If you're about to embark on a kitchen design or renovation, you may be considering the all-white kitchen—an elegant, timeless look. However, maintaining a spotless kitchen can be a challenge.
Below, we consider the upsides and downsides of using white cabinets that may not be immediately obvious, clear some misconceptions, and highlight some of the ways to get around common issues.
White is frequently used for its neutrality and simplicity. These characteristics make white a great base for large areas—like kitchen cabinetry—that are expensive or time-consuming to replace or update.
The simplicity of white cabinets also allow them to rise above short-lived trends, so you never enter your kitchen feeling like it was designed five or 10 years ago, when a particular shade of pink or blue was all the rage. At the same time, white cabinetry also works in just about any style kitchen—from country to vintage-inspired, and from modern to traditional.
Because of its versatility, white is also easy to update, accessorize, and add to. A kitchen can be given an entirely new personality just by keeping plain white cabinets and changing knobs and other hardware. What’s more, pops of color can be even more impactful next to white cabinetry because of the sharp contrast, so a color palette can be easily understood.
Finally, white in general reflects light, so white cabinetry will help to brighten a darker space or a kitchen that doesn’t have any natural light. White cabinets with a glossy finish will further help bounce light around, and can give the illusion of a larger space.
However, there are potentially negative aspects about white cabinets that should be kept in mind as well. Too much white can mean that a space feels clinical and cold, rather than clean and crisp. To avoid this type of situation, consider adding a splash of color or texture, mixing white cabinets with contrasting countertops or backsplashes. You may even choose a darker color for upper or lower cabinets, leaving the rest white.
Another negative aspect of white cabinets is the constant maintenance and cleaning they require. While white cabinetry doesn’t inherently get dirtier than, say, wood cabinets, it is certainly easier to see smudges, spills, and splashes, which tend to blend in more with darker or patterned cabinets. This also means that white kitchen cabinets need more maintenance beyond just cleaning, since it’s not just food-related dirt that is easily visible. It’s easier to see scratches, worn corners, and delaminating cabinet doors when the cabinets are white, making cabinets show their age more than other cabinet options.
What’s more, white can discolor over time when exposed to a lot of direct sunlight. But even these negative aspects of white cabinetry can be addressed: spills should be cleaned up quickly to avoid permanent discoloration, and selecting off-white cabinets can be a way to offset potential fading or discoloration from sun exposure.
In terms of wear and tear, it’s important to consider quality when purchasing white kitchen cabinets. Cheaper white cabinetry will certainly age less gracefully than higher-quality products. If manufactured and installed correctly, white kitchen cabinets can have just as long a life as other finishes and colors.
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