Inspiration Series: The Transitional Kitchen—Cabinets & Beyond

The transitional kitchen skirts the line between traditional and contemporary styles. It allows you to blend different elements without anything looking out of place. It’s been the top style for nearly two decades and is predicted to remain that way for many years to come.

While traditional styles can feel rooted and fussy, and contemporary styles minimal and clean, a transitional kitchen aims more for lived-in and comfortable. Transitional design is a continuum of style that gives you much more freedom to mix and match but remain within acceptable design standards.

For instance, if you like traditional wood cabinets but worry about it making the kitchen too dark, go for a contemporary light wood and neutral palette. If you prefer modern cabinets in a cool gray, then add some rustic details like a farmhouse sink or some Victorian pendant lights.

There are many ways to achieve a transitional kitchen. It’s not like baking a souffle. There is no recipe or technique for how to have the perfect transitional design. It’s more like a savory stew that you keep tweaking until it suits your taste and mood.

Best of all, transitional design is a great reseller. You can personalize your space and yet you won’t have to do an overhaul if you decide to sell. It’s the design that lets you have your cake and eat it too.

Here are some of the principles of transitional design to get you started.

Transitional Kitchen Layouts

Transitional design can get a little creative with layouts but in a totally functional way. Galleys are fairly rare, but when you do see them they tend to be modified. They are often open at both ends and feel very roomy. In open formats, the galley kitchen is usually formed on one side by an island that opens onto a dining or living room.

The cousin to the galley is the U-shaped kitchen. It’s a galley with one end lined with additional cabinets and countertop or sometimes large appliances like the refrigerator or stove. They add more storage and workspace, which transitional kitchens are famous for.

An I-shaped kitchen , aka, Pullman kitchen, is a highly-efficient, minimalist layout. It’s based on the galley with all the major players along one wall and then adds additional counter space and transitional kitchen cabinets as an island or peninsula. There is some amount of work and storage space on both ends as well.

These layouts are all well suited to transitional design and afford you plenty of options for functionality and aesthetics. They have tons of space and storage so you can achieve the tidy look that transitional kitchens all have in common.

Neutral colors are the foundation of this transitional kitchen.

Neutral Colors

Neutrals are the hallmark of a transitional design. Colors that are used in a transitional kitchen are muted into neutral by a heavy use of gray. That doesn’t make them boring though. On the contrary, a neutral kitchen is a canvas that can be transformed by accessories and decor. As long as the more permanent features (cabinets, countertops, and backsplash) remain neutral, the rest can span the rainbow.

White is the most popular color for transitional kitchens. It keeps things light and bright so you can play with other traditional and contemporary elements. A white subway tile backsplash is a great example of how to blend different design features. White shaker cabinets are fresh in color and traditional in style.

Gray is the runner-up for neutral colors of choice. If you’re worried about gray getting boring, don’t be. There is an immense range of grays to choose from: warm, cool, purpley-gray, green-gray, and more. It’s one of the most flexible colors for the big items in your kitchen.

Blue and green are standards in the transitional kitchen. Navy and forest are popular choices, but some lighter shades are good too. Most green and blue in the kitchen is influenced by gray. That’s what makes it feel more neutral and less attention-seeking. Consider blue transitional kitchen cabinets or a green island for some contrast.


A transitional kitchen uses a balance of the sleek and rustic as far as materials go. You’ll always find wood, whether as part of the cabinets or on the floor, in the kitchen. Stone is a must-have for countertops. Stick to lighter colors and uncomplicated, natural patterns for countertops. Quartz, marble, and veined granite are favorite choices.

Tile is a great way to go for either adding rustic or sleek features. Stone or wood-look tile on the floors or backsplash is classic transitional. Subway tile is another go-to in the kitchen. Metallics should be a part of every transitional kitchen. Copper, stainless, and brass are all great for lighting, faucets, and knobs. Don’t be afraid to mix them up a bit too.

Coffered ceilings and other architectural elements give this open format kitchen/living room definite transitional flavor.

Architectural Elements

Built in features can bring a feeling of either traditional or contemporary design. Coffered ceilings, furniture-style islands, or tin ceiling panels introduce bits of a bygone era. Paneled appliances (like your refrigerator disguised as another cabinet) are a more recent Scandinavian type feel.

Mixing a classic architectural style with more modern cabinets or countertops is an easy way to achieve a transitional style. Try arched doorways with chic, smooth doors. Put crown molding on top of frameless transitional kitchen cabinets. The possibilities are endless.

Work station in a transitional kitchen makes this kitchen ultra functional.


Functionality is inseparable from transitional design. One of its primary concerns is how kitchens work and how people work in them. Most transitional kitchens share several functional features that have become standards for the design. But the very concept of transitional allows for you to introduce things that make your kitchen work for you functionally as well as, aesthetically.

Open-concept is pretty standard for transitional designs. In fact, some find themselves asking, which came first, transitional or open concept. They bleed into one another. Same goes for eat-in areas. Most transitional kitchens have seating, whether at a bar or at a small table for eating right in the kitchen (sometimes even making the dining room obsolete).

Transitional design makes the kitchen the hub of the home. That’s why many kitchen designs include work spaces that don’t have anything to do with cooking. Working from home and doing homework belong in the transitional kitchen just as much as chopping and boiling do.

Transitional kitchens are pretty tidy. They retain the minimalistic qualities of contemporary designs on that point. To make up for that, they offer a ton of storage so you can tuck most everything away and keep countertops clutter-free.

Enjoyed this article? Check out the top 6 kitchen color trends.

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