HomeHome Updates: Tips & IdeasUpdate WOOD Cabinets & Trim (& Floor)How to Update Golden or Honey Oak Cabinets

How to Update Golden or Honey Oak Cabinets

Posted on March 19, 2024 by KylieMawdsley


Golden oak (also known as honey oak) is gorgeous. It’s warm, inviting, and flexible to a wide range of colors and finishes. So why do so many people have a hate-on for their oak cabinets (and floors and trim)?

There are a few reasons…

  • Traditional golden and honey oak kitchen cabinets have a bad rap of being the ‘wood choices of the 90s’, so they look dated by default.
  • Golden oak cabinets are often partnered with cathedral-style cabinet doors.
  • In a kitchen with golden or honey oak, other 90s finishes (especially certain laminate countertops and tile backsplashes) usually surround them, enhancing the ‘dated’ perception.
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The above doesn’t make golden oak bad; it’s just our perception. Golden oak is GLORIOUS; it just needs to hang out with different friends. For example, these next cabinets are beautiful.


While their cathedral-style tops (which you can barely see) aren’t ideal for an ‘updated look,’ they have NO exposed hinges, which is awesome. They’re also a great general stain color—not too strong.

So what’s the problem?

It’s the countertop and backsplash combo. These, combined with the oak cabinets, make this space look dated. The countertop and cabinets could be great on their own; they just need a better backsplash partner!

Now, I’ve written many (ahem) articles on updating wood cabinets, flooring, and trim. And while these blog posts are full of even MORE fantastic update ideas for your kitchen, they’re a bit more ‘general,’ hitting a wider range of wood stains and species.

This blog post is ONLY about golden and honey oak! 

Black hexagon tile floor, oak wood vanity, concrete look countertop, Benjamin Moore Stormy Sky best dark gray paint color. Kylie M Edesign.

However, sometimes you don’t know which type of oak you have! Most flooring, cabinets, and trims are made with either white oak or red oak (red oak will have a pink undertone). From there, it’s about the stain that’s put on top, making it look like golden oak, red oak, honey oak, or something else entirely – it can change everything. As far as what most people ‘think’ golden oak is, the term covers a range of oak stain colors…

  • rich and orange-toned
  • more or less ‘golden’ looking
  • slightly more muted with a subtle pink undertone (red oak)
  • lighter with a yellowish hue
  • yellow-brown toned
  • rarely strong red; that’s a whole different blog post


BTW, when I consult with clients, the focus is usually on PAINT COLORS. If you use this advice to update your kitchen, I would LOVE to see the after photos to potentially use them as examples (as I don’t ‘borrow’ from other Creators to show my ideas). 



One of my FAVORITE ideas for updating a kitchen with oak cabinets is to change the countertop and/or backsplash. Now, I don’t know your kitchen’s lighting situation, size, flooring, etc., so these ideas are more ‘general ideas’ to get you thinking along the right lines – get those creative juices flowin’ (or at the very least, a cheap bottle of Chardonnay).

old croquet balls on dark charcoal quartz countertop with white vein, looks like marble, bar fridge, white oak. Kylie M Interiors. Home decor.

Vicostone Cemento BQ8730

Whether you choose affordable laminate countertops, trendy white or off-white quartz, or my favorite quartzite, one of the keys to choosing the best countertop for your cabinets is to use the K.I.S.S principle…

Keep. It. Simple…Silly 


Unlike maple cabinets, which come across as calm and collected, oak cabinets are busy. These cabinets have a lot of grain going on, and we don’t need to amplify that with an even busier countertop (never mind what’s going on with your flooring). Now, this doesn’t mean you need to go plain and boring; it’s about moderation (of which I’m rarely a fan in general).

Here are a few of my favorite countertops for updating oak cabinets…


The 8 Best Quartz & Quartzite Countertops for Warmer Trends

Again, I can’t WAIT to get some good wood cabinet photos (wink wink…), but at least you can see the above-mentioned Ironbridge in action…

Kitchen remodel, painted cabinets, white quartz, Cambria Ironsbridge, dark oak floor. White cabinets Edgecomb Gray, White Dove, Kylie M Edesign, blog

Ironsbridge with painted cabinets in Benjamin Moore White Dove


  • Carrara Bianco by Formica (my fave of the marble-look finishes)
  • Soapstone Sequoia by Formica (if you want a bit of warmth without legit beige)
  • Jet Sequoia by Formica (gorgeous black with white veining – love it)

Again, this next photo isn’t with wood cabinets, but it’s a great shot of Carrara Bianco in action – it would be STUNNING with oak…

Laundry room mudroom with Formica laminate countertop Carrara Bianco, marble look. Pure White walls and cabinets. Kylie M Interiors Edesign, online paint colour blogger

The 8 Best Bougie Laminate Countertops on a Budget!



Your countertop should greatly influence the color of the tile backsplash you choose. However, regardless of what counter you go with, my FAVORITE backsplash option is almost always subway tile.

Like oak, subway tile is timeless as long as you don’t go wild with your creativity. Remember – K.I.S.S.

  • If you choose a white quartz countertop, consider a white subway tile (3 x 6 is the most timeless). However, white-on-white can be a lot, so choosing a soft off-white grout is a nice way to set things off.
  • Countertops with softness and warmth (e.g., Taj Royale) should have a warm backsplash (in other words, white will be too stark). Find a warm off-white that jibes with your countertop choice.
  • You can also choose a subway tile in a soft neutral that perfectly matches some of the veining/patterns on your counter.
  • Make your grout color a shade or two darker than the tile for a bit of variety. Just keep in mind that if you have a busy oak pattern on your cabinets, things can get busy pretty quickly!
  • If your countertop is more or less a solid color, it can be a bit easier to add a pattern/detail to your backsplash, just tread carefully – remember, oak already has a busy ‘pattern’ of sorts via its grain!

I like to think of oak cabinets like my freckles. My freckles give me a pattern on my skin, which means that I have to be careful about the patterns on my clothing—I can look cluttered pretty quickly!

These next cabinets are a bit more red-toned than golden. Regardless, they’re a great example of a simple white quartz countertop with a slightly more interesting backsplash tile…

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

I would take the wood crown off over the sink area; it dates this lovely little space! 

Subway Tile, Zellige, Herringbone: Backsplash Tile Trends

Check out this next kitchen…

oak kitchen wood cabinets before kylie m, island, laminate counters, white appliances, oak floor

The Best Paint Colors to Update Golden or Honey Oak

The golden oak cabinets and flooring are GLORIOUS. However, there are a few obvious challenges that directly relate to the oak cabinets…

  • Between the oak floor, island, and cabinets, you’re swimming in a sea of wood, and nothing’s really poppin’ (like me in my dating years).
  • The laminate countertops look dated because of the edge profile, which is definitely 90s.
  • The white stove contrasts too much with the oak and doesn’t fit into the overall palette (not everyone has the budget to update all pieces at once).
  • And you ALL know how I feel about booby lights, especially saggy boobies like the above one.

Decorating With White Appliances

Now see how it looks with a little TLC (or a little KLC might be more the point)…

Golden oak kitchen cabinets with white q

The Best Paint Colors for Kitchen Islands & Bathroom Vanities

  • We painted the island a darker shade of gray (Sherwin Williams Gauntlet Gray). This ties in with the countertop and gives the wood floor and cabinets something to PLAY WITH! Notice how much prettier the wood finishes look when they have something to bounce off of. It’s kind of like how I look prettier next to Tim. See my FAVORITE ISLAND COLORS in this handy bundle!
  • The subway tile backsplash is a soft, muted neutral that ties into the flecks in the countertop and coordinates with the island. I also love the soft white grout, which offers a subtle contrast to the tile and connects to the white in the countertop.
  • Other updates included lighting, hardware, and a new stove (by the way, don’t choose light fixtures with exposed bulbs like this; choose white shades instead).

Ideas to Update 1990s & 2000s Granite Countertops

This next kitchen has beautiful oak cabinets that sit on the edge of golden oak and have a reasonable amount of red in them.

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

Regardless, note how the white countertop (Cambria Torquay) and white subway tile (with a beveled edge and soft gray grout) update the space without stepping outside of the cabinet’s comfort zone.

Check out my CURATED WOOD CABINET UPDATE PALETTES to start your kitchen remodel on the right foot! 

Palette color, countertop, backsplash tile, paint color, cabinet ideas to update wood, oak, maple, cherry kitchen cabinets. Kylie M, online color expert

On the other hand, some oaks have minimal grain (especially those installed more recently). This means they are likely rift-cut or quarter-sawn. In this case, a countertop with a bit more interest can look beautiful. You could even take your countertop and use it on the backsplash rather than tile!

This next kitchen is a good example of oak with a minimal grain pattern – I’d LOVE to see a countersplash in this space (countertop as the backsplash)…

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

This is a kitchen with Taj Mahal quartzite (not to be confused with Taj Royale) that is in mid-progress.

How about this next baddy (it’s a teenage term – ask my daughters, I have no idea)…

Oak kitchen before being painted, travertine tile and island (5)

Beautiful golden oak color, hidden hinges, but DARN THOSE ARCHED DOORS! C’est la vie, or for my American friends (where French isn’t your second language and Spanish is more common)…

Asi Es La Vida – said awkwardly by a Canadian Ginger.

The above kitchen has beautiful beige (travertine-look) tile floors, but that backsplash…lord have mercy, it has GOT to go. Instead, I would choose a 3 x 6 subway tile (I’m like a broken record, but it’s true) that’s a soft creamy off-white; it would tie into the tones in the countertop and instantly update this space. IT’S THAT EASY, lemon squeezy!

At the end of the day, there’s SO much that can be done before you consider painting your wood cabinets – and we haven’t even talked about PAINT COLOR YET!

However, if you want ideas for hardware to update your kitchen cabinets, check this bad boy out.




This year, we’ve seen more wood cabinets, particularly white oak, emerge. In the coming years, expect more wood, even some mid-depth stains.

As for honey oak, in particular, it’s all about the grain and the stain. Some honey oak cabinets are muted; if they have a shaker or non-cathedral-style door, there are definitely ways to update them, especially those from the ’90s. Learn more tips on updating wood cabinets HERE. However, some oak cabinets are heavily grained and have a strong yellow or orange stain, making it harder for them to look trendy or updated.

Would I install honey oak cabinets in a new kitchen? No, but the stain I would choose wouldn’t be too far off. For today’s trends, I’d choose a shaker style with a standard or slightly thinner rail.

The cabinets in this next kitchen have GREAT bones, but in terms of being modern (if the homeowner were concerned about that), the strength of the orange stain is a bit strong. That said, there are still ways to make cabinets like this work!

Accessible Beige with golden honey oak cabinets, wood exotic floor, Kylie M Online Paint Color consulting and update ideas


The Best Paint Colors to Update Golden or Honey Oak

How to Update Wood or Oak Cabinets: 5-PART SERIES

How to Mix & Match Wood Stains Like a Pro

6 Ideas to Update Your 1990s Home


Let me choose your colors for you with my… 


The best paint colours for any room from Benjamin Moore and Sherwin Williams. Popular Edesign blogger Kylie M Interiors. Diy decor and design advice. Market

Chat soon,

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


  1. Is it just me? Really interested in this but none of the photos are showing wether I look at it on my IPad or phone!😵‍💫

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  2. I’m struggling with the paint colour for a dark front entrance hallway that has…orange oak spindles and staircase (and terra-cotta like tile) I tried SW Cheviot but it was SOOOO white. Any suggestions? Your article couldn’t be more appropriate!

    1. Post

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