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Q & A–What Color To Paint A Large, Open Kitchen & Living Room?

Jenifer in Minnesota needs our help with her large, open kitchen and living room.  She writes:

I have a very large open kitchen to living room, split entry home.  I want to add color to my kitchen and living area.  Currently one wall has a brick red on it and the other walls are a very light beige almost white.  I just don’t know what color to paint, if I should keep the accent wall, or paint it all the same color?  HELP!

Here are a few pictures of the kitchen and living room in question…




Kristi’s Two Cents:

I have to admit, as a general rule I’m not a fan of accent walls.  I do think they can be done, and they can look fantastic in certain rooms, but the times that I’ve seen them look awkward and out of place far outweigh the times I’ve seen them done fabulously.  I don’t think your room (mainly because of the openness and the slanted ceiling) lends itself to having an accent wall.

My vote would definitely be for one continuous color throughout the entire space.  As far as the color you choose, I think your options are wide open, and depend completely on your own taste.  From what I can tell, you seem to be drawn to earth tones, so perhaps a nice earthy green would be nice.  Just to clarify, when I say “earthy green”, I’m not talking about an in-your-face, obvious kind of green.  Instead, I’m talking about a color in these ranges…


But like I said, your options are pretty wide open.  Do keep in mind that your kitchen cabinets are a major feature in your great room, so you do need to select a color that will compliment them nicely.  When you select a color, be aware that your cabinets read as a muted orange.  Complimentary colors to orange are blues and greens, but neutrals (including browns) are also nice.  I would suggest avoiding any really dark or bold reds or yellows, or any neutrals that are too close in color to your cabinets.

So what advice to you have for Jenifer?  Do you like an accent wall?  Do you think it works in her room?  Give her your two cents!!

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  1. Dark grey on all the walls keeping the ceiling white. Adding lots of pops of white like it is intensional. Pillows, throws, painted tables or cabinet & window coverings. All this could be done on a budget for sure.

  2. I’m for one color so there will be a nice flow from room to room, but let it be the color you love! And go on the neutral side of that color. Accent with bold colored accessories–pillows, vases, blinds or drapes… Just my 2 cents!

    1. My thoughts too – we have a similar layout and my walls are gobi desert – by behr – a nice warm color and we use turquoise and yellow as my accents

  3. I was going to say grey too. White ceilings, no accent wall. I’ve been pretty into grey lately, and you can have a greenish grey or blueish grey if that’s what you like too.

  4. Very nice open space. Paint color is a very personal choice. I think that gray tones are very on trend right now but not sure about those undertones with the about of wood in the spaces. A very pale yellow would work nicely along with the green suggested in the original post. I would paint the stools a fun color like red and bring in lots of color accents. Have fun!

  5. I’m very interested in any comments on this! I’m debating what to do in my own house and it is very similar to this. I picked up some free Sherwin Williams Alabaster paint off Craigslist – about 4 gallons worth. It’s a light beigy-gray.
    I think I’ll also be doing this through the whole living room and kitchen and then doing planned decor with pops of color. Yay for Pinterest and new home decor ideas!
    Good luck!

  6. I really don’t like that red. Seems to be the primary wood in your home is Oak. I would go with light blues, not baby blue, not teal, a natural light simple blue. If not a nice shade of green or a something to go with the harmony of oak. And I would like to think that staying one color through out the space is a great idea. To make each room its own at accessories or a nice floor lamp.

  7. I think Jenifer should go to some fabric shops or to a home furnishings department (curtains, bedding, throw pillows…) and find a print fabric that she TOTALLY FALLS IN LOVE WITH and which coordinates with her upholstered furniture (and the red drapes if she is keeping them). She can then draw her inspiration from that print. It’s much easier to find a print that you love and then work with its colors, than to choose your solids and try to find a print later that works with the solids. After all, some professional designer already put the colors together for you in the print! Don’f forget to look at Pottery Barn, Ballard, IKEA, West Elm, Crate & Barrel, etc. for inspiration in regard to patterns, colors, & styling ideas, too. However, in getting back to a basic “what color” answer, what about a grayish lavender?…which can look very chic with brown (but not with the red, though, if she’s keeping it.)

  8. OK, my two cents… I like accent walls sometimes too. In this case: I’d go with a green somewhere in the light/almost medium gray-ish green and to accent the wall a shade or the most two up (and use that shade for accents). The rug under the table and chairs is too small. I’d either forget it or bring in one in the accent color that is big enough to be under the chairs when you pull them out. Needing nature, I’d look for a nature/ grass rug that I could perhaps paint with the accent color. In my home, the accent wall in the living area would be a great spot for a picture gallery, whether family and/or favorite places. I’d have the drapes extend to the corner and the other side to cover the rod at top and giving the illusion of a bigger door; they will then hang straight down and look bigger; lose the hold backs unless they are still needed. A valance to hide the dining are shade whould work and above the window if it measures right to give again an illusion of hight. That’s all for now. <3

    1. I know the rug is too small, LOL!
      It was one I had in my townhome office before me moved here.
      I have it there to be a catch all for anything that falls(food, beverage, ect) from the dining room table.
      When they built this house someone was crazy and put builder grade, almost white, carpet in the dining area.
      I will never understand that. I just have not had the cash to spring for a new rug yet.

      1. I totally understand. I have a forever list and sizes, colors, etc I carry around with me (little notebook) so if I’m shopping or pass the thrift store I have what I need. A few years back I had a bag of tile, napkins, paint chips to decorate the kitchen and did the same with the bath… but that was another time and money is an issue now re-doing a new home.

  9. Here’s what I used to help decide on colors in a room we redid when I purchased a charcoal sectional. The possibilities were infinite, because I was starting with a blank slate. When I found this IKEA cushion, I knew I wanted an apple green wall behind the sectional and fushia accessories. Our carpet is a nice neutral mushroom color. This is what I mean by getting an inspiration piece first and getting your colors from that.
    I see Jenifer’s painting has some colors in it which could help her decide on a wall color. I would repaint the accent wall if I were her. She seems to have a lovely home and I love her sofa and chair!

  10. This living space reminds me of my own home in the way it is set up. I have chosen Olympic Crumb Cookie, (an off white) for the walls and ceilings and for the kitchen I used Benjamin Moore Catalina Blue (Aura paint is awsome!) to go with our oak cabinets (and it matches the bit of blue green in our draperies). The Catalina Blue is a grayish blue green. It looks really great with the orangish cabinet color although I think I might have chosen a slighly lighter shade. I love the idea of one color through out, but in my home, the one color looked completely different in each area because of lighting.

  11. I do love the color on the accent wall but the contrast between it and the other walls is too much. I would keep the red wall – love the red – and paint a warm light brown on the other walls. The carpet is light enough to keep it from getting too dark. Then the curtains will be much better.

    1. Yes, I agree totally! Benjamin Moore “Nugget” is a nice option with your beautiful warm red accent wall and will be less of a contrast. You can’t go wrong in your pretty home.

  12. Yes – I agree 1 color throughout. I had a similar problem 3 years ago in a home with 12′ ceilings. My cabinets were also a honey color and I bought many, many paint samples to help me decide. In the end I picked a blue, even though a decorator recommended green. Either would have worked, but the kitchen was already green and I was ready for a change. Testing the paint in the different areas helped me narrow down the choices because only a few looked good in the darkest corner of the two rooms. I see Jennifer’s woodwork is a similar color to the cabinetry so with her brown sofa some shade of green would really make the space sing.

    I also think an inspiration fabric or rug would help her make the decision – especially since the brown furniture is a very dominant part of the living room. Or as already mentioned the painting above the sofa could be a great jumping off point. My inspiration came from the area rug picked for the family room and a picture in the kitchen.

    If interested here are a couple of links to some before and after pics of my space. Click on pics to enlarge. Pics in 1st link are smaller and the lighting is not as good, but a good example of the challenge of picking a paint color that works in the darkest corner. Most likely somewhere she will have a similar challenge.

    Before http://hereslucy.squarespace.com/journal/2008/5/29/renovation-chaos.html

    After http://hereslucy.squarespace.com/journal/2011/8/5/for-sale.html

  13. I do agree that a dark grey works very well with orange wood but looking at the rest of the furniture and decor, this home seems more traditional country to me. Dark grey is more modern and I am not quite sure it would fit well. I am completely behind Kristi with this one. I think the lower left color in the behr chip pic is wonderful and would work for you quite well. You could go a bit more muted to keep the color scheme from looking too country as well. Or you could take the plunge and paint your cabinets. You could do absolutely anything that you really loved color wise then. Also, ditch the accent wall. Add the red (if you’re keeping the window treatments) in your accessories to tie the space together.

  14. I want to thank everyone for their suggestions!
    They are all wonderful and give me a lot to think about!!
    Keep them coming if you want 🙂

  15. I’ve already answered Jennifer in an email, but for those reading this thread it is HC143 – Wythe Blue from Benjamin Moore.

  16. I actually quite like the “accent” wall in that top pic – it doesn’t work there because of the particular colors with the furniture, but certainly something could…

  17. ACK! I’m in practically the same place except I was really hoping for an accent wall in my kitchen… it seems like the only wall in the entire living/dining/kitchen area I could add a pop of color (I was thinking tangerine) and now I’m all quivering like jello! Our color scheme is currently what my assistant calls shades of dirt with pops of orange and lime/kiwi in the kitchen and red in the living room. I have mostly cherry furniture, but my kitchen cabinets are almost identical to those shown…. *sob* what to do????

  18. I have a similar set up with my kitchen and family room all flowing together AND I have oak colored cabinets, too. I just painted my entire area the same color and I love it! I used Monroe Bisque by Benjamin Moore. It is a nice neutral color (warm beige- but not boring) that you can can “go” with any other color, and it complements the oak cabinets (NOT an easy thing to do). Formerly, the kitchen and living room were painted a light green color with an accent wall a few shades darker where the fireplace is. It looks much nicer and updated now.

  19. Thanks for all the suggestions. I am in the process of a redo and it is looking fabulous. Completely different , it involves Studio Taupe by Sherwin Williams and bead board wall paper! I am working on the fine tuning of the room. I know it is always a work in progress BUT when I finally get my curtains up, I will post a new pic!

  20. I have an open layout with my living room, dining room and kitchen in one large area. Also along with tri-level entry that is also tied nto the area. My kitchen is in the corner(n between dining and living rooms) and has a large island which is first visible area upon entering my house. Accent walls I feel are good when done in certain areas where the wall is an accent already on its own. I do not really have that so I took what already was accented the most which was my island. Stating all this because of the pic with your counter bar area and not seeing a wall that jumps out as one that needs to be accented. Anyways….something I love that might interest you greatly even if you have already started your redo is what I did to my island! The visible part of my island side without cabinets where stools are I added stone too! It was not to expensive and made dramatic impact yet warm and inviting! I choose a stone that is more natural and I would say medum sized and was not flat but round. Prior to addng the stone which I did the way a stone backsplash would be done I trimmed out all the external corners with molding, along with adding molding under the counter part and trim along the floor. Also last minute decided to add corbels(i think that is the name, but maybe not) under the counters as well. Whether it is stone or bead board or anything you come across I think that would give you a type of accent that could work without having the accent wall! If you still are really wanting a wall, if you paint all walls in a single color in an eggshell or satin finish then on your wall use the same color shade n a semi gloss finish and apply a stenciled type pattern thats not to busy. Idk if that helps but it was what finally gave my open space an amazing not to busy, not to boring and all tied together beautiful look!