3/02/2023  •  , ,

Light vs. Dark Kitchen Cabinet Design

Estimated Read Time: 7 Minutes


For many homeowners, determining their kitchen cabinet selection often comes down to appearance above all else. 


The first step in that process? Choosing between a light or dark kitchen cabinet design. 


At Deslaurier, we have over 40+ years specializing in custom cabinet manufacturing and kitchen design services. In that time, we’ve provided our clients with every kitchen cabinet design under the sun. From bright white to pitch black, and everywhere in between, 


Deslaurier designer Adele Jacobs offers her expertise as we take a look at light and dark kitchen cabinets and what each respective style can bring to your kitchen design.

Let’s get started! 

Table of Contents

Light Kitchen Cabinets 

Ways to Achieve Light Cabinets

Light Woods Species

What Pairs with a Light Cabinet Design?

Dark Kitchen Cabinets 

Dark Wood Species

What Pairs with a Dark Cabinet Design?

Two-Tone Kitchen Cabinet Design

Design with Deslaurier Custom Cabinets


Light Cabinets 


Light cabinetry has been a classic choice for kitchens for decades and remains the most popular to this day. They hold universal appeal, which is why white cabinets are one of the most timeless features you can include in a kitchen design.


Light cabinets bring a gentle and airy ambiance while simultaneously expanding the visual space of the room. If you have a smaller kitchen, going with light cabinetry is a great way to visually expand your space. 

“In smaller kitchens, the light cabinets will make your space feel a whole lot more open” - Deslaurier designer, Adele Jacobs


Light cabinets are great for making spaces look brighter. This is because lighter colours reflect light and allow it to bounce around the room. If your kitchen has a window that gets plenty of natural light, then white, off-white, or beige cabinets can greatly enhance your space.


Something to consider is how long you plan on staying in the home. If you intend on selling the house in the somewhat near future, you should lean towards the neutrality of light kitchen cabinets. 


The universal appeal of subtle, light shades will make your home easier to sell and add resale value to your kitchen. 

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Achieving Light Cabinets


We’ve talked about the appeal of light kitchen cabinets, now let’s dig into some popular paint colours and tones that you can include in your design! 


There are a number of ways to achieve light kitchen cabinets, the most notable being by way of a painted finish.


There is no shortage of materials to choose from. Paint, of course, is undoubtedly the most popular way to cultivate a light kitchen cabinet design. However, it’s certainly not the only method. 


Engineered materials such as thermofoil, PET, and acrylic offer unique characteristics all at different price points. These manmade materials offer increased durability while still providing a solid colour aesthetic


Painted cabinets are not always the most durable option. Many people enjoy having the appearance of a painted cabinet but with the added protection that comes with a manmade product.



Popular Non-White Cabinet Colours


People hear of a “light” cabinet design and immediately think of bright, white paint. That’s not necessarily the case. Light cabinetry can come in the form of many different colours and hues. 


As we have already covered the timeless appeal of white painted cabinets, let’s focus on some non-white colours that can create a light cabinet design.


Other colours you can use for light kitchen cabinets are off-white, beige, taupe, and light grey.


Grey cabinets offer a neutral appearance and are quite trendy right now. At Deslaurier, for example, we have 5 different shades of grey paint. If you're set on light cabinets, you'll love our article on our Most Popular Paint Colours.


It should be noted that different greys will pull different undertones – some pull purple, some pull blue. If you want a neutral grey, you’ll want to pair it with neutral accent pieces (more on that below).


Best Wood Species for Light Cabinets


When it comes to kitchen cabinets, many people love the look of natural wood.


If you want your kitchen design to have the visual qualities of natural wood, while still encompassing a light and neutral appearance, there are a couple of options you can use: white oak and birch. 


White oak and birch are two of the lightest natural woods you can find for your kitchen cabinets. 


Birch has a pale colouring that can look slightly yellowish. It has a simple, rather open-grain pattern with typically straight-ish lines.


White oak is overall much lighter than red oak, yet still carries slight pink hues, and is accompanied by a smooth, uniform surface.


Now, while you can achieve light cabinets with these woods by applying a gentle stain, it’s important to note that any stain is going to pull some of the underlying colours from the woods


Essentially, white oak’s naturally pink undertones and birch’s yellowish hues are going to be enhanced when a stain is applied. This can result in these naturally light woods becoming slightly darker and more colourful.


But not to worry, there is a way around this!


If you want your wood grain cabinets to be as light as possible, you can simply use a clear coat finish instead of a lightly coloured stain


What Pairs Well with Light Kitchen Cabinets?


Selecting light or dark cabinets is only the beginning. You’ll want to choose the right accent pieces – such as flooring, countertops, wall colour, and hardware, to name a few – to create a harmonious, cohesive kitchen design. 


The best way to achieve that is by selecting materials that will create a contrast with your white cabinetry. 

 “you’re going to want contrast in order to achieve a nice balance in your design.” – Adele Jacobs


Nowadays, countertops have so much variation and different tones. Ultimately, you’ll want a countertop surface that has the same tone as the cabinet—something to tie both elements together. 


Don't shy away from kitchen backsplash, as it's often the glue that holds it all together. It's a great way to combine light and dark components and harmonize the kitchen design. 


Word to the wise: always make sure you have physical samples to compare them in proper lighting. This will allow you to choose exactly what pairs best in person rather than comparing a countertop sample to a picture of your cabinets, for example.

Light and open

Dark Kitchen Cabinets  


Darker cabinets have always been a great way to bring warmth to a kitchen design. 


Just as light cabinetry can make a smaller kitchen feel more open, dark cabinets carry a “heavier” visual weight that can make a larger kitchen feel affable and more welcoming. 


Dark cabinets can also offer a modern look, especially when paired with a flat, slab door style


Of course, they’re great for more timeless kitchen designs, as well. Particularly if you stay within the darker tones and avoid any red or yellowish hues.


A great thing about dark cabinets is that they are much easier to keep clean than light cabinets. They can hide general wear and tear much better, specifically dark wood that won’t show any unsightly chips or dents you might see on a painted finish. 


Popular Dark Cabinet Colours 


The easiest way to achieve a darker kitchen is through painted cabinets, while PET and thermofoil have some great selections to choose from as well.


Blues and greens are incredibly trendy right now for colourful kitchens. In fact, the world of interior design coined 2022 as “the year of green” and it doesn’t appear to be slowing down for 2023. 


Deep, dark greens provide both comfort and masculinity. There’s a certain depth and calmness that they can bring to your space. 


Blue provides more versatility than green when settling on the right tone, with options like a vibrant cobalt (pictured below) or a traditional navy. In fact, Deslaurier carries 5 unique blue paint colours in our standard catalogue! 


It’s no wonder why, blue cabinets bring a calming touch and offer a feeling of relaxation in an otherwise energetic space of the house. 



Best Wood Species for Dark Cabinets 


When it comes to dark cabinets, there are far more options using natural wood than there are for light cabinets. Not only can you use naturally darker wood species, but you can also apply a deep, luscious stain to lighter woods to create a darker appearance. 


Focusing on their natural appearance, walnut and mahogany are the darkest wood species used for kitchen cabinets. After that, every light or neutral coloured wood can be applied with a dark stain. 


There are so many stains to choose from: black, brown, dark brown, dark grey, and even some grey-brown hues. Or you could have a custom stain made using our custom colour match system!


The beauty of dark stains is that the texture and wood grain can still gently emerge. 

“You get the durability of a wood cabinet but with a more opaque look than a painted black cabinet” - Adele Jacobs 


Take a look at maple cabinets with a prominent black stain in our Ebony & Ivory showcase!


The pronounced maple grain still emerges through such a dark stain, showing the beauty of natural wood while still offering a dark, colourful cabinet finish. 


What Do Dark Cabinets Pair Well With?


Similarly to light cabinetry, you’re going to want to furnish your kitchen with accent pieces that break up the boldness of your dark cabinets. 


As we’ve mentioned, dark kitchen cabinets can create a “heavy” visual feel within the space. The best way to counteract that and balance your overall design is to create a contrast using lighter-coloured accent pieces like countertops, backsplash, or flooring.


That doesn’t always mean mean solid white surfaces—those will provide pure contrast rather than complement the dark cabinets. 


Instead, you’ll want a light countertop with a prominent dark vein or pattern to it. Something that will tie it in with the dark cabinets and not have a solid white countertop that starkly contrasts the darkness rather than harmonize with it. 


Of course, you can always lighten up a darker kitchen the old fashioned way: with increased kitchen lighting


The amount of lighting in the room can really affect the impact of your dark cabinets. If your kitchen doesn’t have enough natural lighting, you can add some yourself. For instance, it's a great idea to add under cabinet lighting to brighten up your kitchen surfaces. 

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Why Not Both? Two-Tone Kitchen Design 


Why limit yourself to just light or dark cabinets – combine them to cultivate a beautiful two-tone kitchen cabinet design!


A two-tone kitchen design is composed of two sets of cabinets that are different colours. Think painted white uppers paired with dark-coloured base cabinets. 


These mix-and-match designs provide an exciting juxtaposition that breathes energy into the kitchen space while still being able to include the timeless allure of neutral white cabinets or natural wood tones.


Two-tone designs have the ability to include cabinets with timeless qualities, such as white paint or natural wood tones, and complement them with bolder selections like deep greens, light blues, or black. 


Design with Deslaurier Custom Cabinets


Whether you prefer a light, dark, or two-tone cabinet design, Deslaurier Custom Cabinets has everything you need for the perfect kitchen!


With over 40 years of experience to our name, we provide our clients with a fully customized design process thanks to our talented, award-winning team of designers


Book a free consultation with a Deslaurier design expert at our Ottawa showroom!


Interested in becoming an authorized Deslaurier dealer? Visit our Become a Dealer page to learn more! Live outside the area? Find a Dealer to connect with a Deslaurier dealer near you!

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