Transitional Kitchen Cabinets

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How to Choose the Best Cabinets for Your Transitional Kitchen

Transitional kitchen designs blend elements from traditional design with elements of modern and contemporary design. A simple way to describe transitional style is a blending of old and new elements – traditional raised-panel kitchen cabinetry, but in a neutral grey with simple matte black bar pulls. 

Here are the main characteristics of Transitional Kitchen Cabinets:

  • Finding a Foundation
  • Using Modern or Contemporary Hardware
  • Simple, Yet Decorative Trim
  • Neutral Base 

Transitional style provides creative license to create a unique space based on your aesthetics. Rather than trying to fit your design into a single style, you can cherry pick elements you like best.

What are Transitional Cabinets?

Transitional design is more of a buzzword than a definitive style. While you can certainly find rules to follow (we even provide some here), the core of a transitional design is a blending of old and new elements, traditional and modern, classic and contemporary. 

As such, transitional cabinets don’t necessarily exist independently from other styles. Rather, you choose either a traditional furniture style kitchen cabinet or a sleek modern cabinet as the foundation of your design. The former option is more common because it makes your new style kitchen look like you took residence in a classic kitchen and made it contemporary. 

Transitional kitchen cabinets become transition because of the hardware you choose and the other design choices you make around the cabinets, such as color palettes, lighting fixtures, furniture, and appliances. 

It’s all about how you mix and match elements within your kitchen. You can include decorative trim synonymous with traditional cabinets while using modern door styles. Your entire cabinets could be traditional in design but are made transitional by contemporary lighting, modern cabinet hardware, and a contemporary sink.

Don’t confuse transitional design with eclectic design. Like transitional design, an eclectic design focuses on mixing old and new, but it places a heavier emphasis on mismatching elements – using different types of hardware on your cabinets, mismatching finishes of hardware with faucets and appliances, using different style light fixtures, and more. An eclectic kitchen design is less constrained and driven more by personality than by a cohesive vision.

Conversely, transitional design should have a cohesive vision. Your visitors should walk into your kitchen and wonder if it’s traditional or contemporary, modern or classic. To achieve this, the cabinets need to provide a strong foundation in a recognizable style and neutral color. Choose light fixtures and cabinet hardware with the same design and finish.

Characteristics of Transitional Kitchen Cabinets

Transitional kitchen design doesn’t have any hard rules or characteristics. The point of transitional kitchen design is to give you the freedom to combine the characteristics you like from other styles. The key is finding ways to blend characteristics of other styles to make the space look like it’s transitioning from one era to the next. 

If you want help with your transitional kitchen, consult with our expert designers via our FREE room planner service.

Finding a Foundation

The most common use of transitional kitchen cabinets is to start with a traditional style face – a five-piece door featuring decorative beveling on the inside and outside edges with a raised panel. 

If you’re unsure of the decorative beveling on traditional cabinet doors, simple Shaker door styles also work. It features the same five-piece construction, but it has clean edges. A few Shaker styles we offer, like our Wilora Hawthorne Shaker Grey have a slightly beveled inside edge, providing a softer look than ornately decorative traditional cabinetry.

Some transitional kitchen cabinet designs mix styles by using a traditional style for cabinet doors and large drawers while using a modern slab-style construction for standard size drawer fronts and false drawers. A similar tactic is to use traditional cabinets in a dark neutral color for your base and wall cabinets while using a light shade of modern cabinets for your kitchen island. 

Using Modern & Contemporary Hardware

Many people treat modern and contemporary kitchen designs as the same thing. Both prioritize sleek and minimalistic designs, but they aren’t the same. Modern kitchen design has its roots in a specific era – namely, the early to late twentieth century, with its most popular elements peaking in post-war 1950’s. Contemporary design, however, is all about what’s new to design right now – experimental shapes, state-of-the-art materials, stainless steel, glass, and more neutral colors. 

Use modern or contemporary hardware to turn your traditional cabinets into transitional cabinets. The key is making sure you use the same style for all your hardware. To know what to look for, here are some characteristics of modern and contemporary hardware:

  • Modern hardware prioritizes sleek, clean lines void of curves and decorations. It is all about function and minimalism. Often, a modern cabinet pull is just a round bar with round footings or a flat square bar with square footings. Modern cabinet knobs are also just simple round or square shapes in similar finishes. 
  • Contemporary hardware also prioritizes sleek, clean lines, but contemporary design is more of a response to the minimalism of modern design. As such, it features curves and experimental shapes. For example, a contemporary take on a modern bar pull features a slightly arched curve with slightly tapered ends. It also prioritizes sustainable materials like glass and metal.
  • Transitional cabinet hardware condenses the philosophy of two styles in one piece. A cabinet pull might have a modern bar with classic beveled footing. Often the crossover of styles is very subtle.

Simple, Yet Decorative Trim

One of the most notable characteristics of a classic kitchen cabinet style is the ornately decorative trim and molding – large crown molding with a multi-step beveled profile attached along the top of wall cabinets, curved valances along windows, base cabinetry support columns, etc. These decorative pieces are largely what makes traditional kitchen design so recognizable. 

Transitional cabinets also use trim, but in a more modern way. Look for molding with simple profiles and minimal beveling. You can still throw in some ornately decorated, even hand-carved pieces, but use them sparingly.  

Neutral Base, Bold Trim

A significant difference between traditional design and transitional design is color. Traditional design typically features a bold color like deep-red mahogany cabinets. However, transitional cabinets lean more towards a contemporary color palette of neutral shades, like white, grey, and black. You can then use bolder colors for trim pieces, backsplash tile, and decorative accessories.

Here are our neutral kitchen cabinets:

White Transitional Kitchen Cabinets

Grey Transitional Kitchen Cabinets

Dark Transitional Kitchen Cabinets

  • Wilora Hawthorne Shaker Cinder: Made with a frame of stained birch wood with an MDF center panel. The stain is very dark, making it the darkest neutral grey we carry.

Designing a Transitional Kitchen

Choosing to go with a transitional design is all about opening the creative playbook so you’re not limited by a singular style. Mix masculine and feminine, old and new, bold and subtle. There’s no wrong way of designing a transitional kitchen, but there are tips to help you steer towards a consistent design.

Create a Neutral Background
Cabinets are great for creating a neutral backdrop for your room. By choosing white, grey, black, or light earthy colors as the dominant color via cabinets or painted walls, you give yourself more freedom when choosing colors for tile, fixtures, stainless steel appliances, and cabinet hardware. The neutral colors allow bold colors pop. It also makes for a cooler, open ambience. 

Mix New & Old Materials
Transitional design is all about the principle of mixing old and new design elements, which also applies to the materials you use. Here are some ideas for mixing old and new materials:

  • Weathered wood flooring with stainless steel appliances and painted HDF cabinets 
  • Antique wood and steel bar stools with contemporary glass pendant lighting 
  • Pastel subway tile backsplash with stainless steel range hood 
  • Sustainable materials like bamboo flooring with a weathered wood table
  • White wood ceiling panels with exposed wood beams
  • Quartz countertops with a white cast-iron sink

Unique yet Matching

An easy mistake to make when designing a transitional kitchen is choosing mismatching hardware, lighting, appliances, and decorations. There’s nothing wrong with that, in fact, it’s currently very popular. However, mismatching elements is more of an eclectic style than transitional style, as the room loses the sense it’s got a foot in the old and new. When a room becomes eclectic, the focus is more on the personality of the space (and expressing the personality of the homeowner) than a consistent, cohesive style. 

So rather than choosing antique pendant lights with a contemporary chandelier or modern pulls with classic knobs, make sure your elements are firmly grounded in a specific style. You also want your metal appliances to match their finishes. So, go ahead and get the cool classic style faucet with the oil-rubbed bronze finish, but make sure your hardware matches at least another element in the room. 

Open Floorplan
While traditional kitchens are often made to feel cozy, a transitional kitchen is made to feel open – a hallmark of modern and contemporary design. Rather than relying on excessive wall cabinets, consider open shelves. These open the space up to make it feel bigger. You can also access plates, glasses, and bowls easier than within a cabinet. Consider an island with a dining area and a prep sink. Or shirk the island altogether and go with a U-shaped kitchen. Use light colors and lots of metal appliances to reflect as much natural light as possible.

Frequently Asked Questions About Transitional Kitchen Cabinets

What colors work best for transitional kitchens?
Neutral colors work best for walls, cabinets, and floors. You can use bold colors for accent pieces, trim, decoration, and tile. Use a neutral base hue to highlight the bold colors.

What finishes look best in a transitional kitchen?
Natural textures work best in a transitional kitchen. Brushed, satin, and matte finishes on metals are ideal. Look at kitchen countertops with a leather textured finish or a matte finish on granite, marble, or quartz countertops. Satin paint is excellent for walls. 

What is the difference between transitional and contemporary?
Transitional design incorporates contemporary elements, but it also incorporates traditional elements. It’s all in how you choose to interpret this transition. You could use different styles of kitchen cabinets for the base and wall cabinets or use traditional cabinets for the perimeter cabinets and modern cabinets for the island.

Which style should you choose for your kitchen remodel?
It’s your kitchen, so go with whatever style fits into your aesthetics. For this reason, transitional designs are popular because you have the freedom to make choices that fit what you want. You can choose the functional and elegant pull-down faucet while still choosing ornately beveled crown molding.

Will the transitional kitchen cabinet trend last in 2020?
Transitional design is on-trend for 2020. This has more to do with its versatility than popularity. It’s a great style if you’re struggling to decide which direction to go. If you want contemporary cement countertops and traditional kitchen cabinetry, go for it.

What is a Shaker cabinets definition?
The Shaker style door is a simple four-piece frame with a recessed center panel. It’s origins developed with the Shaker religious movement in the 19th and 20th century. The Shakers believed in self-sufficiency, which meant building their own furniture. In response to the Victorian era’s obsession with inlays, beveling, carvings, and veneers, Shakers focused on simple, yet functional forms. This is represented in the Shaker cabinet design.

That said, traditional Shaker cabinets were made of cherry, maple, or pine, and they avoided metal pulls and knobs in favor of wood. Traditional Shaker cabinets were also stained in blue, red, yellow, or green. However, modern Shaker cabinets use metal hardware and are often painted in neutral colors like white, grey, and other colors. And these painted Shaker cabinets are typically made of high-density fiberboard instead of wood, because HDF doesn’t expand and warp like wood, which can cause seams to open.

Are Shaker cabinets transitional?
Shaker cabinets absolutely fit into the transitional design, whether it’s a painted white Shaker or stained maple cabinets. The Shaker door style is a historically relevant design – it’s a style transitioning between the decorative and ornate traits of traditional kitchen design and the sleek, clean lines of modern kitchen design. As such, Shaker cabinets fit well into both styles.

Get Creative! Choose a Transitional Cabinet

Finding the best transitional kitchen cabinets is all about finding the foundation for your style. You don’t have to choose between minimalism or ornately decorated items. Your kitchen remodeling adventure is all yours. Pick the colors, accessories, textures, and décor that you like most in a traditional, modern, or contemporary design.

If you have questions or want help designing your transitional kitchen ideas, call us at 855.483.2629. Or email us with your thoughts at We’d love to hear from you!