Posted on October 20, 2023 by KylieMawdsley


While the rest of the world is painting their wood cabinets, some revel in the glory of their grainy goodness – myself included. And while not ALL wood cabinets are created equal, if your kitchen has the right bones, there are ways to update your kitchen while KEEPING your wood cabinets – SANS PAINT! (which is different from sans pants, which is how I paint).

I’ve written a blog post detailing what makes WOOD so GOOD (you’ll find a link shortly), including helpful tips on how to update wood kitchen cabinets. So, rather than being long-winded as usual, this blog post is about basic info and some SERIOUS eye candy to get you thinking of ways to update your home!

But first…



While some homeowners think wood cabinets are always trendy, this isn’t true. Sure, some have a better chance of surviving ever-changing trends than others…

But it ALL comes down to grain, stain, and style.

The more muted and simple your wood’s grain pattern is, the easier it is to transition through the various trends. For example, many standard oak grains are too busy and bossy to last. However, rift-cut oak and its more passive approach have a place in many modern homes and should continue to do so.

If you’re installing kitchen cabinets in 2024 and can’t decide between wood or painted, based on current trends, my suggestion is to do painted white lower and upper cabinets and consider a natural or stained wood island. As for species, a rift-cut white oak is trendy, but oaks and maples with darker browner stains are showing up on Instagram and Pinterest feeds (the actual color depends on the floor and countertop they’re partnered with.)

Wood kitchen island cabinets, red oak floors, pendant lights, Caesarstone Staturio Nuvo white quartz countertop, White Dove walls. Kylie M Interiors Edesign, update ideas blogger (2)

The solid wood floor is oak; the cabinets look to be maple with gorgeous brass hardware

Benjamin Moore Oxford White painted kitchen cabinets, wood oak island, wood floor, black pendants, mountain style chalet home, vaulted tongue and groove ceiling

While the yellow tone of this island will fall out of style, the wood itself has a GREAT future ahead of it

Let’s take a look at the most popular species of wood used for kitchen cabinets. Remember, I’m a Color Expert, not a wood expert (although I have my faves, wink wink), but I sure as heck know what’s trendy in today’s average home…

OAK CABINETS: If you choose oak cabinets, the smaller the grain, the better (for today’s cabinet trends). Not to say you can’t transition your more traditional flat-sawn grainy oak into this decade, but if you’re buying NEW wood cabinets, consider rift-cut or quarter-sawn.

oak cabinets in kitchen with taj royale or like taj mahal quartz countertops (2)

As you can see, this kitchen is mid-remodel. Notice the pink undertone of the island – it’s most likely red oak

MAPLE WOOD CABINETS: Maple is a popular choice for wood cabinets and can be more affordable than oak. It has a simple, small grain and can be smoother and more uniform-looking than other wood species. While I’m a HUGE fan of oak, my second (and more affordable choice) is maple.

Dark black granite, cherry red maple wood cabinets, Benjamin Moore Edgecomb Gray. Kylie M edesign CLIENT PHOTO

Another mid-project photo! These cabinets look to be maple with a strong cherry-red stain

CHERRY WOOD CABINETS: These have a modest grain pattern, but their color changes over the years, and you could end up with a depth or undertone you didn’t plan on that potentially clashes with the surrounding finishes. For this reason, I would avoid cherry.

Cherry red stainedd wood cabinets with some cabinets painted Sherwin Williams Urbane Bronze - range hood. Granite countertop, slate tile backsplash. Kylie M Edesign

A dash of depth or color is a great way to break up a huge expanse of wood

ALDER WOOD CABINETS: Alder can look ‘similar’ to maple cabinets. However, if you choose a knotty alder, you’ll see knots, which are great for a rustic, woodsy, or old farmhouse look but not for a modern home (it was popular in the early 2000s, for sure.) However, if you want to paint your knotty alder cabinets in the future, these knots will give you a run for your money. I have alder cabinets in our bathrooms and wish I didn’t! Alder is also similar to red oak in that it can have a red undertone.

POPLAR WOOD CABINETS: Poplar can be an affordable choice for cabinets, and has a small, appealing grain. However, it can have some pretty wild veins of color running through it (it’s unpredictable), and between it and maple (which are comparable), maple is the most durable

HICKORY CABINETS: Hickory makes me nervous as the grain colors can vary and change over time. They can also vary a lot from cabinet door to door. For this reason, I wouldn’t install this in a new home unless I want a super rustic, woodsy look. If you have hickory, you’ll want to update your surrounding finishes with SIMPLE patterns and solid colors.

Now, woodn’t you like to get started? Let’s do it…



While I could talk forever about why I love this kitchen and am ETERNALLY grateful they didn’t paint their cabinets, let’s hit a few bullet points as to why its bones are SO FREAKIN’ SOLID.

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

  • shaker door profile –  no arch or cathedral
  • hidden hinges
  • modest, medium wood stain
  • minimal wood grain that doesn’t compete with the light wood floor
  • updated hardware, lighting, and decor
  • a gorgeous contrasting paint color on the walls

Some of you might say, ‘I would definitely replace that granite,’ or, ‘That backsplash has to go.’ Each to their own, but…

Sometimes, it’s about meeting your home where it’s AT, rather than ripping it apart.

Kitchen walls Benjamin Moore Texas Leather, office Knoxville Gray blue green blend, orange stain wood cabinets, wood trim and floor, granite countertops.

The Best Paint Colors to Go With Wood Trim & Cabinets

Budgets don’t always allow for huge changes; sometimes, the little ones make the biggest difference!

Kitchen with wood cabinets, wood floor and island, granite countertop, mosaic travertine stone backsplash, wood trim, Benjamin Moore Texas Leather walls.

I love that they keep the wood trim, too! 

And by the way, you’ll see descriptions of door profiles, hinge styles, etc… for each project. Once you finish this blog post – READ THIS ONE and discover why these particular kitchen design details are SO IMPORTANT (but seriously, finish looking at these kitchens first – they’re worth it)!




I’m so grateful when my clients send me photos I can use on my blog, especially ones like this!

I only use photos from my Online Paint Color Consulting clients.

Wood kitchen cabinets before painted edesign

Ideas to update kitchen with oak wood cabinets. Quartz countertop, white subway tile backsplash, painted island. Kylie M Interiors Edesign, blogger diy advice

As you now know, I’m a huge sucker for wood cabinetry (momma looooves her wood), and I’m relieved when homeowners with beautiful solid wood cabinets choose to KEEP them that way! Seriously, nothing gives me more angst than when I have to consult on gorgeous cabinets that really shouldn’t be painted. Sadly, it’s not all about me – not all the time, anyway.

While white oak is FAR trendier, red oak still has its place if the surrounding space is updated accordingly.

Why is white oak more popular?

Red oak’s pink undertone (or stronger red) can be tricky to coordinate with, as it doesn’t always suit more modern finishes. In contrast, white oak can be left natural or more easily stained with a muted brown or subtle warm tone.

Let’s look at how these oak kitchen cabinets were updated…

Ideas to update oak wood kitchen cabinets with countertop, subway tile, painted island, Kylie M Interiors Edesign, paint color advice blogge

  • new white subway tile backsplash
  • white quartz countertop
  • stainless steel appliances
  • new cabinet hardware (I usually recommend knobs on upper cabinets and doors and handles/pulls on drawers only)
  • furnishings that lighten and brighten
  • notice how the oak dining table ties into the kitchen cabinets, while the white chairs connect to the new elements
  • painted island in a soft green-blue

Here’s a close-up of the bar area to the right…

Update oak wood kitchen cabinets with quartz white countertop, subway tile and painted island. Ideas from Kylie M Interiors Edesign, paint color advice blogger

Sure, the cabinets are a bit orange-red for the red-violet stain of the floor, but in the previous photo, things flow just fine (it could just be the photography.)

The Best Gray, Greige, & Green Paint Colors for Cabinets & Islands



When this kitchen appeared on my to-do list, it lit up my soul like a firecracker. My client wanted to finish her remodel by painting kitchen cabinets, and, well…I just about cried (insert wine and funnel HERE). Of course, I gave her some great color options to consider should she CHOOSE to paint; after all, this is what she asked me for. However, I was also truthful that I PERSONALLY wouldn’t paint these cabinets.


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

Some spaces just have charm, and this one had me at hello. My client was concerned about other’s perceptions of her space, which I toooootally resonate with, as I worry about this all the time (I shouldn’t, I know). Here’s what I said…

‘If you paint your cabinets white, someone will wonder why you didn’t paint them mushroom. Paint your cabinets mushroom, and someone will wonder why you didn’t choose white. So, of course, if you DON’T paint them, people will have their opinion on that, insisting that you really SHOULD. But at the end of the day, you’re the one living in your home – what do YOU love?’

It turns out she really does love her cabinets and is happy to keep them wood – wahoo! My work here is done; I shall tuck my superhero cape away for another day.

Are Gray Paint Colors Stil Trendy on Cabinets?

Now, let’s see why this space is so darn charming…

  • no exposed hinges – no arch or cathedral-style cabinet doors
  • while the glazing detail on these cabinets could date another space, they only add to the old-world charm and homeyness of this space
  • she chose one of the the more popular quartz (quartzite) countertops, Taj Mahal, which plays into the warmth of the wood tones
  • the new, natural wood-look flooring works with the stain of the cabinets without blending
  • I love the elongated hexagon marble tile backsplash
  • the accessories are SO on point with the vibe of this space – she hit it out of the park

The Ultimate Guide to Choosing White Paint Colors



Dark wood cabinets had their day in the early 2000s. And while they still pop up here and there, many people opt to paint them, rather than updating the space AROUND them to look more modern.

This next kitchen is gorgeous. I’m not usually a fan of dark or espresso wood cabinets, but this kitchen is beautiful for several reasons…

Open layout dining room, kitchen dark wood cabinets, tile wood look floor. Sherwin Williams Pure White. Paint color consulting Kylie M Interiors Edesign (12)

  • The cabinet doors are shaker style (common for this decade) and aren’t so dark they look super espresso or blackish – they also don’t lean into RED.
  • The white quartz countertop lightens and brightens the space, adding balance.
  • I love that the backsplash isn’t just white subway tile; it has a mix of warm tones, similar to a super muted travertine.
  • The ISLAND isn’t dark, again, adding some great balance and a little ‘thoughtful moment.’
  • The new flooring doesn’t compete with the cabinets.
  • I also love when kitchens with islands and open dining areas use soft furnishings, such as tobacco leather counter stools and fabric dining chairs. Kitchens have so many sharp edges and nothing to absorb sound or energy. These fabric surfaces soften a space, compared to wood stools/chairs.
  • The accessorizing and home decor are simple and clean, picking up on this space’s lines and overall vibe – everything makes sense together.

If you still can’t decide whether you love wood or painted cabinets, I have a similar blog post full of PAINTED KITCHEN CABINET INSPIRATION, as well as a fun QUESTIONNAIRE!

Open layout dining room, kitchen dark wood cabinets, tile wood look floor. Sherwin Williams Pure White. Paint color consulting Kylie M Interiors Edesign (2)

While I don’t have nearly as many examples of beautiful wood kitchens as I’d like, hopefully, the above projects inspire you to update your kitchen WITHOUT painting your cabinets!

Now, here’s the blog post link I promised…

Ideas to Update Your Wood Cabinets WITHOUT PAINT! 


Ideas to Update Older Style Granite Countertops

6 Budget-Friendly Home Update Ideas

4 Ideas to Jazz Up a Subway Tile Backsplash


Kylie M Interiors, online paint color expert, consulding, edesign, Best Benjamin Moore and Sherwin Williams. Market (7)


Chat soon, 

Kylie M Interiors Edesign, signature, online paint colour consultant using Benjamin Moore and Sherwin Williams paint colours. DIY update advice ideas


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