Color may not change the world, but it is one of the strongest ways to define the look, feel and mood of a space. This is particularly apparent in the kitchen and bath - two spaces where the emotional resonance is as much a part of the design scheme as the physical design elements.
In these key rooms, color can be used to warm up the space or create a cool retreat; call attention to an interesting design element or draw the eye away from something less than appealing; reshape the space visually or make the space appear larger or more cohesive; add a cheerful vibe or create a sense of quiet elegance. Indeed, when it comes to what color can do, the opportunities are nearly limitless.
So how are kitchen and bath designers using color today? According to Mary Nolte, interior designer and color consultant for Bayport, NY-based Kaleidoscope Color Consulting & Design, people are looking for kitchens and baths that create warmth. She states: "The feeling of warmth is attainable whether we are using hues that are warm or cool." She points out that to create the desired effect, a number of factors must be taken into consideration, "including the color's undertones, intensity, luminosity, texture of surfaces and placement."
Specifically, she notes that soft blues and greens are growing in popularity in the kitchen and bath, particularly when paired with lighter and white cabinetry. Gray is also trending upward, she adds.
Meanwhile, the Color Marketing Group, based in Alexandria, VA, has announced that "Honeymoon," an upbeat mustard gold, will be hot for 2011 for its cheerful properties.
"No matter the color tones, we are seeing a desire for richer, deeper hues," says Nancy Moon, of Colorado Springs, CO-based Beckony Kitchens. "Rich, dark browns and creamier off-whites as well as the whitest of whites are very popular, and blue is making a determined comeback."
She continues: "Glass tile in matte and gloss finishes is envied in blues, greens and other earth tones. The driving force for these trends is the movement bringing us closer to nature, and the simplicity that we find there. The desire for comforting spaces is often met with color."
The Right Color
According to Nolte: "The biggest advantage in incorporating the right color is ultimately providing clients with a kitchen or bath that makes them happy - not just when the room is new, but to have that happiness be sustained over time."
Jennifer Gilmer, CKD, of Jennifer Gilmer Kitchen & Bath in Chevy Chase, MD, believes choosing a color scheme isn't just about aesthetics; it's about reflecting who the homeowner is. She explains: "Clients can select colors that blend with their look, personality and the clothes they wear. It can really make a statement."
Color also helps define the way a space feels, according to Nolte, who states: "Regardless of the color used, generally speaking, less contrast in the colors used will create a more subdued feeling while more contrast is more energizing."
She continues: "[You also want to] use colors that complement the rest of the home in a meaningful way. It's important to blend kitchen colors with the upholstery, rugs and other furniture in the family room. Going from one room to the other should feel comfortable and seamless, not jarring."
Nolte concludes: "Color follows trends. The challenge is to determine whether the clients like the colors because they are the current trend or if they will still love those colors five or 10 years from now. When interviewing new clients, it's always part of the 'getting to know you' stage to ask questions about how the clients will view their space and the feeling the color creates over time."
While neutral colors are often chosen to maintain resale value, the trend toward personalization continues to impact color choices as well, with consumers seeking colors that reflect who they are and the mood they'd like to bring to their individual spaces. As the economy improves and people begin to feel more optimistic in general, that mood is often reflected in bolder, brighter color choices.
However, incorporating bold colors into the overall aesthetic of the room can be a challenge. Designers agree that choosing one area for the application of vibrant color can help to create the desired energy without overwhelming the space.
Gilmer believes: "People tend to like natural colors and then add punch using vibrant color." This may translate to a neutral colored kitchen with a brightly colored island or countertop, a splash of color on the backsplash or an accent color chosen for kitchen or bath accessories.
According to Nolte, paint is another option for adding color, and she says: "The kitchen and bath are conducive to paint colors that may be a bit bolder than a client may imagine."
She continues: "The kitchen generally has limited painted surfaces so bold wall color is minimal in proportion to the rest of the elements of the room. The wall color has tremendous impact on the overall look of the kitchen, and can manipulate the feeling projected, particularly in a room that incorporates all neutrals and doesn't have the life the client expected."
Of course, not everyone wants to confine color to a few bold splashes. Gilmer recounts a recent kitchen project where she incorporated lime green and gray on the cabinetry, a green counter and green glass backsplash tiles. She notes: "Most people wouldn't be daring enough to use these colors, but the outcome is really stunning and it still attracts attention from clients and media."
Another area where bold colors seem to do well is the powder room. Gilmer explains: "Powder rooms are, in my opinion, the best place for a client to be bold with color and all design elements. Often, clients want to make a design statement, but are scared to do so. A powder room is perfect to let loose because the room is relatively small and little time is spent in it - just enough time to make you smile because of the satisfying feeling of having a decorated room."
Whether choosing bold colors or more subtle tones, designers agree that balance is critical. For instance, Nolte notes that when working with wood tone cabinetry, she leans toward a green hue. "Since the warm tones of wood cabinetry are opposite green on the color wheel, the cabinets look amazing on walls painted in the green family."
Color can also be used to balance light and dark elements in a space. For instance, while dark cabinets were out of vogue for a while, Gilmer states: "Today, consumers realize that dark cabinets are not necessarily a bad thing.
They realize that when using dark cabinets, as long as they incorporate lighter tones on countertops, tile, paint color, etc., then the composition does not feel dark and oppressive."
Proper lighting is also key to creating a dynamic color scheme, according to Nolte. She explains: "Lighting is paramount in every aspect of color. When working with a client, we view colors that are being considered in many different lighting conditions, such as day or night, natural and lamps, bright spots and shadows."
Moon adds: "A lot of light on a dark color will add drama without making the space feel smaller, whereas that same color with minimal light levels brings the walls closer and creates a feeling of intimacy and personal space. Really, color choices and light levels define the atmosphere and function of a room."
Gilmer agrees: "Lighting is very important, since certain lights can make colors change in appearance by making them more yellow or more green. Incandescent lighting can yellow a light/white color and fluorescent lights can make color either warmer or colder, depending on the type of bulb used."
Mike Mason, sales manager at Kitchen by Design in Allentown, PA, believes that lighting also opens up more color options. He explains: "Inadequate lighting leads customers to believe they have a 'dark kitchen' and must choose all light hues in order to counterbalance the perceived problem. Updated lighting alleviates this issue, allowing us to consider all hues in making appropriate and aesthetically pleasing color selections."
As the aging Baby Boomer demographic increasingly embraces - or at least becomes more open to hearing about - Universal Design principles, designers are finding that color is a great way to introduce people to the concept.
Nolte explains: "Color and pattern are important considerations for safety and Universal Design. Contrasting colors can aid people with impaired eyesight navigate more easily through a location."
Moon adds: "As the eye ages, it is less able to discern between color values (darkness and light), and this can lead to accidents and injury in the kitchen and bath. Contrast makes it easier for older eyes to see the difference in planes - floor, countertop, seating and ceiling - and increases spatial awareness, thus allowing the occupants to use their home safely each day."