Never judge a kitchen by its cover. Just like how not all white cabinets are vanilla, not all dark kitchen cabinets are cold and cave-like. Navy blue can be both classic and cool (especially when paired with edgy appliances), while espresso can channel serious vintage vibes when surrounded by brass detailing. And don’t write off black (possibly the scariest color to choose for your cabinets, but the most rewarding when you get it right). Surprisingly, the dramatic shade plays nicely with soft pink walls and instantly makes dated granite countertops look fresh again. 

These nine sophisticated spaces all show how to get the most out of your dark kitchen cabinets, whether you’re going for playful and airy or mysterious and sultry. You’ll want to hang out on this end of the color spectrum for a while.

Add a Floral Touch 

Photography by Belle Morizio

Renters, take note of this clever apartment hack from Domino’s executive creative director, Kate Berry. She brightened up her extra-dark cupboards with a botanical Hermès wallpaper. The treatment is first applied to MDF panels and then sealed with glass panels so it’s splatter-resistant. 

Pair It With Pink

Rosa Portogallo countertops might not seem like the obvious companion for forest green cabinets, but this house in Kennebunk, Maine, does the rest of the space’s aesthetic justice (there’s a rainbow rug in one room; glass block walls in another). Why should your kitchen be serious if the rest of your house is not? 

Leave the Uppers All White

One tried-and-true strategy for pulling off dark kitchen cabinets in a space that is either lacking square footage or natural light: Switch out bulky uppers with streamlined floating shelves and paint everything from the waist up white. 

Stick to Tradition 

A black-blue hue like Naked Kitchens’s Blakeney Channel reads warm and cozy when used on classic Shaker-style doors, which are known for their flat center panel and square edges (simplicity at its finest). 

Help Them Shine

Dark cupboards that span floor to ceiling leave little opportunity for light to bounce around, but finishing the fronts in a reflective high-gloss treatment equals instant airiness. 

Embrace Hardy Textures 

Just when you thought wood-panel walls were a thing of the past, the “grandma” design trend is making a steady comeback, working wonders in rustic getaways like Alex Fawcett’s Northford, Connecticut, home, where the feature has been paired with matte black cabinet doors from IKEA. The combination of the two makes you want to hibernate for the winter.

Pepper in Little Treasures

While, yes, going light up top and dark on the lower cabinets does make a space feel brighter and bigger, you can turn the combo on its head and still achieve a similar effect. In production designer Maria Santana’s kitchen, leaning works on paper by Robert Motherwell, Fernand Léger, and Louise Nevelson, along with rows upon rows of glassware and ceramic vessels, take away the heaviness of the matte black boxes. 

Find an In-Between Tone

High-contrast features (i.e., a white waterfall island and tall black cupboards) definitely make a statement, but they can also feel disjointed if there’s nothing to connect them. Speckled gray terrazzo floors and backsplash blur the lines a bit and add much-needed texture. 

Build Off the Island

Shea McGee’s go-to move when designing a kitchen island: adding a structure of open shelving with a butcher block surface to one end. The touch of wood lends character to black or gray cabinets that might otherwise fall flat. Plus it almost looks like a piece of furniture.

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