Interiors, Kitchen, Trends

Beyond the Pale: Painted Kitchen Cabinets Now and Then

Color is creeping back in style as an option for painted kitchen cabinets.  This past year with my small design studio, I’ve designed 2 variations of navy blue kitchens (one modern, the other rustic), I painted my kitchen cabinets black (love them) and recently had a client’s kitchen painted a beautiful, soft blue/gray.  White will always be a classic option, but increasingly my clients are wanting color.  Granted, a lot of them are going for two-toned looks with the uppers kept white, but still – it’s not all white.

I finished this two-toned kitchen this past year. (Photo by Sara Yoder.  Project with Laura Medicus Interiors)

Would you like some history about color in American kitchens?  Design is not created in a vacuum and our current kitchen trend is based on history.  Color in kitchens started to become popular in the 1930’s with the invention of electric appliances, although white kitchens were still incredibly popular (Source).

A 1930’s Armstrong kitchen. I like some aspects of this – the pink and green combo is a little much for me though. (Source)

All white kitchens and bathrooms were a response to the discovery of germs which kicked off an obsession with cleanliness (Source).  It’s a good theory – all white gave the germs no place to hide.  When I look back at photo’s of these kitchens, they really do look sterile.   I imagine a woman obsessed with keeping her small, all-white operating room of a kitchen clean.  I can’t imagine many great meals would come of that.

A kitchen from the 1920’s or 30’s. Depressing, isn’t it? (Source)

You can only do without fun for so long and bright, colorful, metal cabinets were introduced in Levittown in the late 1940’s and heavily influenced the kitchens in the 1950’s (Source) as the kitchen started to become a very popular room in the home.  At this point, women were the main household cook.  More masculine, cabinetry didn’t become popular until it became cool and acceptable for men to cook for their families.  There’s even a funny article in The Guardian comparing today’s kitchen to the new Man Cave.

Here’s a two-toned (does this trend sound familiar to you?) kitchen from 1957.   (Source)

Why are colorful painted cabinets coming back in right now?  Most likely it’s a response to the all white walls and cabinets that have been popular for so long.  I just met with a client today who had been planning to do white cabinets and today has decided she wants a color.  I think most people want their kitchen to look just as good as their neighbor’s but they don’t want it to look exactly like their neighbors.  A color is an easy way to express individuality and style.

Here are 5 current looks for painted kitchen cabinets – and I couldn’t resist throwing in a few historic kitchens with similar colors for comparison!

From Plain English: A deep olive green for the perimeter and a lighter green for the island.  There’s a lot to love here, but I especially love the copper and black wall sconces at the stove.  (Source)
Pale, almost periwinkle blue cabinets. (Source)
A beautiful all navy blue kitchen. Brass hardware with navy blue is gorgeous, isn’t it?  Curious mix of metals with the 2 sink faucets on one island though.  (Source)
The Frankfurt kitchen from 1926 – navy blue with maple. I thought it was interesting to see a blue kitchen from the 20’s.   I like that stool.  (Source)
The yellow kitchen in the public space at Rivertown Lodge in Hudson, New York.  I have a complicated relationship with yellow and I’m uncertain how I feel about this color on cabinets.  I can understand it more in that this is a hotel, not a home and I like it with the dark countertops.  (Source)
I had to put this in to show you a yellow kitchen from the 1940’s that reminded me of the Rivertown Lodge kitchen. How about those cute little square drawer fronts under the peninsula?   (Source)
I love this soft greenish color – so pretty! This is a very traditional kitchen and I think it shows that color on your cabinets isn’t necessarily trendy. Great cabinetry is great cabinetry no matter what color it’s painted.  (Source)

I got a little carried away with this post – I had to stop myself from boring you with more details on the history of color in the kitchen!  I think the evolution of the kitchen is an interesting one.  It seems to be tied up with social and economic class as well as women’s history and our place in the current society.

“Any time women come together with a collective intention, it’s a powerful thing. Whether it’s sitting down making a quilt, in a kitchen preparing a meal, in a club reading the same book, or around the table playing cards, or planning a birthday party, when women come together with a collective intention, magic happens.” – Phylicia Rashad






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