How Black Became the Kitchen’s It Colour

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Kitchens, Colour Trends, Interiors

A new It colour has been gaining ground in fashionable kitchens, and it’s not one that we associate strongly with a bygone era. Indeed, that may be part of its appeal: Since about 2015, all-black kitchens have become increasingly popular. Sophisticated homeowners are exploring shiny black cabinets, black marble countertops with striking white veins, black floors, and even black appliances. Design manufacturers have taken notice, and sleek black ranges, refrigerators, and more have been a fixture at the kitchen trade fairs in recent years. But is the mainstream ready for the all-black look?

Alexa Hampton chose dark tones for her New York City kitchen, where cabinetry by S. Donadic is painted a Benjamin Moore black. Photo: Scott Frances

“We are starting to see black being used in a much bigger way,” says Laurie Pressman, vice president of the Pantone Color Institute. “This is different than just larger black appliances or maybe a black countertop. This is about the move to black cabinetry, black paint, black flooring, and different black shades for countertop appliances.”

Alison Levasseur, interiors and garden director at AD US, sees the movement as a pendulum swing toward something with greater depth and sophistication, noting that black and other dark colours work surprisingly well in compact spaces. “Recently we’ve seen a trend of black kitchens designed by leading designers,” she says. “It may have something to do with designing smaller New York City kitchens.”

Ashe Leandro’s black kitchen for Seth Meyers and Alexi Ashe Meyers. Photo: Shade Degges

One of those firms is New York–based Ashe Leandro, which has mastered the look. “It looks like a Dutch Old Master painting,” Reinaldo Leandro says of the kitchen he designed with partner Ariel Ashe for the home of her sister Alexi and brother-in-law, Seth Meyers. “Everything pops out; everything feels more vibrant.” For this project, they chose the velvety Off-Black by Farrow & Ball and black stone countertops. Meanwhile, for the kitchen in Liev Schreiber’s NoHo loft, the firm juxtaposed shiny black lacquer cabinets and black countertops with light-coloured wood cabinets.

Lauren Buxbaum Gordon, partner at Nate Berkus Associates and proud owner of a black kitchen herself, sees a connection between an inky palette and the possibility of personalisation. “In my opinion, black symbolises someone who is passionate about design and who isn’t afraid to take risks,” she says. “Aesthetically speaking, black tends to feel more sophisticated and formal depending on how it’s styled, but for me, that versatility is what’s most appealing. In my black kitchen, I mixed in rope chairs, crackled subway tiles, and old French pottery to take it down a notch.”

Richard Shapiro’s beachfront retreat in Malibu, California, boasts an island made of basalt and black lacquer cabinets. Photo: Miguel Flores-Vianna 

But why are we just migrating to the dark side in the 2020s? Pantone’s Pressman suspects the advent of open kitchen plans has had a big impact on how we perceive colour. “As we move to open floor plans and kitchens become more of a key focal point within the home, we are changing our expectations for what a kitchen should look like and the function it needs to serve,” she says.

Another reason that black and other dark colors hold appeal these days is that consumers awash in smart technology are craving tactile experiences and fine craftsmanship—call it the Downton Abbey effect. Dark colours conjure cast iron, slate, and black marble, evoking the look of kitchens before they were streamlined in the 1930s.

Fashion designer Julie de Libran’s Paris kitchen features cabinets painted in Farrow & Ball’s Black Blue No. 95. Photo: Ambroise Tézenas

The popularity of industrial styles have also positioned black as the new neutral, says Christine Soner, a product placement specialist at IKEA. “In Scandinavian design, black has been used as a consistent colour, and the elsewhere in the world, the movement towards farmhouse style and loft living have brought industrial elements with exposed pipes, beams, and salvaged iron complemented with reclaimed wood.”

In Ken Fulk’s New York kitchen, brass luggage corners outline the sleek black cabinetry. Photo: Douglas Friedman

Breville recently introduced Black Truffle, a matte, charcoal-colored finish that can adorn countertop appliances like toasters and cappuccino makers. The offering was influenced by trends Breville’s global product officer, Scott Brady, his team were observing out in the market—both in consumers’ kitchens and broader trends like fashion and automotive design.

In contrast to the prevailing style of subdued tones in the kitchen, Brady suggests, black suddenly seems like the ideal bold colour: “Which colours can contrast a sea of seamless white, or feel natural alongside concretes, woods, and metal finishes? All of the sudden, darker colours, matte finishes, and polished metal trims feel at home.” And indeed, matte finishes in particular have largely defined the new black kitchen moment, suggesting the appeal of subtle and grounded tones, which are often paired with high-gloss surfaces elsewhere in the kitchen for a balanced look.

Above all, the black kitchen might just become the Little Black Dress of interior design, as black suggests “enduring elegance,” according to Pressman. “Whether a matte finish or a metallic, black conveys sophistication and chic, two things that never go out of style.”


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