HomeThe Best Paint ColoursBenjamin Moore and Sherwin Williams: Paint Ideas4 Affordable Update Ideas: Oak or Wood Kitchen Cabinets (PART 2)

4 Affordable Update Ideas: Oak or Wood Kitchen Cabinets (PART 2)

Posted on October 9, 2023 by KylieMawdsley

How to Make Wood Cabinets Look More Modern

Can you update wood kitchen cabinets without replacing them? HECK YES, YOU CAN! In fact, I’m a huge fan of remodeling kitchens with wood cabinets (even older oak ones). Unlike melamine, thermofoil, and veneers, wood cabinets are almost always SOLID wood. And with real solid wood comes real potential.

Potential for what, you might ask?

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Firstly, the potential for ‘hard wood‘ jokes (always a personal fave). Secondly, there’s a lot of updating potential, regardless of the century your cabinets were installed in. For example…

  • an updated look via paint (which you can learn about HERE)
  • a fresh finish with a more modern stain

And while I’m sure you’ve heard me talk about painting/staining oak cabinets to update and add value, today we’ll talk about everything BUT that.

Are you ready, Betty?

Ideas to update wood oak, maple or cherry kitchen cabinets with backsplash, hardware, home decor and more. Kylie M Interiors Edesign, online paint color advice blogger



Adding glass to a few key doors will relieve some of the visual weight of the wood and add reflective value to your kitchen (which is great if you have a dark kitchen and keep tidy cupboards). Of course, you could hire a cabinet company to do this for you, but with a bottle of wine and a saw, you might be AMAZED at what you can accomplish (it’s how I trim my toenails).

Ideas to update oak wood, maple or cherry kitchen cabinets with backsplash, hardware and more. Kylie M Interiors Edesign, online paint color advice blogger

Seriously though, want to know how? Confessions of a Serial DIY’er has a great ‘how-to’, as does my gal Tamara over at Provident Home Design.



Whether you have an outdated backsplash or none at all, adding a well-chosen tile will do WONDERS for your wood cabinets!

The most popular, timeless choice would be subway tile with either white grout or grout that coordinates with your wall color/countertop. This works well when partnered with a neutral counter. If you’re updating your countertop as well, I’ll be writing a blog post about the best countertops with wood cabinets. In the meantime, check out…

The Best White & Off-White Quartz Countertops

Affordable alternatives in modern laminate countertops 

Now, back to backsplashes. This next kitchen looks on-trend with its cream subway tile backsplash and warm white walls…

wood kitchen before painting (2)

A few budget-friendly update ideas would be…

  • paint the pantry door a darker accent color
  • add a bit of interesting decor, like branches/leaves in the large vase
  • consider pendant lights with a fabric or solid white shade, as they offer a softer light
  • find some upholstered stools in a darker fabric (dark green-gray would be pretty, as it would contrast the warm woods)

This next kitchen shows oak cabinets with exposed hinges…

Ideas to update oak kitchen cabinets with countertop, backsplash and hardware. white appliances. Kylie M Interiors E-design

My client took this photo mid-project, so excuse a few funny spots.

My client added a new countertop and white subway tile with contrasting grout to subtly jazz things up.

As shown in this next photo, you could also consider travertine. While travertine gets a bad rap, I’m a huge fan, and with the coming warm trends, you might see it coming back! THIS BEING SAID, travertine isn’t currently a hot finish for backsplashes (but you do you, boo). I also love the polished nickel hardware – a simple complement to the warm wood tones, whereas black would’ve created more contrast and been a bit harsh with the organic look of the travertine.

Ideas to update wood cabinets, oak, cherry or maple with new hardware and backsplash. Kylie M Interiors Edesign, online paint color advice and blog

This next photo shows how adding hardware, a modern countertop, and a new subway tile backsplash can lighten, brighten, and update wood cabinets. I know a lot of you would paint these bad boys, but other than the exposed hinges, look at the bone structure of these cabinets—gorgeous!

Ideas to update oak or wood kitchen cabinets. Greige subway tile quartz countertop. Kylie M Interiors Edesign, online paint color consulting

To finish this up, I would replace the yellowed phone jack and put something pretty in the open cabinet.

Subway Tile, Zellige, Counterspashes – Which Backsplash Tiles Are Trendy?

This next kitchen is a great example of a well-planned remodel using the existing oak cabinets…

Ideas to update oak cabinets with marble backsplash and white quartz countertops

  • White quartz countertops.
  • Modern marble tile backsplash.
  • New black hardware.

And all of this was done without changing the cabinets or the original tile floor! However, if I were to suggest one BIG thing, it would be to remove the wood valance over the sink. Valances like this cut back on the quality of light and date a space to the 80s (learn about updating 80s kitchens here).

Ideas to Update Golden or Honey Oak Cabinets



Unified home decor with a consistent color palette can help update a kitchen or bathroom with oak cabinets. The more colors and metal finishes you add, the more cluttered it can make a room look.



Neutrals and simple, classic colors are a great way to update wood cabinets. Rather than contrasting the wood with a color like blue or green, neutrals keep things simple and modern while still adding visual interest.

This next kitchen isn’t wood (but it was in a previous life!); it’s just a great example of a great accessory color palette (and hardware)…

Painted white kitchen cabinets, black granite countertop, beige taupe backsplash tile, Sherwin Williams Alabaster cabinets, Kylie M and Jenna Christian



Copper’s earthy, rich metal finish is a beautiful complement to oak cabinets. Whether it’s canisters or small decorative pieces, adding copper can help simplify and unify your cabinets and decor, as copper tends to have the same warm undertone as some oak finishes.

Wood cabinet UPDATE IDEAS, Taj Mahal quartzite, old world feel, zellige tile backsplash, wood floor. Kylie M

How to Update Your 1980s Kitchen


Generally speaking, too much color isn’t great for wood cabinets. However, adding some greenery and keeping things simple is a GREAT way to add energy to the room without overwhelming it.

wood walnut tone cabinets, laminate granite look countertop, handpainted subway tile backsplash, stainless, Kylie M Interiors best paint colors

How to Update Golden or Honey Oak Cabinets

While I might add a bit more decorative love to this next kitchen, the right bones are in place, and the photo shows how even a wink of green adds LIFE (this home was getting ready for staging, so it was kept simple)!

Open layout dining room, kitchen dark wood cabinets, tile wood look floor. Sherwin Williams Pure White. Paint color consulting Kylie M Interiors Edesign (13)




This next kitchen shows how the right furnishings finish a space. Wood stools would be overwhelming, considering all the wood already in this space.

Wood kitchen island cabinets, orange stain, wood floor,granite countertops, stainless steel, pendants, Benjamin Moore Texas Leather greige brown gray blend green

If I were to suggest a change, I might choose stools that are just a bit less fancy – still upholstered, but with more simple lines and no nailhead details (and seriously, I’m just being picky for the sake of showing you ideas/options) – this space is beautiful. And the artwork? PERFECT!



I also believe that CLEARING THE CLUTTER is a great way to update wood cabinets. Simplify your space and let the products do the visual work for you. Wood cabinets (especially oak) have a grain that can add visual interest/clutter to a space.

Let’s look at this next photo…

Ideas to update oak wood, maple or cherry kitchen cabinets with backsplash, hardware and more. Kylie M Interiors Edesign, online paint color advice blogger

Although the simplicity is alright for home staging, I have a few suggestions that would respect the owner’s need for simplicity while adding a decorative touch…

  • add simple, repetitive decor pieces in those upper glass cabinets (i.e., coordinating bowls/vases/stacks of plates)
  • remove the knife holders as they’re hangry-looking
  • add a plant or two to complement the warm tones and add some energy! Even just one in the corner with the blender would make a BIG difference
  • use a nicer utensil holder with some stainless utensils
  • add a decorative soap dispenser

4 Tips for Picking the Best Subway Tile for Your Backsplash

In this next photo, while the backsplash diamond pattern isn’t terribly modern, the cabinets have great bones and a workable stain. If the countertops were cluttered, this space would have WAY less appeal. The use of greenery keeps the accessories in this room well-connected and complementary to the maple cabinets.

Dark wood kitchen cabinets and trim with travertine tile backsplash and warm granite. Sherwin Williams White Duck darkened on walls. Kylie M Interiors Edesign, online paint color advice blog

How to Update a 1990s Home

If the above owner wanted to take things a step further, they could consider the following:

  • Add a soft, warm, creamy white subway tile. White would be too stark with the flooring and countertop. I would do a soft, light, beige-ish grout to define the tile layout.
  • I’d replace the pendant lights with clear glass ones that are slightly larger and more updated. I’d probably reduce it to three lights and cap one.
  • Find upholstered stools to break up the wood and add softness and texture.



Okay, so I’m a big fat liar, I know – slap me with a wet noodle. However, this idea doesn’t involve painting ALL of your cabinets – just some of them, and it’s too good of an idea not to share!

By choosing a few key places to paint, you can give your kitchen an updated look and give the oak something to play off.

The 6 Best Paint Colours for Bathroom Vanities Are ALSO GREAT for Kitchen Islands! 

I’m in LOVE with this next kitchen with its cherry wood cabinets. And while this approach isn’t for the faint of heart, remember, sometimes wood needs something to PLAY with to come into its full glory!

kitchen with slate tile backsplash, black granite countertop, dark gray green painted hood fan and cherry wood cabinets. Kylie M Interiors

Are you not sure if you should even consider painting your cabinets? Take my fun QUESTIONNAIRE to see what your kitchen says!

Oak kitchen with wood cabinets, painted island, update ideas white quartz countertop and subway tile backsplash. Kylie M Interiors DIY paint color advice blogger

Of course, there are MANY different kitchen layouts, so it can be challenging to say, ‘Always paint these cabinets and leave these ones wood,’ but here are some ideas to get you going…

  • paint only the upper cabinets
  • paint only the lower cabinets
  • if you have a pantry-style cabinet in the kitchen, paint it as well as the uppers OR lowers
  • paint the island
  • if you have a unique range hood or desk area, paint it

Ideas to Update Golden or Honey Oak Cabinets




One of the best ways to update your wood cabinets is with modern finishes. You’ll find some ideas in this blog post, and I’ve also created CURATED KITCHEN PALETTES to get you started!

ideas to update wood or oak maple kitchen cabinets with countertop, backsplash tile, paint colors. Kylie M ONline paint color consultant, palettes



6 Ideas to Update Oak Cabinets – (PART 1 in series)

The Best Hardware to Update Wood Cabinets (PART 3)

The 16 Best Paint Colors to Update Oak or Wood Cabinets or Trim (PART 4)

The Best Paint Colors to Update Golden or Honey Oak Cabinets

How to Update Your 1990s Kitchen

The 16 Best Paint Colors to Coordinate with Wood

Should I Paint My Cabinets or Leave Them Stained? A Questionnaire

The 12 Best WHOLE HOME Gray & Greige Paint Colors

Need HELP?

Check out my E-Design and Online Color Consulting Packages 

Online paint colour consultant Benjamin Moore Sherwin Williams, Vancouver Island, USA, UK. Interior, exterior, edesign colors. Kylie M Interiors, blogger marketing

Kylie M Interiors Edecor and Edesign



  1. That was a very interesting read and the one I was looking for. I have been wanting to save my kitchen oak cabinets. They surely look beautifully but don’t look modern at all. And the kitchen being the heart of every house I really want to update them without painting them. I also have a ugly blue colour laminate counter top and I am struggling to find budget friendly ways to update it or already change the colour. Is there any simple DIY project there.

  2. I spent a lot of time on your (fantastic!) website, looking for an inexpensive way to improve my oak kitchen. I had no idea that the existing pale green wall color was actually accentuating the honey oak cabinet color. After watching your videos, I decided to paint the walls Benjamin Moore Balboa Mist — a beautiful neutral color. Big improvement!

  3. Loved your article and all the beautiful pictures with oak cabinets. I am thinking about painting the island. My cabinets are a red oak. What color should I go with for the island? Should I used one of the wall colors you suggested or do you think they are too light and won’t ground it. I will be changing the floor tiles and counter soon so I can tie it in.

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      Hi Denise! It actually depends on your countertop/backsplash/flooring combo for your island colour! These are what you’ll want to tie in into. And while lighter colours can ‘sometimes’ work, it’s usually best to go darker, into the darker greens, greiges or navy blues! Check out SW Urbane Bronze, Cyberspace and Gauntlet Gray – see if any of those work with your finishes!

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  4. Great article. I’m looking to enliven my oak kitchen. We bought our first house last year. The kitchen is in great shape, but was designed in 95 – and it shows. We plan to do a complete overhaul down the road, but for now, I’d like to paint the walls and add a backsplash to perk it up. We’ve already updated the hardware to be less country. I’m struggling to find a back splash that isn’t too modern or too country. Counters and floors are very neutral off white/beige. Would like to bring in a light muted blue green to the walls and picked up in the tile. Thinking off white under the chair rail. Walls are currently a heavy burgundy and weird clashing shade of beige. Woodwork is all beautifully stained, maybe walnut-ish. What are your thoughts on the plan? Any tiles you recommend? I’ve been hunting for 9 months :/ thanks

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