Expert Guide: How To Use Two-Tone Cabinets In A Small Kitchen


If you have a smaller kitchen than most, you may assume you have limited design options and ideas. It’s simply not true! In fact, you can create some truly stunning looks in a small kitchen suite, such as a two-tone cabinet setup.

Use Two-Tone Cabinets in a Small Kitchen

Here’s a handful of ideas on how to use two-tone cabinets in a small kitchen:

  • Paint your lower cabinets darker than your upper units.
  • Match the temperature of your kitchen’s existing colors.
  • Try different textures and finishes.
  • Pick two neutral, visually harmless shades.
  • Frame colors with borders if you can.

Why choose two-tone cabinets?

The two-tone cabinet aesthetic has never truly gone out of style. It gives you the chance to explore a wider palette than you may normally feel restricted from. You can also create a wonderful sense of flow with contrasting or complementary shades.

Two-tone cabinets can help to disrupt what people expect of your kitchen, too. You don’t want to create a jarring look, as the aim is to create an aesthetic that’s surprising yet appealing. This is why being careful with your color wheel is vital!

Pro Tip: Embrace the Power of Contrast

In my experience, one of the best ways to make a small kitchen pop is to play with contrast. Painting your lower cabinets a darker shade than your upper units can create a striking visual effect that draws the eye and makes the space feel larger. Don’t be afraid to experiment with bold, deep colors for your lower cabinets – they can work wonders in highlighting the beauty of your kitchen.

How to two-tone your smaller kitchen cabinets

How to two-tone your smaller kitchen cabinets

In a small kitchen, it’s usually safe to choose one base color and to stick to it firmly. This can feel boring, but many homeowners feel restricted. 

Thankfully, there are a few careful ways you can make two tones work in spaces with few cabinets in place:

Go dark to draw focus

Consider painting lower cabinets in a dark shade, and higher units in a more neutral tone. To pull this off well, you’ll need to make your lower cabinets the focal point. You may disagree and choose a different focal point, which is of course fine!

Providing you choose a single focus and establish a darker shade there, milder tones elsewhere will draw it out. Consider a hard-working neutral shade of gray, for example. Most grays are easy to pair with bold, deep, and luxurious shades that work well in kitchens.

Don’t ignore temperature

Pro Tip #2: Pay Attention to Temperature

When I’m designing a small kitchen, I always take into account whether I’m working with warm or cool tones. Mixing the two can make the space feel disjointed, so I recommend sticking to either the darker and lighter ends of cool or warm tones. Remember, it’s not just about two different colors, but two shades that work harmoniously together.

Look carefully at whether you’re working with warm or cool tones. In such a small kitchen space, two-toning with one of each will appear jarring and disruptive. Instead, lean towards the darker and lighter ends of cool or warm.

This isn’t essentially working with ‘two tones’, but rather, ‘two shades’. The name of the practice may be a slight misconception in this regard.

The current color scheme of your kitchen will dictate what to work with. If you have light-toned walls, for example, choose light-toned cabinets. Study your color wheel and practice by painting posterboard to test.

Lean into textures and materials

Pro Tip #3: Play with Textures and Materials

Flat paint isn’t the only way to achieve a two-tone look. I’ve found that using different textures and materials can add depth and interest to a small kitchen. For instance, pairing warm wood with cool white or cream can create a natural, inviting feel. And don’t forget about your backsplash and tile choices – they can help balance out your two-tone cabinets beautifully.

Two-toning with texture may be more effective (and less jarring) than balancing with flat paint. For example, warm wood may complement cool white or cream. This could be a natural pairing that may not even strike as ‘two-tone’ unless you really focus.

Two-toning in this regard can help to add deeper texture and versatility to your kitchen space. In a smaller kitchen suite, consider wooden doors on lower cabinets and delicate white or neutral tones on your uppers. 

You can also complement two-tone cabinets by carefully balancing cool and warm with tile and backsplash choices.

Go for full luxury with lower cabinets and worktops

The lower set of cabinets and worktops in your kitchen will likely demand darker tones than your upper units. Switching this around can make things look imposing and uncomfortable. So, why not consider a deeper, darker, luxury finish to lower cabinets and units?

You may consider worktop finishes in marble accents or in busy granite, for instance. Balance these with glossy black or dark-toned cabinet fronts.

Then, lean into white, cream or neutral colors for upper cabinets. Your eyes will immediately draw to lower cabinets, and your kitchen will also seem larger.

Two-toning your kitchen can work wonders for small spaces in need of visual elbow room. You don’t have to choose luxury finishes and materials, but they can help complete this look.

Make your life easier with borders

There’s no hard and fast rule to use solid colors top and bottom in your kitchen suite. To help ease two-toning in a smaller space, consider adding frame colors to either row.

As an example, you could embellish plain white upper cabinets with dark, wooden framing. Use the same tone and style of wood for your lower cabinets. This will help to tie the two levels together into a more coherent flow.

You may also wish to mimic this effect for lower cabinets, too. Why not add lighter touches to your ground floor units to complement the upper level? 

Don’t always assume this look will work well for both levels at once. Too many borders could overpower or overstimulate the look. In a smaller space, you need as little visual traffic as possible.

Choose two neutral shades

A great way to two-tone a smaller kitchen is to avoid bold or distracting colors or shades altogether. Instead, lean towards neutral paint or cabinets that complement each other without creating focal points.

For instance, you may wish to experiment with shades of gray. Or, you could choose a fully neutral beige and opt for a gently cooling or warming partner.

Smaller kitchens will always benefit from little visual hassle. Too many stark differences in contrast or design touches can create an overwhelming aesthetic. In some cases, following this route may even make spaces look even smaller!


fqas Use Two-Tone Cabinets in a Small Kitchen

Will two-toned kitchens go out of style?

It’s unlikely two-toned kitchens will ever go out of style. What will go out of style instead are the colors used in this type of setup. I’d recommend you choose neutral or ‘evergreen’ colors to two-tone and match, and avoid risking your kitchen looking kitsch.

Should I make my upper cabinets darker or lighter?

Try to make your upper kitchen cabinets darker than your lower units. Doing so will help to establish a more open space and avoid you creating a jarring look.

If your kitchen benefits from abundant natural light, lighter tones in upper cabinets can help it to travel further.

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