How to design a transitional kitchen – how design pros achieve a timeless scheme

Balance old and new for a style that will look chic for years to come

Classic shaker kitchen with island and marble worktops
(Image credit: Future PLC)

A kitchen will likely be the biggest investment you make in your home, so understanding how to get an old-new look in the space will help your design last longer. As well as being visually enduring, this will mean you won't feel like you have to revamp when trends change, saving you your hard-earned money in the long run.

The kitchen is, of course, the hub of the home - where kids sit after school to do homework, friends gather for evening drinks and Sunday roasts are cooked, so the design has to stand up to the many, and often contradictory!,  demands of modern life. But how do you marry the two if you want an enduring, classic style that doesn't date?  

The answer is a transitional kitchen. A foundation of traditional kitchen ideas mixed with contemporary and on-trend touches will form a stylish space that won't look like a product of a particular time. We've asked kitchen experts where to best spend your money and which design features to keep classic. 

How to get an old-new look in a kitchen

'There are a multitude of reasons why creating a modern yet classic kitchen design that lasts is hugely beneficial, not least because of the investment and upheaval at home,' says Melissa Klink, creative director and kitchen designer at Harvey Jones

'A transitional kitchen is the perfect blend between the timeless elegance of traditionally rooted kitchens layered in with clean lines and neutralised palettes from more modern style kitchens.'

Modern kitchen ideas might look too stark against the rest of your interior design, but on the other side, a super-traditional look might not truly represent your taste. So, somewhere inbetween is the goal. Here's how to get an old-new look in a kitchen. 

1. Opt for classic cabinetry

Kitchen with wooden worktop on island and quartz on side cabinets.

(Image credit: Future)

As the most expensive component of a kitchen design, choosing classic cabinetry that you can then update with modern touches is the most financially savvy move. 

Shaker kitchen ideas are the natural option for a classic look that you want to stand the test of time. Rooted in heritage appeal, the framed doors will be at home in period properties but also modern new-builds - they're incredibly versatile and have recently had a major resurgence. 

2. Update hardware

black kitchen with chequerboard floor

(Image credit: Future PLC / Lizzie Orme)

Once you've invested in Shaker doors, creating a transitional kitchen is simple - all you need to elevate the design are contemporary handles. 

'Aged brass works fantastically well to create a new-old look in the kitchen,' Melissa recommends. 'Brass has a beautiful warmth that makes it an attractive choice in almost any kitchen. Applying the finish on a classic cup and knob combination will make the kitchen feel wonderfully warm, stylish and functional.'

Wondering how to choose kitchen cabinet handles? Think about where you need the most functionality (are there certain cabinets you use more often than others?) to determine the best shape and then consider which type of metal will tie into your overall interior best. 

3. Don't forget the tech

Shaker navy kitchen with stainless steel range cooker

(Image credit: Future PLC)

It's easy to think that modern tech has no place in a classic kitchen, but it's actually a practical and stylish way to add a sleek, contemporary touch. 

If you're an avid cook, some of the best ovens will make dinner parties a breeze, whereas contemporary fridges with family-friendly features make it simple to stay on track of meal planning. 

Don't worry about the contrast between super sleek tech and classic cabinetry either - this is the best way to create an old-new look in a kitchen that also doubles down on functionality. 

4. Incorporate natural materials

Classic shaker kitchen with island and marble worktops

(Image credit: Future PLC)

Natural materials like wood and stone have an enduring quality that you'll never bore of. 

'While traditional settings and properties may yearn for real wood worktops, remember that they’re high maintenance requiring regular touch-ups and being prone to stains – not ideal if the kitchen is in a busy family home or being used by an exuberant cook,' says Sebastian Aronowitz, director of The London Kitchen Company.

5. Consider bespoke colour

A light pink kitchen with a kitchen island and decorative objects

(Image credit: Davonport)

Colour is the biggest way to make Shaker kitchens look on-trend and the possibilities are endless. Take inspiration from the kitchen colour trends for 2024 for the best ways to bring a more timeless design to life. 

Whether you're struck by a blush-pink scheme or craving a darker palette to make a kitchen feel cosy and welcoming, many kitchens now offer a bespoke element. Paintable kitchens allow you to choose the exact shade you want and update it over time, saving you money on new cabinetry if your taste changes and the hassle of a kitchen renovation. It's the definition of a transitional kitchen.

6. Find space to showcase knick-knacks

Green shaker kitchen with open shelving and white worktops

(Image credit: Future PLC/David Giles)

Open shelving is a highly contested topic in the world of kitchen design - some say its a breeding ground for grime but many love the opportunity it creates to add personality to a design (and essential kitchen storage).

What we do know is that open shelving was a staple in kitchens of bygone eras - just take Victorian-style kitchens for example. And so it definitely has a place in a transitional kitchen where classic features are key. 

It's inherently contemporary too, depending on how you choose to style it. By adding your favourite cookbooks, family photos and trendy knick-knacks, you can update your timeless kitchen design on a whim. 


What are timeless kitchen cabinet colours?

'The quickest and easiest way to make an outdated kitchen look modern is to repaint cabinetry,' recommends Melissa from Harvey Jones. There are a number of timeless kitchen colour combinations that will add an enduring quality to your design, but with the rise of paintable kitchens, don't worry too much about picking a colour that needs to last. You can always repaint it. 

'Earthy neutrals, greens and blues are always popular choices as they connect with garden views and feel ever-peaceful in busy kitchens,' Melissa continues. 

If you're looking for a more classic look, neutral tones of linen and cashmere will create a peaceful aesthetic that you can easily accessorise with pops of colour. 

Nothing beats the feeling of knowing you've made the right kitchen design choices to make sure it stands the test of time - your money will be made the most out of and you'll have a stylish space to enjoy. 

Holly Cockburn
Content Editor

After starting out her journey at Future as a Features Editor on Top Ten Reviews, Holly is now a Content Editor at Ideal Home, writing about the best interior ideas and news. At Top Ten Reviews, she focussed on TikTok viral cleaning hacks as well as how to take care of investment purchases such as lawn mowers, washing machines and vacuum cleaners. Prior to this, Holly was apart of the editorial team at Howdens which sparked her interest in interior design, and more specifically, kitchens (Shaker is her favourite!).