By Gretchen Roberts
From ruby-red refrigerators to handpainted tile murals, colors in the kitchen can range from kitschy to classic. How do you know which colors will outlast trends? "A classic color is timeless, associated with elements of nature that we think of as ever-present: rock, stone, pebbles, marble and granite," says Leatrice Eiseman, author of Color Messages and Meanings and director of the Pantone Color Institute. "There is an implied quality to anything so long-lasting, which would certainly translate into appliances, cabinets and other kitchen areas you hope would have longevity."
But choosing colors that will stand the test of time doesn't mean sacrificing style. "Neutrals aren't the only classic colors. Color can be rich and intense, like terra cotta or bright red, and still be classic," says Mary Jo Peterson, CKD, CBD, principal of Mary Jo Peterson Inc. and a columnist for Kitchen & Bath Design News. "You can create interest in a timeless design by taking color inspiration from an Oriental rug or a bright fabric, and using intense colors in small, replaceable amounts."
Here are classic color ideas for five areas of your kitchen:
You can't go wrong with wood — or can you? Even wood shades and types go in and out of style, says Paul Dybdahl, CKD, president of Dybdahl's Classic Kitchen in Middleton, Wis. "Light maples have run their course. People are asking for darker stained woods right now," he says.
Your best bet is to choose a finish somewhere between blonde and brunette, Mary Jo says. "Well-built cabinetry will last much longer than the finish will stay in style," she says. "Pick a simple door style and a medium finish, and if you want a new look just change the hardware every five years."
Considering painted cabinets? A shade of white is always classic, Paul says.
If you're pining for a specific shade: Just go for it, Mary Jo says. You can always paint the cabinets white if you have to sell. "At some point you have to give up on a color staying in style and choose it because you love it. I did my kitchen in a dark mahogany stained cherry. I still love it, because it matches my personality."
Bright custom countertop colors — such as red, yellow, turquoise and plum — are hot today, Paul says, but the bold look may not wow you tomorrow. Instead, look to the classic color trio of white, green or black for lasting color if you're choosing laminate, solid surface, tile or marble. "Laminates and solid surface aren't considered classic materials, but they can be very durable and, if you choose your color well, will last quite some time," he says.
Materials such as granite, quartz, ceramic tile and butcher-block-style wood come in naturally enduring colors, even though some choices are dramatic (think Zebrawood's exotic stripes or blue-and–green patterned granite). "Colors found in natural materials never go out of style, because we see them in nature and are comfortable with them," Mary Jo says.
Still stumped? Try looking around the rest of your house for inspiration, suggests Peggy Deras, CKD, CID, owner of Kitchen Artworks in San Francisco. "My inclination is to take cues from the rest of the house. The kitchen should not look like it dropped in from Mars." In other words, a deep brick shade that complements your Victorian decor is bound to stay in style longer than a random manufactured pattern released as fad of the year.
If you're set on a trendy countertop: Cover the island in boldly patterned granite, Mary Jo says. "It can become the piece of art in the room."
"Backsplashes are all over the board, as unique as each homeowner," Paul says. Lately he's been using wood that matches the cabinetry, while Mary Jo has seen backsplashes used as intense splashes of color in the room.
White subway tiles are the go-to classic backsplash, Peggy says. She often uses them in small kitchens, since light colors recede and make the space look bigger. Other time-tested options include a custom-made mosaic reflecting other colors in the room, and organic, natural choices such as the muted, neutral colors in tumbled marble or limestone.
If you want to make a big splash: Install the backsplash on a removable board instead of directly onto the wall, Mary Jo says. "You'll have something that says 'This is a really sharp kitchen,' but is easily replaceable."
Burnt orange, fire-engine red and eggplant are just a few shades you could select for your stove and fridge, but even more popular is stainless steel. "Stainless steel has always been around, but we don't think of it as timeless since it's taken over the market and we'll likely see a resistance to it in the future," Mary Jo says.
Instead, think monochrome when it comes to appliances. "I have never seen a white appliance date anything," Paul says. Mary Jo favors black, since it blends well with wood. Even better than white or black is letting the appliances recede and disappear with panels that match the cabinetry.
If the kitchen is your stage: "A cobalt-blue commercial range is entirely appropriate as a focal point," Mary Jo says.
Ceramic tile and wood are the go-to floors for kitchens. "A few years ago, light maple wood floors were very popular, but they've given way to warmer tones," Paul says. "Colors are in for hard-surface, natural stone. I haven't seen a white-tiled floor for years."
Paul recommends medium-dark wood flooring paired with slightly lighter cabinets to give the whole room a classic look. For tile floors, any earthy, natural color is a good choice. Just make sure you stick with one color. "You can get into trouble if you use a tile pattern on the floor, because it might date itself, though an all-over pattern is more timeless than one with focal points," Mary Jo says.
If you're going for drama: "I love hardwood floors in a medium- to light-golden tone that run diagonal toward a view or focal point," Deras says.