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How to Mix and Match Wood and Painted Finishes in your Kitchen

Photo from Katie DID
Photo from Katie DID

The design of a kitchen often revolves around one question: wood or not? Soft wood tones can create a natural and comfortable feeling, but painted wood surfaces can create fun styles and themes in kitchens. Knowing when to intersperse the two varieties can be difficult. Make sure this make-or-break point is under control in your home.

Do not neglect one design for the other. Mixing and matching can be a fun exercise in design and colour. Natural wood has tended to be an older design that has fallen out of favour for the painted wooden surfaces or stained wood. The play of light and dark, wood and not creates a visual playground to enjoy. Here are a few fun strategies for wood and painted finishes to consider for your kitchen.

Use Colours together, don’t Share

Using colours to create highlights of interest can be used not only as design, but also organisation. This reflects the colour design you may be forced into by your choice of applications. A refrigerator or dishwasher will very rarely have many various colours.

A refrigerator is a big, steel, grey block. This big black of colour can be complemented by following it. The table is stained wood. The cabinets are blocks of white. The closet is a block of natural wood. This sectioning can be pleasing to see and makes it easy to navigate for guests. If you tell them plates are in the wooden closet, they will undoubtedly go to only wooden cabinet in the kitchen.

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Black Sheep are interesting

Exceptions in colour can draw attention as much as a pattern. Resist the desire to keep your entire kitchen within a single frame of design. If you are going for a hard wood colour pattern, a white or black painted sink area can be a fun break from the wooden design. The layering effect here will create a fun interplay between in space and pattern.

When you are doing this make sure you are considering colour tones. We want to create an interesting exception in the overall design, not throw something in from left field. The tone of the rest of the kitchen is still relevant to the new colour of this exception. Putting a dark blue cabinet amongst a tan and wood kitchen is a bit too strong of a deviation. Wood is generally considered a warm tone.

Balance the Design

There is a fine line between matching colours and oversaturating the image of the area. Highest in this idea is the colour of the floors. Many people do not consider the colour of their floors before going with a colour/design for the wood and painted finishes of the compartments. The floor is a contrast point. It should be used to draw out the unique colours of the cabinets and features of the kitchen. A wood floor with wood cabinets and tan countertops will just come across as a muddled mess of non-individualised colours.

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Source: GE Appliances

The Lone Wood Feature

Non-wood floors may need a bit of it to bring a natural feeling to the kitchen. Obviously, changing your floors is out of the question (unless you are particularly wealthy and eccentric). What may be appropriate is using a single wood cabinet or set piece as a reference for everything else. In this example, everything is painted or stained wood except for that single wooden piece.

Again, you need to make sure the tones of the room would go with a warm toned wooden cabinet. It does not make any sense to create drastic changes in tone and colour just to use a single piece of wood. Everything should be warm, any deviations from the warm scheme should be used tactfully.

Photo credit: by Ana White
Photo credit: by Ana White

Use Nothing as a Boundary of Colour

Use the already existent breaks in colour to change the colour of that wall. The craft of kitchen design is all about transitions and matching these transitions with what it is coming from. The hardest part of that concept is the transition. Moving people from one frame of mind to the other plagues more than just the house interior industry.

In this case, using doorways allows you to make use of one of the best transitions: nothing. A clean slate can be taken in any number of ways. It has no reference points to drag it backwards and it’s great jumping off point for something else. In this case, a white wall next to the laundry room door than becomes tan or brown on the next wall can work very well. If you are feeling particularly wild, this is one of the few places where changes in tone can work. Small changes from mild warm to mild cold can intrigue rather than repulse with such a large break as a doorway.

Stained Wood as the Highlight

In general, stained wood is hard to use. It is reminiscently wooden, but has a very dark tone that is surprisingly warm. Placed next to each other, they create a massive black of uninteresting dark brown. Instead, use stained wood as a reference point or a pattern. Using stained wood to match with a dark wood door frame or dark wood cabinets can help balance an unwieldy kitchen. Use stained wood to contrast other themes, not to create a theme.

Photo: CC BY 2013 Juhan Sonin
Photo: CC BY 2013 Juhan Sonin

Stained wood can also unwittingly balance other parts of the house. For instance, a stained wood island surrounded by lighter tones in the rest of the kitchen can go with a dark room beyond or at night.

Light up high, dark down below

A simple method to create a fun layout is to balance the room by the concept of light as we know it. Every room (classical, modern, experimental it doesn’t matter) have lights above where people are supposed to walk. So the upper side of a room is brighter than the darker floor.

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Take advantage of this trend by keeping dark colours and stained woods towards the bottom cabinets. Use a warm tone wood floor so that the ground is not overwhelmingly dark, but keep the dark tones down below. As you rise, the wood and painted finishes on the cabinets and walls should increase in brightness. There should be no awkward splotches of darker colour unconnected to the floor. You can have the dark tones go fairly high as long as it is drawn back to the floor.