- - Thursday, March 8, 2012

While avocado and harvest gold appliances are nowhere to be found in most kitchens in 2012, some classic color trends, such as a black-and-white kitchen, are unlikely to ever fade from popularity. In addition to classic color schemes, homeowners and interior designers are looking for ways to wash their kitchens in light and color that are both neutral and innovative.

Nadia Subaran, senior designer and co-owner of Aidan Design in Bethesda, said, “Some customers come in with a color palette in mind or are focused on a particular selection, such as hardwood flooring to connect with other floors in the home. Other customers want a specific tile or cabinet color to establish the theme for their kitchen.

“People still love the classic white, black and beige palette, but they are adding a more contemporary flair with colors like gray, mushroom, oyster and slate.”

Homeowners today are remodeling their older kitchens to open them up to the family room, to the outdoors or both, said Patricia Tetro, a principal and owner of Bowa in McLean.

“Everyone wants their kitchen to be light and open, so we’re seeing more people wanting white cabinets instead of dark woods,” Ms. Tetro said. “Our customers are looking for clean lines, with fewer details on the cabinets. Sometimes in a larger kitchen we’ll still see a more elaborate center island, but in general people are less formal now and they want to keep their kitchen in line with the furniture in other rooms.”

When choosing a color palette for a kitchen, consumers need to be aware of the variations in color created by natural light versus artificial light.

“If a kitchen doesn’t have a lot of windows and doesn’t have under-cabinet lighting, it’s better to choose a lighter backsplash,” said David Benson, part-owner and vice president of sales for Architectural Ceramics in Rockville. “A kitchen with a lot of natural light offers more options.”

Eve Fay, a colorist with Farrow & Ball, a paint and wallpaper manufacturer in the District, said lighting is important for safety in the kitchen as well as aesthetics.

“Natural light is great, but if you have a darker space, you need to bring in additional lighting and lighter paint colors,” Ms. Fay said. “You should also eliminate the lines of contrast between where colors begin and end. For instance, in a small, dark space, you should paint everything the same color, from the trim to the walls to the ceiling.”

Not only does natural light influence color choice, but so do other colors within a room. In the kitchen, the appliances, flooring, walls, counters, cabinets and backsplash must be considered together.

“Color is only perceived by what’s relative to it, so all the other colors in a room will impact each other,” Ms. Fay said. “For example, certain paint colors, such as a blackened or washed white that has some blue in it, will look best with stainless steel appliances.”

Ms. Subaran said light neutral colors, including painted gray cabinets, are popular. She has been selected to design the kitchen in the 2012 DC Design House and is using a creamy white color for the walls with mother-of-pearl iridescent tiles for the backsplash, honed matte gray tile flooring and slate gray cabinets.

“Most kitchens do not have a lot of open wall space, so very few people choose dramatic wall colors,” Ms. Subaran said. “More architectural colors work to frame the negative space, such as colors with a brown or gray base rather than pastels.”

Ms. Subaran pointed out that kitchens typically have lots of natural stone or wood finishes and brown- and gray-based paints are closer to nature than pastels.

While many homeowners choose to stick with neutral colors in their kitchen, Ms. Fay said some homeowners use vibrant colors, such as orange or turquoise, in small doses.

“It seems like young families like to use pops of color with paint to add energy to the room,” Ms. Fay said. “There are no hard and fast rules, everyone has a personal opinion on paint colors.”

Many homeowners opt to add color through their kitchen accessories or with a bold choice of pattern in a granite or marble counter, Ms. Tetro said.

“People are not playing it as safe as they did in the past with their countertops,” she said. “But something has to be in the background, you can’t have everything in the kitchen bold.

“That’s part of the reason I think people are returning to white cabinets. We’re seeing counter choices go in two different directions: either a marble in gray, white and black, or a granite counter with stronger colors, such as taupe and cranberry.”

In addition to adding color with the counters, homeowners are using the backsplash to coordinate or complement other colors in the kitchen. Ms. Tetro said some homeowners are choosing to pull some of the colors from the counter to use as a backsplash.

“The countertop is a horizontal plane, so even when the countertop pattern is busy, you don’t see it as much as you do the backsplash,” Mr. Benson said. “The backsplash is more of a focal point because it is so visible. A lot of people get a little busier with the tile over the range and maybe frame that out, then keep the rest of the backsplash simple.”

For kitchen floors, many homeowners are choosing hardwood because it provides continuity with other nearby rooms and can be comfortable for standing. Ms. Subaran said some homeowners are going with porcelain, particularly in large 12-by-24-inch tiles because this material offers a less costly and easy-to-maintain alternative to wood and natural stone.

“Tile flooring offers more color options than hardwood, doesn’t scratch or stain as easily, lasts longer than wood in the kitchen and is easier to keep clean,” Mr. Benson said.

While homeowners on a budget may not be able to knock out walls, add new windows and replace everything in their kitchen, there are steps that can be taken to update the kitchen in a less-costly fashion.

“If you have a 10-by-10-foot kitchen, you can put in a new floor at $3 per square foot or about $300 and add 25 square feet of backsplash tiles for about $250,” Mr. Benson said. “Depending on what you choose, you can spend $500 or $10,000 on tile work.”

Cabinets can be replaced at a wide range of price points. Ms. Subaran said flat-panel laminate cabinets in a gray tone can look luxurious. And fresh paint is an inexpensive way to change the color palette of a room.

The key to a modern kitchen is to keep color tones neutral and to focus on making the kitchen as light and clean as possible.

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