2-Toned Kitchens - Trendy? Too much for small spaces?

steph2000July 3, 2012

As I continue to scour the net and vacillate between inspiration and confusion, I keep getting drawn back to the look of 2 toned kitchens. I am most likely going to end up with a galley or U-shaped kitchen open to the DR and the front door/entry room. So, an island is likely not in my future. However, I see these kitchens occasionally that have darker lower cabinets and white uppers. I currently have a white kitchen and have loved it. I am still leaning towards a white kitchen with the remodel, but I do see some things to recommend the 2-toned look.

The dark lowers seems to ground the kitchen and not make the uppers look top heavy. It also seems like it would be easier to clean and disguise dirt if the lowers were dark wood. It could be a compromise point for my partner and I as he really wanted stained and I wanted white paint.

I tend to like it most when the counters are light/white. I suppose one has to be careful with the counter/backsplash applications with these kitchens?

In any case, I'm fishing for conversation and my bait is eye candy.

These first are IKEA kitchens:

(Notice the crazy/creative way that upper over the peninsula was wrapped around that beam via the crown)

Here's Bossanova's black and white carriage kitchen:

And a prior GW thread on this topic for more eye candy:


Here is a link that might be useful: And a prior GW thread on this topic for more eye candy:

Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I just googled two toned cabinet kitchens, and out of 100 images, there was maybe 1 or 2 that I liked, and those were REALLY professional and sterile looking. (You know, those kitchen set ups with no real world fruit and toasters and can openers on the counters.)

I'm not a big fan of trendy...especially when it comes to kitchens and bathrooms, because the remodelling process is SO expensive.

I love white cabinets - they are classy and timeless. You can put any color on the walls, and any type of counter color.

Something just looks off with two tone, to me.

Those are just my thoughts!


    Bookmark   July 3, 2012 at 2:46PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Steph - I would be more worried about the ubiquitous grey/white/dark brown colour combo. I would use a different combo of neutrals.

    Bookmark   July 3, 2012 at 3:11PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

As a follow-up: I love the two-toned kitchen trend! It's so PRACTICAL!

Dark on the bottom to hide dirt and light on the top, to brighten up the room! Could you think of anything better than that?

My guess is that trends that actually make sense have more longevity than trends that are based purely on looks.

    Bookmark   July 3, 2012 at 3:19PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I think they can work well and while they are trendier now, there are two buildings in my city, one almost 50 years old and one close to 40 that have very small, two-toned kitchens with a darker base cabinet and white or light wall-colored upper cabinets in the remaining original kitchens.

They were done for the reasons you state, to ground the lowers or keep them more floor toned but to lighten the uppers in a small space.

    Bookmark   July 3, 2012 at 3:20PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Two tone kitchens have been around longer than all white kitchens. The original kitchens were in fact a mix. If you do a wood cabinet that you love along with painted cabinets, well, the painted ones are just paint and that part can get newly painted a different color down the road if you get sick of it. Every ten years or so, you could get a whole new happening look just by using a new popular trend color on the painted part. Two tones set you up for updates without spending a lot of dough.

    Bookmark   July 3, 2012 at 3:30PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

We have been saving the same conversation...thought we were all set on the modern one tone cabinets. Two kitchen designs with two different KDs and the renderings just did not speak to either one us and then....I found the kitchen below in Kitchen Trends mag and on Cultivate.com.

The mix of colors, door styles and materials is perfect and I don't care if it is trendy or not. We are working with the designers to add a few more darker pieces, probably on the clean-up wall which will have no uppers - only open floating shelves. Our furnishings are modern - gray, white, chrome, steel and black and this felt like the perfect way to add some warmth to what was otherwise going to be cold and stark.

We are building our forever home so don't have to worry about selling soon and if we tire of it in 10 years, so be it. We will remodel.

Looking forward to what other eye candy GW members post.

    Bookmark   July 3, 2012 at 3:34PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

We did two tones of paint. Green on top and the island and cream below. I never thought twice about doing it-- I just liked the color scheme and the way it works with the rest of the house.

    Bookmark   July 3, 2012 at 3:47PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Who is it on here that had the kitchen with multiple cabinet colors? I think the cabs were stained, though, and not painted. Kind of a more contemporary kitchen.

It can be done really well... I was considering it for a while...

Don't care for the white cabs with the brown doors, though.

    Bookmark   July 3, 2012 at 3:52PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Actually, I've not seen enough of them for them to be called a trend at all, not in the last couple of decades and more anyway. There has been a bit of a fashion for islands in a second finish, but that's really a different thing from uppers and lowers in different finishes (islands in the same finish often striking their owners as a bit too much of the good thing that's already covering the walls everywhere else). Actually, from my observations, a two-tone corridor is more likely to come off really well than a blue island sitting in the middle of a brown room.

Anyway, what you're considering has always been done, just not very much, so no need to worry about the look going "out." I've always liked this look, too, and think you really should go for what you're drawn to.

I'm strongly biased in favor of counters that blend closely with the backsplash and uppers, regardless of the color of the bases, so of course I like that for this type of kitchen, especially if the backsplash contains some element from the lowers to pull the whole look together. Some harmony would be helpful if you're worried about it being too busy in a small space, which I don't think would be the case anyway. In fact, people sometimes do this specifically to add a feeling of space.

If I were doing it, and I might well someday (I'm upper-less in my current kitchen), I might start by searching for a tile that I really loved and seeing what I could build from there.

    Bookmark   July 3, 2012 at 3:57PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I'm trying to lobby my DH to do wood lowers and painted uppers. He's not quite on board yet. There are 100s of pics if you look on Houzz.

This is one of my favorites, although both uppers and lowers are painted. It is a small space.

Traditional Kitchen design by Houston Interior Designer Carla Aston : Interior Designer

This one mixes wood with green painted cabs.

Traditional Kitchen design by Other Metros Interior Designer Kimberly Arnold Fletcher

This one is black lower with painted upper.

Traditional Kitchen design by Portland Interior Designer Emery & Associates Interior Design

In terms of "trendy" there are plenty of things that will date your kitchen. If it's a look you really like, it's silly to move forward with it just because other people also happen to currently like the same thing.

    Bookmark   July 3, 2012 at 4:02PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

The white/grey pic with the island is immaculate. That works because the island is all on it's own.

Not a fan of the other pics at all.

But if we all designed our homes to be what other people liked, that wouldn't make us happy :-)

    Bookmark   July 3, 2012 at 4:14PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I don't mind them, as long as the two tones aren't white and brown.

White and brown strongly contrast. And that's fine. But I think a lot of people tend to ignore the design elephants in their rooms, and put in strongly-contrasting elements without even meaning to. Then everyone is required to ignore it and simply admire.

Contrast is good when it's intentional, not accidental.

    Bookmark   July 3, 2012 at 4:48PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Boy, did you say it! Contrast is really powerful. Because a lot of people love it and want it and a lot of others bring it in innocently as a seemingly obvious, and easy, way to pep up a design that's looking bland on paper, effects of contrasting elements in a design really need a lot more attention than they get.

    Bookmark   July 3, 2012 at 6:04PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I don't consider myself a trend follower or setter.

I've been thinking about doing the two tone for a few weeks now. I have a small galley kitchen and want it white because it really needs to feel bigger and brighter. But then I fell in love with soapstone, then I wanted a white farmhouse sink to give it that bungalow cottage feel that the rest of my house has, and also to give a visual break to the long galley row of cabinets.

So then looking at my drawings and tons of photos online, I realized that the dark soapstone cut the space in half visually. And the farmhouse sink didn't make the statement I was looking for agains white cabinets.
I thought the darker bottom color would ground it (hardwood floor going in) and I would use subway tiles with light gray grout and white cabinets above.
I'm still thinking that direction.

...so keep the inspiration photos coming!!!! Glad to see I'm not alone.

    Bookmark   July 3, 2012 at 8:40PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

This is my kitchen so obviously I'm terribly biased, but we LOVE it and everyone who has always seen it says it's awesome. We finished it in 2007. Does that make it out of style now?

    Bookmark   July 3, 2012 at 8:58PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I love many of the photos on GW of two-tone kitchens and I strongly considered it (as evidenced by the dozens of sample pots of paint in my basement) before deciding to paint all the cabinets and the island the same color. I always loved this Todd Hansen and Christine Albertson kitchen:

Traditional Kitchen design by Minneapolis Architect Christine Albertsson and Todd Hansen

So I'm not trying to discourage you from doing it. I repeat: two- tone kitchen are a look I really love. But for the sake of a conversation, here are the reasons why I decided on a one-tone kitchen:

1. I wanted to do two different countertops (walnut on island and soapstone or dark honed granite on the rest). I felt that I needed the cabinet color to remain consistent to avoid business. I like a calm feeling in the kitchen because of all the busyness of food, cookbooks, and appliances. So lack of "busyness" was important to me.

2. I don't have a very large kitchen. It is only 19.5 feet long by 13.5 feet wide. I decided that a one-tone kitchen would make a medium-size kitchen feel more spacious and more harmonious. Without a doubt it does. In fact, everyone comments on how spacious the kitchen feels. It actually looks and feels bigger than it is. As a tall person with long arms, I like the sense of space. Call it what it is -- a quirk!

3. I have a very traditional 1928 center hall colonial house. A friend I admire told me that two-toned felt like it was "trying too hard" for my house. I could have said, "we agree to disagree". But she has great taste and is usually right. So I listened. If my house had trended more 1928 Craftsman, I think a two-tone kitchen would have been more appropriate.

4. I realized that keeping all the cabinetry neutral and consistent would still give me plenty of options for bringing in color in a less permanent way with wall color, fabric on the curtains and banquette cushion, barstools, pedestal table, and accessories.

5. Since my kitchen is enclosed and not open to any other rooms, I didn't need to differential lower cabinets or island with color to "tie in" to colors or wood tones in the other rooms.

Just a few things to consider. All said, I love two-toned kitchens!

    Bookmark   July 3, 2012 at 9:26PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Francoise47- you just helped me make my decision about a black island in a white kitchen. I also have a center hall colonial, I'm also using soapstone on the perimeter and honed marble on the island. I think your friend's comment is perfect. I'm going with the white island.

But Steph2000- I love your inspiration photos. maybe it's more suited to your house style?

    Bookmark   July 3, 2012 at 9:51PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

In 2000 we built our home and at that time the two toned kitchen was really popular and we really liked that look. Stained uppers and green lowers. Fast forward 12 years later and I have been noticing that it's popular again. We're getting ready to paint our upper cabinets white and will be leaving the bottoms green. I like the two-toned look.

    Bookmark   July 3, 2012 at 10:17PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Here's my small tall muti tone diy baby! These pictures were taken by me and not particularly good as they do not show the interplay of colors I tried so desperately to achieve. I have added a few more pictures so you can see how the colors work off each other. Still not very good pictures but it's the best I can do. The range in the two top photos is different now; when I did the kitchen I reused some of my working appliances. The Kitchen Aid range bit the dust and I now have a Bosch. When the micro/2ndOven bites the dust I'm going to put something much more streamline in.

My new range...

My painting of beloved father in-law

And my diy table I made out of two rusty bases and and old commercial stainless refrig door.

    Bookmark   July 3, 2012 at 11:15PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

How fun to see all the comments and eye candy. Thanks for the conversation on this, it really is something I go back and forth about.

@FoozerX - I appreciate hearing from someone who really doesn't like the split. Thanks for your honesty - and for chiming in.

@pawa - I'm worried about the gray-dark brown-white thing for more reasons than you know. I've NEVER liked gray and have always leaned to the warmer tones but I find I am really being influenced by the current gray trend. I can't decide if that is because the current grays are more earthy/muddy/warm/zen or if I am just that suggestible afterall... That being said, the dark lowers/light uppers really does seem practical - and easier to keep looking clean. I'm all about that! LOL

@palimpsest and jterrilynn - How interesting to learn that this isn't a new phenomonenon, but rather one that is just rarely done. It really does seem to work to ground the kitchen and lighten up the upper half...

@MichelleDT - What a great island that is in your inspiration pic. Your kitchen sounds great. I am totally a fan of chunky floating shelves, too. I can't wait to see your kitchen come to life, hope you share lots of pics.

@sas95 - There is sooo much to like about your kitchen, including the uppers and lowers working so well together but being different colors. I have always loved that backplash - and those windows are great.

@deedles - Those brown doors on white boxes in that picture is not something I would think of, either. While I'm iffy about it, what surprised me is that I didn't despise it. There are other pics that show better how they relate to the island color, but again, not really seeing it for me. If you think of that GW kitchen, please do chime in with it.

@rosie - It's a good point about the need to harmonize counter/tile to make something like this work. I just don't see color really working well with it, necessarily. I think the counter would contrast with the lowers and flow more with the uppers, but the backsplash would then need to work with that whole thing to keep it working. I have that backsplash window to work with on the long wall, and remain stumped about how to work with tile PERIOD on the other wall...

@chiefy76 - Thanks for the pics. Neat to see all the different ways this can work. My partner isn't sold on this idea, either. Which I find interesting, given I first came up with it as a compromise point between us.

@marcolo - Are you saying you think it works as long as there isn't a lot of contrast or that brown/white doesn't work? I often hear the case made to go black/white or brown/cream, so I'm not sure if that's what you are talking about. A lot of the pics posted here by myself and others do show high contrast. Are you saying none of those work or seem intentional?

@nap101 - It's interesting to hear you talk about darker lowers to ground the soapstone, and going light above. I don't think I've seen that application and I keep being drawn to light counters on dark lowers/white uppers. If you find pics, please post them. You do make a good point about how dark counters work on white cabinets and soapstone/black granites tend to be the strongest example of that. While I like the look, I've had chocolate brown counters on white cabinets for the past 13 years and am ready for something different.

@loves2cook4six - You definitely have the 2-tone thing going and I've been lurking on your BS thread to see what you come up with there. How is that going? You and others show an interesting reverse of what I was thinking with the lighter lowers and darker tones in the uppers. I wouldn't have thought that could work but it seems to!

@francoise47 - Egads, that picture really shows how the uppers can fade away into the walls, doesn't it? I love that... but you make such a good point about whether it is too much for the house. If it is too much for your house, it is definitely too much for this little 50's ranch stretching towards 1,000 SF. Hm...but then I look at bossanova's carriage house kitchen and it seems like it really works there without being too much? Same with the little IKEA kitchen with the beam... It's confusing to me, I admit. Thanks so much for sharing your own reasoning process and feedback from a honest friend! (Those are worth gold)

@secondhalf - So glad this thread is helping you find clarity! I'm not clear what my house is really suited for, except for simple. lol

@sis2two - See, you are making jterrilynn's point! How fun is that? Mixing it up a decade later. Please do share plenty of pics.

@jterrilynn - What a neat kitchen. I love that it is shaped so uniquely - and those tall ceilings are great. Love that light fixture! And, the portrait of your FIL is wonderful. You clearly have talent! I like how the lighting fixture plays off the color of the lowers and brings a bit of it upwards. Hm...I was thinking silvery fixtures but this gives pause if I decide to go this direction.

I'm going to keep this in the "maybe" pile and when it comes time to put some ideaboards together, I'll likely do at least one with 2 tones. In the meantime, we'll see if this thread has continued eye candy to provide!

Thanks again, everyone.

    Bookmark   July 4, 2012 at 4:03PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

We just did 2 different colors cabinets (island only) and 2 different granites. I do want to mention... i love our dark island but it does show alot. I'm not sure it would be alot easier to keep clean versus the white. Ours is java not straight black.

    Bookmark   July 4, 2012 at 5:55PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I have white and espresso cabinets. If I had to do it over again, I would have gone the with all white. The espresso cabinets are tough to keep clean, show every fleck of dust and fingerprints and look a lot more worn after only one year of us.

Here is a link that might be useful: kitchen with white and espresso cabs

    Bookmark   July 4, 2012 at 10:00PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

My two tone kitchen is almost done and I don't regret it. I love it. When we were starting the building process I struggled what way to go with the kitchen. I would go into show homes and showrooms and see lots of different cabinets ranging from light to dark. Then I walked into a show home with white permitters and a painted blue island. I loved it. I knew I wanted white but always lived with all white so wanted to mix it up. Then I found these stained cupboards I loved so I made that my island color. It has been challenging for me but the result is worth it. My advice is go with gut if you drawn one way. There are so many different kitchens because not everyone loves the same space.

    Bookmark   July 4, 2012 at 10:11PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I love two tone kitchens. I think if they are done right they are timeless.

Here is a link that might be useful: Two Tone kitchen

    Bookmark   December 9, 2014 at 9:47PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

This post was edited by marcolo on Tue, Dec 9, 14 at 21:57

    Bookmark   December 9, 2014 at 9:55PM
Sign Up to comment
More Discussions
Largest sink I can get? 33" exterior cabinet, 31/32" interior. HELP!
1st time home buyer here and we're trying to replace...
Joyce de Leon
Specific stacked upper cab questions
I'm looking for input as I get closer to finalizing...
What Is The Real Question Being Asked To 'What is Timeless'
I see this question so often on this forum, and I wish...
What does this tile say to you?
I am still in the planning stages of a small, U-shaped...
Need advice on how to remodel this corner of kitchen
Hi all Just purchased a home and does not have budget...
© 2015 Houzz Inc. Houzz® The new way to design your home™