Modern kitchen design ideas – contemporary looks for rooms of all sizes

Planning a modern kitchen? Check out the latest trends, materials and inspiring designs

Ask any designer to define modern kitchen design and you’re likely to get a slightly different answer from each one. That’s because not only is the concept fairly fluid, what’s seen as ‘modern’ has changed over the last few years. A decade ago it was usually glossy, often handleless, verging on cold and clinical. But today’s most contemporary kitchen design ideas can be a blend of styles: giving rise to, for example, modern-industrial, modern-classic, and modern-retro designs.  

Nowadays, for a kitchen to be perceived as modern, it’s easier to look at the various ingredients that can make it so. Most modern kitchens will be noticeably sleek. While there can be eye-catching details, such as knurled handles, feature splashbacks, pendant lights and open shelving, the overall look is one of clutter-free calm.

White kitchen with copper details by Smile KitchensCredit: Smile Kitchens

What’s not there is the sort of architectural detail of country and traditional kitchen styles – such as beaded panelled doors, cornicing and pelmets on wall units, pilasters, ornate mantelpieces, and other flourishes.

While glossy lacquered, flat-fronted doors still give an instant modern feel, they’re not the only option. Velvety matt finishes, burnished metals, and even timber veneers can create a contemporary look when simply executed.

Similarly, the appliances, handles, worktops, lighting, flooring and accessories you choose can either emphasise the modern aesthetic or soften it. In short, there are many ways you can make your kitchen look and feel modern. Here are just some ideas..


1. Create a fantasy island

Embrace more unusual forms

Wood kitchen with cantilevered islandCredit: Naked Kitchens

In a modern kitchen, islands can be almost any size, shape and configuration – a neat advantage of not being constrained by architectural details and traditional-style doors. Curves, cantilevered surfaces and multiple levels mean the sky’s the limit.

Primarily, however, islands are workstations. It’s no surprise that some modern kitchens have taken that concept literally and transformed the unit into something more akin to an industrial workbench. By doing so, it brings a visual lightness that allows the rest of the kitchen to shine, while remaining sleek and practical.

The workbench-style island is a solution for neater cooks, though: in place of cupboards, there’s open shelving on a lower level for pots and pans, while the surface remains dedicated to the business of food prep and cooking.

2. Consider complementary flooring

Neutral surfaces feel more contemporary

Graphite and wood kitchen with pale floor and bar stoolsCredit: Uncommon Projects

Just as modern cabinetry needs to feel sleek and uncluttered, so too should the flooring you choose to sit alongside it. This enables the floor to complement the furniture rather than overwhelm it.

“Our preference is for the kitchen floor to form a relatively neutral backdrop to the rest of the room,” says Alan Drumm, creative director and co-founder at Uncommon Projects. “This is because we specialise in handleless framed plywood kitchens, which are contemporary, but not sterile, as they feature warm wood veneers and coloured doors.” 

 However, this doesn’t mean that your flooring has to be characterless. Wood-effect laminate planks or porcelain tiles, poured floors such as concrete (or concrete-effect tiles), as well as colourful terrazzo tiles, all work well in a modern setting.   

3. Add layers of lighting

LEDs create a modern wash of light

Grey slab style kitchens with LED lightingCredit: Inhouse Inspired Room Design

Black, grey and darker shades are an increasingly popular trend in modern kitchen design, used to evoke a feeling of luxury while remaining sleek. Key to their success in your home, though, is the right lighting. Often, it’s a combination of LED strip lighting and contemporary pendant lights that bring a dark kitchen to life, illuminating plinths, open shelving and worktops, as well as washing up onto ceilings and down cupboard fronts.  

“Linear LED lighting is good for reducing shadows – above cabinets, under cabinets or as linear trimless strips in the ceiling,” explains Piero De Marchis, director at Detail Lighting. “Consider the times when you’re not cooking too, such as evenings and when entertaining, by adding lighting at low levels – under plinths, even in the floor. Or framing windows and openings transforms the space and makes it more dramatic.”  

Hands-free lighting

The latest lighting trend is to make your scheme easy to adjust – using voice control to transition from a light scheme for a working kitchen, to one that’s suitable for relaxing in in an open-plan setting. 

From Philips to British Gas’s Hive, there are plenty of systems that are compatible with Google Assistant, Amazon Alexa and Apple’s Siri.

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4. Embrace modern biophilic design

Get back to nature with green

Green galley kitchen with grey floorCredit: Symphony Group

Green has become a favourite kitchen colour over the past few years, and the modern scheme is no exception. Following the biophilic trend of ‘bringing the outside in’, green can be treated as a neutral shade, much like grey.

“When analysing the top ten colours that our customers selected over the past six months, we found that shades of blue and green made up a significant 40% of kitchens purchased,” reveals Paul Jenkinson, founder and MD of LochAnna Kitchens. “From dark, dramatic forests and emeralds, to soft, cosy olives and sages, green pairs excellently with other neutral colours and textures, with everything from dark marbles or patinaed brass.” 

Darker shades of green work especially well in a modern setting, with matt finishes and sleek doors allowing the colour to really take centre stage.  

5. Go handle-free

It makes for a sleeker look

White handleless kitchen with dining table and black chairsCredit: The Myers Touch/Paul Craig

Sleek storage makes a modern kitchen function efficiently while still looking good, so it’s no surprise that going handleless is a popular option. But how do you get the doors open without handles? There are two main ways of doing this. One is creating fingerpulls or a recess at the top or bottom of doors – great for busy kitchens – while the other is ‘true handleless’ push-to-open doors,  – perfect for a minimal scheme.  

“Seamless storage instantly makes your kitchen feel harmonious, as well as removing clutter from view,” says Chris Dance at InHouse. “Handleless drawers and cupboards create clean lines – just remember to choose doors with anti-fingerprint technology. Combine this with open shelving, which makes it easier to grab frequently used staples, while closed cupboards hide away items in less demand and any unsightly mess.” 

6. Introduce modern materials

Burnished metals and timber veneers bring texture

Dark kitchen with gold island and wall cabinetsCredit: Roundhouse

While painted doors and wood are the most common options for traditional cabinetry, modern kitchens tend to offer greater choice of materials. These can include gorgeous glossy lacquers and smooth matt textures, but also more unusual materials and finishes, such as burnished metals, fluted or reeded glass, statement timber veneers and even concrete.  

“A modern kitchen usually means clean lines and bright spaces, but many contemporary kitchens bring warmth with colour and finish,” says Eleanor Pepper, fitted kitchens and bedrooms buyer at John Lewis. “We’re seeing warmer colours, such as blush pink and brass, gain in popularity. Mixing colours within your kitchen can be a great way to add character and draw attention to focal areas, such as islands.” 

7. Style it your way

Tone down the modern with classic touches

White kitchen with island and breakfast barCredit: Crown Kitchens

One of the advantages of modern kitchens is the ease with which you can introduce other styles into the mix. For example, adding classic appliances, handles and accessories will create more of a timeless look, while ultra-contemporary lighting, seating and artwork will give it a cutting-edge feel.

Choose soft cabinetry shades, and a modern kitchen lends itself well to a retro vibe, particularly when twinned with vintage-inspired small and large appliances, pendants, furniture and artwork.  

“Hardware can have a big impact on the feeling cabinetry evokes, so consider how this will pair with the rest of your design,” suggests Paul Jenkinson, founder and MD of LochAnna Kitchens. “There is a trend towards a bigger focus on the ‘finishing touches’, such as splashbacks, statement appliances and overstated hardware in general. Think mixed metals, copper splashbacks and coloured brassware to add points of interest in your kitchen.”  

8. Reduce your eco impact

Make sustainable choices

Grey kitchen with white worktopsCredit: LochAnna Kitchens

Thanks to advances in manufacturing technology, there’s a variety of more sustainable furniture, splashbacks and surfaces available for modern kitchens. These can be made from a range of materials, including recycled plastic, waste timber, aluminium and glass – and can often be recyclable themselves. The result is striking doors, worktops and more that combine modern aesthetics with an eco-friendly ethos, such as the Eterna kitchen by LochAnna, made from 100% recycled wood.  

“It’s crucial to consider the sustainability impact of any worktop,” explains Hayden McCormack at Laminam. “Not only should the manufacturing process and the materials used to create the surface be sustainable, but the entire life cycle of the product should be clear; for example, how it can be recycled to ensure that nothing will end up in landfill.” 

9. Inject character with worksurfaces

Consider both the texture and the depth

Marble look kitchen island cladding in white kitchenCredit: Cullifords

Surfaces are an easy way to add personality to a contemporary kitchen while keeping the sleek aesthetic intact. Even better, you don’t have to choose one surface and stick to it throughout: combining subtle and statement worktops or splashbacks can often be the secret to a minimal kitchen’s success.   

There are many composite quartz materials and stone-effect porcelain surfaces on offer but for real wow factor, consider natural marble, granite and other stones as a splashback, peninsula or on an island unit. Their unique veining, texture, pattern variation and rich colours are eye-catching without being overpowering.

“It’s important to consider materials carefully,” advises Ben Burbidge, MD of Kitchen Makers. “For example, if you’re thinking about using a monolithic marble piece, complement the veining with deep grey, navy or black cabinets.” 

Not sure if a statement stone is right for your project? Choose a material with a subtle pattern instead but think about varying the thickness – a mixture of slim worktops for the base units and a deep, chunky island worktop will equally add impact. 

10. Consider curves

Don’t stick to the straight and narrow

Iron pyrite effect kitchen by CullifordsCredit: Cullifords

Modern kitchens are often angular but there’s no reason why they can’t accommodate gently rounded cabinetry, and still feel contemporary. Subtle curves can add interest and help to define different areas of a room. For example, curved or organic-shaped islands work well where you want to soften the look of an imposing workstation and make it more aesthetically pleasing. 

On a practical level, a lozenge-shaped island can be useful in guiding foot traffic around it without grazing any corners. Or look to add curved curves to a modern small kitchen where room for manoeuvre is limited. Add emphasis with accessories, such as curved lighting, handles and furniture (such as a banquette or bar stools).  

11. Do more than cook in the kitchen

Create a space for working and entertaining

Taupe and white kitchen with dark floorCredit: Crown Kitchens

While offering more than one purpose isn’t the preserve of a modern design, sleek cabinetry and uncluttered worktops lend themselves well to an open-plan space that doubles up as breakfast nook, lounge, office or dining area. When not cooking, most people prefer their kitchen to blend into the background of a room – something modern units also suit perfectly.  

“Creating a contemporary kitchen has become more important as more people are working at home and spending extra leisure time there,” reveals Dance. “The contemporary kitchen has morphed into a multi-functional space thanks to its clean lines, minimalistic style, and plenty of storage.” 

12. Make a splash with your splashback

They can be works of art

Iron pyrite effect kitchen by CullifordsCredit: Cullifords

Particularly in a modern setting, splashbacks have evolved beyond the standard glass, stainless steel or brick tiles to being given a life of their own. Now, they can be as eye-catching as pieces of art, act as a focal point, and even be constructed from semi-precious stones, such as iron pyrite, as shown.  

“Splashbacks used to be a barely considered part of the kitchen, all function and no aesthetic appeal,” explains Sally Coulden, founder of Red Dog Glass Design 

“That’s no longer the case and nowadays, modern splashbacks and contemporary kitchen design go hand in hand. With the current trend for kitchens to be minimal and understated, a splashback is where you can get creative and really show off your personality.” 

13. Mix and match

Don’t stick to one shade

Aqua blue two tone kitchen by John LewisCredit: John Lewis

Modern kitchens can look a little bland if you stick to the ‘white throughout’ school of design. Fortunately, there’s a wide range of colours, materials and finishes that can be combined to create a more individual, less brochure-style look.  

One option is to choose a darker shade for the base units with a lighter tone above, drawing the eye upwards, and lessening the visual impact of the wall-mounted units.   

“Although the introduction of colour is somewhat neutral in 2023 – mostly gentle grey, fresh white, and green/blue colour palettes – ‘high contrast” schemes will continue to dominate the contemporary home,” says Matt Phillips, head of UK operations at Rotpunkt UK. “This is where two or more opposing colours, finishes or materials, such as glass or wood, come together to create one complete scheme.” 

14. Pick practical storage solutions

Clutter can date a kitchen

While an island is top of the wishlist for many, the flexibility of modern cabinetry means that it isn’t always necessary, especially in an open-plan setting with limited floor area. Instead, storage space can be maximised inside wall and tall units, with open shelving and contrasting finishes used to break up the potential blocky effect of cabinetry taking up more than one wall.  

“Look out for furniture that offers lifestyle-friendly features, such as extra-tall, double-stacked storage units, deep drawers, and automated pocket doors,” advises Matt Phillips, head of UK operations at Rotpunkt UK. “These will add form and function without impacting on the overall look and feel.”  

Should you need the additional workspace when preparing food, a table, which can double as dining space, may be a more versatile option.   


Written by Rachel Ogden she/her