Painting oak kitchen cabinets, two tone or all same?

5 days ago
last modified: 5 days ago

We are going to have our oak kitchen cabinets painted to help update the space. Deciding between painting lowers Benjamin Moore Knoxville Gray and uppers Sherwin Williams Pure White OR painting all the cabinets Benjamin Moore Knoxville Gray. We will changing out the counter to something light, probably white with a veining or variation to it and also adding a back splash. We also plan to update the wall color to something fresh and light, possibly Sherwin Williams Crushed Ice. The most important question I have is will my kitchen support uppers and lowers painted the same color, or will it feel too dark? It's so hard to envision. I have a rendering from Benjamin Moore's website to help show my vision.

Comments (22)

  • PRO
    Sativa McGee Designs

    I personally love the contrast and visual interest that a two tone kitchen allows. You get the open/airy feeling of white cabinets with the grounded/solid gray bases.

    Lyndsey thanked Sativa McGee Designs
  • Lyndsey

    I appreciate the help! I absolutely love the idea of an open and airy feeling. Vibe wise, the goal for me is an inviting but fresh and bright space. I am curious, with the two tone look, what do you recommend for the wall color? Should it be the same white as the cabinet for a seamless look? Or is a slightly gray light neutral like SW crushed ice a better choice to encourage a bit of contrast? Also, is white counter and white backsplash too much white? Or would it be a nice fresh transition to the cabinets above?

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  • artistsharonva

    Ilike both the color options. #2 is nice imo, However if selling in a few years, may want to go with neutral colors in case some buyers do not like blue. If styaing a long time, go for the blue. I love bue.

    Before going thru all the time to paint these cabinets. Inspect them fully. Are they real wood or MDF to look like wood. Are all the hinges & slides in great condition?

    If these cabinets are on the cheaper material like MDF, you may want to consider buying new cabinets since putting new countertop on. That's a big investments to get new counters.

    I would get a couple of quote from local cabinet companies for RTA cabinets that come assembled with soft close.

    If you decide to do the paint only, hihly suggest a cabinet refinish company with a warranty.. Not a painter. The process of painting cabinets takes a lot of prep to come out right.

    If you paint, please, wait to put new counters on 3-6 months after paint job. That way you know in confidence the paint job will hold up. I have met several unfortunate people who did not wait & the paint job begin to fail after they had installed new countertop. It was a nightmare. Most end out ripping out to redo in just a few years & had to rebuy counters. Ouch, that $$$ lost.

    Lyndsey thanked artistsharonva
  • megs1030

    Love the 2 tone. That gets my vote. If you think it's too much of a commitment, why not do the island in a different color?

    Lyndsey thanked megs1030
  • PRO
    Sativa McGee Designs

    2 tone. light grey walls.

    agree about waiting to do counter tops until you know you are keeping the cabinets. it is a big job to paint it all.

    Lyndsey thanked Sativa McGee Designs
  • suezbell

    Anything painted will, inevitably, need to be repainted.

    Have you considered painting the walls and adding more lighting to lighten the room?

    Or painting only the island base to begin with to see how you like it before painting the rest?

    Removing the two overhead cabinets to the right of the sink to let in more natural light will make the room more open an airy than any paint on the cabinets that still block that natural light.

    But then, I'm not a pro.

    Lyndsey thanked suezbell
  • Lyndsey

    Thank you everyone for your comments! We moved into the house one year ago and have no plans to move for at least 10 years, so we are making choices for our own needs and desires.

    I am not sure about the cabinets themselves.

    Any tip on how to know if they are solid wood of MDF?

    Our goal is to make this space feel fresh and current, but we have a very small budget to work with so we we are unable to replace cabinets at this time so hopefully we can still update counters on existing cabinets.

    We will be adding more lighting. We are planning to, down the line, add recessed lighting to help with more light in our north facing kitchen that lacks abundant natural light.

    I really like the suggestion about removing the cabinets to the right of the window but with a family of 5, I do seem to need all the storage this small kitchen offers me so I won't be able to do that for this face-lift. Thank you for bringing that to my attention though, it does seem like it would greatly impact the amount of light and airiness the kitchen has.

    After reading all of your comments, I have decided to do the colored lowers and white uppers with a white counter. For the backsplash I may incorporate some sort of white but with tones from the lowers too, to tie it all together.

    If anyone else has any recommendations, please leave them here - I greatly appreciate them all!

  • artistsharonva

    Post a photo of underneath the wall cabinets. That is a good place to look to see if the boxes are MDF or Plywood construction.

  • PRO
    Patricia Colwell Consulting

    IMO the first thing you need is new lighting before deciding any colors . Those boob lights never show true colors if you can get pot lightsinto that space with 4” pots and LEDs in 4000K then look at what you have and the colors you choose will be true in all times of the day.If the electricain is not in the budget then 2 track lights same bulbs . No to painting the cabinets all gray and IMO an all white kitchen will be a much better choice than 2 toned.IMO having cabinets painted is a huge investment and I would be thinking about how you function in this space I would like to see the whole kitchen since to me the island is just in the way and a bank of cabinets on the left wall would make more sense but I would need to see the whole space. I never advise DIY cabinet painting unless you have done some other smaller pieces perfectly. So to spned the money on painting and new counters witjout really thinking about the space would not make sense to me.

  • Casamacho

    Do the two tone, love that look! Adding pulls to the doors and some crown molding to the tops would finish it off.


    Congrats on your new house!

    Ugh, I'm going to be the odd man out on this one.

    I'm so sorry, but I really do not care for either mock up personally.

    On my screen your floors look like a walnut laminate with a lot of heavy looking gold oak cabinets.

    Completely agree with Patricia (as I almost always do) in regard to lighting.

    Absolutely would swap out the upper corner cabinet door for a glass door with simple, in cabinet lighting.

    Would seriously think about doing an all white kitchen due to the current floor.

    Would make either the backsplash or the counter the star of the show, not two toning the cabinets.

    Please post an after pic, good luck on your journey.

  • Val B

    I prefer the two tone kitchen, the other one looks dark. It looks a bit cool, so I would try to add some warm elements like brass lights above the island and some large wood utensil holder/cutting board on the counter.

  • Kaylie

    I personally prefer having them all the same color and I think option one looks great. It's all about personal preference though so if your gut tells you you want two tone, go with that. The best thing I did in my kitchen reno was take my time making decisions. I made sure I thought about everything long enough that I got sick of anything I didn't love.

  • Erin

    I think you have a good eye and are on the right track. I like your two tone mockup and I think two tone cabinets work well when you want white walls and white uppers to help brighten a space. Especially since your uppers do not go to the ceiling... if you go with same (darker) color for uppers as the lowers, it sorta creates a stripey look (dark, white, dark, white). This is exactly why in my kitchen update, I did dark lowers and white upper cabinets. I love the look and I think you will too in your kitchen.

  • PRO

    That's not a good gray - way too dark and "somber". I have a gray kitchen and I love it. It's SW Repose Gray and it's a lovely light color that pops with white woodwork.

    You're talking about spend a lot of money on a kitchen that has its issues. Can you actually open the door of the refrigerator all the way - the one up against the door? Believe me, I understand about wanting to make it better when one can't afford to gut it. I did that TWICE before I finally got my new kitchen 32 years later!!!

    No two-tone in this kitchen. You want to keep it neutral and calm. You don't really want to draw attention to anything part of it at this point, so keep it very simple. And don't spend too much on it. It's a functioning kitchen - just save and save until you can get what you want.

  • ci_lantro

    Have you priced how much it is going to cost to have the cabinets painted? There is a lot of prep involved in painting previously finished cabinets and even more prep for oak cabinets because of the open grain nature of oak.

    Are the cabinets worth the investment? They look like bottom of the line budget cabinets. (Partial overlay and wide stiles dividing the doors) Are the drawer boxes all solid wood? As in plywood or real wood, not composite 'wood' like particle board or mdf? Are they in good repair, solidly joined?

    As to the question about 2-tone kitchens. Only OK AFAIC if the island is a different color and the perimeter cabs are another color w/ uppers the same as the base cabs. Otherwise, it comes off as patchwork & is not a look that I like.

  • PRO
    Sativa McGee Designs

    @ci_lantro perimeter vs. island is actually the "dated" version of two tone. The newer and trendy homes are doing lowers/uppers, or even 3 tones with lowers/upper/focal piece.

  • PRO
    JudyG Designs

    You want something soft for the cabinets in order to compliment the floor (which has been ignored in your above color schemes).

  • PRO
    Sativa McGee Designs

    A warm walnut floor goes great with dark gray cabinets. The dark color also ties in the black appliances which would otherwise stand out.

  • nosoccermom

    i would also add a crown to the upper cabinets.

  • katinparadise


  • suezbell

    IF you created a wheeled cabinet out of those two overhead cabinets, would you have a place to park it, perhaps at the end of your island, behind it or in the dining room -- keeping the storage but making it possible to move it about.

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