Upper Lower versus Inner Outer

October 25, 2012

I was chatting with a friend the other day about her kitchen.  She very much wants to paint most of the honey tone wood cabinets white to freshen the space, but wants a touch of charcoal too to go with her black and white granite countertops.  Her kitchen is a basic U shape design with three walls of wood cabinetry, open on one side to a family room, with an island in the middle. 

I’ve been watching kitchen trends for years and one that I’m noticing more and more is the two tone painted cabinet design where instead of the surround being one color and the island the second color, the current trend is to paint the upper cabinetry one color and the lower cabinetry another. 

u shape kitchen plan

And so my friend and I are having what I call the “upper lower versus inner outer” debate.  Should she paint just the island a charcoal color or the lower surround cabinets instead?

Here’s a look at the “Upper Lower” two color painted cabinet style:

blue lower white upper two tone cabinets

The Kitchn

 

green lower white upper cabinets bhg

Better Homes & Gardens

 

gray and white cabinets houseandhome

House and Home

 

mark burstyn kitchen

Mark Burstyn

 

white upper gray lower kitchen cabinets

HGTV

 

lower gray upper white cabinets

Apartment Therapy

 

life in grace turq and white kitchen

Life in Grace

 

Versus the “Inner Outer” painted cabinetry mix:

white surround blue island bhg

Better Homes & Gardens

 

 

white surround black island trad home

Traditional Home

 

wood island white surround aaron leitz

Aaron Leitz

gray island white surround cabinets bhg

Better Homes & Gardens

 

white surround citrine island bhg

Better Homes & Gardens

  

It’s a tough decision!  Which style of two tone paint do you prefer in kitchens, the Upper Lower or the Inner Outer? 

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189 Responses to “Upper Lower versus Inner Outer”

  1. Valerie says:

    I’m house hunting right now and I’m sooooo glad you wrote this piece. It really helped me come to a decision about kitchen upgrades…I’ll go Upper/Lower for a small kitchen without an island. If I can find a place with space, you can bet I’ll go Inner/Outer!

  2. Melissa Hardin says:

    I want to transform my oak cabinets as well. I have more of a galley style kitchen with an island in the middle. I LOVE the look of inner/outer. The upper/lower just looks weird to me. It only works if the upper and lower colors are the same shade (probably not right term). What I mean is I don’t want to walk into the kitchen and have my eye immediately find only the lowers or only the uppers. It’s got to blend right.

    I am planning on painting my outers white with a dark glaze and the island black. I can’t wait to start.

  3. Debbie C says:

    The Upper/Lower looks fresh! Maybe she can paint the island first (since it’s part of the “Lower” anyway and wouldn’t need to be repainted if she did all the Lowers later), then decide?

  4. CentsationalGirl says:

    Hey Debbie, we’d likely paint the island white if we did the lowers in charcoal, but hey that’s true, we could aslo do the island in charcoal too, hmmm ….

  5. Tamara S. says:

    I like the inner/outer (I sound like I’m talking about belly buttons). It’s hard for me to give an honest opinion about the upper/lower option because these are all high end looking kitchens. Doing that to say- my builder grade 10 year old oak cabinets would look horrendous. But honestly it’s just too trendy for me.

  6. Jen says:

    While I think that uppers/lowers can be done well, I think that inners/outers are classic and easier on the eye. I also enjoy the splash of color (or whatever type of accent be it a different color/material) at the island, as it typically serves as the gathering place. I think that Debbie C has the right idea. Start with the island and work from there. Best of luck!!

  7. Emma B says:

    I love both looks, but I prefer the Inner Outer. I feel that the Upper Lower will be out of fashion sooner, and let’s face it, painting cabinets is a lot of work. But really, you can’t go wrong either way. It is just paint, after all.

    I’m going to paint my island soon. I’m trying to decide between safe (grey) or daring (mustard yellow to match accents in the adjacent living room). Can’t wait to see what y’all come up with!

  8. Kimberly says:

    I love both, but I think I like the look of the upper and lower best. I really want my mom to do something like this!! She has honey cabs too and it would freshen up the space so much!

  9. Karen says:

    I like the look of some (not all) of the upper/lowers, but when it comes down to it I am an inner outer girl. For my family room, sure– I will embrace the trends and have a trellis rug and chevron art and a modern sofa with metal lockers acting as a sofa table and the backs of my built-ins painted a contrasting color.

    But my kitchen? I am not as trendy. I don’t want to tire of it that quickly. I have white outer cabs and an espresso brown island. Island top is a nice, warm butcher block and the perimeter is topped with an amazingly soapstone-looking laminate with a matte finish. I like the classic look and I am confident it won’t date as quickly as the upper/lower trend.

  10. Kathy says:

    Mine is an inner/outer. Dark wood on the island, and painted white cabinets. I do love the look of the upper/lower, but my kitchen is smallish, and it seemed the all white cabinetry was the best look for us.

  11. Peggy says:

    I love the look of both, but for me it would depend on what type of household one has. With two dogs, a cleaning challenged husband, my love of cooking, and two boys who, when they are home, make a huge mess in the kitchen, our lower cabinets take a lot of abuse. I would paint the lower cabinets and the island a darker color than the uppers. It would also be a way for me to have the creamy white cabinets I’ve always wanted on top, but without the upkeep lower white cabinets would require.

  12. Julie says:

    I absolutely thought I’d go with upper/lower UNTIL I saw all of those pictures. Now I’d definitely go inner/outer with an island. Especially that first inner/outer with all white and the blue island. I’m dying for that one!!!

  13. Allison says:

    Upper/Lower. I think it is different than what most people have and is edgier. Unique = cool.

  14. I love the inner outer hands down, especially since she has an island. If there wasn’t an island, I would say upper lower.

  15. Kacey says:

    I like the inner/outer look…I think it makes the island a focal point. (And kitchen islands tend to be the hub of all the home activity. Might as well make that statement visually.)

  16. Nathalie says:

    Hi Kate! My kitchen was just painted- uppers are gray (with a slight hint of green), lowers are wood, and the center island is gray as well even though it is a lower. Something to consider :-) I have dark charcoal/almost black granite around the perimeter, and a lighter cream granite island. Subway backsplash. Sounds busy but it is very warm and cohesive!

  17. Veronica says:

    While upper/lower can look great in pictures, I prefer inner/outer. Sometimes I feel like we’ll look back at the upper/lower trend in a few years and go, “What were we thinking?” lol.

  18. I love both looks, too. In my own kitchen where we suffer from inadequate cupboarditis we are going to follow the inner-outer strategy when we add an island. Since we’re not updating the whole kitchen (yet), we’ve taken a “same but different” strategy. We’re going to be painting the island white and keeping the perimeter cabinets in their wood finish. I found some doors at the Habitat Restore that are different than our existing doors, but have some of the same design elements. I’m hoping everything works together in reality as well as it’s looking in my mind–and in the pictures you’ve shown!

  19. Laura says:

    I like them both! It is hard for me to decide too!! I have been wanting to paint my honey oak cabinets as well and this is an issue I am running in to. I think the inner-outter is the “safer” more traditional way of adding that second color to your kitchen! I love the upper lowers but it is the newer, more modern approach! I say paint is paint, you can always change it if you don’t like it! I would go bold and paint upper lowers!!

  20. I think the inner/outer is best for longevity! I work in kitchen design and I think the upper/lower will be a trend that quickly comes and goes whereas the inner/outer is one that has been around a long time and will continue to be. That’s just my two cents though. I still like the upper/lower look.

  21. Wendy F says:

    I struggled with the same concept when I did my kitchen and decided to go inner – outer. My thought was when the trend passes, I can just paint my middle island white to match the remaining white cabinets. I love the look and feel like it kind of anchors the island into the room.

  22. Debbie says:

    Inner/outer wins in my book!

  23. I love the upper/lower look but to me, the inner/outer seems “safer” and probably less trendy. “If” I ever work up the nerve, I’ll be painting our kitchen island.

  24. Emily C says:

    I vote for upper lower. And I really like the photo with the white on top and dark blue on bottom…it is giving me ideas!!!

  25. julia says:

    I didn’t think I would have an opinion but after looking at the photos, I like inner/outer much better than upper lower.

  26. StagerLinda says:

    Upper/lower looks much fresher! I think it much more practical from a cleaning perspective, too.

  27. Sheila says:

    Well, I like the inner outer the best. I really like the island being set off and not so much the lower cabs painted differently, but that’s just me. I also like the look of selecting a few cabinets (uppers and lowers) and making them look as if they are free standing pieces of furniture by painting them in a different color. However, I think it should be up to the homeowner and their preferences, taking into consideration the style of the home and the style of the other rooms sharing the overall space with the kitchen. Again, my humble opinion.

  28. Ruthie says:

    One thing that I notice as far as the examples that are showing is that the upper/lowers don’t have an island. Maybe when you throw the island into the mix of upper/lower it gets too busy?? And then what about the wall color/backsplash … will that have a separate color as well?
    I like them both but would lean toward inner/outer.

  29. Shawna T says:

    Inner/Outer for sure. Upper/Lower only looks good with the right cabinets which I don’t believe come in your standard home =)

  30. Crunchy Diva says:

    I have green lowers and white uppers and I LOVE it. What I would consider is how you enter the room and how prominent you want the island to look. Dark lowers with a white island would draw the eye deeply into the room, while a dark island against white cabinets would create a visual “stop”. I always design around circulation – do you want people to get drawn to the island to sit or pause? Or do you want them to head right for the counter part of the kitchen. Dark colors will cue people where to go. Just my architect psycho-babble two-cents. Good luck!

  31. jasi says:

    There is no right answer. The purpose of color is to attract attention to a specific direction and enhance mood. How does she feel when she’s in that U kitchen? If she feels closed in, brighter colors will bring her out. If the island feels too heavy, lighten it up. Just balance out the light and mood of the place for a better feel.

  32. Amy Kelly says:

    I’m definitely more a fan of the inner/outer.

  33. Casey says:

    I think both are fun ideas! I prefer the inner/outer look out of the two, though!

  34. Jess says:

    Inner/Outer. I really like the focal point painting an island gives.

  35. My kitchen is inner/outer right now, but I’ve considered switching to upper/lower. However, upon closer inspection to see how it would work, I have several spaces like around my oven/microwave where the cabinetry starts with a large bottom drawer stacked with oven, microwave, and cabinet doors on top, and the fridge is right next to that cased in wood with cabinets on top. The same wall houses a countertop also with standard upper/lower cabinets. SO, all of that to say if I did the upper/lower, I’m not sure how to do those sections that are basically floor to ceiling cabinetry. Any thoughts? You can see the wall in question in the first few pics here:
    http://dimplesandtangles.blogspot.com/2012/02/our-kitchen.html

  36. At first I was TOTALLY in the upper lower camp, but then I was seduced by the inner outer pics. Now I’m just plain old confused. : )

  37. Karen says:

    I like the inner outer. I think it takes a large kitchen to pull off the upper lower, plus it makes the kitchen seem busy to me. Different cabinet colors, appliances, countertops and all the items on top of them… that’s a lot to keep your eyes moving to and from.

    Plus… it’s a lot easier to paint just an island when tastes or trends change.

  38. Sarah says:

    At first I was definitely in the inner/outer camp. Then I saw your pictures, and remembered that I like the upper/lower look too. I think upper/lower looks better if the uppers are a lighter shade of the lowers though, so light gray / charcoal gray for example. I think doing the inner/outer look is great if you want to go with a brighter / higher contrast color as your second color because then there’s not too much of it & you can bring it in w/ accessories too.

    I read through the comments, and I think if you do uppers in white, lowers in charcoal, then the island should be charcoal too – otherwise you did a hybrid uppers/lowers/inner thing which might be WAY too much.

    I hope you share pictures when you guys have decided! I’d love to see it.
    Sarah

  39. Tara says:

    I love, love the look of the upper lower ones. I didn’t think I would based on the description, but the pictures totally won me over. It did seem like most of the upper lower pics had really tall upper cabinets, I’m wondering if it would look as awesome with just regular, builder grade upper cabinets. Either way, I vote upper lower!

  40. HannahJ says:

    I’m tending toward the inner outer- I thinnk it might be less trendy and more timeless if that makes sense? I am also planning a budget kitchen reno and we like the idea of doing a seperate island as a way of saving money (getting something vinatge perhaps or repuposing something to work as an island…)

  41. I thought I was Upper Lower, but after looking at the photos, i definitely prefer the Inner Outer!

  42. I love the example of upper/lower from House and Home, but notice how there are minimal upper cabinets, and the darkness in the grout and contrast of the shelf on the white tile still brings your eye up. I’m not a huge fan of the pictures where they are just a wall of cabinets one color on the bottom and another solid wall of cabinets in a different color on the top. The inner/outer pictures have a lot more depth and distinguish between the spaces in a way that makes sense.

  43. My kitchen already has upper/lower (honey oak/sage-ish green) and I like the look, just hate the colors. I am debating myself if I want to stick with upper/lower when we get around to painting them. I think for me it has a lot to do with what I end up doing with the countertops and the backsplash as well. I think that makes a big difference in if I like how it looks or not.

  44. Teri says:

    I am definitely an inner outer person. I just think the upper lower makes your eye bounce too much.

  45. Lauren says:

    I prefer inner outer, personally

  46. Catherine says:

    I vote inner/outer! I think it looks cleaner.

  47. Lori H says:

    I love the upper lower ones…I feel it grounds the cabinets. The inner outers are lovely too, though. No wrong answer here…

  48. Tobi says:

    Inner – Outer. It seems more timeless. I also love how it makes the island seem less like “cabinets” and more like furniture. I remodeled my kitchen $60K worth about 6 years ago, and am not tired of it.

  49. Stephanie says:

    Oh man I love you!! you just played my jam with this post!!! :) I have been thinking to do the Upper/lowers I absolutely love it, but I am terrified to just go for it (I guess my biggest problem is finding the right dark grey)….. and because I am a chicken like that…. I Love the look of the darker grey and the white but I love the all white cabinets too!! My cabinets are builder oak! which I hate, Hopefully I can decide on what to do within the next few months because that oak has to go, along with my terrible counter tops that are my ultimate enemy!! Im sooo torn and I cant decide, I guess when I do I will send you my after pics :) Thanks again!! you are awesome!! <3

  50. Tamra B says:

    Inner/Outer is my personal preference. I think it IS easier on the eye when there is an island (to borrow a phrase from another poster). I went back and forth between the different pictures and my eyes “rested easier” on the inner/outer. All the kitchens are beautiful, however!

  51. Centsational Sis says:

    I’m tempted to stay safe and say inner outer, but I’m going out on a ledge here and saying upper lower. Upper lower breaks the monotony. A braver option, but really, do I want my kitchen to look like EVERY other kitchen in America?

  52. Alison says:

    I love the upper/lower look!

  53. Kate says:

    My kitchen is upper lower. I have darker tile floors in the kitchen which opens up the family room with dark wood floors. I put a coat a cream on the lowers and the change from dark floors to light cabinets was a bit jarring. So I stuck to cream on top and green/gray on the bottom. It makes me happy. Sometimes I do wonder about resell (which is no where in the near future), but worse case scenerio you just paint, right?

  54. Jenna says:

    I like the upper lower look because I feel like the white on top really opens up the room while the dark on bottom grounds it. But then what color would you paint the island? Dark or light?

  55. Teresa says:

    I’d say it depends on the layout of the room. If it’s a smaller space, upper lower definitely gives you the feeling of more height and more space. I actually just redid the Oak cabinets in my kitchen. Benjamin Moore Advance- Barren Plain on top, Benjamin Moore Advance-Granite on the bottom, I did the walls in the same color as the top since it’s a small space. I’m loving the results- The darker color grounds them, and the lighter top just makes them kind of blend and lets the eye roam freely up without a real “break” in the flow.

    If it’s a bigger space, Outer/Inner may work better to make it more cozy? Please share the results! :)

  56. I vote for only painting the island the dark tone. Painting only the island a different color gives a nice contrast against the base cabinets. Painting all the base cabinets same color as base cabinets will make them blend in and will not be visual contrast. Usuallu an island blocks your view of much of the base cabinets so paintint the base cabinets darker may go unnoticed from many vantage points in the room. If you want to see the contrast go with only painting the island dark so it stands out against the background of the other cabinets

    my 2 cents

    Michelle

  57. Jen says:

    I vote inner outer. I like the upper lower, but as one of the previous poster said, these photos are all really super nice and high end looking. I don’t know how well it translates to an “average” kitchen. I love inner outer though, especially when the island takes on a look and feel of a piece of furniture.

  58. darker on the bottom and lighter on top work better if there is no island

  59. personally, i LOVE the inner-outer combo. i think it’s more classic and will withstand changes in trends etc. but the upper-lower is still such a fun option!

  60. britt says:

    inner outer. no question.

  61. Sharon Hoham says:

    I, too am in love with the inner outer look. It s pleasing to my eyes.

  62. Mary Ruth says:

    I too love the inner outer (agreeing with Michelle in previous statement) about the other way looks better if there is no island.

  63. Peggy says:

    This a really interesting comparison; one I never really thought of. But after looking at the pictures, the upper lower looks more fresh than the inner outer. The second picture is my favorite- love that green!

  64. Belinda says:

    Upper / Lower :-)

  65. I have the inner/outer-white outer, island dark chocolate. I love that the darker color on the island anchors the room and gives your eye a place to rest. I just feel the upper lower is distracting personally. I feel like it cuts the room in half.

  66. I prefer the look of the upper lower, but none of those photos show an island color! It would be interesting to find a pic of the upper lower look that includes an island painted in the same color as the lowers.

  67. I love the inner-outer combo! That’s the way I would personally go if it were my kitchen.

  68. Angela N says:

    I think if you have a kitchen that has a lot of cabinetry then I say upper lower. I like how it seems to ground the cabinets and still keep the kitchen feeling light. I like the inner outer too, but only if the island doesn’t match the cabinets in style, meaning it looks more like a piece of furniture vs just additional cabinets.

  69. Jan says:

    Inner/outer — love that look

  70. I’m liking the upper lower look, but only if there isn’t an island. The inner outer look is much better with the island since it makes it the star.

  71. jennifer says:

    I like the upper-lower but I thin it’s too trendy. The inner-outer would be a lot easier to change up if she got bored…and I think it would be more classic, for lack of a better description.

  72. Kimberlee says:

    I think the upper lower will give you a bigger impact, it would also break up all the white. The island could then be either white or charcoal… You’ll have to let us know if and when she decides. :)

  73. Kelly says:

    I prefer the look of the upper/lower (planning to do the same with mine), I like the way the uppers become a part of the wall instead of standing out so much, therefore making the space feel larger.

  74. SarahK says:

    My opinion is that the upper/lower combo is more of a current trend whereas the inner/outer is more of a classic style. Plus it will b lots easier just repainting and island vs. all the lower cambinets when you change your mind!

  75. Shavonda says:

    I actually painted my kitchen cabinetry upper lower outer! My upper cabinets are white and my lower cabinets and island are grey. I love it.

  76. Liz E. says:

    Inner outer for my vote =)

  77. Hannah says:

    My kitchen is painted upper lower, but I don’t have an island. None of the upper lower pics show an island, and the outer inner pictures all have an island. With an island, I’d do outer inner too, but I do love my kitchen! It’s white from the countertop up, and the bottom cabinets are sage green. By far the most complimented room in the house!

  78. Dharma says:

    Upper/ Lower for a kitchen with no island and Inner/ Outer for those that are lucky lucky ducks :)

  79. Lisa says:

    I would paint the upper cabinets white, the lower cabinets gray, and the island a third color. I think a color that would compliment the family room might be nice.

  80. Alla says:

    I vote inner / outer. It just looks cleaner and less cluttered this way. With the upper and lower cabinets different colors my eyes just don’t know which way to look, especially once you add in all the other colors in the kitchen.

  81. I prefer upper/lower, and I agree that it’s an awesome trend right now – but if she’s feeling at all indecisive then inner/outer would be less of a commitment since re-painting the island would be a heck of a lot quicker than repainting all of those lowers! Either way, though, it will be a fun change. :)

  82. Laura says:

    We’re in the process of remodeling our kitchen and I found myself having to make a similar decision when it came time to pick our cabinet colors. We had an island but decided not to replace it because it was always a tight fit to move around especially when entertaining. I thought about doing different upper and lower cabinet colors, white on top and gray on bottom, but after looking at hundreds of pictures from various sources I decided to go with all white for our kitchen. Our kitchen is not overly large and I thought two different colors might make it more choppy looking. I think if a kitchen has a lot of upper cabinets that one color or two less contrasting (depth of color) colors is better. I like the upper lower look when there are fewer upper cabinets and more open shelving or the upper cabinets have glass doors. The size of a kitchen and ceiling height have some bearing on this as well. I pretty much love the inner outer look in all the pictures shown. I wish we had more room for an island in our kitchen. Our cabinets will soon be delivered and I’m looking forward to having my dream white kitchen after 25 years of honey oak cabinets in two different houses, shoot me :). However, bottom line is going with the look you love no matter what the trend or what others think.

  83. Lori says:

    Gosh. The upper-lower is a good look; fresh. The inner-outer is clean looking and reliable – possibly dated, but safe. I think my preference would be the inner-outer because it looks clean and organized. I don’t know, maybe that’s my anal retentive side coming out a little too much!
    Either one is going to look great, I’m sure!!

    • CentsationalGirl says:

      Thanks again everyone ! The thought was to paint the uppers and island white the lowers charcoal if we did the Upper Lower thing…. I’m so grateful for all of your input!
      Kate

  84. Wendy C says:

    I like the inner/outer better with the island a darker color.

  85. Kate says:

    I like the inner outer ones best! Upper lower would have never occured to me, but it’s fun! I like the BH&G one best because they brought the green up in the curtain. I don’t think I’m a fan of the wood and paint combination either way.

  86. I like both looks, but I tend to favor the inner outer look for my own decor. I painted my cabinets white and did a black, distressed island, and I like it. Plus, I think it’s a little more trend-proof. :-)

  87. I love this look, but I’m really afraid that I couldn’t pull it off or convince my husband to do it.

  88. Regina says:

    I like the upper/lower look too, but what color would you paint the island?? Would love to see a picture with this process with the island.

  89. Genna Corwin says:

    I agree with some of the others – upper/lower if there is no island, but inner/outer if there is.

  90. Christine says:

    Inner/outer all the way!

  91. Emily says:

    I just finished my kitchen doing upper/lowers & I LOVE it. It makes the kitchen look so extremely custom & fun!

  92. sarajane says:

    I’m an inner/outer, but then I am rather traditional. I think the upper/lower looks much better if the cabinets are different styles upper and lower. I’d also worry that this might be a fad, like avocado appliances – okay, maybe not that bad, but still….

  93. Gina says:

    Inner outer gets my vote.

  94. the misfit says:

    Ooh! I have ogled many of these same pictures myself (and you have some awesome ones here I hadn’t seen yet). I am in the process of doing an upper-lower paint job in my own kitchen. Of course, that was an easy decision for me, since I don’t have an island! But then I built a prep table and painted the legs the same color as my (future) lowers. So, I guess that’s upper-lower/outer. Kinda :).

    Obviously I am biased, but since I’ve never had to consider whether I would set off the island instead, I tried to look at the pictures with a fresh eye. I think that upper-lower has a ton more impact unless you have a really large island. If it’s a normal-sized island, it barely even strikes my eye as a different color (maybe since people so often added island after the rest of the cabinets, and just used a “coordinating” color to avoid clashing?). So I guess from my point of view, it would depend on how much contrast she wants to create.

    Also, a thought on the upper-lower: several people have said that it’s very current/trendy, and that’s certainly true. However, I was originally sold on it by a picture that really looks like it came out of nineteenth-century France. I liked it because I thought it would give a nice collected-over-time, before-there-were-warehouses-full-of-prefab-cabinets look to the kitchen in my very old house (I am removing a 1970s kitchen and trying to go much older). And given the sort of obvious visual logic of having a darker color on bottom and a lighter color on top (even without all the cabinets done, it makes my kitchen look much larger!), I’m not sure this look will go obviously dated. It’s not like everyone is doing it, either – I doubt it will ever be a majority of kitchens. (Now, stainless steel, on the other hand…)

    Excited to see how the kitchen turns out!

  95. I think both look nice but I prefer the upper lower. It grounds the space but lightens it up at eye level giving an overall lighter look to the room.

  96. Annie says:

    inner/outer hands down

  97. Lara says:

    I loved all the upper/lower looks and was “eh” on the inner/outers. Go fabulous and do upper/lower!

  98. Madeline says:

    Oh, I love the bold color on the bottom! Or the dark wood on the bottom, with white cabinets & countertops. We are redesigning our kitchen, and trying to decide on granite- I liked the white cabinets with dark granite, but might like the wood grain bottom with white granite better… check out our kitchen reno here:

    http://createbakecelebrate.blogspot.com/2012/10/create-kitchen-remodel-granite-selection.html

  99. Julie says:

    Inner/outer for me too. The upper/lower makes it look like they didn’t finish painting :) But, if you do go with the upper/lower, doing the white/charcoal or something along those lines is better than doing two totally different colors. At least white/charcoal are sort of in the same color “family”.

  100. I am literally in the middle of painting my kitchen and cabinets, right now. The bottoms are dark gray ( Rockport Gray- benj moore) and the upper are a creamy white . The walls are a pale gray. I don’t have an island.
    -Trish

  101. Christa says:

    I prefer the inner outer just because it looks less trendy, so maybe in a few years the upper lower will be out of style. Also I like how the inner outer really makes the island stand out. If you have a unique island, the inner outer might be the way to go. Of course you have to do what suits your style regardless of what anyone says. With the upper lower, I’d do the uppers in a color that blends into the walls like they are in most of the pictures you shared. Best of luck, looking forward to seeing the before and after pictures.

  102. Hi Kate, I just toured a House & Home showhome and how about this possible trend….no refridgerator in the kitchen! Makes for a very symmetrical look.
    http://marisahowarddesign.com/home-decorating/the-2012-princess-margaret-showhome-tour/

    • CentsationalGirl says:

      Hi Marisa, that first picture in the tour is kind of what I was thinking, except with gray on the bottom and of course there would be white uppers. Thanks for the link!
      Kate

  103. I like both looks, although I did the upper-lower thing in our kitchen since we don’t have an island. Actually the kitchen in the photo that is 6th down from the top was our inspiration photo. I used white on the uppers and medium gray on the lowers and I still love the look. You can see our kitchen here: http://gracie-senseandsimplicity.blogspot.ca/2010/08/our-250-kitchen-makeover.html

    • CentsationalGirl says:

      Wow Grace, your kitchen makeover looks amazing, good call on the paint colors, bravo!

  104. Jennifer says:

    I think it completely depends on the kitchen. I prefer a u-shape with just the island painted and a more open kitchen with the lowers painted. I considered both for my u-shape kitchen so I looked at tons of pics.

  105. Susie Omang says:

    Definitely like inner vs outer better! One question…how do you decided what color to paint something and what kind of hardware to use?

    • CentsationalGirl says:

      Hi Susie, deciding what color to paint just depends on what your tastes are and if you’re working with existing countertops and backsplash or remodeling the whole kitchen. If reusing existing materials, I think it’s best to work with colors that will complement, although you really can’t go wrong with white, cream, gray, a pale taupe, or black!
      I wrote about choosing kitchen hardware here:
      http://www.bhg.com/blogs/centsational-style/tag/choosing-kitchen-hardware/
      Kate

  106. Karen says:

    I vote for inner/outer if I have to choose. But I personally prefer all my cabinets to match. I guess I’m a bit conservative, still. Maybe that’s why I don’t write a decorating blog!

  107. Inner/Outer is the way to go i you have an island. Upper/lower works if you don’t :)

  108. Cindy says:

    I’m all for inner/outer! Let’s not forget the key word here being “trend”. As soon as the trend is over (and for possible resale) it would be easier to repaint an island that a whole row of bottom cabinets if you get tired of the look!

    xo Cindy

  109. Abby says:

    Kate,

    Before I looked at the pictures I would have said inner outer. After looking at the pictures however, I LOVED The Upper Lower look…

    Just another thing to add to my future house.

    Thanks,
    Abby

  110. Kimm says:

    I vote for upper lower, I love the look!

  111. Lisa E says:

    Inner outer for sure!

  112. Tiana says:

    I love the upper lower look. I actually just finished up a three week project in my own kitchen. I painted my upper cabinets white and the lowers black…I couldn’t love it more!

  113. i vote inner outer. It seems more clean and streamlined to my eye – not confusing. But you can’t really go wrong!

  114. Jenn A says:

    I like the upper lower look. It allows you to add more of that color (whichever you choose) to your kitchen versus just having the island be a contrasting color. I don’t think it is too trendy either.

  115. Audrey says:

    As always, this is a very timely post! I’m totally forwarding this to my mom…

  116. Carmel says:

    This is a tough one. I like both looks. Sorry – I’m no help!

  117. janna says:

    I designed our kitchen so the lowers were finished in a dark inky black and used white on the uppers. It really grounds the space and looks great in our small U shaped kitchen. You can look at them here (the reno isn’t finished yet!) if you wish!http://www.swooninteriors.com/search/label/Kitchen
    Would love to see what she chooses! I love mine two tone kitchen!

  118. Crystal says:

    Upper/Lower for sure. Its more current and fresh.

  119. This is so interesting! I would never notice this! I actually think the upper lower seems more fun and different. We do not have a kitchen island and so doing an upper lower would add a fun pop of color to our space!

  120. Merri Jo says:

    Inner/outer is much more appealing to me.

  121. Jess says:

    Inner/outer with the island – more visual interest.

  122. Evelyn says:

    The upper/lower is fun but seems more casual then the inner/outer which has more of a classic feel to it. What is the style of the rest of the house?

  123. Denise says:

    I’m not a fan of the UpperLower look – I love the look of the InnerOuter, but I think your friend should go with what she likes, not just the trend of the moment.

  124. Carolyn says:

    We just finished our kitchen remodel and chose quarter-sawn oak cabs. for both upper and lower. We used the copper quartz highlights on our countertop (Cambria in Canterbury), custom tile backsplash (Mercury Mosaics), and a pumpkin color paint (BM) to bring everything together. We don’t have an island but if we did, I would have stayed with the same scheme. I think different colored uppers and lowers make the kitchen look like an oops happened! It seems trendy to me. If I had to choose, though, I would have the island a different color.

  125. Jessie says:

    I prefer the inner/outer look myself.

  126. Jacqueline says:

    I prefer the inner/outer look. The upper/lower seems too trendy and mismatched. I prefer a more streamlined look.

  127. Diane says:

    I like both looks! The uppers painted lighter than the lowers really opens up and brightens the space and the lowers painted darker grounds them and has the advantage of hiding some of the dirt and wear & tear that befalls them. Having the island painted a different color than the cabinets sets it off, gives it status, & highlights it as a beautiful piece of furniture. In this case, I think I would paint the uppers white, the lowers a light to mid-gray and the island a deep, rich charcoal!

  128. Tisa says:

    I prefer inner outer myself!

  129. Kate says:

    I like inner/outer. You can also have more fun with a backsplash if you don’t have different colors on the upper and lower cabinets.

  130. DinaM says:

    I feel like the inner/outer looks less cohesive, as if someone ordered kitchen cabinets or paint color but they ran out of the same look for the island. At least with the upper lower there’s a section of cabinets that all have the same look, so it doesn’t look as much of an afterthought.

  131. Ken in Istanbul says:

    The upper-lower look is hit or miss. I prefer where the bases are darker or bolder and the doors are simple. I think it grounds the look very nicely. Ultimately, I think it depends on whether you want to focus attention on the island. The inner/outers you show all show islands with amazing details. If she is dealing with a standard contractor grade island, making the island blend with the lowers is probably better. Lucky for her, she has a friend who is the queen of adding custom-looking details using stock trim from Home Depot, a nail gun, and some liquid nails! Then she can go all “inner/outer”.

  132. Meghan says:

    Definitely Inner/Outer. I really like uniform cabinets but love the pop of colour you can bring in an island or backsplash

  133. Susan says:

    I like the inner / outer. The Aaron Leitz and Traditional Home folks can come redo my kitchen any time. I will leave the front door unlocked!!

  134. Lorri says:

    I prefer the inner/outer. Every time I see upper/lower painted cabinets my first impression is that something is wrong or off, no matter how beautiful they are.

  135. jessvii says:

    Inner-outer is much more appealing to me.

  136. molly jo says:

    agree totally with Ginny “Inner/Outer is the way to go if you have an island. Upper/lower works if you don’t :)”

  137. Janelle says:

    Love the inner outer!

  138. Crystal says:

    I love the inner outer! I agree with previous posts…upper lower can be too trendy for some. Though without an island, I would def consider it. Inner outer makes the island look like a beautiful piece of furniture!

  139. Runt says:

    I really like the lower cabinets being a different color – I think it’s unique. That’s how the cabinets are in my work kitchen. The bottom are a dark wood grain type of look and the tops are mint green. I like it but I think I like the cabinets being one color and the island being another color better. That’s what I would do. =]

  140. Teresa Foley says:

    I like upper/lower. I painted my uppers white and my lowers cobalt blue 15 years ago. I had never seen it done before at that time; I did it simply because I liked the look and thought it was diffrent and funky. I am very suprised to see that is a trend now!! My husband doesn’t think I’m totally weird now for doing that so long ago.
    I will always do upper/lower, no matter what the trend is because I really love the way it lightens up the kitchen without having to worry about white lower cabinets and how dirty they might get. I’m also not a fan of looking at a whole wall of cabinetry all one color; it makes the room feel closed in. I like it to be broken up. The way I see it is, you don’t have everything in your living room the same color , do you?
    I also think color detracts from cabinetry that isn’t ‘good’. If you can’t wow them with your beautiful cabinets you can wow them with color and they won’t notice your worn out cabinets.
    I am currently repainting my kitchen. The uppers will remain white, the lowers will be a muted gray/green, and the island will be muted navy blue. I’m not sure if I will like the tri-color’ look, but heck–it’s only paint and my cabinetry is cheap builders grade.

  141. Jenelle says:

    I was looking through the photos you used as examples, and I realized that all of the “upper-lower” photos either do not have islands at all, or the islands cannot be seen. This leads me to believe that the upper-lower/inner-outer connundrum is actually a question of what the kitchen set-up is. Island? Go ahead and paint it, but leave the regular (both upper and lower) cabinets the same color. No island? Then paint your bottom cabinets a different color.

    • CentsationalGirl says:

      Hey GC! Great insight, yes I think a galley kitchen or one without an island would look great with the “Upper Lower” but I do think it could work with an island, especially if the island is white like the uppers, and with some fab counter stools would be great contrast!!
      Kate

  142. For me it depends on what you want to draw attention to. If your island is pretty terrific, then go for the color there.

  143. Esther says:

    aaah everyone is voting inner/outer! i LOVE the upper lower. and even though i get that its trendy and when a trend goes out of style it can get old, but i think this specific trend of upper lower has sort of an old worldy/country house/ europeany thing about it that if you do it very elegantly and limit all the variations of color in the kitchen and stick to classy neutrals of dark grey and white like you mentioned, then it could come out very classic and timeless. Upper lower all the way! and i would paint the island same as the lowers.
    Good luck!
    I hope we see pics when its done!

  144. felicity says:

    Grace, great job on the kitchen, the upper/lower paint colors are fabulous and I love seeing real kitchens. Thanks for that. All these magazine kitchens are just too far from my reality. I like to see the ideas actually applied to a usable kitchen.

  145. Kim says:

    I like the idea of keeping all the lower cabinets (including the island) a darker color while keeping the upper ones white (or a lighter color). The darker color on the bottom just seems to anchor the space.

  146. Taryn Lund says:

    I like both looks – however, I think the upper-lower combo only works with high ceilings (and therefore high uppers). The darker base cabinets in this situation work to ground the space and give a more “cozy” feel.

  147. I prefer “upper lower” all the way! If my cabinets were something worth painting, that’s what I would do. If your friend goes through with it, you have to show us pictures!

  148. Sharon says:

    I prefer the inner/outer – it looks cleaner to me. But I don’t think you’d go wrong with either!

  149. GG says:

    the reason for the upper/lower is when there is no island, to break up the color. Since there is an island in this case I would do inner/outer – that way the island doesn’t get lost in the sea of lower cabinets if it is the same as the lower color….

  150. Kimberley says:

    The upper vs the bottom is very popular. It allows you to add a punch of color to your kitchen without it being distracted. I just came across a navy bottom and warm wood top – it was stunning. My vote is for your friend to do this.

  151. Karen says:

    I love all of the looks so it would be hard for me to decide. The apple green lowers is fabulous!! Here is the question I’m always looking to be answered and never have seen it. When painting kitchen cabinets do you paint the “inside” of the cabinets or just the outside?

    • CentsationalGirl says:

      Hi Karen, I paint the inside of drawers and doors so when they’re open it’s consistent but not the inside of the cabinet’s interior.
      Kate

  152. karlene says:

    I think it is a cozier feel to a kitchen, a little more “home made” ?? super happy to see the Mark Burstyn kitchen on there, just brought some tile home like that last night for my kitchen. :) happy day!!!

  153. Joan V says:

    Like Sharon, I prefer the inner/outer. I like symmetry, and it really gives the island more impact. Karen, we just painted our cabinets and inside and out. Plus we bought new doors that made a nice new look. It really freshens up everything and then I’m not reminded of the hideousness of the old cabinets every time I open a cabinet door. :-)

  154. Dawn says:

    Definitely Inner-Outer for this kitchen layout! Much cleaner and polished look.

  155. I have a small kitchen that we are planning to refurbish in the next couple of years, there won’t be room for an island, and I really like this idea of the “upper lower” combination. Particularly the dark blue lowers and white uppers in one of the images you posted here.

    Our current plan is all white or off-white cabinets, white fridge & dishwasher, stainless stove (so everything but the stove blends in visually – a stainless full sized fridge in our 10 ft long galley kitchen would look like the 2001: A Space Oddessey monolith!)

    Here’s my question: how to avoid the upper/lower cabinet colour thing looking too confused or visually cluttered in a small space. What tips would you have for using this look in a small space with “regular” height ceilings? Do you think it’s important to have the backsplash blend in with the upper cabinet colour? Splurge on a cabinet-fronted dishwasher for continuity on the lower cabinets?

    Actually, do you have any plans for a post on small kitchens? I’d love to read your thoughts. Expansion is not going to be an option for us, so I’m researching efficient space usage and styling options like crazy.

    • CentsationalGirl says:

      HI Rosemary, I don’t think the backsplash needs to match, merely complement, in fact the backsplash is the opportunity to make a statement but if you’re going with a two tone Upper Lower paint treatment, often a backsplash that blends with the uppers is a good idea (think white upper cabinets with white subway tile). Yes, if you can afford a dishwasher panel that certainly helps with continuity below but not really necessary.
      Kate

  156. Laurel says:

    I’m not a big fan of the two-tone upper and lower cabinets, except I do look like kitchen number one. To tell the truth, I prefer to have as few uppers as possible, so its mostly shelves, that would be fine. I love the look of cabinets that are furniture-like, so a piece that’s like a hutch or floor to ceiling doors is lovely. I do very much like the island to be a different color than the cabinets, however. best ~ Laurel

  157. Cindy says:

    I agree with GG. I don’t like the upper lower when there is an island. Definitely the inner-outer. Also, if she ever wanted to change that look when it becomes dated, it would be an easier fix to change the island.

  158. Debbie says:

    Count me in the inner/outer camp. Especially in a U-shaped kitchen where you’ll get the color from every angle. Though if there’s no island, upper/lower is pretty fab – I’m thinking about doing that in my own galley kitchen.

  159. Jeanna Walton says:

    Ooh, I like the upper/lower :) We’ve been seeing inner/outer for a long time, and it seems a little dated. The upper/lower seems so fresh!!

  160. Richelle says:

    In all the pictures of the upper/lower there is only one that shows an island and you can’t see what color it is painted so it’s hard to say how it affects the decision. I perfer the outer/inner option.

  161. maggie says:

    I love the upper/lower styling with the dark charcoal. Right about now I am feeling like if I see another all white kitchen I will poke my eyes out with a stick. ( No offense to you all with white kitchens….it’s just that I am SO over it! Too antiseptic and operating room-ish.)
    So, the upper/lower is a good compromise.

  162. Teddee Grace says:

    It may just be the color schemes…some I like better than others…but on the whole I think I like just painting the island a different color.

  163. Rosie the Renovator says:

    Id have to agree with GG! The first thing that came to my mind was that your Inner- Outer pictures all had Islands…as the Upper- Lower pictures did not! So…I think the answer is pretty obvious….when a Island is present…Inner- Outer…when there isnt an Island…Upper- Lower!! I personally think Upper- Lower is FAB!!!

  164. JK says:

    We did white uppers and dark wood lowers in our small kitchen and I LOVE it! But…with a large kitchen and large island (lucky) I would do inner/outer. Classic outer cabinets with a fun pop for the island.

  165. Amanda says:

    My personal preference is for the inner outer color change, which I feel helps to define zones without breaking up the visual continuity.

  166. Nancy says:

    You just gave me the solution I was looking for..I am in love with the upper/lower..This is going to look great!!! Thanks Kate!!!

  167. Janice Black says:

    Inner outer if only two choices. Personally, I like the island and cabinets the same colour – white!

  168. Kim says:

    I like inner outer, but then I am always behind the times.

  169. Beth says:

    I’m glad you brought this up. It took me a while to notice, then realize I did not like the upper/lower trend. There’s already so much going on in the kitchen, different colors for the cabinets is visually cluttering in my view. It makes one or the other look unfinished.

    Inner/outer, on the other hand makes the island look like a custom piece of furniture and adds interest and dimension (if it’s done well and the right contrast or coordination).

    I am no designer. Far from it. I just have noticed the negative visceral reaction I have to the upper/lower difference in color. Don’t do it! You’ll be wanting to change it in 2-3 years-if that. More likely, you’ll be so tired of answering the question….”when are you going to finish the (lower/upper cabinets)”, you’ll want a whole new kitchen!

  170. Angie says:

    You said she was looking to paint with a charcoal color to bring out the black and white of the countertops so, are the countertops mostly lighter or darker in color? Seems most of the upper/lower has light countertops that make the lower cabinets pop. Dark countertops would have a different feel to it.

  171. becky says:

    Upper Lower! I made the mistake of painting it all off white, and keeping the lowers clean is a *itch. That said, I will eventually paint the lowers a darker color so that the drips don’t show as much.

  172. I love the upper lower but I have the inner outer. However, my island is 10′ long and very green. Much like the picture at the top of the post. I love the BM green so much that I could see doing all my lower cabs in it but then I’d want my island to be white. Since this is a reno only 2 years old I have many more years before considering any changes. I hope you share what your friend goes with.

  173. Oh and I just painted the top third of my laundry room in charcoal. (Bottom 5.5 feet is white board and batten). It is BM Wolf Grey and its great but I feel it lends a bit to the navy side. I think cabinets would look better in a true deep charcoal with no blue hint.

  174. Diane says:

    I did my kitchen in Upper Lower (white on top and black on the bottom with white counter tops.) We don’t have an island. We have high ceilings and the white makes them even higher and brings in SO MUCH light. We love the dark on the bottom – it anchors things and makes the counter tops pop! Upper Lower feels modern to me.

  175. Jackie B says:

    My outer cabinets are a distressed and coffee glazed maple (somewhat light). My island is a distressed dark alder wood. The same granite is on everything, although my cabinetmaker said that a trend right now was to use gloss on some of the granite and a leather sheen on the island or vice-versa. I used all glossy dark granite. It is stunning.

  176. Hello everyone! I definitely agree that with this layout the inner/outer looks better. It makes the kitchen island a statement piece. Since most of the action is likely happening around the island anyway, why not give people some additional eye candy to be drawn too? I love it!

    -Pricilla

  177. laura m says:

    Taryn Lund and GG had the wisest insight. Almost all these picture are high end kitchens, with lots of space ie larger than 12′ x 16′ , high ceilings an INSET doors. Probabaly the only non custom cabinetry example in the bunch is the one via Apartment Therapy. So to even get the painted finishsay in a kraftmaid line in a color other that white is a huge upgrade. Since a majority of normal kitchen remodels where resale is an issue are designed with islands, i sayinner/outer. Then you can do white/wood. Althought the martha stewat line at Home Depot has a great stock colors.

  178. Rachelle B says:

    I like the upper lower look better. I would do the island the same color as the lower cabinets as well. Good luck!

  179. Heidi says:

    I love the upper/lower look. We moved into a very traditional house from the 70’s with the original oak cabinets…very sturdy, and we like the layout. Bad news…the original owners had tried to “update” the cabinets by slapping bright white paint on them…hinges and all. Obviously we had to paint. We did the uppers, and a wall with a pantry and the panel covered fridge in an off white color and then antiqued it with a brown glaze. The lowers and island we did in a very very dark brown (Behr ‘Starry Night’). We are so glad we did the lowers a different color because now, with two small children and three years later the lowers need to be repainted. They take a LOT more wear and tear than the uppers. The uppers are still in perfect shape. I’m actually pretty excited about trying a slightly lighter color on the lowers. However, if I had to repaint all the cabinets, especially if I had to repaint AND glaze…I probably wouldn’t. The upper/lower looks more updated to me.

  180. rhonda says:

    I am having this same debate in my head. Have to say, these photos make me think I could go either way and be just fine! Also…just to throw a little wrench in the works, Edie at Life in Grace (turquoise cabinets above) actually did both! Her island cabinets were painted a third color! :)

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