Kitchen Before and After: Rules Are for Breaking

Upgrading your kitchen can be one of the most exciting and rewarding home remodeling projects. From dated appliances and cabinets to poor layouts and aesthetics, most kitchens eventually require some level of renovation. While following general design principles is important, sometimes you need to break a few rules to create a kitchen that perfectly suits your needs and style. Here are some guidelines on when and how to break the rules for a spectacular kitchen before-and-after.

Embrace Unconventional Colors and Materials

Traditional kitchens tend to use neutral colors like white, black, gray, and wood tones. While this can create a clean, timeless look, don’t be afraid to go bold with your cabinetry, backsplashes, counters, and walls. Vibrant colors like navy blue, emerald green, and fire engine red can infuse your kitchen with energy and personality. Metallic finishes like brass and bronze provide rich, glamorous flair.

Unusual countertop materials like concrete, quartzite, and recycled glass also add drama and wow-factor. Just make sure to properly seal and care for them according to material specifications. Though porcelain, laminate, granite, and quartz counters remain popular for good reason, there are so many innovative options available today.

Rethink Traditional Kitchen Layouts

The classic kitchen layout has the stove, sink, and refrigerator lined up along the same wall. But with open concept homes, island and peninsula layouts have become more common. Feel free to deviate from convention and think outside the (big) box.

Kitchen Island as Focal Point

Rather than sticking to perimeter cabinetry, transform a kitchen island into the heart of the space. Opt for a large, substantial island that becomes a hub for cooking, casual dining, entertaining, and storage. Positioning it in the center of the room provides a stylish focal point. Include seating, pendant lighting, shelving, and even built-in appliances to maximize function.

Unconventional Work Triangles

The traditional kitchen work triangle situates the sink, stove, and refrigerator in an efficient triangular workflow pattern. For modern needs, this rule can easily be broken. Adding a second sink, wall oven and stove top on separate walls, and multiple refrigeration units changes the equation. Just strive for sensible spacing and flow as you customize the layout.

Mix Up Cabinet Footprints and Heights

Standard kitchen cabinets are 30-36 inches tall and 24 or 25 inches deep with rectilinear footprints. For a more custom look, use a combination of depths, heights, and shapes. Try distinct upper cabinets with glass doors, shelve-height drawers ideal for cooking tools, or low open shelving for frequently used items. Curving cabinet outlines, angled corners, or irregular criss-cross patterns also provide flair.

Ignore Formal Rules of Design

Traditional kitchen design principles emphasize symmetry, matching fixtures, and seamless visual flow. To attain a more eclectic, relaxed vibe, intentionally contrasting or mismatching elements can work beautifully.

Mix and Match

Instead of uniform cabinetry, mix wood stain colors, door styles, and hardware finishes for an intentionally curated look. Or combine painted cabinets in complimentary soft hues like sage green, sky blue, and buttery yellow. Employing an accent color prevents mismatching from feeling too busy or random.

Asymmetry is Key

Balance doesn’t always have to be symmetrical. Vary the size and style of light fixtures, window treatments, and cabinetry/shelving on each wall. Float shelving asymmetrically or hang pendant lights at different heights and spacing. Add whimsy with a cluster of mismatched stools around an island.

Repeat Colors and Textures

While everything doesn’t have to “match,” repeating paint colors, materials, and finishes ties the space together. For example, use the same granite on the countertops and backsplash, and paint the lower cabinets, island, and walls the same pale yellow. Visually unify a random mix of stools and pendants by choosing all with a black finish.

Embrace the Unexpected

From wall murals to unconventional tile patterns to exposed architectural elements, the personality-infusing design choices for kitchens are endless. Here are some ideas for bringing artistic flair and a spirit of originality.

Install a Statement Backsplash

Rather than defaulting to a basic subway tile or mosaic backsplash, make a bold statement. Use large-scale patterned tiles or an oversized piece of statement art. Introduce whimsy with a hand-painted or stenciled design. Or take a rustic approach by exposing original stone or brick behind a wall tear-down.

Add Architectural Interest

Exposing beams, ductwork, conduit and other structural elements provides character. Refinished barn wood on the ceiling or repurposed floor joists create warmth and a rustic vibe. Floating shelves mounted to pipes and posts seem ingeniously resourceful. Accentuate the textures and imperfections.

Observe the Unexpected

Often the unplanned details make a space special. Notice funky pipes or awkward corners and highlight them. Turn an angled soffit into open display shelving. Make that strangely placed window a decorative focal point with gleaming hardware and artful window treatments. Sometimes it’s the quirks that give a kitchen its charm.

My Kitchen Before and After: Breaking the Rules

When I purchased my 1920s bungalow the kitchen was dramatically outdated. The layout didn’t suit how I cook and entertain, and I felt constrained by the small, closed-off space. I wanted to create my dream kitchen but wasn’t afraid to break some design “rules” along the way. Here’s how I did it:

Color Shock

Rather than play it safe with an all-white kitchen, I took a bold risk with navy blue cabinets. They give the space dramatic presence while playing up the home’s original charm. Soft sage green walls and touches of natural wood provide balance without overwhelming.

Work Triangle? What Work Triangle?

Since I often cook collaboratively, the standard work triangle felt limiting. Instead I opted for a large central island with a mirrored cooking zone on each end. This provides multiple prep stations and ample room for guests to hang out. My stove and wall ovens are also separated on different walls.

Mix n’ Match Everything

My eclectic taste required an intentional mismatch of cabinetry, counters, hardware, light fixtures, stools and flooring. But I repeated colors, finishes and details to prevent it from feeling haphazard. The result is a curated kitchen collage that suits my personality.

Form Follows… Whimsy

I optimized every unusual nook, awkward corner and angled wall to highlight architectural quirks. Floating shelves and artwork draw the eye upwards. Clever mixed-height storage solvers maximize function. And my hand-stenciled tile backsplash references the home’s exterior details with a modern twist.

Though breaking rules requires thoughtful intent, the payoff is a kitchen that exceeds my expectations. It’s a creative haven optimized for cooking, connectedness and personal flair. For any home chef with a spirit of originality, sometimes rules are indeed made to be broken.

Frequently Asked Questions about Rule-Breaking Kitchen Designs

Upgrading your kitchen is an exciting opportunity to create a custom cooking space optimized for your needs. But taking some design risks may leave you with questions along the way. Here are helpful answers to some frequently asked questions about breaking kitchen design rules.

How do I transition from a traditional to contemporary kitchen layout?

Rather than a direct transition, blend elements of old and new for a style that honors the home’s architecture while accommodating modern needs. For example, keep wood cabinetry and classic subway tile backsplash, but integrate an open-concept peninsula or island layout. Upgrade with fresh paint colors and countertops.

What colors look best with navy blue cabinets?

Since navy can feel bold, balance it with light, airy colors like crisp white, soft sage green, buttery yellow, or sky blue. Using white marble, quartz or butcher block countertops also prevents the dark color from feeling too overwhelming.

Can I mix more than two cabinet colors?

Limiting to one or two cabinet colors is generally best. But if you want more variety, choose three paint or stain colors with a shared undertone that complement each other. For a more eclectic but coordinated look, vary cabinetry textures and finishes rather than introducing too many different colors.

What surface material options work well in open concept kitchens?

Open concept kitchens benefit from surfaces that are resistant to water, staining, denting and other signs of wear-and-tear. Quartz, quartzite, solid surface acrylics like Corian, and porcelain countertops hold up well. Using materials like concrete, wood, laminate, or softer stones may show age faster.

What backsplash options highlight architectural details?

For accenting architectural elements like exposed brick or beams, transparent glass or acrylic backsplashes spotlight textures without hiding them. Mosaic tiles can also conform to uneven surfaces. Large slate-look porcelain panels or stainless steel provide clean, modern contrast.

How do I add rustic architectural elements to a contemporary kitchen?

Mixing contemporary and rustic elements creates alluring contrast. Try open shelving with repurposed wood planks, brick backsplashes, galvanized metal accents, or concrete countertops. Floating shelves on raw metal brackets and exposed ductwork also marry old and new. Just don’t overdo it.

Embracing non-traditional design choices requires thoughtful planning and intent, but rules are made to be gently pushed. A kitchen overhaul is the perfect opportunity to marry form and function while infusing your space with fearless personality. With careful consideration, breaking a few rules can lead to your dream kitchen.


Designing your ideal kitchen means optimizing every element – from layout to cabinetry to materials – based on your cooking style, tastes and daily life. Though general guidelines help steer the process, the most creative and inspiring kitchens often break some rules along the way. Whether you embrace bold colors, unexpected layouts, intentional asymmetry, or architectural surprises, expressing originality and artistry takes your kitchen to extraordinary levels.

Next time inspiration strikes, remember that you have permission to gently break with tradition. Keep practical needs and cohesive design principles in mind. But have the courage to weave in brilliant pops of color, customize tricky layouts, mismatch styles with intentionality, and draw the eye upward to expose a building’s unique architecture. When thoughtfully executed, rule-breaking kitchen design choices create personalized, creative spaces that wow as well as function beautifully. With an adventurous spirit, a blank-slate renovation is the perfect opportunity to craft your dream kitchen. Just don’t be afraid to break a few rules to delightfully defy expectations!