark’ feeling; plus I like some contrast to the white cabinets, to draw the attention to their (hopefully) beautiful design. I don’t want everything to ‘go away’ into a blur of white. I would want to paint the walls above the (neutral/white) backsplash a contrasting colour (pale to almost mid-tone) or a ‘not too pale tinted’ neutral. Nothing dark or intense, but definitely not white or white-ish. So, I’m not with you regarding the ‘awkward transitions’ as you call them 😉 One thing that does bug me about transitions though, is the upper cabinet to the right of the hood. I would take that one off and also let the back-splash continue its line past the stove.

    • Maria, regarding the new blog design. It would be nice if it were possible to do smileys in the comments. They all get cut out. The ones you just type with the keyboard signs, and also the ones that you write in between colons, both.

      • Claudia, I totally agree, I had asked my web guy to fix that and obviously he hasn’t yet, I will ask him again. . . Hopefully it’s something that can be done!

        Thanks for your comment! White kitchens are not for everyone, I get it! Maria

  7. This would be great article to share with a client as we begin a kitchen project—helping them to understand the basis for how/why we approach some of our selections. Pictures are always compelling and your paint color makes a huge difference.
    I also love the analogy about the grass and flowers!

  8. Ever since I first started in design I have said a nice brown floor is like earth in a garden – every colour looks good with earth!

  9. Tricia, Very well written and informative! Thanks to Maria’s blog and e-books I did not make these mistakes in our new build. Except . . . What I thought was a “warm” medium brown floor on the 24″ x 24″ sample has a lot of orange when laid in a large area. And that was after I verified with the designer it would not look yellow or orange. A huge learning . . . I will never choose a hardwood again without seeing a roomful of it. Rugs and decorating to the rescue. . .

  10. The idea to buy the house, but change the floor, the counter and the paint is not helpful, to me! Why is this backsplash not OK? And the floor? And the paint? If you explain in more detail, it is clearer what the problem is, for you. I find Maria’s ideas interesting. Yours seem to be very very similar to hers. It may be smart to differentiate yourself a bit from her ideas to stand out a bit more on your own account, though! Just an idea! 😉

    • Hi Liz, Tricia may post her own comment but to me it’s very clear why they are wrong, and really ANYONE who writes a guest post on my blog, especially my design assistant who works very closely with me to present our suggestions to clients should most definitely have my aesthetic! I feel lucky every day that I have found someone who has such a great eye and aesthetic. Because of Tricia, we are able to help so many more clients than I could ever help on my own. The service we provide is an absolute necessity given the content of this blog.

      We see spaces like this every day, and sometimes there is just not enough magic that can be done just be changing the paint colour or the backsplash. I think Tricia’s photoshopped images illustrate this well.

      Thanks for your comment! Maria

  11. Great post!! I like your explaining exactly where the design could be better!!

    Also thanks for putting the photo before each point–that is SO much easier than having to scroll up to the 1st photo to see what the comment is about!

  12. Very good post–should help a lot of people. I second the recommendation of employing a kitchen design professional for a complete renovation. In the long run it saves either money or intense dissatisfaction, or both. This is in addition to consulting with Maria on colors. I did both and am extremely happy with my kitchen.

    Regarding that tile, my sister-in-law lives in an architect-built (for himself) modern house. Kitchen cabs are darkish wood, floor large white porcelain tile (very attractive), walls white. A few years ago she got new granite counters and a pencil tile backsplash that reads light gray. Her granite is the only granite I have ever liked, with a lot of soft white and swirls of browns and grays. It goes beautifully with her cabs, but the backsplash doesn’t go at all. The interesting thing is that she really wanted subway tile, but the people in the tile place talked her into the pencil tile. Now she is changing it out, to a warm white subway tile that perfectly matches the white in the granite. Not only will it look perfect, but it will also be a perfect backdrop for the Mackenzie-Child courtly check pieces she’s been collecting. Amazingly, once that subway tile is in place, I don’t think the kitchen will look new-old at all, even though she changed nothing but counter, stovetop, sink/faucet, and backsplash.

  13. I am about to renovate my 80’s kitchen and found this post so very helpful. In the first example photo with the natural cane bar stools and gold pendants the window trim looks off to me. Maybe it’s the light coming in the window that makes it look wrong ???

  14. Claire Seng-Niemoeller

    A casual reader of the blog would think that pink beige is an absolute no-no. As a practicing graphic designer, I’m thinking that readers should remember that Maria’s wonderful color wheel is a WHEEL and that the colors going around it are all equally beautiful. One section of the wheel is not inherently any more beautiful or ugly than another. One section of the wheel may be more desirable than another based on personal color preferences or the presence of existing elements that would be too expensive to replace. I think that’s where Maria’s (and staff’s) expertise is most helpful.

    Over time, I’ve come to think that the anti-pink comments peppered throughout this blog have more to do with Maria’s clear love of yellow than any inherent problems with pinks or pink beiges. As she’s written in other posts, yellow and pink undertone colors don’t go together very well without expert planning, so if you like yellow, then don’t use colors over on the pink side of the wheel. If you like pink, which does has the advantage of making most people’s skin tones glow, then yellows may not be your best choice. I’m wondering if green or greenish-blue undertone colors are actually the neutrals that people should be aiming for if they want the most accommodating, flexible neutral undertone, since those colors seem to go with either pinks or yellows.

    • There’s nothing wrong with pink beige. It’s just that people chose it thinking it’s TOTALLY NEUTRAL. When in fact it is one of the most limiting undertones to work with. All yellows and oranges are immediately not an option. As well as fresh and clean colours, they die when paired with most pink beige tones.

      I have been in literally thousands of homes where most of the time the carpet the homeowner has chosen is PINK BEIGE. The list goes on.

      In my courses, I spend a lot of time teaching my class how to see pink beige in all it’s shades and tones because it’s a tricky colour and often looks perfectly benign and neutral UNTIL it goes up or is installed.

      Yes, pink beige sounds like a dirty word on my blog but only because it’s so OVERUSED it has nothing to do with my love for yellow.

      Thanks for your comment!
      Maria

  15. Hi Maria,

    We are remodeling out kitchen and although I’d love all white, I am afraid that with 3 teenage boys, 3 dogs and actually cooking in it every day, we would ruin it in a year! How much scrubbing can paint take?! I would love to hire you for a e-consultation. FYI, I thought I would use a Vadara Quartz in Calacutta for the counters, Benjamin Moore Gray Owl for the cabinets and Hale Navy for the center island as well as Hale Navy a narrow butler’s pantry that is off the kitchen. I would also like to use an off-white crackle finish 3×6″ subway tile for the walls in the kitchen, and a blue/gray/taupe chevron in the 13 sq. ft. backsplash in the butler’s pantry. Brass cabinet handles and brass hanging pendants over the island with polished nickel faucets on the 3 sinks which I’d like white apron sink. But the hood vent is a problem – there’s all the Vent-a-Hood options and the beautiful built-in ones with cabinet looking pieces surrounding the vent. But not sure what color that should be. Let me know if you have time in your schedule or how I would hire you for your advice. I would appreciate it. Thank you!, Lisa

    • Re white or light colored kitchens (or other areas) getting dirtier than darker colors. No, they do not. What they do is SHOW the dirt more quickly. If it is a level of dirt you want off your white items, you want it off your darker ones too. Browns, grays, or mottled finishes HIDE the dirt better, but have nothing to do with the kitchen or other areas actually BEING cleaner.

  16. The most helpful post for me personally. We just finished a bathroom remodel…from gut to completion. I was shocked at how difficult each decision was (especially colors) and how difficult it was to correlate and coordinate everything. It’s not my gift area. The kitchen–including remodel is next. I have your videos. We will plan piece-by-piece and step-by-step. But I hear you. It makes sense to hire you, or a professional, to finalize the end result. Thanks for a super look at a classical kitchen right vs. wrong.

  17. Such a good post, Tricia and Maria. Wish I’d had a copy of it with me yesterday when I stopped at Lowe’s to pick up some info about kitchen countertops. There was an older couple standing at the design table with a “kitchen designer” looking at samples for their kitchen. They had a cabinet sample that was probably from the white range but appeared to be a dingy beige which most likely had pink undertones, a very busy multi-colored brown granite, a too busy backsplash and two samples of 12×24 floor tile, one somewhat mottled and busy as Maria hates ( I do too) and one plain and somewhat striated. They were trying to decide on the floor tile and the wife remarked that she liked the striated one best but she felt it didn’t match in color (she was right). The “kitchen designer” said “The other pieces match; the floor tile doesn’t have to match”. If I had had any creds or maybe if I were you, Maria, I would have whacked him. The husband asked about going to the tile warehouse to see if they could find anything similar in pattern in a more satisfactory color and the “kitchen designer” said, “Well, you could, but why bother when you have the perfect tile right here.” I couldn’t stay where I was so I stepped away out of sight and thought maybe if they walked off without making the final decision, I could speak to her, but when I walked back through a short time later, the couple were sitting in the guy’s office and it appeared as though he was writing up their order. If so, don’t know what they decided, but whatever, she is going to have a kitchen she hates forever because she didn’t follow these principles, trust her instinct or have someone to help her . Loved your examples, Tricia, and especially the exercise in fixing the kitchen.

  18. Tricia thank you so much for this mind bending post! At first when I looked at the sample kitchen, I thought that there really wasn’t much wrong with it. My computer didn’t show the walls as a pink being. I thought they were yellow beige and picked up the light tones in the floor. After you pointed out all of the defects I went back and carefully looked at each element. I then could see what you were talking about. I love a white kitchen and always have but I agree with some of the readers that there should be some contrast with paint, window coverings etc. Sometimes running tile to the ceiling is not cost affective and could look institutioal. For the most part I loved your comments and it does give one a different perspective on right and wrong. What a blessing to be part of this professional design group! I get so much out of it.

  19. Hi Tricia,
    A well written informative post. I love how you compared a poor space and gave great pointers for a well done one.

    If anyone is hesitating about taking Maria’s course just remember just one mistake could cost you more than your color workshop. It is well worth your time and effort to attend just for the confidence & knowledge you will gain whether you are a homeowner or a professional.

    There are 2 spots open yet in Chicago and I urge you wholeheartedly to attend. It changed my life! See you there?!

  20. Great post, Tricia. One of my favorites from you. Thanks for including the photoshopped picture.

    Maria, my best friend Jamie is in your class this week! Make sure to put her on the spot and ask tough questions. Ha!

  21. Thanks to all of you for saving me from myself! I ready your blogs, gave up my concern over choosing what was trendy and what everyone else was using and ordered white subway tile. My “daring to be different” compromise was to order a longer, Italian handmade look tile, not the standard 3×6. Of course I love it! Thank you, thank you, thank you!

  22. VERY helpful post! Another “wrong” element that hasn’t been mentioned yet are the pendant light fixtures.
    Lighting is SO key to making or breaking a space and these are awful-too small, dated, uninteresting and honestly inexpensive aka cheap looking. The fabulous fixtures in the other photos are eye candy for sure and even no pendants in the coastal style photo is more appealing to me. I always encourage clients to budget for outstanding light fixtures….especially in an all white classic kitchen.

  23. This post is jam-packed with information! I have read and re-read Maria’s blog for several years now, but had never noticed that point about transitions and weird shapes. It makes so much sense. We are house hunting this year and in expectation of finding a fixer upper and having a small window of time to remodel before moving in, I’ve already been assembling kitchen elements/samples and storing away infor on kitchen design. Thank you for this great post!

  24. In general i agree i’m tired of linear glass mosaic backsplashes. But I did my kitchen in sapele wood with medium-tone green granite. I know it’s not your style, but it’s gorgeous and perfect in Hawaii. The problem is every neutral tile i’ve tried for backsplash, including white, doesn’t look right next to the granite. Maybe there is a shade of light green subway tile that would work, but I haven’t found it. I did find a glass mosaic tile in soft blues, greens and yellows that looks very good. I am a bit afraid it will be too shiny and busy, but haven’t found an alternative.

    Also, I don’t buy into the idea that backsplash is permanent. It is relatively easy and inexpensive to replace through the decades.

  25. Hi, Maria…Loved Tricia’s post. Especially the paint and backsplash change. Have fun in Chicago, and try to do something, you wouldn’t do at home. It’s exhilarating!! Love, Candice 🙂

  26. Amy and Claudia, I have an “all-white” kitchen….white cabinets, backsplash, and flooring. I used Cambria Bellingham for my countertops. I chose to add color thru my accessories. I would not describe my kitchen as “cold or stark”. I have posted pictures on Houzz.
    I used Maria’s suggestions, my photos from the past 30 some years, my sister, my husband and my son and I have the kitchen of my dreams! Everyday I walk into my kitchen and cannot believe it is mine!
    I had a wonderful general contractor and cabinet maker who listened to what my vision was and made it a reality.