Published on November 8, 2019

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Photography by Christopher Dibble

Nate Berkus gets it: We are, collectively, bored of white kitchens. “Our eyes get tired of seeing the same thing over and over. When a client asks us for a white-on-white kitchen, my business partner and I are like: Oh, no, okay, we’ll do another white kitchen. I know a lot of designers feel that way,” he tells us. But playing devil’s advocate to his own argument, he also understands the draw of a crisp, monochrome space: “It’s timeless, and for most people, it’s the largest investment they’re going to make in their home.” 

All this to say: Love it or hate it, it doesn’t look like this style is going anywhere anytime soon. Whether you’re saddled with an uninspiring space in your rental or simply want to make the look your own, the key is to put a few spins on the classic. Here’s how Berkus would approach the matter: 

Don’t Use Kitchen Items as Decor

Counterintuitive? Maybe. Fresh? Definitely. Instead of relying on the usual tea towels and fun glassware, bring in pieces you wouldn’t necessarily find in that space. For example, repurpose a terracotta vase to hold your mixing spoons. “Every horizontal surface in a home, whether it’s the kitchen counters—especially the kitchen counters!—or the mantel is an opportunity to tell a personal story through accessories,” says Berkus. 

Wherever Possible, Choose Vintage

Much of our fatigue of all-white kitchens stems from the fact that they so often look the same: contemporary and streamlined. The antidote to this problem may lie in your friendly neighborhood thrift shop. “I’d rather go to a flea market and find a beautiful carved wood vessel, and have that sitting on the counter than something you can find that’s mass-produced,” says Berkus. Some of his favorite secondhand scores for the kitchen: antique frames for photos, groupings of old pottery pieces, and even a vintage lamp plugged in on an island. 

Go All Out on Materials

“At the moment, I’m really loving Clé tile and its hand-glazes,” says Berkus. “I’ve found myself reaching for antique terracotta pavers, too.” Adding dimension to a one-note space can be as simple as swapping subway tile for zellige or substituting a marble with minimal veining for a busier option. Berkus used what he calls “probably one of the loudest marbles” in his just-renovated New York City home—it may be white, but it has several different colors running through it. In this case, it pays to think small. 

See more kitchen designs we love:
20 Kitchen Cabinet Hardware Options Pulling Their Weight
The Simple Trick That’ll Get You Excited About Open Shelving Again
When It Comes to Ugly Lower Cabinets, You Can Skirt the Issue

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