Well, well, well…what do we have here? MORE READER REQUESTS COMING TO FRUITION! In my quest to make everyone’s kitchen a whole lot better without any reno, I’m back with my third installment of non-boring kitchen color palettes. This time, we’re entering the realm of dark-slash-espresso cabinets. I’ve gotta tell you, this one gave me a run for my money, and it found me bankrupt and destitute. Unearthing inspiration took me days. Knowing what to do with that inspiration took me another few days. Texts were sent back and forth between me and the EHD team… “I can’t do it…I need more time…I’m a failure.”
If you missed it, I tamed the wild beasts that were honey oak and cherry kitchen cabinets. The warmth of both of these wood finishes actually gave me a lot to work with. It’s much easier making something made to be inviting feel inviting. But espresso cabinets? These were made to feel “elevated” and “fancy” by the builders that graced many an “upgraded” kitchen in the 2000s (and even now). But most of the photos I found of dark wood-stained cabinets felt cold and uninspired, tbh. Everything was brown, cream, or beige (but like, the not great kind of cream or beige), and NEEDED MORE INTEREST & COLOR.
I get it because it’s H-A-R-D to bring these to life. I see that now. I had to
walk crawl so you could run…straight into your espresso kitchen twirling with your arms up in delight for a new design scheme to make that build kitchen better. Where honey oak and cherry kitchens seemed to run the gamut with regards to the countertops, espresso kitchens had one of four options about 98% of the time: heavily veined cream granite, white/marble-like quartz, black granite, and gray granite. So that’s what I tried to build off of here, creating schemes for each scenario.
Get ready to invite over your friends, your family, and even that neighbor you try to avoid on your nightly walks because your kitchen is about to seriously level up and everyone needs to see it.
But first, a few ground rules, as per usual.
How To Read The Moodboards
Everything pictured is representative of a concept, rather than just a direct one-to-one product pick. Meaning, I may show a runner, but maybe you have room for a 4×6…pull shades from my sample; you need barstools rather than a dining chair but I’m showing one or the other…just borrow the color or material idea; Maybe you need a long linear chandelier over an island or even sconces above a window rather than a pendant…that’s cool, it’s a style inspiration. Etc., etc., etc.
Espresso Cabinet Helpful Tips
As for the kitchen itself, espresso (or any dark-stained wood) cabinet fronts and frames are the heaviest of the entire bunch. I think even heavier than straight black because it doesn’t work that well with bright white as a contrast. The slight red undertones feel stark against a true white unless you have the right elements already in place to balance it (the right floors, the right layout, the right amount of natural light). So, assuming anyone here who could use my design tips is working with what they have with the exception of a few little updates here and there (lighting, backsplash, hardware), that’s not going to be the case.
If you’re willing to put in a little bit more elbow grease and $$$, here are just a few things that can drastically modernize the vibes in your dated, dark kitchen:
- Hone your granite. I discussed this in my earlier post where I walked through real reader kitchens, but bringing down the sheen on that mirror-finish granite is key if you can muster it. I don’t know why everything had to GLOW in the year 2010, but espresso cabinets are already so shiny, let’s amp it up even more with an ice skating rink on your countertops, shall we? Rates on labor vary depending on where you live and how much counter area you have, but it’s much more reasonable (and less wasteful) than ripping out your stone for something new.
- Considering losing the weight up top. At this point, I feel like I’m being paid by the No Uppers council for evangelizing the visual benefits of taking down some or all of your uppers if you have a dark or heavy wood kitchen. This obviously is in no way the route for someone in a small space who needs a lot of closed storage, but if you can spare them, rip those puppies out (carefully…you can save them, sell them, or donate them). That or consider painting just the top of your cupboards another color to lessen the load above your backsplash.
- Avoid anything overly ornate or industrial. That’s right. The name of the game here is middle of the road in terms of design style. Anything too heavy and you risk crossing over into Tuscan territory; too modern and you might as well grab your parka because it’ll be so cold and uninviting, you’ll be ordering takeout every night just to stay (figuratively) warm. We’re skipping any nickel, chrome or silver here and relying more on different brass finishes, some copper and even bronze.
Got it? Great! Let’s go!
If You Have Espresso Cabinets With Black Granite/Quartz…
I know, I know. These are not espresso cabinets. BUT! From all the photos of real, live espresso kitchens I found, they all had dark brown, slightly reddish tones to them, so when I saw this gorgeous kitchen by designer Lesya Pechenkina (shared by account @chateauderon), I knew it had to be a foundation for a color palette. The dark gray/black stone basically disappears and all you see is the gorgeous tile and the dark sage uppers. Black or charcoal velvet seating is also low-key, keeping everything visually calm and on the same wavelength to let an interesting tile be the star.
Here’s how I rendered out what I saw above. I desperately tried to find a similar mosaic tile, but at some point, I came across this one in the same color palette and I thought it would be an interesting addition. The mossy green paint color can be used on uppers, on an island you’re willing to paint, or even on walls (but I’d skip it in that application if you don’t get good natural light). The burnished brass hardware is so gorgeous and, just like the dark velvet seating and black granite, would feel muted but textural.
1. Vegas Cement Tile | 2. Succulent by Sherwin-Williams | 3. Kitchen Shelf Girder Black Brass | 4. KEPLER Knurled T-Bar Pull – Antique Brass | 5. HUMBOLDT Knurled Button Cabinet Knob – Antique Brass | 6. Cloak Pendant | 7. Azalea Mink Grey Velvet Dining Chair | 8. Pascala Moroccan Hand-Knotted Copper Wool Runner Rug | 9. Organic Cotton Roman Shade in Walnut
If You Have Espresso Cabinets With Cream Granite…
Remember Drew Michael Scott’s (a.k.a. Lone Fox) unreal DIY kitchen reimagining from this post? Well, it arrived wearing its cape to save the day for our second color palette for all your neutral girlies out there. And just like the first kitchen, let’s squint our eyes and use our imaginations because no, this doesn’t have a cream granite countertop. I’m sorry I can’t be literal a single time, but I promise there’s something here for you.
Yes, Drew’s beautiful and bold Arabescato Breccia (I think) marble is a far cry from the beige granite of the Boy Band era, but hear me out. The tumbled stone he used as his floor made me think that a tumbled marble might work great against a warm granite as a backsplash (or yeah, even a floor). It’s all about intention when it comes to making beige feel current. Don’t try to counteract it with too much white, because it’s going to look like you’re trying to hide it when in fact you’re making it even more obvious. He rounds his design out with antiqued brass and copper metallic accents and (not shown here) warm textiles throughout.
A creamy, taupe-y paint color would work on any vertical surface (wall, cabinet, island, display cabinet) and mirror a tumbled marble tile backsplash. Just like Drew, a mix of copper, bronze and burnished brass leans into the timeworn vibe here (again, without hitting “Tuscany” notes). I picked a cerused oak barstool for added texture and character.
1. Crema Marble Tile | 2. Beigeing by Clare | 3. Enclume Wall-Mounted Deep Bookshelf Rack in Copper | 4. Rhodes Drawer Pulls in Tumbled Brass | 5. Rhodes Cabinet Knobs in Tumbled Brass | 6. Andre Brass Cone Pendant Light | 7. Revival Boucle Oak Counter Stool by Athena Calderone | 8. Elowen Rug | 9. Belgian Flax Linen Roman Shade in Oatmeal
If You Have Espresso Cabinets With White Granite/Quartz:
If you have white or quartz countertops, congratulations because you won the espresso cabinet lottery. At least when it comes to styling it for modern day. Above, Queen Athena Calderone‘s Brooklyn brownstone (RIP) kitchen basically broke the Internet when we all saw it, so I couldn’t help but use it for something in today’s post. Again, not espresso cabinets but the ebony stain/paint on Athena’s Shaker fronts gave me the jumping-off point to build a similar color palette around. This was photographed for her collaboration with Beni Rugs and I just love how the yellow-toned green, taupe, and cognac play against the black.
I pulled straight from Athena’s photo with an olive green plush runner rug and a cognac velvet barstool. Plenty of black touches like shelving and the barstool’s metal frame feel modern but are balanced with warm Calacatta gold marble subway tile, a wicker and brass pendant, and a white chocolate Roman clay treatment for the walls. Honey bronze cabinet hardware is simple but stately. And I can never resist a linen pinstripe for a curtain treatment.
1. Calacatta Gold 2″ x 4″ Marble Mosaic Wall & Floor Tile | 2. Lumiere Roman Clay | 3. Skaksel Black Floating Shelf | 4. Top Knobs Barrington 7/8 Inch Round Cabinet Knob | 5. Top Knobs Rounded 4 Inch Center to Center Handle Cabinet Pull | 6. Uttermost Phuvinh 1 Light Rattan Shade Pendant | 7. Inna Bar Stool w/ Backrest | 8. Kole Performance Nylon Olive Green Runner Rug | 9. Montauk Pinstripe Sheer Fabric, Natural
The Inspiration (Part 2):
Since white countertops were much easier than the rest, I decided to do a second option for a different aesthetic, in case someone wanted something a little homier. I’ve had this image from Vestige Home bookmarked for a while. I admired the room’s Parisian-modern aesthetic, and I’d be hard-pressed to ever ignore a full marble mantel and surround with a carved wood mirror above it. But I scrolled past it in my journey to find inspiration for this post and after some consideration, I grabbed it to include here.
In the case of the espresso kitchen, I think this photo and the color palette I built from it would work best with the minimum amount of dark cabinets (meaning, in a space where the owners are willing to part with uppers). Otherwise, the crisp white might come off abrasive.
I can see this coming to life with a full wall of honed blush tile, dotted with red oak shelving. A modern metal light fixture is a foil to the vintage rug and Shaker cabinets, polished brass acts like jewelry and a dusty, denim blue upholstery plays nice with the blush while keeping it grounded.
1. Makoto 2.5″ x 10″ Matte Ceramic Wall Tile in Momoiro Blush | 2. SW 7005 Pure White by Sherwin Williams | 3. Volume Floating Shelves in Cool Walnut | 4. Rigdon Cabinet Knob With Round Backplate in Aged Brass | 5. Rigdon Drawer Pull in Aged Brass | 6. Gemma Black Pendant Lamp | 7. Nosh Denim Blue Counter Stool | 8. Gisa Vintage Distressed Runner Rug | 9. 2-pack Linen Curtain Panels
If You Have Espresso Cabinets With Gray Granite/Quartz:
We’ve reached the end, with our final countertop scenario: gray stone or granite. Not as friendly as white, but not as fickle as cream, gray granite really needs some warmth to make it feel more at home with dark wood cabinetry. I saw this image above (I believe from the Schoolhouse catalog a while back) and immediately wanted to try a wood backsplash. I also like how the hardware is just barely there and there’s only a touch of another color in the palette via a striped dish towel.
I knew I had to start with the wood backsplash first and foremost since that’s the main event here. I found this wood-looking tile that I thought would look awesome and be easier to maintain, but by all means, go the actual tongue-and-groove or shiplap route. Just be sure to keep the wood tone more neutral (not too red, not too yellow). Your espresso cabinets can’t handle much undertone competition. The blue comes into the mix in our soft goods like the rug (it was actually in Sara’s kitchen makeover, too!) and tier curtains. I picked Atrium White from Benjamin Moore because it’s a fantastic creamy non-yellow white, which is important if you’re dealing with gray surfaces. Dark bronze metal in the hardware and lighting feel nicely monochrome.
1. Montgomery Ribbon 24 in. x 48 in. Porcelain Ribbed Wood Look Wall Tile | 2. Atrium White OC-145 by Benjamin Moore | 3. No Stud Needed Floating Shelf – Simple Mount in Marble | 4. Linden Cabinet Knob in Dark Bronze | 5. Tilden Drawer Pulls in Dark Bronze | 6. Gabbie 1 – Light Schoolhouse Pendant in Oil Rubbed Bronze | 7. Riley Counter & Bar Stool in Cream | 8. Baltinglass Washable Runner Rug | 9. Cackleberry Home Navy Blue and White Ticking Stripe Woven Cotton Panel Curtains
So that’s that. I survived. I’m in 17 color palettes deep now as I reach the end of this series and honestly, I had so much fun. Espresso kitchens might have almost taken me out, but I conquered that mini-boss in the end.
As always, please chime in. I think we covered all the bases of the bad, dated kitchen wood finish club but if there’s anything else you want to see, let us know.
For now, stay tuned for an update on MY kitchen ASAP, because after all of this work, I’ve cooked up a handful of new ideas for myself. Let’s just say my moodboard looks quite different now and I’m rounding the corner on the finish line.
Your friend in design, Arlyn
Opening Image Credits: Design and photos by Drew Michael Scott of Lone Fox Home