Built-In Cabinets: Why White Rules

Update: Click here for some enlightening Built-Ins Videos.

In the first year or two of my custom cabinets business, it really grated on me that so many people wanted white cabinets for their built-in casework. Stained wood just seemed so much more rich and interesting to me, but time and again I was asked for white. I think I even had a mentality of white = generic, and resented that my portfolio was so tilted toward white woodwork.

But I've had a change of heart on this. Here's how it happened.

Over the years, I had a habit of collecting every picture of built in cabinets that I possibly could. I kept my camera with me when I was out and about, tore many a page from magazines, and I wore out the right-click on my mouse collecting pictures. Before long I had something like two thousand good pictures.

When I finally took the time to organize that first batch of built-in cabinet pictures, I learned a lot. I would split these into “structural lessons” and “color lessons”.

Here was the main color lesson: White built-ins almost always look good. Stained built-ins only look good a small fraction of the time. There are lots of pictures in my portfolio of stained woodwork that says: “Wife Not Consulted”. They just don't fit or complement the home, though they may be wonderful in some abstract sense.


I now express it to clients this way: Stained cabinets and woodwork are “ambitious”. They can work if you are willing to go the extra mile on lighting, wall/ceiling color, and integration. But white cabinets work right out of the gate nearly every time. White built-ins are just more realistic for most people and their real-world situations.