HomeThe Best Paint ColoursBenjamin Moore and Sherwin Williams: Paint IdeasUpdate Oak or Wood Cabinets WITHOUT a Drop of Paint

Update Oak or Wood Cabinets WITHOUT a Drop of Paint

Posted on January 9, 2018 by KylieMawdsley


5 Ideas: Update Wood Cabinets with Hardware, Backsplash, Glass Doors and More! 

You might be surprised to hear it, but I’m a huge fan of wood cabinets (especially oak). That’s right, a HUGE fan. Why? Well, unlike melamine, thermofoil and veneers, oak cabinets are almost always REAL solid wood. And with real wood comes real potential.

Best paint colour for maple, oak cabinets, orange tone. Benjamin Moore November Rain gray paint colour, green undertone. Kylie M Interiors Edesign, online paint color consultant

The above photo shows maple cabinets, not oak, but it’s a GREAT example of a well-updated space

Potential for what you may ask? Firstly, the potential for many many ‘hard wood’ jokes (always a personal fave), and secondly, the potential for updating them regardless of the century you’re in, for example…

  • An updated look via paint (which you can learn about HERE)
  • A fresh finish with stain
  • A facelift with hardware, decor and paint colours that suit your wood stain – ideas that involve much less work, labour, money and wine-drinking compared to remodelling

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

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

1. Update the Hardware and Light Fixtures

I talked about new hardware in my blog post HERE and today, I want to add to those ideas…

Black hardware on wood cabinets

Black is HANDS-DOWN the top choice for updating wood cabinets. And I love the look of it as long as the hinges aren’t exposed as black hinges can look a bit harsh and show the age of the cabinets more than hidden hinges. Black hardware can look either modern OR farmhouse, depending on the style of your cabinets and surrounding decor/style.

Polished nickel on wood cabinets

Nickel is in HOT second place to black, especially if you want a slightly more modern approach and coordinates well with stainless appliances.

Antique Brass

If you’re looking for a low-contrast look, antique brass is a beautiful finish with oak cabinets, but definitely tougher to pull off unless you have mad style (think Studio McGee) and the right cabinets (ie: shaker style). The bonus is that most oak cabinets (if they have their original hardware) have hinges in this finish, so that’s one less thing to worry about.

Oil Rubbed Bronze

ORB is another beautiful finish with wood cabinets but is usually better with oak than cherry or maple (depending on the stain colour). However, of the four finishes, it’s the LEAST modern looking.

Gold or Brass

While this is a POPULAR finish these days, it isn’t always a hit with wood cabinets. Why? Well, gold/brass is usually a yellow-toned metal finish and some cabinets are too orange/red toned for this yellow-gold look. Doing an aged brass (ie: antique brass) is often a better fit, but both can be considerably more expensive than black or polished nickel.

The Best Pulls for Wood Cabinets. Wayfair. Kylie M Interiors E-design, E-décor, online paint colour advice

To view/purchase the above hardware, please visit the links in this blog post here: The Best BUDGET FRIENDLY Hardware to Update Oak or Wood Cabinets

The Best Knobs for Wood Cabinets. Wayfair. Kylie M Interiors E-design, E-décor, online paint colour advice

To view/purchase the above hardware, please visit the links in this blog post here: The Best BUDGET FRIENDLY Hardware to Update Oak or Wood Cabinets

Julie Blanner did a FABulous job of updating her kitchen while keeping the rich tone of her oak cabinets. With cup style pulls and decorative handles, her kitchen looks warm and inviting! I actually use 99.9% my OWN photos on my website from E-Design clients, but I HAD to ask Julie for permission to use this photo as it’s THE PERFECT example of kitchen cabinets that are appropriately updated with the right hardware and decor.

Ideas to update oak kitchen or bathroom cabinets without paint. Including hardware and decor. Design by Julie BlannerVia Julie Blanner

The cathedral style door (as shown above with the arched top) is the hardest look to update. By choosing hardware with soft, curved lines, Julie gave this kitchen a new lease on life and the cathedral style door and hardware look natural and well-coordinated with each other.

In this next photo, the hardware is super low-key and I LIKE it. The cabinets become more of a simple backdrop to the gorgeously updated pendant lights, countertop and faucets.

Sherwin Williams Heron Plume kitchen with granite, wood cabinets, blue island, southwestern style. Kylie M E-design, online paint expert. Before photo

Read more: The Best Hardware to Update Cabinets

2. Add Glass to Feature Doors

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). And 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).

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.

3. Add a New Backsplash

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

The most popular, timeless choice would be subway tile with either white or soft gray grout. This works well when partnered with a neutral white, gray or black countertop.

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

You could also consider travertine, which is a beautiful natural stone that suits many oak, maple and cherry cabinet finishes, as shown in this next photo. I also love the polished nickel hardware – a simple complement to the warm wood tones, whereas black would’ve created more contrast.

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

The above photo shows how adding dark hardware, a modern countertop and new subway tile backsplash can lighten, brighten and update oak cabinets – making them look rich and stunning, rather than heavy and old.

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

4. Use the Right Home Decor

Using unified decor with a consistent colour palette can really help update a kitchen or bathroom with oak cabinets. The more colours and metal finishes you add, the more cluttered it can make the room look.

Black, white, cream and gray home decor

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

Pine and warm toned wood floor, doors, stairs and railings. Similar to oak look. Benjamin Moore Powell Buff, warm beige paint colour. Kylie M E-design, online, virtual colour consulting services

Copper Home Decor

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


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

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 to them and this alone can add visual interest/clutter to 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 owners need for simplicity, while adding a decorative touch…

  • Put simple, repetitive decor pieces in those upper glass cabinets (ie: 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

Read more: 4 Tips for Picking the Best Subway Tile for Your Backsplash

In this next photo, while the diamond pattern of the backsplash isn’t terribly modern, the cabinets have great bones and a totally workable stain colour on them. 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

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
  • Replace the pendant lights with clear glass ones that are slightly larger and more updated. I’d probably take it down to three lights and cap one
  • Find upholstered stools to break up the wood a bit and add some softness and texture

edesign, virtual paint colour consulting. Kylie M Interiors Benjamin Moore, Sherwin Williams color expert. marketing (10)

Click HERE or on the above image to see available packages

5. Paint…Just a Lil’

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 of.

Ideas to update kitchen with oak wood cabinets. Painted island, subway tile backsplash and paint colours. Kylie M Interiors Edesign, online paint colour expert

Read more: The 6 Best Paint Colours for Bathroom Vanities that are ALSO GREAT for Kitchen Islands! 

Golden oak kitchen cabinets with white q

Again, I’m just DYING to clean up that open corner cabinet! 

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

Need HELP?

Check out my E-Design and Online Color Consulting Packages – I’d love to help!

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


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  1. Love all these ideas! I do not love my oak colored kitchen cabinets, but the thought of painting all of them…ugh! I like the idea of painting some, and love your ideas about finding ways to compliment the color rather than fight it. What about wallpaper? I have wainscoting, and though I realize wallpaper seems old fashioned, a pretty modern paper above the wainscoting that goes well with the cabinets, really seems like it could update my kitchen and take the focus off the cabinets. I know this doesn’t work for everyone, but Hygge and West’s Oh Joy paper in taupe (and other colors) is worth checking out if someone is open to it. http://www.hyggeandwest.com/collections/wallpaper/products/petal-pusher-taupe (Here is the link to the taupe wallpaper if anyone is interested. I am currently considering this option very seriously, though now intrigued by the idea of painting some cabinets.)

    I do have a question, and you may have answered it in other posts…what do you think about the kitchen cupboard paint kits they sell at Lowe’s and Home Depot by the paint? Do they work? If you know. Thanks again for a great and informative post!

    1. We have allot of counter space and could not afford to replace it so we chose to do a counter paint kit and absolutely love it. It was very easy. There are a few downsides though, the first being that it’s inconvenient not to be able to use your counter space for several days. You do have to be very careful not to set anything hot on it because it will take the finish off (we found that out the hard way). We do have a few nicks here and there after only a year but they are very easy to touch up.

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        Sweet, I love notes like this – thank you Kristin, I’m glad it turned out and I bet it was a FRACTION of the cost!

  2. Just beginning to think of new counter tops for my 1992 kitchen with honey oak cathedral cabinets. Our house isn’t worth what we paid for it, so I wouldn’t touch it otherwise, but the sink is rusting and of a giant size that can’t be replaced. Time to re-do sink, counters, etc, but on a budget.
    Just getting started to figure out how to go and a style that will be attractive though the cabinets are not in vogue.
    Thank you for sharing your information!

  3. Thank you so much for these fantastic ideas! My family and I are house hunting right now and practically every house we look at has my least favorite kitchen design – oak cabinets with tile countertops! Ugh! I didn’t know what to do until I came across your site. Thank you again for giving me hope!

  4. I was directed to this post by Pinterest. Thank you for not bashing oak cabinets:)
    I refreshed my oak kitchen with new quartz counters, backsplash and farm sink. The Kohler Whitehaven “short apron” style sink can be installed on a standard sink base. It is a great way to blend “old” country with new farmhouse. I love my refreshed kitchen.
    Actually, I like a vintage style so found it easy to work with older cabinets. I can’t help wondering how my solid wood cabinets, 15 years from now, are going to stack up against some of the white MDF cabinets I’ve seen in Parade Homes 🙂

    1. Hi, sorry for the SUPER delayed reply! And I love oak cabinets, it’s often about how they are integrated into the room that matters! And oak is really so timeless (it’s sometimes just the hardware and profile that dates it) and chances are it will look a good lot better than the MDF 🙂

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  5. I have replaced my upper cabinets with oak cottage white-the oak grain can be seen. I want to match my island which is oak/grain with antique white. But I want the grain of the oak to show through like my other cabinets. How do I do that?

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      Well, I’m thinking that if you just use a quality primer and paint that should do the trick! It actually takes some work to fill in the grain on oak (which is why most people don’t do it). You’ll also want to make sure that you use the same sheen level as you have on your other cabinets as the sheen can affect how the grain looks as well. Take one of the doors that is a bit more hidden and do a trial run (or go to a building recycling store and get a few doors to play with). This way you can get a feel for how things will look when they’re all done without getting too far ahead of yourself!

  6. Thank you! I thought I was doomed to wake up each morning and walk into my new home’s oak cabinet kitchen which I dislike to depression. You have given me so many useful ideas. I’m having fun incorporating most of your recommendations.

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  7. Can I start by saying that I’m a fan of my oak cabinets. They are made of solid wood and plywood…no particle board, no thin and cheap veneer! After thirty years they look as good as new, and stainless steel appliances and an off-white quartz countertop have brought them into the new century nicely. I love the mix of old and new! And I love the warm tone of the wood, I just can’t imagine painting it! Here’s the thing, if you chase kitchen trends, you will always be unhappy because, like clothing trends, they always change. Remember when everyone had to have cherry cabinets with darke granite counters? Exactly!

    1. I agree totally I have the same cabinet you talk about and we paid a pretty penny for them, I think I may and try to incorporate a few glass doors on the top cabinets. Doors with a semi-frost design and then update my hardware.

  8. Give me solid honey oak cabinets over fake wood, particle board or plastic thermofoil any day. You can stain them. Paint them, put in glass doors or leave them as they are now. A solid real wood cabinet stands the test of time…u like most others. Look for quality even if you just admire it as a base to work from.

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  9. Hi thank you for the ideas. I too have solid oak cathedral cabinets that we remodeled and installed in 1993 . There is a beautiful stain I saw that is light grayish color that allows the grain to show by Minwax. I think I’m going to sand down the sheen on my cabinets and stain them. It will be pretty I think, and add the knobs and pulls. Modern update without painting them a solid color. I love solid wood!

  10. Kylie, love this website! I have a love/hate relationship with all the oak in my home and especially the kitchen. I’m happy to know there is an expert who supports painting the island. I have been color paralyzed for 2 years for this makeover. What color suggestions do you have for painting it?

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  11. Thank you for some ideas. My cabinets are exactly like Julia Blanner’s. What are your thoughts of adding cabinet black crown mounding with an oak inset, cabinet light rail in black and then black hardware? Counter tops would also have some black to tie all together. Your thoughts. Thanks.

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  12. I have a fairly large kitchen with lots of solid honey oak Shaker-style cabinets. The island is 12 feet long and has honey oak cabinets on both sides (the gas cooktop is in the island). There are 7 doors and 3 windows in the room that are all dark wood with dark wood trim. Additionally, the crown molding is dark wood. I don’t want to paint the cabinets but want to update the room. I’m thinking I can get a lighter and updated feel by lightening up the walls, doors, and trim. Do you think this is an acceptable first step? Any advice is most welcomed!

  13. Kylie, Love your website! Very helpful in many ways.
    I have medium oak kitchen cabinets (early american stain color) and colonial maple stained trim throughout the house. What are your thoughts on adding crown modeling to a kitchen for an updated look versus chair rail?
    I see many wood look floors in kitchens with oak cabinets. I have a dark kitchen, thinking all that brown wouldn’t help. Do you have any ideas for a lighter type flooring that would bring an updated look? Thanks for any thoughts you may have. 🙂

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      Hi Jill! Well, no matter what you do, I’d stay away from the chair rail (I mean, I haven’t seen your home, so this is just my general advice) as they can really date a space. White chair rails are 90s and wood ones harken a bit to the 80s. As for the crown, it can depend on how high your cabinets are, but I worry about it putting a bit of a cap on the room or weighing it down. As for the flooring, try one or two tones lighter, but make SURE you pick up the same brown tones – don’t add yellow/gray/orange/red to the mix!

      1. Thank you so much Kylie! I will rethink this. I hear wallpaper is coming back. Would something like that textured that goes with colonial maple stain or maybe just a painted focal wall?

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