contemporary kitchen cabinets

Kitchen Design

 Guide to Contemporary Kitchens & Cabinets


No style is bigger in the kitchen design world right now than contemporary. It encapsulates decor elements from chic, modern, and classic — all at once — all the while, capturing the simplicity and minimalism of modern design movements and even incorporating a few touches from more traditional styles. Wow. It’s no wonder contemporary design styles are part of  so many homes.


Naturally, it’s tough to look at cabinetry and say definitively: “that’s a contemporary cabinet”. In fact, by definition, contemporary means constantly changing. So if that’s true, and contemporary design styles are constantly evolving, then what’s the difference between a modern kitchen and a contemporary one?


Read on to learn more about this popular kitchen style and it’s characteristics.

What Exactly is Contemporary Kitchen Style?

The term modern design refers to a design movement which became popular in the 1950’s. Most commonly, it’s used to refer to the famous “Mid-Century Modern” style that was hugely popular with new homes in the 1950’s and 60’s and was based on the German Bauhaus school of design. But it can also encompass other Modern styles, such as Art Deco, which reigned supreme in the ‘20’s and ‘30’s.

Contemporary Kitchen VS Modern Kitchen Style

Modern design is very minimalist, emphasizing clean lines, a lack of decoration or embellishment such as molding, and utilitarianism over function. So, true to its early roots it favors simplicity and function over form.  Man-made materials, such as laminate, chrome and stainless steel, often take precedence over more traditional and natural materials, like stone or wood. The result is a sleek, minimal, often shiny kitchen with few distractions.

Contemporary kitchen design, on the other hand, can refer simply to any kitchen designed today (literally the meaning of the word contemporary, as previously mentioned). However, what was contemporary ten years ago is no longer contemporary. Today’s contemporary designs tend to follow an evolving formula of sorts.

Contemporary kitchens are essentially an evolution of the modern kitchens, and thus follow many of the same cues:

  1. they are sleek
  2. contain clean lines (instead of fancy moldings and details),
  3. often incorporates man-made materials (ex. laminates and chrome VS. natural elements)
  4. neutral colors (like grey and white, are also very popular right now)

But, they can also include different styles and design cues, such from Craftsman or Scandinavian styles, or even farmhouse. It’s not uncommon to see a “Contemporary Farmhouse” or something similar, which will take the overall look of a classic Farmhouse kitchen and update it with cleaner, simpler lines.

The Elements You Need To Create a Contemporary Style Kitchen

While contemporary offers lots of room for custom touches and various design styles, there are a few elements (or basics) that you’ll find in a contemporary kitchen.

Contemporary kitchen style
Open and Airy | Designed & Photographed by Hunt’s Kitchen & Design in Scottsdale, Arizona

The Basics: Start With Open and Airy

Contemporary cabinetry, like their modern predecessors, are as open and spacious. They have plenty of room to move around for things like entertaining and cooking. They harness natural light to accentuate the already sharp, clean corners. And speaking of corners:

Pay Attention To Shapes and Angles

As previously mentioned, they make heavy use of clean, sharp lines (just like modern kitchens did). But, they can also make use of curves and other softer angles, especially on some of the hardware and details like faucets and door handles. These curves can complement the straighter lines without taking away from the clean, sleek aesthetic.

Don’t Take Sides: Use Neutral Colors

If you’re one for colorful palettes, a contemporary kitchen may not be your first choice. While you can always work in some colorful details for your own creative touch, contemporary kitchens tend to make heavier use of neutral colors, such as white, grey and off-white. Neutral colors accentuate the sleek angles make the room appear even more open and spacious.

Contemporary kitchen style
Neutral Colors | | Designed & Photographed by Hunt’s Kitchen & Design in Scottsdale, Arizona

You can also opt for slightly more natural tones, such as tan (wood) or stone grays. Black is becoming very popular, too, working its way into more contemporary designs.

White Counter tops: Lots of White

Nothing says contemporary more than pure white countertops. They could be white, glossy marble or granite, acrylic or engineered quartz, or could even be crystallized glass, which lends a sleek, almost futuristic look.

Contemporary kitchen ideas
White countertops | | Designed & Photographed by Hunt’s Kitchen & Design in Scottsdale, Arizona

Stainless Steel Appliances

Stainless steel is popular in almost every style kitchen right now but is an essential part of a contemporary kitchen. Fridge, stove and oven should all be full stainless steel to get the classic-yet-modern look you’re going for.

Contemporary kitchen idea
Stainless Steel Fridge | | Designed & Photographed by Hunt’s Kitchen & Design in Scottsdale, Arizona

Full Overlay Cabinets

Full overlay cabinetry are another essential. Inset cabinets look good in more traditional design, but contemporary style calls for the ultra-smooth look of full-overlay, which conceal the entire door frame when closed.

Contemporary kitchens
Full Overlay Cabinets | | Designed & Photographed by Hunt’s Kitchen & Design in Scottsdale, Arizona

You’ll see kitchens with both slab style, which are as minimal as cabinets get, as well as Shaker style, which adds a bit of character and decoration to an otherwise minimalist design. Click here to see examples of full overlay and other contemporary style cabinet doors.

Simple Hardware. Skip The Details.

Opt for simplicity when picking out hardware, such as cabinet handles and faucets, and leave the fancy details at the store.

Again, you can work in some soft angles and elegant angles here, instead of just straight or plain hardware, to give the room some subtle sophistication. It doesn’t have to be boring. Brushed nickel, chrome and stainless steel are excellent options for a modern look, while brass adds some standout character that also doesn’t detract from the room.

What About The Floor?

Last but certainly not least, don’t forget the flooring. There’s a variety of flooring options you can consider, from bright white marble or tile to a modern laminate or even a light, neutral, subtle wood.  In some homes, you could even opt for concrete which gives the room an undeniably modern look while staying super durable.

In most cases, a laminate or large tile will give you the look you’re going for. They’re available in seemingly endless options and provide you with a solid bang for your buck.

Contemporary Designs
Wooden floors | | Designed & Photographed by Hunt’s Kitchen & Design in Scottsdale, Arizona

Styles to Try

Best Cabinets for a Contemporary Kitchen

We already mentioned how these kitchens make great use of full overlap cabinet doors, which hide the door frame completely. But besides that, what other style cabinets look best?

Slab Style

We already mentioned how slab-style cabinets are the most popular style found in contemporary kitchens. They’re simple and feature the sleek clean lined aesthetic. Slab style cabinetry allows the rest of the kitchen (like as the island, stainless steel range, or even flooring) take center stage.

Choose them in a neutral light wood finish, or in a white or grey glossy veneer for a modern look.


If you want just a bit more decoration than slab style doors, opt for Shaker-style. But seriously, only a bit more decoration. Shakers weren’t exactly known for their flair or for choosing form over function. These perennial favorite cabinet doors go with almost any kitchen, with their simple recessed front panel and straight, clear lines lending a utilitarian aesthetic. They’re also innately timeless and will likely remain contemporary and stylish for decades to come.

Contemporary kitchen Shaker-Style
Shaker Style Cabinets with Tubular Bar Pulls

Frosted Glass

While not as common as shaker-style or slab cabinet doors, frosted glass doors are a unique touch. They give a clean and modern look by hiding the clutter of dishes (and any other mess) behind the door and keeping the façade of the kitchen smooth. You’ll still see the stuff but frosted glass helps blend into the background.

Frosted Glass Cabinets
Frosted Glass Cabinets

(Clear) Glass

Like frosted glass doors, clear glass doors are not common in contemporary kitchens but they can still check the “clean and liner” box. Unlike frosted glass, they don’t hide your dishes and kitchen accouterments which can detract from the minimalist appeal.

A cool thing you can do with glass front cabinets is added some accent lights inside the cabinets. This not only looks unique and cool at night but does double-duty of illuminating the cabinets to help you find items more easily.

Door Handles & Hardware

Once you’ve chosen a cabinet style, what’s the key to selecting the handles and hardware? You guessed it staying clean and simple. Tubular bar pulls are as simple as it gets and looks equally as good on a shaker, slab and modern glass doors, as they modernize the design and keep it minimal.

Flat bar pulls kitchen style
Flat bar pulls

You could also opt for flat bar pulls, which also lend a modern feel while squaring off the design, instead of rounding it like tubular bar pulls. As for finishes, look for stainless steel, brushed nickel or chrome for simplicity and modern style, or for brass if you want to get a bit fancy.

Customizing Your Contemporary Kitchen

Have Some Fun With Lighting

Contemporary kitchens emphasize natural light, but you can use artificial lighting to create a custom, better-lit design. Add some recessed lighting underneath the cabinets to illuminate the countertops, or above to throw some light in the air and brighten the room up. Industrial inspired pendant lights can brighten up the island and eating areas, while track lighting adds a unique, modern look they can even be moved, swiveled and rotated to spotlight exactly where you’re working. And, as mentioned earlier, accent lights inside frosted glass cabinets make for a subtly, softly-lit room.

Think About a Curved Island and Maybe A Double-Decker One

Islands are usually rectangular and straight as an arrow, but yours doesn’t have to be. Try incorporating a curved island into your kitchen, maximizing available space and adding a little shape to the room, which will otherwise be quite straight. Curved islands look especially good when your kitchen isn’t built in a perfect 90-degree corner.

The island could also be raised into two levels, with the back becoming a bar for hanging out and visiting while cooking.

Use Some Backsplash

Backsplash looks great in any kitchen, and it’s no different in a contemporary one. Tile works well under the counters and behind the stove in a white or neutral kitchen, but just about anything works in a contemporary kitchen. Choose brick, laminate or tile for something more traditional, or opt for stainless steel for an industrial look.

Don’t Be Afraid Of Wood

While wood isn’t the first choice for most modern styles, it’s certainly not forbidden. Wood cabinets, chairs or flooring in muted stains and finishes is classy and chic and doesn’t remind you of more rustic styles. The trick is to use the wood to add contrast to the room, without taking away the modern, minimalist aesthetic.

wooden cabinets
Wooden Cabinets | | Designed & Photographed by Hunt’s Kitchen & Design in Scottsdale, Arizona

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Avatar for Jeff Hunt

When you engage our design team, we simplify the very complicated and tedious kitchen remodel process. We do this by listening to what you want, then translating your vision and expression into a virtual design that is uniquely yours.


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