Whether or not there's a lot of kitchen wall space left on view after the new cabinets and appliances are in place, you'll want your walls to support your decorating scheme. If your kitchen redo involves more decorating than remodeling, you'll be pleased at how much of an improvement new wall treatments can make.
Coordinate the wall treatment style and color with your cabinets, or, if your cabinets aren't being replaced, consider painting them to match the new wall color. Either way, you'll cool the clutter and create a more spacious, calming look, whatever your style. Here's what you need to consider:
Paint is the kitchen wall treatment that's easiest to change, easiest to clean, and least expensive. Many experts recommend "eggshell" paint (paint with a slight sheen) for walls and semigloss paint for trim in homes without kids and pets, and semigloss walls and high-gloss trim for homes that need to endure more wear and tear.
All the usual recommendations about paint effects apply to kitchen paint. Light colors dry lighter and dark colors dry darker than they appear when wet, so buy a small amount and test it on your wall before making a commitment to gallons. Light colors will make your kitchen look more spacious and cool; midtone and dark colors will make it look cozier and warmer.
Traditional styles usually feature white or other contrast-color trim; contemporary styles feature walls and trim of the same color. If you plan to use both wallcovering and paint in your kitchen, choose the wallcovering first. It's much easier to custom-mix a paint to match a wallcovering than it is to find a wallcovering containing the exact color of your paint!
Don't overlook the elegant potential of special faux-finish effects with paint. Sponging and ragging, for example, can create a sense of airiness or rustic charm. A breakfast nook or pantry door is a great place to create a sense of vista with a classic trompe l'oeil still life or garden scene.
If you want a more complex color scheme or pattern than paint makes possible, or if your walls are in less-than-paint-perfect condition, wallcoverings offer dimension, warmth, and eye appeal with surprisingly easy care. Modern kitchen wallcoverings bear little resemblance to fragile wallpapers of yore. They're also a world away from the less-than-inspiring looks that used to be available in coated wallpapers for the kitchen.
Today, kitchen wallcoverings are as beautiful and subtle as traditional wallpapers for other rooms, but they're not just spongeable, they're scrubbable. Traditional-style rooms are made for wallcoverings, and you can find motifs inspired by just about every historical period, each in a wide selection of colors.
Many wallcovering companies offer carefully researched collections that are adaptations of actual historic wallpapers, recolored for today's tastes. Others replicate the colors as well as the patterns of historical papers, if you're really intent on a historically correct impression. And, while paint is generally less expensive than paper, if you want a trompe l'oeil picture, it's probably going to be much less costly to purchase a length of scenic paper than it would be to commission a painting. Modern rooms don't have to do without wallcoverings, either.
In addition to nostalgic motifs from the 1920s to 1950s, wallcoverings that simulate sponging, marbling, stippling, and other timeless faux-finishing techniques are plentiful. While rooted in ancient techniques, these styles work beautifully in contemporary kitchens.
From rustic, cabin-style kitchens to elegant European kitchens, wood paneling can create a mood like no other wall treatment. Unless your kitchen gets lots of natural light and is on the large side, you probably will want to keep the wood tones on the naturally pale side. Whitewashed wood is a great compromise if you want a beachside or cottage look; it delivers the warmth of wood and the space-expanding qualities of white.
Like other wallcoverings, paneling is a fine solution for less-than-perfect wall surfaces, providing dimension, warmth, and subtle visual interest. Wood paneling upkeep is much the same as for cabinets, and natural wood tones have the advantage of hiding fingerprints and smudges.
A key element of kitchen walls -- the windows -- are addressed in the next section.