How kitchens are being enlivened with colour, from romantic juniper tones to mustard and olive for the brave

When decorating kitchens, colour is now definitely on the menu, says Arabella Youens.

Traditionalists might baulk, but a variety of rich or vibrant hues are finding their way into kitchens. In country house kitchens of old, the emphasis was on the practical rather than decorative, says interior designer Edward Bulmer, who has worked on a number of Grade I-listed houses. ‘The kitchen at Burghley, Lincolnshire, with its painting of a butchered ox by Frans Snyders, was perhaps an exception,’ he adds. ‘In the main, the priorities were that materials were fireproof, serviceable, sturdy and washable.’

Mr Bulmer explains that painted cabinetry became a necessity when softwood timber was more commonly used in kitchens. A clear coating of linseed oil was required to protect the wood, but it tended to yellow over time.

‘Adding some pigment to the linseed became a well-trodden route,’ says Mr Bulmer, who is an expert in natural paint-making methods. ‘It was down to budget, of course; spaces that were largely used for servants wouldn’t be painted with expensive pigments. Hence the ubiquitous use of browns and off whites in kitchens.’

Serpentine and Pink Dusk by Tom Howley

Increasingly, however, kitchens are being enlivened with colour, not only on cabinetry but appliances, too.

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The Florentine manufacturer, Officine Gullo, finishes its units and appliances in a choice of colours ranging from zesty orange to baby pink ( Everhot, the Cotswolds-based manufacturer of range cookers, offers models in vivid shades of teal, mustard and tangerine (

Those who are nervous about embracing strong colours in a kitchen are opting to paint cabinets in one colour as another part takes a contrasting hue. This can either be done below and above the worktop or when kitchen islands are given a different treatment.

It’s a popular trend among the clients of Neptune. ‘The effect creates a calming atmosphere, with balance and contrast working together,’ says George Miller, one of its home designers. He suggests pitching its new Clove colour, a juniper-berry maroon, against a cool neutral. ‘Or it can also be paired with other statement shades, such as Mustard or even Olive for a touch of eccentricity.’

Over time, people have become more confident with colour, notes kitchen designer Tom Howley. ‘When I think back to earlier showrooms I designed, it was a timeless, neutral combination of colours. Fast forward to now, and our most recent showroom is a celebration of colour.’

Mr Howley’s clients are erring towards richer and bolder colours in their kitchens and pairing them with burnished brass hardware. ‘This helps to create a more unified space, particularly useful if you are zoning areas in an open-plan room.’

The Chawton Sideboard by Neptune in Clove

Another, more discreet way to introduce colour is to paint the interior of glazed cabinets. ‘This is a great way to link spaces and add a feature to an unassuming space,’ explains Mr Howley.

Although dark kitchen units always look elegant, ‘they can sometimes feel overwhelming if you have acres of cabinetry, so choosing a delicate neutral on the walls to act as a softer counterpoint is key,’ says Patrick O’Donnell, colour consultant at Farrow & Ball.

‘Studio Green units, for example, are made less weighty by introducing soft-nuanced white walls, taking away any heaviness of the fitted furniture.’

One of the main advantages of painted units is their versatility. ‘With careful prep work and the correct paint, quality furniture can be easily repainted to prolong its lifespan and introduce another colour combination,’ adds Mr Howley.