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“I’m more focused on the ingredients than the recipe,” says Beth Diana Smith. The New Jersey–based designer isn’t referring to cooking but rather kitchen renovations. Really, she’s talking about ones that involve classic white cabinets—a request from one of her latest clients. The crisp white doors were a major step above the old drab wood ones, but the classic color proposed a challenge for Smith: How do you make a white kitchen with black hardware feel interesting? You have to spice up one of your other ingredients. “I knew I had to do a really textural backsplash,” she says. 

The key was to steer clear of shiny white 2-by-4-inch or 2-by-6-inch subway tiles. So Smith picked out ceramic rectangles from Tile Bar’s Portmore collection ($7.50 per square foot). Not only are they super-long (they’re 3 by 8 inches), they’re two-toned, creating a checkerlike pattern when used on a large scale. “They are so multifaceted,” she says, noting how the shades vary from cool gray-white to creamy beige. The fact that they’re glazed gives each one a handmade quality, and the grooves and imperfections help reflect light around the room. 

brown kitchen cabinets
white cabinets near winodw

Another unexpected decision the designer made: She took them all the way up to the ceiling. “I hate when I see an upper cabinet right next to a window or up against molding,” says Smith. Wanting to give the window some visual breathing room, she clad the area around it in the tiles, too. “Now you have this beautiful view when you’re looking into the kitchen from the living room,” she notes.

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Other elements that make a white kitchen exciting, according to the pro? Jewelry-like pendant lamps, a high-contrast peninsula (the underside of this one is black), and wood accents in the form of curved counter stools. Blank canvas who?

Kitchen Cabinets photo
Portmore White Glazed Tile, Tile Bar ($7.50 per square foot)