How to Breathe Life Into an All-White Kitchen

updated Apr 6, 2021
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Credit: Julia Steele

Once upon a time — or a few, short years ago — all-white kitchens used to be all the rage. Back then, it didn’t get more glamorous than marble countertops, white cabinets, and a subway tile backsplash. Maybe it’s because many of us are spending more time in the kitchen these days, or perhaps you’re looking to up your home’s cozy and quirky factor, but one thing’s for sure: All-white culinary spaces are shifting out of focus a bit in design, making room for color and contrast in cook spaces.

These turned design tables — or kitchen islands, if you will — may leave trend-conscious dwellers in a decorating pickle: How are you supposed to update an all-white kitchen without renovating? Don’t worry! It is possible to add some warmth and color back into your space. To help, several designers are sharing their go-to ways to breathe some life and energy into an all-white scheme. From easy DIY hacks to strategic shopping, there’s something here for every white kitchen. Yes, even yours!

Credit: Jean Ross

Switch up your lighting

Lighting can make or break every room in the house, and your all-white kitchen is no exception to this rule. Instead of focusing on the typical pendants and sconces though, try adding an extra glow that’ll soften your space with a table lamp.

“This is a way to instantly inject extra warmth into an otherwise utilitarian space while adding height and sculptural interest,” says designer Tiffany Leigh. “Keep it in a corner by a plug to hide the cord, or opt for a vintage lamp (which often have unsafe wiring), snip the cord, and use a puck light inside instead!”

Looking for some shopping inspiration? These kitchen-friendly lamps are the definition of an easy glow-up. If you’re looking to make your upgraded kitchen lighting a more permanent fixture, however, take a cue from designer Leah Alexander.

Credit: Havenly

“[I love] toe-kick lighting under the base cabinets for a luminous halo effect that looks beautiful at night when all other lights are off,” she says. “Paired with under cabinet lighting, it’s a fun and easy way to elevate the kitchen’s look.” Talk about a bright idea, and your all-white kitchen will lose any sense of coldness when this feature is on and shining.

Round it out with a rug

Aside from all-white color schemes, using textiles like rugs in kitchens has been one of the most sought-after trends around for cook spaces and for good reason. “[It’s] probably the most exciting way to add a little color, pattern, and texture to your all-white kitchen,” explains Melissa Wagner, creative and design pro at Havenly. “The design choices are endless; add something warm and natural with sisal or a bright splash with a colorful Parisian rug. There are options for every lifestyle and aesthetic.”

How do you style kitchen rugs? While they’re an easy, obvious addition to a galley-shaped space, placing a rug in a larger room can be a little more complicated. When in doubt, place your rug by your sink to anchor your work triangle, which will also provide some softness underfoot as you prep, cook, and clean up. Form and function? That’s a true win-win.

Credit: opa

Get creative with color

According to architect Aria Jahanshahi, principal of opa, an all-white kitchen is a fantastic opportunity to add a pop of color via your cupboards and built-ins. “A new, rich cabinet color is a great way to elevate your kitchen,” he explains. Case in point: This once-white cook space, where Jahanshahi used forest green paint to ground the cabinetry and give the room an earthy feel to match the beautiful natural stone slab backsplash.

That said, anyone who lives in a rental apartment might feel uncomfortable changing up their cabinets. Not to worry; Jahanshahi says there are plenty of ways to add a pop to your place. “I’ve also encouraged client’s who have felt more comfortable with an all-white or lighter-toned kitchen to seek color in their cookware, similar to having a furniture accent piece,” he says. “There is always a desire to stow everything away, but I find it less cold and more inviting to have a special or sentimental cast iron pan or pot on the burner.”

Credit: Carina Romano

Bring on the personality with your backsplash

“All an all-white kitchen is a neutral foundation where you still have a lot of control to make it what you want it to be,” says designer Beth Diana Smith. If you want to perk up your space with a pigmented punch, where better to do so than your kitchen backsplash? Whether you opt for a solid shade or cool pattern here, it’s possible to have an all-white kitchen that feels uniquely you with some kind of color in your backsplash as an accent. This is a relatively small job, too, so you won’t have to uproot your whole life to either add tile to this spot or demo what’s there and start fresh with something saturated.

If you’re living in a rental, you can still get this look by experimenting with peel-and-stick wall decals. A bright coat of paint is also another alternative, particularly if you never had tile in this spot to begin with.

Have fun with your hardware

If you’re looking for a more subtle change to your all-white kitchen, consider switching out your hardware. A cool set of knobs and pulls can completely transform your space; all you need to do is figure out the vibe you want to achieve.

“Matte black is continuing to be popular among clients and offers a striking contrast against white cabinetry; it’s great for a modern aesthetic,” explains designer Kim Lewis. “Brushed modern brass offers a touch of glam and looks great with matching brass countertop accessories.” Lewis herself favors Kohler’s Artifacts line, which boasts pieces with a striking, stepped linear silhouette in a variety of finishes.

Credit: L:indsay Salazar

Wow with wooden elements

Let’s face it: Trends come and go faster than you can say, “kitchen island.” Translation? It’s likely all-white spaces will make a comeback in a few years’ time. “We still love an all-white kitchen,” shares designer Kirsten Krason, co-founder of House of Jade Interiors. “Although it might not be the ‘trendiest’ thing right now, in our opinion, it’s still a classic.”

That said, if you want to warm up your space now without compromising its trend factor later, add some natural elements into the scheme. “Rustic beams or wood open shelves would give your kitchen so much character, ” says Krason. “If that’s out of the budget, bring in some rustic cutting boards to decorate with,” she says.