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Meg Caswell, host of HGTV’s Great Rooms, loves adding colours to kitchens. Here she painted the walls red and added a clear glass cover to create a chic, vibrant backsplash.

Jean-Marc Giboux/AP

Kitchens in traditional and vintage homes often are dressed in conservative garb: neutral hues, stainless steel, white-on-white or beige-on-beige.

Historically, however, kitchens were actually pretty peppy, according to Deborah Baldwin, editor of This Old House magazine.

"Pastel greens, blues, creams and peaches reigned until the early 1930s, when casual, built-in eating areas were painted Kelly green, red and even black," she says.

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"We have readers who are introducing brightly coloured cabinets and appliances in tomato, pumpkin and daisy," she adds.

At this spring's Architectural Digest Home Design Show in New York, manufacturers were showing lots of vibrantly hued kitchen equipment.

Bertazzoni's Arancio range came in orange, burgundy and yellow. Big Chill displayed a wall full of paintbox hues including jadite (a milky green), cherry and pink. AGA's Signature line of beefy, professional-grade ranges comes in intriguing colours such as aubergine, duck-egg blue, heather, pistachio, claret and British racing green.

Fans of metallics might go for Blue Star's dramatic collection of ranges, wall ovens and hoods in copper, gold and a chocolatey ginger, as well as several hundred other colours and finishes.

Kitchens of any vintage can look great with colourful walls. Pumpkin, cobalt and deep Prussian blue enhance all kinds of woods, whether you're working with 19th-century pine, Craftsman-era oak or mid-century walnut.

Or consider the ceiling. In a small galley kitchen, bold colour on the ceiling creates a "jewel box" effect. Deep hues such as eggplant, navy, magenta or carmine complement white cabinetry in a large kitchen, and look great in both natural and artificial light.

New York designer Gideon Mendelson applied a pea-green gingham canvas cloth to the ceiling of a country house kitchen, and painted the island in a similar shade. With a collection of vintage baskets displayed along the tops of snowy wood cabinetry, the vibe is relaxed, fresh and contemporary.

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Meg Caswell, a designer and host on HGTV's Great Rooms, loves to add colour to kitchens. She used a backsplash of crisp, blue and green fused-glass tiles as a counterpoint to a rustic, old world-style metal and wood kitchen island, glossy black cabinetry and citrine wallpaper in an art deco-era home. In another home, she mixed sleek teal-and-white glass with farmhouse blue cabinets.

Baldwin, of This Old House, advises painting upper and base cabinets different colours, or painting an island or hutch in a contrasting shade.

"This helps reinforce their freestanding furniture look, which harks back to 18th- and 19th-century kitchens," she says.

"Painting the floor – either one colour or in a pattern like checkerboard – can reinforce the vintage look too," she notes. Options include graphic designs or stencils, or illustrated rug motifs. Better Homes and Gardens' website has lots of ideas.

If you're in a rental with limited decorating options, go for colour accents like Fiesta ware, rag rugs, a couple of snazzy stools, and counter appliances in candy hues.

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