How to break up the wood in our kitchen?

NewEnglandSaraJuly 5, 2014

Hi there,

We are putting in a new kitchen in an open kitchen/family room space, and I am worried that we will have too much wood. I would love some suggestions on how to break up the space. The kitchen will have cabinetry and appliances (plus a few doors) on three sides, and the fourth side is open to the family room. The cabinetry will be natural, European beech with some glass doors mixed in. The floors will be oak in a low VOC, water-based finish that tends to look lighter than oil-based finishes. We will probably go with a light-medium gray quartz countertop, stainless appliances and a white cast iron apron sink. In the center of the room will be a small island with a natural beech banquette that backs right up to it so that we can fit a table in the kitchen. our existing kitchen chairs are maple (very similar in color to the beech of the cabinets), and we will need to buy a trestle table.

I am worried that between the floors, the cabinets and the chairs, we will have too much wood. However, I don't want to go with painted cabinets since my kids will ding them up. (The island can be painted, but it won't show much due to the banquette in front of it.)

I welcome any input on the best ways to keep the room from looking like a sea of wood! :-)



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I think this is becoming a common issue with open concept kitchens where ideally we have flooring flowing from adjacent rooms, often wood flooring.

We opened up our kitchen and extended oak flooring into the kitchen from the dining/living area (formerly tile). Then it became obvious to me that wood cabinets would be wood overload for my tastes. I decided to go with light gray stained oak fronts - the grain will still show but the colour will be distinctly lighter and different in hue from the floor. We are using Rubio Monocoat precolor and finishing oil. We have busy kitchen when rambunctious kids but we are confident that the Rubio system will allow refreshing and not required complete recoating if it wears. We also purchased aged black drafting-style counter stools for the island.

In my opinion, wood is best appreciated when it is not fighting with other wood. For a mostly wood kitchen, I have really only appreciated this look when the kitchen is spacious with abundant natural light.

Wood *has* a colour. My oak floors are actually a gold colour and has a similar impact as if I painted my floors gold even though there is more texture. I want other elements to complement that, not add to it or compete with it.

In your case, you may want to consider Rubio Monocoat for some of your elements - it's made for floors so more than up to the task for furniture, island, etc. It can colour and finish in one step.

I don't think you should be afraid of some paint either. For example, white dining table, fun colour chairs:

Black is a more neutral option and looks great too.

Glass fronted uppers will help a lot in your case, especially if the interiors are painted a light colour.

I would recommend that you mock up your plan on a 3d rendering site like the free one on That can really help with visualizing how colours and textures will work together. Include the whole space that you can see from a point of view.

    Bookmark   July 5, 2014 at 2:23PM
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NESara, I thought about this same issue when planning our kitchen remodel 2 years ago. My house has a lot of wood elements, natural ash wood floors and dominant structural post and beam elements that are fir with a bit of enhancer on them so the color goes reddish.
The house is not 'rustic' however and I didnt want to go that way, I wanted clean lines, open light filled and organic.
My kitchen cabinets are a medium-dark stain. I didnt want anything that might appear like I tried to match the posts as the L shaped kitchen has posts anchoring it at each point of the L. Plus the darker tone helps to ground the space and makes the wall bases cabinets visually recede. There are no uppers.
I initially planned for the painted island to have a walnut butcherblock top to match the dark cabinetry but I realized that the plane of dark would be too much. so I kept it the same as the periphery - brushed MadrePerla quartzite.
When I read your post the first thing I thought was that you needed a few elements to break up the wood, I think that your kitchen chairs should probably be a color. Not knowing your color tolerance I think black but you may have an accent color you repeat in your home that could be terrific, rich navy, forest green, even aubergine. I also assume that your beach bench will have a fabric cushion and fabric can be a great softener. A perhaps radical suggestion for you to consider t=is for you to get a metal topped table. If you go with the gray quartz counter, I think a zinc topped trestle table would be great, it would echo the gray and break up the wood.
A rug under the kitchen table will also help to break up the wood. Indoor outdoor rugs are great in this situation as they can be picked up and hosed off outside when needed. Places like overstock and home decorators have lovely ones at very reasonable prices.

    Bookmark   July 6, 2014 at 7:20AM
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Feisty68 and LocalEater, thanks SO much for these terrific responses! I truly apologize that I did not respond sooner. I created this post and then promptly got distracted by some other time sensitive house decisions. :-) I kept meaning to come back to your wonderful ideas to look them over in more detail, and that did not happen until today! Your ideas are quite helpful. Our floors will be a rather light oak since we are using a water-based finish by Vermont Naturals. The cabinets will be a warm wood tone: European beech, and we are going to have lots of windows (an entire wall near the sink) plus 50/50 upper cabinets with glass doors. I like the idea of a painted island, rug underneath the table and colorful chairs. Unfortunately, we currently have lovely chairs that are also a warm wood color. However, we bought them on Craig's List for $150, so those might need to be changed out. A zinc or other metal table could look great! The Rubio Monocoat sounds intriguing; I wonder if we might even consider that for the floors in the kitchen/dining space? My husband might find that too radical, but it might be worth considering since we definitely want wood cabinets.

Anyway, many thanks again! if others have additional ideas, I welcome more input.

All best,


    Bookmark   July 31, 2014 at 11:23AM
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I completely understand your dilemma since I've been living it as well, right down to shying away from white cabinets due to active kids and general messiness. I made a couple decisions to try to minimize the wood/wood issues:

- We used beadboard that is painted the color of the kitchen (sorry, it doesn't show up in this photo) on the back side of the peninsula instead of wood. This made a big difference visually from the dining room.

- We chose cool colors, and a definite light and cool contrast for the counters (madreperola quartzite, which has some green, white, and grey in it). While I loved many stones that had creams and yellows in them, the one we ultimately chose has only bits of brown in it comparable to the cabinet color, but is clearly not in the yellow/beige category.

- I used white subway tile in the backsplash, which wasn't done as of this picture, obviously.

You are smarter than I was about flooring. Our oak floors were what I'd call a "lighter" color, and when we decided on the cabinets, I felt there would be a decent amount of contrast. What I didn't know is that they had water-based poly on them, and so when our contractor refinished using oil-based, it darkened them up noticeably. They look richer, for sure, but they also were a significant step closer to the cabinet color, not ideal.

The amount of windows and not overwhelming amount of upper cabinets I believe also help minimize a wood box look. At least I'd like to think so.

Hope this helps!

    Bookmark   July 31, 2014 at 12:08PM
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A second photo. Also, we are still shopping for counter stools...

    Bookmark   July 31, 2014 at 12:10PM
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Granada222, I think this looks great! I agree that the green you chose really breaks up the space, and I bet the white backsplash does so even more. Plus, I see that you have some really nice natural light coming through, along with a contrasting countertop. Nicely done! It helps so much to see photos.

I have a follow-up question. Our cabinet maker suggested that we have him make (or purchase elsewhere) a light oak trestle table that is the color of our floors. He thinks this might break up all of the warmer beech wood from the cabinets...but still allow us to have a wood table. Any thoughts on how this might look? I am uncertain and welcome input.

Thanks so much!


    Bookmark   August 31, 2014 at 8:35PM
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Speaking for myself, I haven't figured out the dining room table/chairs yet - we have a 40+ year old maple beat up table that requires a tablecloth to look decent, and for the moment, we are just so happy to have the kitchen done that I'm ignoring the hot mess that is our dining room.

I'd be interested to hear others' opinions on how to decide what kind of wood furniture with the wood floors. For us, it is a good 10 feet or so removed from the kitchen cabinets so at least we'd just be considering the combo of wood floor and table and not worry about the wood cabinets as well.

    Bookmark   August 31, 2014 at 9:47PM
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