Black cabinets in small kitchen?

enigmaquandryJanuary 1, 2010

I'm remodeling our small galley kitchen and the old oak cabinets are terribly dated and not solid wood throughout, also not in good condition. We cannot afford to replace or reface so I was going to paint them (enormous process, I know :( ). My original idea was to go white to make the space seem larger and brighter but it's so common I started looking into painting them black.

I can do anything with the walls, backsplash and counters to make them look alright since we're redoing everything. I have windows on an east facing wall in the little eat-in space but not in the galley itself.

Opinions or ideas? Thank you so much!

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enigmaquandry, maybe you can post pics of your kitchen and some of the talented members can photo-shop your kitchen cabinets to make them white and then black to see the effect. I wish I could help but I also want to do something with my outdated laminate oak cabinets that either need to be touched up to make the worn areas less noticeable or painted or have new doors.

    Bookmark   January 2, 2010 at 2:19AM
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I'd want to also see them photoshopped black. I don't think I've ever seen all black cabinets even in a larger space. In a small space I imagine they would make the space seem smaller?

    Bookmark   January 2, 2010 at 2:31AM
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"...old oak cabinets are terribly dated and not solid wood throughout, also not in good condition..." [emphasis mine]

"...cannot afford to replace or reface..."

"...can do anything with the walls, backsplash and counters to make them look alright since we're redoing everything..."

So if I understand you correctly, you're redoing everything in the kitchen except the cabinets that are "not in good condition", including the counters. Correct?

What material are you planning for the counters? Laminate? Butcher block? Stone or similar?

I'm concerned that you may be going about this backwards. You need good "bones" b/f you starting "decorating". If you're putting inexpensive counters in, then maybe it's OK since when the cabinets eventually start to fall apart you won't have invested too much in the counters and will be OK with replacing them.

However, if you're planning a stone or similar counter then I would definitely rethink it. First, if the counters are really not in good shape, will they be able to support a heavy counter structurally? Second, are you willing to sink $$$ in them now just to have to replace them in a few years when the cabinets begin falling apart?

Have you looked at Ikea cabinets? Very inexpensive, good quality hardware, many of the "bells & whistles" that more expensive cabinets have, and rated highly by Consumer Reports.

Meanwhile, here are a couple of kitchens from the Finished Kitchens Blog (FKB) that are small with dark cabinets.

Luceestar's Kitchen

Goffgirl's Kitchen (Ikea cabinets, btw)

[Ikea does have more "traditional" looking doors. Plus, if you want different doors, you can order doors from places like Scherr's that are made specifically for Ikea cabinets. For now, you could go with the Ikea boxes & doors and later, when money becomes available, replace the doors with something you like better. Meanwhile, you will have structurally sound cabinets that should last a long time.]

    Bookmark   January 2, 2010 at 5:22AM
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I agree with Beuhl.

I'd rather have new cabinets, and live with a painted backsplash and pre-form laminate counters from Home Depot (and save up for the tile/granite/whatever) rather than put new counters and backsplash over old/unsuitable cabinets.

    Bookmark   January 2, 2010 at 9:02AM
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Share the concerns already expressed. However I have these images saved from a recent magazine of a two tone kitchen with dark cabinetry that doesn't look heavy:

Of course the kitchen in the images isn't small and has a lot of light. I also think dark solid painted cabinets will show a lot of wear unless you antique them.

    Bookmark   January 2, 2010 at 9:41AM
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Boy, I wish I had photos of my kitchen before I painted the cabinets white. The POs painted them a very very dark purple. I call it eggplant, but it was purply. It looked awful! The first thing I did when I moved in was paint those puppies white. What a huge difference. I also replaced the door with a shaker style and I'm living with this as I phase my remodel.

Of course, maybe you would have liked my old kitchen. It's a personal thing.

    Bookmark   January 2, 2010 at 10:06AM
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It you are satisfied with the layout and the cabinets are worth saving (from your post I am not sure that they are), take a look at the evolution of this oak kitchen to a stunning black and white kitchen. Scroll down to the bottom and work your way up to see the changes.

Here is a link that might be useful: the lettered cottage

    Bookmark   January 2, 2010 at 11:08AM
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I also agree, you need good bones to start. Here's a great example of oak cabinets painted black. One of my favorites.

Here is a link that might be useful: black and marble

    Bookmark   January 2, 2010 at 11:20AM
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Wow, thank you, everyone is so helpful! I'm sorry I wasn't completely clear, the cabinets are in perfect condition structurally, just the finish on the doors (which are solid wood) is beginning to peel and that is the reason I was going to sand and paint. I am new here and not positive how to post pics but I can put the link on here...
...I hope it works!

The counters and backsplash and wall color are all up to debate, I like white juxtaposed with darker (dark cabinets white walls or vice versa). We are on a limited budget so I was considering either a concrete pour/overlay or the new formica FX or wilsonart HD laminates.

Thank you!

Here is a link that might be useful: My Kitchen!

    Bookmark   January 3, 2010 at 6:36PM
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The link posted by Prill is beautiful and very similar to what I am thinking of! I like the charcoal-y, softer, more traditional black in this kitchen. I was thinking of trying to find a couple new faces with the "cottage window glass" inserts in them to lighten up the space a bit...the refrigerator in my kitchen is moving to the other side of the room (not pictured) so that will be one long countertop with maybe open shelving above? Just ideas to maybe make it work :)

    Bookmark   January 3, 2010 at 6:51PM
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Also look at the black kitchen that Gwyneth Paltrow has (in the Hamptons, yes I know your kitchen is smaller but it gives you some idea), and also search a blog called "La Dolce Vita" that has a number of dark gray and black kitchens. I LOVE black kitchens and think are a great way to update an older kitchen from the 80s to contemporary look. With white counters, you are not only slick and gorgeous, but useful! Go for it!!!

I do agree with Buehl and others about the bones though...if you think that's all good, but it looks "blah", go for the black cabs!

    Bookmark   January 3, 2010 at 11:06PM
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Does anyone have a photo of a kitchen similarly shaped/sized as enigmaquandry in black? Boxerpups where are you?

Is anyone else concerned about having black in a kitchen this size/narrow?

    Bookmark   January 3, 2010 at 11:21PM
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Are you replacing your appliances? If not, I would stick with a lighter color. I can't see black cabinets and white appliances. I think that a grayed out sage green could look very nice.

    Bookmark   January 3, 2010 at 11:45PM
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Yes, there are one or two New York kitchens of this same size and layout. Perhaps nyc galley or similar. Great job in the nyc galley. I especially recall the interesting window covering-and the renos were terrific. But they may have been white. Check them out for ideas.

    Bookmark   January 3, 2010 at 11:49PM
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Our kitchen is 11x11 and we did our base cabinets black but the uppers white similar to the pic posted above. It actually seemed to make the kitchen open up more than when it was solid white pre-remodel. The key is to keep everything else relatively neutral and make sure your countertop pulls in colours from both base and upper cabs.

    Bookmark   January 4, 2010 at 8:09AM
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If the kitchen was not so closed in, painting them black might be great. But the size concerns me. Have you thought about a lighy to medium gray instead of black? I am just afraid that with black cabinets on three walls of your fairly narrow galley, you may end up with a cave.

    Bookmark   January 4, 2010 at 8:48AM
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Enigma, what is that to the left of the range? It looks like a window, but you say there are no windows in the galley.

Personally, I think oak cabs look much better painted a color than white, because of the grain.

In picking a paint color, I would take your floor (which you're not changing, right?) into consideration. How does black look against the floor? Grey? Sage-y green?

Have you thought about removing some of the uppers, maybe at the end of the galley, and putting in open shelving? Maybe you need the storage of the uppers, but open shelving would be nice. I'm a little perplexed as to why there is a short cab over the counter at the end of the galley.

More pics would be helpful, to get a sense of the space.

    Bookmark   January 4, 2010 at 10:42AM
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We don't have a very big kitchen, but we get a lot of light (not a galley, either) And we've got painters coming end of Jan to get started on painting our cabs black!
I can't WAIT! I've been stressing over this for 2 yrs. First, doing white. Then lowers sagey-grey-green and uppers white. Back to all white. Then lowers black, uppers white. Just couldn't commit.
Finally, we're set on black. I'm ready and anxious!

Here are a few pics I have saved of smaller, realistic black kitchens. I also have some big, beautiful examples saved. But, they just make me sad. I can't achieve that. So,I rather draw from something that I can.

not sure where I saw this, so can't give photo credit. But, it was someone's blog.

also linked above, the Lettered Cottage

paused my t.v. and took a screen shot of an episode of Income Property :)

no clue where this came from, either

    Bookmark   January 4, 2010 at 11:34AM
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I had a small galley kitchen with black walls. I will say that the walls showed alot of grime and dust...the condensation from the dishwasher left water spots and streaks. It felt like a cave. But...I found this picture which looks nice..

    Bookmark   January 4, 2010 at 11:44AM
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First off, let me say that I love dark cabinets --

But in YOUR space, which is narrow and U-shaped -- I wouldn't do it.
I think the trick to making it work is either to have lots of space and light, or enough 'cute and cozy' to that it feels conforting and invites you to sit down and have a cup of coffee. I don't think you have the right space to pull it off.

Now 'espresso' might still be workable, but you'll need to update your lighting fixture to something fabulous that gives off lots of light.

Just my two cents...

    Bookmark   January 4, 2010 at 12:11PM
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I love black cabinets but I have to agree with ccoombs.
You want to avoid the cave feeling.

What about Grey, Taupe or even cream? Or what about blk on the end and a different color on the sides?

Here is a very narrow kitchen from HB magazine.

Another tiny kitchen looking bigger with cream colors

If you do go with black what about taking down some of the
upper cabinets. Could you get away with that or is the
storage essential? Putting a few shelves would open
one side making the black kitchen appear more spacious.
Or even painting the upper cabinets white or cream to
make them disappear into the walls and ceilings.. Just
some crazy ideas you can toss out if they are annyoing. : )

    Bookmark   January 4, 2010 at 12:57PM
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Google Sally Wheat's kitchen - she used Benjamin Moore Fieldstone (a taupy grey) which is beautiful and light enough not to close things in. I think the black in a small closed in kitchen may be too much . . .

    Bookmark   January 4, 2010 at 1:06PM
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I say you're in luck.

Black WALLS are in this year.

So there are bound to be more examples of black-painted rooms than usual. Designers swear they make rooms look bigger, but they would say that, wouldn't they?

I actually think it would look nice:

The style of your cabinets is simple, and the room isn't a "cabinet cave".

You have looked into replacing the center panel on a couple of them with glass, to lighten things up a bit. I think that's a great idea. I'm also a fan of taking a door off here and there, if you're into that. You can paint the inside of the cabinet a contrasting color, if you want.

Can you try something like tacking up some paper or black cloth over a couple of cabinets and squinching up your eyes? It's not photoshop, but it's what you got ...

Can you spring for new appliances? Stainless would look great with black.

When you change a few things, it's sometimes amazing how some of the other things you swore you HAD to change become liveable. So hold off on some of the other things.

A great colored wall would keep things fresh and bright. Maybe a pale blue, or lavender, works well with black or a very charcoal-y gray.

If you are definitely having them painted, you can get them prepped and primed, then paint a door or two and try it.

Absolute worst case: You can repaint later.

Good luck!

    Bookmark   January 4, 2010 at 1:08PM
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I have a black powder room. And it's 34"x46". The previous owners put in black wainscoting, a solid black slate floor, black wood trim/crown, and a dark jungle themed wallpaper. No window. Oddly, it works. Now I know it's a powder room which can be more dark and dramatic than a kitchen. However, I think you possibly could do black if you have lighter uppers or open shelves. For example, if my powder room had black walls to the ceiling, I think it would look oppressive. Also, perhaps consider a grayish color. I love this linked galley-shaped kitchen with base cabs painted in F&B Mouse's Back (though the space has lots of light).

Here is a link that might be useful: Farrow & Ball Mouse's Back kitchen

    Bookmark   January 4, 2010 at 1:39PM
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Wow, I'm blown away with how helpful everyone is and how impressive the ideas are! To answer some questions...
We are going to replace the appliances with stainless steel ones.
After Beuhl so kindly steered me toward Ikea, I've been seriously considering the Lagan butcher block countertops.
To the left of the stove is a window but it looks into the sunroom, so some light does come in there, just not as much as if it was to the outside.
We'd like a white farmhouse apron front sink at the end of the galley.
On the left (where the fridge is now) the cabinets are being switched with some others we have that are smaller and we are going to take the doors off for some open shelving.
The fridge is moving out of the galley so it will be on the other side of the room (where there is an eat-in spot).
I completely agree about the dark dark black, I think a charcoal would soften the look a bit, also the walls would go white with a white beadboard backsplash (very similar to the beautiful second picture from momto4boys).
The lights are going to be very white and bright and happy (hopefully!)

This link is to the galley, the side with the window, the little pantry on the other side that is getting shelving and countertops and the little eat-in with the windows. Thank you so much!

Here is a link that might be useful: Kitchen & Eat-in

    Bookmark   January 4, 2010 at 3:04PM
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Can you open up the kitchen more? I see a window that looks out into another it an addition? If so, then I would consider removing the window and making it an opening - as wide & tall as you can. Then, remove the door to that room (other side of range) & open up that wall more....then you may be OK.

There are two differences b/w your current kitchen and the other dark kitchens shown or referenced in this thread...either size (much wider usually) and/or openness (usually an entire wall open to another room). You have a long & narrow kitchen that's almost completely enclosed on all sides.

    Bookmark   January 4, 2010 at 4:25PM
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buehl, I so wish that we could do that! I have looked into it a dozen times but the problem is that our sunroom is really just an enclosed patio, it is on a different level (about 1 ft. lower) and the wall in the kitchen with the window on it is an exterior wall, I would love to move the door but I think the cost would be enormous considering that the wall is completely load-bearing. I definitely understand the concern about it being long and narrow. I was hoping that replacing the whole left hand side with some open shelving and taking away the fridge would open it up a bit. If anyone has a better idea for re-working the layout (behind the left hand wall is a staircase) I would be thrilled to hear it! Thank you :)

    Bookmark   January 4, 2010 at 4:37PM
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We began moving things around and demo-ing cabinets a little bit to figure out our layout, here are pictures, I cannot BELIEVE how much bigger it looks (it's hard to tell in the pics of course)! Please disregard the mess and the terrible quality pictures!

The pictures are the last three in this gallery :)

Here is a link that might be useful: demo kitchen

    Bookmark   January 4, 2010 at 9:54PM
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I hope someone who has been here a long time can help. There was someone who had a very tiny, very black kitchen that was gorgeous. There was some bright blue in there too, if I remember right. It might have been in Chicago? Probably a condo. I know people with bigger wet bars.

What this had was a lot of dramatic lighting and glossy surfaces. I wouldn't do the soft black, tasteful charcoal thing in there. It could work two tone with the light uppers, though. Or go all out black as night, if you want, but make sure there are a lot of very reflective surfaces in there, including the cabinets, so that the light can bounce around. That's the difference between wow and cave.

    Bookmark   January 4, 2010 at 10:08PM
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enigmaquandry, I am fascinated by the challenges of kitchens in small urban spaces, so I just spent a good amount of time surfing for pictures of galley kitchens.
Most of what I found were kitchens with nearer windows than yours has, and many are "galley" in their layout, but with a much larger space or open to the adjoining room.

Given the relative lack of natural light in your kitchen proper, you might want to give as much thought to your lighting as your color scheme. Your current overhead lighting is pretty diffuse and tends to wash things out in a way that might well persist even if you install a higher contrast color scheme.

Many people on this forum have installed recessed lighting, and that always is good for dramatic looks, but it would require rewiring your kitchen. Faced with a similar dilemma in a rental unit I own, I replaced the existing fixture with a track and three lights that can be directed in various directions. It did not work any better than its predecessor for task lighting, but it did make the room much more inviting.

The only kitchen configured like yours I found in the Finished Kitchens Blog is joycedc's. The problem is that none of her photos show the kitchen with the lights on.

It may be worth your while to peruse the web site, both its kitchen sections and its submissions for its "small cool" contest, to see if you get some ideas. Another thing to look for -- although tricky to search for -- is kitchen pics taken at night, so you can see the light effects without natural light.

To see the difference, albeit in a kitchen quite different from yours, check out the page of what people have done with the used cabinets they bought from Green Demolitions. The second to the last entry on the page -- the Mastrianni's -- has before and after pictures, but with the after pictures taken at night. It just shows how impressive dramatic lighting can be.

Finally, if you are in an apartment building, you might leave notes with various of your neighbors in similar apartments, asking if they would be willing to show you what they have done with their kitchens. People who accomplish great things with tricky spaces tend to be happy to show them off.

Here is a link that might be useful: Green Demolitons Success Stories

    Bookmark   January 5, 2010 at 1:47PM
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I also agree that lighting and use of some color can be the key to success with this.

The stark contrast between white and black MIGHT be too much. Some color will bridge the gap.

I say might -- because, hey, I haven't done it! You're a pioneer! It's exciting!

Multiple sources of gentler light you can control -- lamps, etc. -- will also work better than one high-wattage ceiling fixture that blasts light on everything. If you do decide to go with glossy paint of any kind, it shows imperfections more than other finishes.

There is also a lot of wonderful advice on this forum by caring, knowledgeable people. But on decisions of individual taste, that don't involve safety or efficiency or large amounts of money, I feel -- go with your gut. It's what makes you an individual.

People break the rules every day. I wouldn't let fear be the only thing that stops you. One or two more coats of paint would set the whole thing right if you weren't happy.

I offer this link to a Web site featuring some Scandinavian kitchens (I think it is a pro kitchen designer's site) that many readers here would describe as "small, dark and cavelike". I say, give me such a cave! (And a great photographer.)

Incidentally, I have gray cabinets and an unorthodox layout. And I don't own a camera. Sorry.

Good luck!

Here is a link that might be useful: scandinavian kitchens

    Bookmark   January 5, 2010 at 3:47PM
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Pllog, You have one fantastic memory. Yess. She lived in a condo overlooking Lincoln Park and she was a flight attendant. Her k was so gorgeous it was in magazines, and she had no room for a dw. Her only regret.

Her given name was part of her user name, but I can't recall. OHHHH, it was Organic Donna

    Bookmark   January 5, 2010 at 7:00PM
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Oh, Westsider, bless you!! Now that you've given the name, I remember Organicdonna (who is still on GW somewhere)! Thanks!!!

Here's Organicdonna's kitchen in the FKB. I couldn't find it on the keywords, but it googled right up. I didn't remember the big window right there, which does admit a lot of light, but look at all those lovely shiny surfaces just bouncing the light around!

    Bookmark   January 5, 2010 at 7:16PM
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Oops. It's organic_donna.

    Bookmark   January 5, 2010 at 7:36PM
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oh my goodness, stunning!!! Organicdonna's kitchen is beautiful, probably a bit contemporary for me for sure but the idea's the same. Growlery, thanks for the vote of confidence! I think I just like the darker, slightly more dramatic kitchens anyway, some on that site you linked are just incredible, especially the more rustic ones :)

    Bookmark   January 6, 2010 at 12:23AM
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I'm so glad plllog remembered Organic_donna's kitchen! I too had seen it here a few years ago. Now that we're remodeling a new kitchen, I kept trying to recall hers and wondering if I could find it again here. It really stood out as one of the more remarkable ones and is truly inspirational, especially for small kitchens. I hope she knows that we're still talking about it!

    Bookmark   January 12, 2010 at 11:03AM
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