Gray Inspires Midcentury Kitchen(page 1 of 2)

Shades of gray turn an outdated kitchen into a place for entertaining guests


Tint and shade: two words commonly used by interior designers in reference to choosing color. While tint refers to a mixture of color with white that increases the value of its lightness, shade is the result of mixing a color with black to make it darker.

For the redesign of my teensy-weensy 10x8 Atlanta kitchen, I focused on introducing a variety of tints and shades of gray. As an interior designer known for using saturated colors, a monochromatic gray kitchen was new territory for me.

Browse Pictures of this Gray Kitchen Remodel

The main problem with the existing kitchen was that the previous homeowners had updated it with contractor-grade cabinets and beige granite countertops, both in a traditional style that clashed with the modern lines of the 1955 house's architecture.

After looking through dozens of books about midcentury modern kitchens, I noticed the cooking spaces from that era were either packed with turquoise, mint green or buttery yellow, or they were dark, with walls clad with darkly stained wood paneling. Although I didn't plan to draw inspiration from these spaces in regard to color, I did find certain design elements, such as shapes, patterns and finishes, which I'd incorporate into my kitchen's new look.

Deciding on Colors

My doubts about gray were the result of comments from friends and family members who found gray depressing and lifeless. They said it is the color of the sky when it's overcast.

Although gray has only recently become popular in residential settings, the color has been for decades the neutral of choice for industrial spaces. Gray hides flaws, remains gender neutral and works well with just about every other color. That was where my "Aha!" moment came in.

Gray is gender neutral and forgiving in high-traffic areas, and the main use of my kitchen is for my younger sister Meg, a busy publicist, and I to entertain my mom, aunt and brother on Sunday nights before starting our hectic weeks in the world of media.

Ready to give my kitchen its all-gray renovation, I thought about changes that needed to be made structurally. Although the layout of the kitchen cabinets, countertops and appliances worked perfectly, there was an issue with flow from the kitchen to the adjacent dining room, due to a wall between them that blocked much of the natural light from the kitchen window. I decided I'd open up the wall so that conversation and light could flow easily.

The Scope of This Kitchen Update

I stuck with a budget of $12,000 and a timeline of two weeks to accomplish the following updates:

  • Tear out the traditional cabinets and countertops and replace them with something modern
  • Remove the beige tile
  • Install gray-toned Tanzanian wenge hardwood floors
  • Cover the walls with floor-to-ceiling gray tile
  • Add a statement-piece chandelier
  • Paint one wall with dark charcoal chalkboard paint
  • Replace the drywall ceiling with tongue-and-groove cedar painted gray
  • Add small halogen can lights to the ceiling
  • Incorporate an apron sink
  • Add wine storage
  • Bring in all stainless steel appliances

Glossy Gray Cabinets

After looking at custom cabinets and finding the average quote around $11,000, I decided to stick with ready-made cabinets from a modern home furnishings retailer.

Luckily, they carried the perfect shade of charcoal gray in a glossy, reflective finish. Due to the limited amount of light the kitchen receives, having a reflective surface was a plus. With the proper layout decided on, the cabinets were ordered and came to a total of $3,000 — much less than the price for custom.

Dark Gray Laminate Countertops

In a situation similar to the cabinetry, I found the average quote for gray-toned solid surfaces such as marble, concrete and quartz too high for my budget.

I decided to stick with a gray-brown wood laminate, complete with a 2-inch stainless steel fascia, found at the same modern home furnishings retailer. Altogether, the ready-made countertops came to a cool $360, allowing the remainder of the budget to go toward other design elements.

Gray-Toned Flooring

The day I decided on the laminate countertops I also came across unique gray-toned Tanzanian wenge hardwoods on sale for only $2.99 per square foot.

Not only did they look the part, but their durability was ideal for a space known for getting heavy foot traffic. The kitchen is only 80 square feet, which brought the total for the new flooring to just under $275.

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