Transitional style combines the best of Traditional and Contemporary

Transitional Style: How to Get It

Anyone who’s ever considered a kitchen remodel has read about or seen the term “Transitional style.” If you’re not sure what that means, you’re not alone.

Where Did Transitional Style Come from?

We’ll get to a definition in a minute, but first a little background.

Transitional style in kitchen design first appeared when the design pendulum began to swing away from heavily ornamented, painted and glazed, Tuscan-inspired kitchens and move toward European-styled Modern or Contemporary. But homeowners didn’t like the severe lines of the Contempo style right away; they needed to ease into it. They wanted a balance between Traditional and Contemporary.

Thus, Transitional was born, and homeowners and kitchen designers loved the it right away. 

In fact, the #1 most popular style of kitchen design in North America, according to a Kitchen & Bath Design Trends Report conducted by the National Kitchen & Bath Association (NKBA), is Transitional-styled kitchens, followed by Contemporary at #2. 

Transitional Style: A Perfect Blend

Transitional style takes in a mix of both Traditional and modern features. With the warmth of Traditional and the simple lines of Contemporary, Transitional styling brings the two together and creates a perfect blend. The combination of Traditional and Contemporary work together to produce a one-of-a-kind kitchen, one that’s yours alone.

There’s a great deal of flexibility in Transitional styling, making it the ideal choice for people who aren’t sure what their style is, or they don’t want to limit themselves to one single style. They like some parts of both Contemporary and Traditional. The good news is: Transitional doesn’t make you choose. 

Transitional lets you personalize as much as you want and gives you the confidence that you now have a beautiful new remodeled kitchen that isn’t trendy and will hold its value. If you’re looking for a design that lets you ignore the rules or if you just like what you like, then a Transitional kitchen design is for you. 

If you’re about to begin your remodel project, you will love the freedom Transitional styling gives you when it’s time to make selections for your new kitchens. Transitional means it’s not one style or another, it means whatever you want where you want it, and it means pretty much anything goes.

Now you have an idea of what Transitional style is, but how do you go about getting it for your new kitchen? 

Design Elements Used in Transitional Style Kitchens

1. Cabinets.

Cabinets in a Transitional kitchen have a simple profile. The doors aren’t severe like Contemporary, with its sharp lines and square corners. Rather, they have flat or recessed panel doors with a simple curved outside edge profile – think Shaker. 

Beaded inset is too Traditional. Instead, you’ll want full overlay or flush inset styling.  Full overlay covers the cabinet frame completely, while flush inset gets set into the frame so you see both frame and doors. 

Cabinets are made from wood instead of lacquer, which is full-on Contemporary. Quarter Sawn White Oak, Walnut or woods with brushed or weathered finishes work really well in the Transitional style. 

Mixing glass front cabinets with closed cabinets is a Transitional trait. Add in some floating shelves, and you’ve created Transitional style.

Hardware is open to whatever you want, and selections are many and varied. Elegant ceramic or glass knobs, simple knobs with brass or nickel finish, modern tubular or flat bar pulls – you can create the look you like. 

2. Natural + Man-made = Transitional.

The cornerstone of Transitional design is all about mixing things up, combining the natural and the man-made. Think of a stainless steel range hood installed between wood cabinets as the perfect example. You can mix a natural stone countertop with stainless appliances, or pair wood cabinetry with shiny hardware with straight lines.

3. Colors.

Transitional kitchens use neutral colors in varying shades, such as cream, soft white, gray and brown, to create a balanced blend. With any one of these as your base, you can build in layers of other colors, if you want. People are loving the idea of a blue painted island, natural wood cabinets and pale gray walls. Countertops and backsplash can add some color. 

4. Flooring.

It’s your floor; what you want goes. Textured stone tiles, hardwood, eco-friendly bamboo, cork, vinyl, marble, porcelain tile that looks like wood – all good choices for a Transitional style. 

5. Lighting. 

For Transitional lighting, it goes without saying you will use LEDs. Install flush-mount ceiling fixtures and place hidden strip lighting under the cabinets, on top of the fridge, around the moldings and at the toe kick. Combine your task lighting with hanging lights or chandeliers in unexpected styles.

6. Backsplashes.

Backsplashes can be made of tin, glass, tile, stone, stainless steel – even concrete. 

Mosaic tile is popular, but subway tile and glass tile are timeless. Transitional kitchens often use Traditional tile in a new way. For example, basket weave, herringbone or vertical bricks for subway tiles. Some people continue the backsplash from countertop up to the ceiling to create an accent wall.  

7. Ceilings.

Ceilings are worth more than just being a place to hang pendant lighting. They can give a kitchen that “wow” factor and offer one more place where you can showcase your original taste.

Use wood stained the color you like to create a cathedral ceiling in the kitchen. Cut a couple skylights in the ceiling to maximize natural light in your new kitchen. Tray ceilings are simple, yet much more interesting than a plain, flat surface.

8. Countertops. 

Love granite? Choose a matte finish and have the granite honed. And pick a different color, like blue, for example, instead of the more Traditional black, green or beige. Granite and other natural countertop materials, like marble, are versatile enough to fit into either Traditional or Contemporary style, so it makes sense they’re a perfect fit for Transitional kitchens. 

Not into stone? Butcher-block, restaurant-quality stainless steel, composite quartz countertops — again, the possibilities are endless. How about a color that complements — or contrasts with — the backsplash, cabinets or the floors? 

9. Accents.

Part of what separates a Transitional kitchen from a Contemporary one is that a Transitional kitchen can include a small touch of decorative ornamentation. Recycled materials, such as corbels, brackets, moldings, sliding barn doors and legs add character. Accessorizing should be minimal. Keep everything clean and simple.

10. The Sink.

If you’re tired of the same-old, same-old kitchen sinks, consider a farmhouse sink with a Contemporary finish, such as stainless steel. Some farmhouse sinks now come with interchangeable front aprons

For a modern touch, install a Contemporary faucet set. Add a swan-neck faucet and sprayer to it, and voila! you have a Transitional look.

11. Get Creative.

Mixing and matching is the sign of a Transitional kitchen; it borrows from the past and combines the old with Contemporary features to produce something new and fresh. So get creative! Use something unexpected, like chalk panels instead of wood panels on the refrigerator door. Recycle or find a way to reuse objects that you already have or find in an antique store.  

The best part of the Transitional style is that you can decide how you want to mix and match the past and the present to create a kitchen truly expressing who you are and how you live.

A Transitional Style Example

The features in the remodeled kitchen in the photo below that make it an excellent representation of Transitional styling: 

  • Classic subway tile in an unexpected color
  • Flat panel cabinets in flush inset styling
  • Sleek hardware pulls
  • Lots of natural light 
  • Fancy faucet set paired with farmhouse sink
  • Simple color palette 
  • Mix of two different countertop materials, one on the island and another on the sink wall
  • Furniture feet for a small touch of ornamentation 
The features in this remodeled kitchen make it a perfect example of transitional style


If you’re not sure what your style is, then Transitional is probably perfect for you. You can express yourself while creating a kitchen that’s completely unique to you, since no two Transitional kitchens will ever look the same.

Sources used in this article and for further reference

KDP exists to offer insight and advice about all things related to kitchen remodeling. Our goal is to connect homeowners with talented, experienced kitchen designers who live and work in their communities. We are a serious resource for anyone preparing to remodel their kitchen so they c