What colors for kitchen cabinets/tops for rental

14 Replies

We’re building a detached 750sqft 2/1 ADU in the Bay Area and it will be a rental initially. White kitchen cabinets and tops are all the rage but I’m wondering what the best colors for durability are? Suggestions on economical brands are also recommended?

You can check out what the properties in your neighborhood are putting in their units. 

You can also go to the cabinetry store and ask them what is the most durable. 

I would stay away from white for a rental property. 

Asking at a cabinet shop is a good idea. You ask the mechanic about your engine and your doctor about your health. 

Color won’t effect durability, it’s more the materials. Also consider the neutrality, as well as how it effects the light and feel of the space. In that sense White is pretty neutral, though it may show smudges and dirt more than a darker color.

As for material choice, I’ve been going round and round on this, each with its own pros and cons! I liked natural wood like maple, as it can be refinished. But the wood look is pretty much out these days, unless you’re talking about exotic hardwoods, which don’t make sense for a rental. Painted shaker style cabinets are very popular and neutral. I’ve been using white cabs with either speckled white Cesar or gray counter tops. I also like the gray shaker cabs, but feel they may look dated in the future, so I’m sticking with white shakers.

A friend went with an ikea ultra modern look. What I didn’t like was the high gloss finish (which can scratch if abused) and the particle board construction. He pointed out that the drawers are actually mostly vinyl, which did seem durable and easy to clean, and won’t stain the drawer bottoms like wood will. The outside finish did seem pretty durable and easy to clean. He didn’t want painted shaker cabs as he thinks the paint will scratch and need to be touched up.

Which of us, and our different approach, is best for rentals will be determined in the future, as we see how our cabinets hold up! Of course, having great tenants will make the biggest difference, and no cabinets will look good with crummy and abusive tenants.

I’d be curious to read what others think about durability and cabinets choices. Keep in mind we’re overall in a pretty high end rental market in the Bay Area.

@Carrie Maultsby-Lute like @Amit M. stated it is not really about the color but about the material... he is 100% right. DO NOT get cabinets that are made with particle board.  One leak under the sink and your cabinet will be trash.  There are many "knock down" Chinese cabinet sellers in the Bay Area that use full wood construction.  The prices are very good, but the selection on hand might be limited.  But if you plan well you will be ok.

I have come to the conclusion that adding pulls and handles is worth the effort and cost. It keeps the finish on your cabinets for getting worn out as quickly.  I prefer natural wood, because refinishing them is easier then painting.  I realize that the look is not as hip, but if it is a rental in the Bay Area, you will be able to find tenants not matter what the cabinet colors...

Post up pictures after you are done.

Good luck,


Most of the landlords I sell to want a dark color so it hides the dirt. However location of property and size of the kitchen usually plays a role in this decision.
For example an galley Kitchen in Manhattan’s nicer neighborhoods, my customers will go with what’s in now, as opposed to thinking down the road to next tenant. When I’m doing a low income unit in the projects, it’s dark
As for what’s in now, white shakers are the trend, however gray stained cabinets where you see the grain is very in, as well as textured melamine.
Stay away from particleboard at all costs, never worth doing it.

I'd definitely suggest browsing Craigslist in your area and finding some interior pictures of other rentals targeted to a similar demographic (price point, size, location, etc).

One piece of feedback that I received from a PM is that it is better to have something slightly different than the rest. Not so different that it is extreme, but different enough to make your rental stand out.

I'm currently doing my first rehab for a rental and every area kitchen has either the old oak style or white cabinets. I am settling on a dark grey with a white laminate countertop (that looks granite/marbley). 

@Carrie Maultsby-Lute granted I'm not in your market but I like a light colored cabinet with a med tan or dark top(depending on your paint scheme). Bright white shows dirt too easily so if you go with an antique white or ivory it will help hide smudges. IMO some sort of white makes a kitchen look larger and is much more adaptable than an actual color. Just changing the countertop on a white kitchen can entirely change the look. 

+1 on the solid plywood Chinese "knockdown" cabinets. I use some sort of white in a shaker style and I've been very happy with them

Interesting that every commenter here avoids particle board like the plague! I made that rookie mistake years ago when I was attracted to a pretty vanity cab, which was on sale and of particle board. The trim on it bloated from the moisture in the bathroom :(

I also agree that white shaker with a contrasting darker countertop looks dynamic, and is my look these days. But YMMV. The  light maple cabs I put in years ago still look nice, and I contrasted that with black galaxy (speckles) granite, and they still look nice today. @Arlen Chou what countertops materials and colors are you putting in these days? Cheers!

@Amit M. my demographic is very different then yours... SF vs Oakland. I go for low cost products.  Most recently I have tried butcher block counter tops in my studios in Oakland with white shaker cabinets.  I do put pulls on all of the drawers and cabinet doors.  The butcher block is very affordable, I think $100 at Ikea and easy to cut and install.  I stain and coat them with poly.  Very easy to repair if they get water damage or burn marks. They have been in my units in Oakland now for 2 years and I have not had any issues with them yet.  In Mountain View, I used a light color granite on oak cabinets.  Old school look, but the combo was very affordable too.  The granite was $160 for 8 foot pre-cut tops with a squared off edge.  I just got tired of transporting and cutting granite that is why I tried the butcher block.

Hey @Arlen Chou .  I'm intrigued by the butcher block solution.  Are you getting them from Ikea?  Are you getting cut to spec, or cutting as needed during install?


@Calvin Kwan yes, I get them at Ikea.  I cut them with a circular saw, then stain and poly coat them before getting them to the job site.  Very easy to cut and install and looks great

@Calvin Kwan yes, I get them at Ikea.  I cut them with a circular saw, then stain and poly coat them before getting them to the job site.  Very easy to cut and install and looks great

@Calvin Kwan yes, I get them at Ikea.  I cut them with a circular saw, then stain and poly coat them before getting them to the job site.  Very easy to cut and install and looks great.

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