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Kitchen remodel -- which comes first, granite or cabinets?

I'm looking for some guidance. Our kitchen remodeling project is moving very slowly. It seems every time I take one step forward, I take two steps back. My latest quandary is whether I should first choose the granite for the countertops and then choose the cabinet finish (which is likely to be paint/glaze), or to do it the other way around and choose the cabinetry first. They'll be custom-built cabinets, so the color (some shade of white/off-white) can be formulated to work well with the counters. OTOH, maybe I should choose a cabinet color I really love, and then find the granite to complement it. Is there a "best way" to approach this? Thanks!

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  1. Is there a 'best' way? No, but since you are using a paint/glaze finish it makes sense to get the granite first.
    Granite varies as it is a natural product. The sample is never exactly the same as the finished/installed product, especially whn they split the stone to make an EL. All of a sudden the grain/veins are running in a different direction and there is shading. By getting the granite and adjusting the paint/glaze to match you will end up much happier. My SIL is still complaining after 10 years that her granite countertops are not exactly the same as the sample. The salesman and my wife the designer warned her that if you want an exact match you need a man-made product such as Silestone, NOT natural products such as granite or Marble. SIL eventually refininshed her cabinets as Brother would not replace the granite.

    5 Replies
    1. re: bagelman01

      Around here (southern CA), there are several stone yards where you pick out the actual piece of granite you will be getting. I would be wary of making a decision from a sample.

      1. re: BubblyOne

        Although I haven't yet looked for granite, it's my impression that I'll be choosing a slab of granite, as you've described, rather than choosing from a sample. I can't imagine selecting something like granite countertops from a small sample, which may bear no resemblance to a much larger slab.

        1. re: CindyJ

          Even here you can choose a slab, but when it is split to the deisred thickness, finished, polished, etc. it will vary from the raw stone you looked at.

          1. re: CindyJ

            My final product was exactly as I picked out, or at least close enough. One tip, if the granite is outside, make sure they haul a piece inside as well so you aren't just looking at it in the sun. I learned that from my first kitchen redo, because the color was much darker indoors.

            1. re: CindyJ

              After I chose the slab I wanted, the guy at the stone yard hammered off a small piece in the corner for me. THEN, I chose the flooring and THEN I chose the paint color of the cabinets. You might also consider the backsplash. My backsplash is the same color as my cabinets. I was VERY lucky to get it the same after having chosen the cabinet color. Like someone else here said, paint comes in thousands of colors and it will be so much easier to coordinate after you have the harder stuff done.

        2. There are thousands of paint colors and maybe a hundred granites you will consider, so I'd go with the granite first. And as BubblyOne said, if you can go to a yard and pick out your actual slab/s you'll know exactly what you are getting. (That is most important if you are choosing something with variation in color and pattern. We chose a very simple speckled granite that was considered very consistent and picked it from the Home Depot sample. What we saw was what we got.

          1. My only advice for kitchen remodels is to make sure all surfaces look good after you've (i) dropped a molcajete in a variety of spots, (ii) shattered a pot of tomato sauce all over the place and (iii) sliced yourself and bled all over the most inconvenient of places.

            1 Reply
            1. re: Karl S

              I've been told that I should bring cookie sheets along when I'm oven shopping, and platters along when I'm refrigerator shopping. It makes sense, then, that I should bring my molcajete with me when I'm countertop shopping. :-)

            2. I'd ask the question you've probably already asked yourself.

              Is this the kitchen layout you'll be happy with for the rest of your life in that house? Is the counter space right? Do you need the cabinet where the dishes are stored to be closer to the sink/and or dishwasher? Do you want more electric plugs? Are the counter heights and cabinet heights a good fit for your height?

              1 Reply
              1. re: shallots

                We've spent the past several months pondering those questions and many more, and I think we've arrived at a design that will serve us well. But now, it's the choice of materials that's scaring me a bit. Cabinets, countertops, floors, walls, fireplace surrounds -- there are days I feel so overwhelmed I want to ditch the whole project.

              2. My real advice is DO NOT make the same mistake we made!!! I can't tell you which to choose first, but I think you have to go with what 'speaks' to you and design around that. We underwent an extensive home remodel last year, which included our kitchen. I knew EXACTLY what cabinets I wanted (natural cherry). I struggled, really struggled, with countertop choice.
                I settled on a dark silestone quartz , with a matte finish (think soapstone with less maintence). It looks FABULOUS when it is clean. The trouble is, it shows EVERTYHING. Dust, fingerprints, cat foot prints (yeah, yeah, they are not supposed to be up there but they are stubborn little critters). You name it, it marks it up.
                It cleans easily, but we have to do it several times a day.

                Well, DH does because he really pushed the dark counters ;).
                Good luck, and have fun with your remodel!

                8 Replies
                1. re: justme123

                  I've heard that SO many times about dark countertops, particularly those with shiny surfaces. We've already decided that what would work best on our countertops is something that will do a good job of camouflaging food droppings, fingerprints, etc.

                  1. re: CindyJ

                    That's why we chose a New England granite, speckled white, tan, gray and black. Impossible to tell when it's dirty unless you run your hand or a cloth across it.

                    1. re: escondido123

                      That's the downside, isn't it? We have granite countertops (speckled brown and white, not my choice) and dust and crumbs and dirt just disappear into the countertops. Until you run a wet cloth across and are prepared to be shocked.

                      When I do manage to get the kitchen I want, granite countertops will be low on the list. The cold surface is terrific for rolling out dough and pastries but I'd rather have a countertop that I know is actually clean.

                      1. re: Roland Parker

                        In my kitchen, I consider the fact you can't tell when it's dirty to be a blessing not a curse.

                        1. re: escondido123

                          I'm with you on that one, AND I also know when it needs to be cleaned, whether it's obvious or not.

                    2. re: CindyJ

                      "something that will do a good job of camouflaging food droppings, fingerprints, etc."

                      I choose my clothes on the same basis.

                      1. re: CindyJ

                        I'd also add, if you live in an area w/ ant problems, to keep that in mind. As my son put it, our granite is ant camouflage. It never occurred to us when we picked it out.

                    3. It's very interesting to hear so many say to pick out granite first. DH and I are deciding whether or not to commit to a kitchen renovation and our impression was that cabinets get picked first-- maybe even get a sample-- before you go forward with counters and back splashes.

                      4 Replies
                      1. re: monavano

                        It's making more and more sense to me to choose the granite first. It's not unlike choosing an Oriental rug, and then getting the furniture and choosing the wall color that goes with it.

                        1. re: monavano

                          The OP had picked her cabinets, but has the choice of the paint/stain finish, so I had suggested she get the countertops and paint/stain to match.

                          1. re: bagelman01

                            That's a great idea. With our new designer and cabinet source, we'll be able to afford to upgrade to paint/stain if we want. It can really change the whole look.

                          2. re: monavano

                            I think of it like putting together an outfit. If it was a skirt and top, which would you choose first? I think if you find something you fall in love with that's what you get first and then find something that goes along with it. We have no upper cabinets so the countertop is what you notice the most. That said, we picked out everything at once and it was all neutral so no need for matching.

                          3. I have not been through this yet but I always thought that you get a colour scheme in mind and go from there. So if you want pumpkin cabinets and green (ish) granite or red granite and burgandy cabinets you go get samples and see which finishes work the best with each other. My feeling being that they're to work together. Not one play off the other.


                            1. Such a hard call. I know people who have chosen the countertops first and then couldn't get their artisan to match the cabinetry properly (one friend had their cabinets hand finished by an artist 3 times without being happy). I know people who love their cabinets and had a heck of a time picking their countertop and when they did, the veining/overall immenseness of the stone in an indoor, small setting overwhelmed the rest of the kitchen.
                              When I did my huge reno, I did the cabinet/countertop/paint and flooring all together. I decided on what material and style I wanted, and what overall look I wanted. I had a paint color in mind, so armed with that chip and with the flooring I wanted, I decided what cabinet style and color I wanted. I did the prefinished thing, so I bought a cabinet door, and took all samples to the stone vendor to figure out the countertops. Took me a while, but once I got all 4 coordinated, I went with it. The last thing to pick was the backsplash.
                              The stone was the hardest thing to choose, but I got it right because I love the look of my kitchen. I was glad I did it this way, because when I went to pick the countertop stone, the stone I loved loved LOVED just didn't go at all with the overall flooring/wall/cabinets. Something had to give, and for me, it was the stone. I wanted consistent color throughout the house, and I wanted consistent flooring in the main floor area. If I'd chosen the stone first, I'd have had a very different outcome to my kitchen.
                              This probably doesn't help you at all LOL, but what I'm trying to say is that the consideration of all the materials has to be done in conjunction with each other, in my opinion. I would start with some ideas of overall look, get samples, put things together, and once everything coordinates, then make the purchases. Just my experience, that's all...

                              15 Replies
                              1. re: freia

                                It helps a lot. This is how DH and I are attempting to walk through the process.
                                Floor is oak and not changing, then we picked cabinet/finish, then granite and then began the backsplash.
                                Oh, then we will do it all over again with a design team/company that can deliver the goods for far less money.
                                (pulling hair out before the old kitchen is even scratched!)

                                1. re: monavano

                                  I feel your pain! I was there, in the stone store, with 2 different cabinet doors, 2 different pieces of flooring, a paint chip, and a massive amount of angst, going through all the combinations and colors. Took me 3 hours to settle, and I haven't looked back.
                                  I can't imagine doing this twice!

                                  1. re: freia

                                    It sounds like those were three hours well spent!

                                2. re: freia

                                  I have a general idea of the look I'm hoping to end up with, and that includes painted cabinets in an "off-white" color. I think that's what concerns me -- there are so many shades of off-white, some with a grayish hue, some that lean toward yellow, etc. I do understand that the colors and materials don't stand alone -- that they're components of a palette that need to be coordinated. Maybe it's just getting started that I'm finding daunting. And actually, I already have a starting point because I'm refinishing the hardwood flooring, not replacing it.

                                  1. re: CindyJ

                                    Have you considered hiring a colorist? Besides doing the kitchen, we repainted the rest of the house at the same time. My painter rec'd someone who charged $75 an hour (it took 3 hours total) and it was the best money we spent of the entire job. She had huge sheets of paint samples from all of the major manufacturers and ideas we never would have thought of on our own. One of her suggestions was to paint the raised kitchen ceiling a slightly darker shade of beige than the walls to make it look even higher and she was right. She was also excellent at pairing the underlying hues.

                                    1. re: BubblyOne

                                      Either of the first two kitchen designers I met with would probably do a wonderful job coordinating all of this, but I've decided not to work with either of them. They both do really wonderful work, but the projects they do are very high end, and that's just not the nature of my project (OR my budget).

                                      I never even knew there was such a thing as a colorist. I have an artist friend who helped me with a color challenge when we had the outside of our home painted a few years ago, and I thought of asking her to help. She saw colors that I didn't even realize existed -- like the variations of brick colors in the chimney -- and knew exactly the shade I needed to use. Thanks to her, the color we had formulated at the paint store was perfect.

                                      That said, if I were looking for a color professional, how would I go about finding one?

                                      1. re: CindyJ

                                        My colorist came from the painter's rec, who does high-end paint jobs. I'm sure a designer/painter or someone along those lines could give you the help or a suggestion (or maybe even your friend could do it).

                                        Not to go too OT, but I have a small 1800SF very open-style house at the beach and ended up with 8 different colors of beige and white cabinets/trim. The colorist matched all the underlying hues to the exisiting furniture and artwork in each room and even coordinated the walls so that the ones that get more sun are a tad darker. Like I said, the best $225 I spent.

                                        Edited to add: We live in the least expensive house in a very expensive area, and for several months before starting we went to as many open houses as possible to see what the people with big money were doing, the trends and what ideas we could steal for cheaper, lol.

                                    2. re: CindyJ

                                      CindyJ - we built from scratch, so not a remodeling job but many of the challenges are the same -- virtually endless choices and decisions to be made. To further complicate matters, my husband and I made all the decisions ourselves, without benefit of professionals. We decided that it was to be our home and we needed to live with our selections. The pros would walk away and we'd be left with what we have. Any mistakes needed to be ours. This does not mean that we didn't solicit help from pros; we just made up our own minds and thanked them very much.

                                      Edit: yes, we paid their bills! I sounded like we just walked away when I re-read my post. Sorry for the confusion.

                                      I searched for granite for over a year going to the wholesale yards to look at the slabs, not using those (small) samples which may or may not bear any resemblance to what you receive at delivery. On my birthday (!) I found five huge slabs that were exactly what I envisioned. Happy birthday to me! We bought them on the spot and had them stored for a year. My thought was that the item most difficult to change ought to govern the color selection process. I could always have the cabinets refinished if they weren't what I'd hoped but changing out the granite would be much more difficult.

                                      Ten years later, I am still thrilled with my selection and haven't changed a single choice. One note from our cabinetmaker -- he suggested that we work on finding the color/stain/finish that I wanted. When that happened, he cut the door in half. I kept one piece and he kept the other. When installation time arrived we each had the agreed upon sample and everything was perfect. I would never have thought of this 'truc' on my own and will be forever grateful to him. Good luck on your project. The amount of work is daunting and the satisfaction is tremendous.

                                      1. re: Sherri

                                        I so agree with you on picking the granite first. If the cabinets will be custom painted then there is no reason they can't be colored to complement the stone. One has to feel comfortable with such expensive decisions so I think if one if not confident about it they should seek the advice of a design pro--if only as an hourly consultant on that part of the project.

                                        1. re: escondido123

                                          How would I go about finding a consultant like that? If my past experiences are indicators, I know I can't be left on my own to coordinate so many materials with some assurance that I will love them for as long as I have them. l

                                          1. re: CindyJ

                                            After talking with our architect extensively, I called the local chapters of AIA and ASID. The librarian I spoke with at AIA was a wealth of knowlege. She knew more 'players' in my area than I would have thought possible. I carefully explained what I was seeking and she provided names for me to contact. I interviewed several, on the telephone mostly but some personal. When anyone began to show me samples of glamour houses, I politely bade them farewell. My husband and I were building 'our' home and were not interested in looks over substance. Of course we wanted it to be an attractive space but never at the cost of function and durability.

                                            Another great source were the workers themselves since many of them had done work with design professionals. Because our build was of very long duration (site challenges, etc), we met with the various trades before they were needed on site. This may not be practical for your project, but it is an excellent source. High-end retailers, such as lighting or appliances or fabrics, also work with many design professionals and could offer names.

                                            The one source we did not use were the Big Box stores. Their installers are on contract and will vary from job to job. This was simply a non-starter.

                                            Does your area have a "Home and Garden" type local magazine? Go to the library and check out the photos that appeal to you and call their designers. Be very careful to explain that you are only interested in hourly consultation work and not a whole house job.

                                            Now, back to you and trusting your own ideas. When you find something that you like, get a sample. Keep all these bits and pieces with you when/wherever you go. I had a basket in my car that was always with me. Look at them in natural daylight as well as under artificial light. Talk to everyone you meet in the business; ask questions and more questions. Keep track of names, places, phone numbers, etc. I have a several volume journal as a result of this all-encompassing project.
                                            Finally, take all advice from anyone who stands to make a profit if you follow their advice with several grains of salt. EX: if the counter fabricator only sells manmade product, he will extoll the virtues of knowing exactly what color and pattern you will be getting; something that is not possible with natural stone. The salesman handling pre-made cabinets (called 'boxes') cannot be expected to produce something capable of utilizing every single square inch of your precious kitchen space. He/she will be working with set sizes. Period. Ditto for the color possibilities, those will be limited as well.

                                            I see that I've given you enough work to occupy you for the next six months as well as many many miles on your odometer. Again, good luck and I hope that you enjoy the journey.

                                            1. re: Sherri

                                              Sherri -- this is great advice. Your project was obviously much more extensive than ours, but you've given me some good guidelines and a lot to think about. Is it any wonder I'm feeling that for every step forward, I take two steps back? But maybe that's just the way it needs to be if I'm to end up being 100% satisfied.

                                              1. re: CindyJ

                                                "Choose in haste, repent in leisure"
                                                Is there a reason that you must rush to make the choices? If not, pick and choose what you like and refine it when something else catches your eye. Styles come and go; good taste remains. When we were building this house, you could not walk three paces without tripping over "Tuscan this" and "Tuscan that". We live in the desert southwest and it would have been ludicrous to build a "Tuscan Territorial"! The last thing we need here is heavy, carved, velvet/embroidered furniture in a castle! Phew! Makes me hot just thinking about it.

                                                My late husband was a Naval officer; we had 14 addresses in 20 years. Along the way, I learned a lot from living in other people's houses - things I liked and things that I didn't like. Putting the big money into classics was one good lesson. That's why I receommeded that you choose the granite first. Paint can always be changed but undoing counters is a huge not to mention $$$ task.

                                                Give yourself a break. We've all made mistakes. You learned a lot from your bathroom tile color error. Don't let it stop you, this was a leaning experience that I bet you never repeat.

                                                Most of all, enjoy your project.

                                            2. re: CindyJ

                                              If you only want someone to help you make decisions about materials (rather than layout, cabinetry etc) then I would recommend using an interior designer. When I Googled "interior designer san diego kitchen"(since I live near San Diego) I got a number of choices. The first one I read charge $300 for a two hour consultation that could result in making recommendations about colors, flooring etc. I would look at a number of websites, consider their portfolio and philosophy, and then give them a call. I think that could be a good way to go if you are unsure.

                                              1. re: escondido123

                                                I've got the layout pretty well worked out (well, we're about 95% there), and we've decided on the style of cabinetry. It has occurred to me that there's a paint/wallpaper/window treatment store not far from here where I've often seen customers shopping with their decorators, fabric and wood samples in hand. That's the same store that formulated the paint colors for the exterior of my home a few years ago. I think I'll give them a call.

                                    3. I know when DH and I lock in on doing our kitchen redo, I want to take more time to pour over samples, granites and back splash design.
                                      In one swoop, our designer took us through picking out the cabinets, the wood, the stain/color, then we went to look at granite at a warehouse and she moved on to selecting ideas for the back splash. I was cross-eyed and had warned her that after cabinets and granite, I'd be mentally too exhausted to move one. I like to ruminate and I was right.
                                      I'm going to take it more slowly and will have more free reign in branching out and finding far better prices for the materials.

                                      3 Replies
                                      1. re: monavano

                                        So your goal is to find the exact same products in the same colors/stains you selected with your designer at a lower cost? How will you go about doing that?

                                        1. re: CindyJ

                                          No, not necessarily at all. I felt a bit rushed through the process the first time and want to really do more research before pulling the trigger on any final decisions.
                                          It's overwhelming.

                                          1. re: monavano

                                            I understand perfectly. Just consider the number of individual decisions that have to be made. How can it NOT be overwhelming?

                                      2. I think it is helpful to realize that you will never be able to create the "prefect" kitchen, or any other room for that matter. Sometimes design perfection has to give way to practicality and it is important not to get crazed about the whole process. I remember when we finished with our new cabinets my husband went ahead and began to drill the holes for the hardware, and it wasn't exactly where I would have placed it, but he'd already begun so I let it go, though I obsessed about it for weeks. Now, 2 years later, I think his choice of location for the handles looks as good as mine would have.

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: escondido123

                                          I'm not looking for perfection -- I'd be driving myself and everyone within earshot nutzo if I were. What I AM hoping to do is avoid costly mistakes that I'd have to live with for a long time. Back in the early days of my marriage, we were choosing floor tile and wall tile for a bathroom. They looked fine together in the store, but after they were installed I realized how plain awful they were together. I really mean U-G-L-Y. Fortunately, we only lived in that house for two years (and we were able to sell the house), but it was a lesson learned in choosing colors that I haven't forgotten.

                                        2. ...that's your call. which is more important to you? we redid our kitchen and refinished the cabinets/drawers/doors all ourself. all we changed all together was hardware/pulls as there were none when house was built. 8 colors therefore 8 coats of paint. with a huge kitchen the cabinets are the standout feature, the counter tops to us anyway were secondary.

                                          1. After reading this thread, I'm seriously considering silestone-- not to get anyone on a "which counter material is best" debate, but I like the idea of a known quantity/appearance once it's cut and in my kitchen. So, thanks for the food for thought!

                                            6 Replies
                                            1. re: monavano

                                              I have only one warning about Silestone, last time we wanted to buy it (be it for a bathroom vanity) lengths over 10' had to be seamed. This would not have worked in our kitchen where we have a 13' counter in one prep area.

                                              1. re: bagelman01

                                                Good to know-- will have to ask our designer about that one. Thanks!

                                                1. re: monavano

                                                  Have you seen the recycled glass countertops? There's an article in the WaPo today about them. I like them but they are for more modern updated designs.

                                                  1. re: chowser

                                                    will go grab my paper right now, thanks!

                                                    1. re: monavano

                                                      Sorry, I was reading an old paper this morning. This is the article:


                                            2. CindyJ one step forward, two steps back is part and parcel of a remodel. I purchased a foreclosed townhouse at auction and have had to replace almost every surface in the place. It was completely overwhelming at times and difficult to know where to start.

                                              I was worried about expensive mistakes. I wanted a visual flow and to avoid the spilled box of crayon syndrome.

                                              Some things that I found helpful:
                                              *Pinterest - this was extremely useful in compiling a visual resource of materials, color schemes, clever ideas and overall looks that I liked. I created a board for each room. Over time I was able to look at my boards and really understand what I was drawn to. I was able to study the images and learn a lot of design tricks. The site was also handy because I could share my links with friends and get their input.

                                              *Finding a starting point. Each choice will limit the options of the next decisions. The only things I "knew" was the color I wanted for my studio and that I wanted cork flooring in my kitchen. So I used those choices as a starting point. With the studio wall color a given I was able to focus on the studio floor. With the studio floor picked out I next decided upon the flooring for the adjoining hallway, landing and master bedroom. The flooring was more expensive than paint, so I felt it was my most important choice. My point is I went crazy trying to see the "whole" all at once. With each choice it became much clearer. Some choices were revisited and tweaked to accommodate later ideas.

                                              *Sherri's suggestion of always having your swatches handy is excellent advise. Once I got each flooring choice down to a few options the saleswoman I was working with gave me large samples to bring home. This helped immensely. And resulted in an 180 change in plan with my carpet selection!

                                              *Start with something you absolutely love. With my kitchen it was the flooring. That choice coupled with the color of the connecting rooms led to my wall color. With those two decisions made, my cabinet color/finish became easier since many of the earlier thoughts just didn't work with the floor and wall colors. The funny thing is that I have a handmade decorative tile that I love and wanted to hang in the kitchen. My color choices ended up matching the tile exactly - and I had not been trying to! If I had used the tile as my starting point I could have moved through the process much faster.

                                              *If color is not an area of comfort get help. I'm pretty good with color, but I have a jeweler friend who's eye is amazing. She knows how to inject an element of surprise that just makes everything come together. I had compiled my general ideas and had paint chips, etc. and she came over the day after I closed. It helped that she knows me well and understands what is "me" better than I do at times. I have also learned over the years that her advise works for me - even when it initially seems scary. Having the assistance of someone with amazing color sense really "made" the place. A few of her ideas (which were very different than my original thoughts) are now my favorite elements.

                                              *Take a vacation from it. I was so overwhelmed that I just packed a bag, spun a bottle for a direction and took off for a few days. It cleared my head and things seemed to have clarified when I returned.

                                              You have made the choices for the bones of your kitchen. Have some samples of cabinets colors with you when you pick out the counter material. You may find the finishes don't work. That's good! Because it means you are getting closer and now have a narrower set of options.

                                              Refine, re-evaluate, reflect. Repeat as often as necessary!

                                              Most of all, have fun with it

                                              1 Reply
                                              1. re: meatn3

                                                Great insights and helpful advice, meatn3. Thanks!!!