Lydia Geisel

Published on August 9, 2021

white kitchen wiht a view of the front doorPin It
Photography by Helen Norman; Design by Anne Tollett of Hanover Avenue

Ask any designer what separates sterile white kitchen cabinets from the sublime, and the answer will always be paint. Sure, millwork and hardware are crucial elements, but achieving the perfect balance of warm and cool undertones can really make a kitchen shine. That’s because white is rarely ever just white. Like blues and greens, white comes in a spectrum of shades that range from warmer yellow notes to cooler hints of greige

The question of which is the best white paint for kitchen cabinets sparks an age-old debate, mainly because the hue can look cool and crisp in a room with tons of natural light, or somber gray in a space with fewer windows. On a mission to narrow down the seemingly infinite options, we pinpointed a few of our favorite white kitchens and asked the designers behind each to reveal the shade they used and why it worked. From bright to creamy, here are seven white paints that feel like a stroke of brilliance.

A Few Things to Keep in Mind

Lighting: Light from a window, floor lamp, or recessed cans in the ceiling can dramatically alter the appearance of white hues, particularly when it comes to paint. “I prefer matte finishes when you have lots of natural light, as this feels more organic,” notes Decorist designer Casey Hardin. “Low-light spaces are a great place to use glossy finishes, as they reflect more light and, in turn, brighten a darker space that is relying on artificial light.” 

Cool versus warm tones: If you’re going for a more traditional or rustic vibe, consider a soft white with warm undertones. For the modern and contemporary, a cooler white can be more stimulating, making it a great choice for a kitchen or home office where you want to feel energized, adds Hardin. 

Cabinet material: Kitchen cabinets come in all shapes, sizes, and materials—the most popular being wood, laminate, melamine, and MDF (medium-density fiberboard). Most laminated veneers can handle paint or a combined paint and primer in one without any prep work, but for surfaces like wood, it’s always a good idea to lightly sand it and use a deglosser (if there’s a previous job to remove) first. For all: Always wipe down and clean your cabinets first.

Our Top Picks

Best Neutral: Farrow & Ball Shaded White

NYC loft with wood floors and white eat in islandPin It
Photography by Nicole Franzen; Design by Space Exploration

Kevin Greenberg, founding principal at design studio Space Exploration, prioritizes contrast, even if the juxtaposition is barely noticeable. In this New York City loft, for example, he offset white walls by painting the lower cabinets in this darker gray-beige. His secret to making a streamlined kitchen feel considered: “Don’t forget the little things, like the finish and location of your outlets, or appliances that are as handsome as they are functional.”

Best Airy: Dunn-Edwards Whisper

wood ceiling aframe cabinPin It
Photography by Ryan Garvin; Design by Shannon Wilkins

If Shannon Wilkins is ever choosing between two paint colors, the tiebreaker is always white. Her logic: It sets the stage for cohesion. In this A-frame cabin in Big Bear Lake, California, for instance, the designer used the same airy hue on the cabinets, walls, and floors.

Best Classic: Benjamin Moore Simply White

A few pros we talked to consider this timeless swatch their go-to, including Ashley Clark of Shop Skout, who used it in her own Newport Beach, California, kitchen. “It’s a tiny bit warm, without any yellow,” she says. When Mandy Cheng covered the cabinets the same shade in this Manhattan Beach retreat, she contrasted it with the brand’s moody charcoal color, Soot, on the island.

Best Depth: Porter’s Paints Popcorn

bright white space filled with vintage decorPin It
Photography and Design by Kara Rosenlund

If you’re still wondering why everyone and their mother love a white kitchen, travel photographer and designer Kara Rosenlund sums it up simply: “It bounces so much light around, allowing the space to feel larger, but it also brightens your mood.” Her kitchen is the definition of uplifting, with a large cutting board hanging on the wall and vintage paintings casually leaning on the counter.

Best Cool: Benjamin Moore Decorator’s White

archway alcove with shelves and white cabientsPin It
Photography by Dionel Fisher; Design by KLH Custom Homes

This hue may be part of the company’s Classics Collection, but Liz Hoekzema took a contemporary approach in this Grand Rapids, Michigan, home by pairing it with a soft shade of millennial pink. It’s a favorite of many for a fair reason: It pulls in all the natural light, creating a bright, clean effect to help other colors and objects pop, especially in a room with a lot of windows.

Best Warm: Benjamin Moore Swiss Coffee

white creamy kitchen cabinetsPin It
Photography and Design by Studio Mcgee

As far as off-whites go, this creamy option reigns supreme. Shea McGee used the warm color on the cabinets and walls in this space, opting for equally airy bleached white oak for the kitchen door and island base.

Best Bright: Benjamin Moore Chantilly Lace

brass wall sconces and white kitchen with subway tilePin It
PHOTOGRAPHY BY JEANNE CANTO; Design by Holli Rodrigues

Holli Rodrigues was torn between this swatch and the brand’s Simply White when she was designing this European-inspired kitchen. The determining factor? Chantilly Lace offers balance; it’s not too stark, not too warm. No wonder she calls it the “perfect bright white.” 

Ask Domino

How do I estimate how much paint I’ll need to buy for my cabinets?

You’ll only need one or two gallons of paint for most kitchens. But to determine an exact amount, Hardin recommends multiplying the length and height of your cabinets to get the total square footage, then dividing that number by the paint’s promised coverage (typically 400 square feet). If your cabinets have a lot of millwork, Hardin suggests adding 10 percent more to the total. 

How often should kitchen cabinets be repainted?

Repainting cabinets is a big undertaking,” says Hardin, which is why you only want to consider it for a major style overhaul. But there aren’t any hard-and-fast rules on how often you need to touch things up. To ensure longevity, she advises DIYers to always sand and prime cabinets before painting. 

How We Vetted These Products

Every product in a Domino guide meets these criteria: 

  1. They blend form and function. We believe the best-designed products reflect your personal style and are a joy to use. 
  2. They’re expert approved. In addition to our team of editors, we tap a range of designers, makers, renovators, and all-around knowledgeable people to share their intel. 
  3. They’re endorsed by people who actually own them. We pay close attention to real reviews to know that they pass the test IRL. 

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