HomeThe Best Paint ColoursBenjamin Moore and Sherwin Williams: Paint Ideas5 Ideas: How to Update Oak or Wood Kitchen Cabinets (PART 1)

5 Ideas: How to Update Oak or Wood Kitchen Cabinets (PART 1)

Posted on September 1, 2022 by KylieMawdsley

How to Update Your Outdated Wood Cabinets

Oak cabinets – you love ’em (if you’re a man) or hate ’em (if you’re a woman). And yes, I’m generalizing, but I encounter the same gender divides again and again, especially when helping clients update homes with wood finishes. However, it’s oak cabinets that are usually the divorce makers.

And while many designers can’t WAIT to get rid of oak cabinets, I’m a big fan. Sure, some of them need a complete overhaul, however many oak cabinets from the 1980s and 90s are solid gold. Not only do these workhorses stand the test of time in STYLING (those with hidden hinges & simple door profiles), it’s only after 30-40 years of wear and tear that they need some love (kind of like me, wink wink). I’ve seen modern kitchen installations that have barely made it past five years.

However, whether I look at wood cabinets, trims or furniture, I often refer to my favourite saying…

‘just because it’s wood, doesn’t mean it’s good’.

This means that if your wood cabinets are fugly, worn out, or mismatched with other finishes, they won’t be adding value (emotional or monetary) to your home.

maple wood cabinets, granite countertops before painting

There’s a HECK of a lot of orange and pink going on here – and check out that wood grain! 

But before we get into the guts n’ glory of this blog post, you need to figure out what style of cabinets you have…

CABINET DOOR PROFILES

Figuring out which door profile you have can help you make the best choices moving forward.

Cabinet door profiles, ideas to update oak cabinets

I know the top right isn’t oak, but it’s the best example of a flat panel with a shaker-style frame

TOP LEFT: shaker style with raised panel

TOP RIGHT: shaker style with flat panel

BOTTOM LEFT: double cathedral

BOTTOM RIGHT: single arch

Are your kitchen cabinets cathedral, arched or shaker style? Shaker style is great as the look transitions to modern styles quite easily. On the other hand, a cathedral or arched style is difficult. Even if you decide to restain your cabinets a lovely finish, they might STILL look outdated as it’s the style that’s dated.

Now let’s talk about some solutions…Budget friendly ideas, update wood or oak cabinets, painted, hardware, stain. Kylie M

1. OAK CABINET UPDATE IDEA – RESTAINING

This article is about ‘updating’ your oak cabinets, not about ‘returning them to their former glory’ – or lack thereof. Therefore, when I mention stain, it’s with the idea of changing and updating – not resurrecting.

RESURRECT: keep the old golden oak and refresh it with a fresh coat of golden oak stain and lacquer

UPDATE: add value to your home with cabinets that are modern and updated

While these next cabinets are GORGEOUS, the red stain isn’t an updated look…

St. Cecelia, similar to Venetian Gold granite countertops, cherry red wood cabinets. Repose Gray on walls, too gray

With their muted, more natural stain, these next cabinets are PERFECT as they are…

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

These cabinets add HUGE value as they look totally updated and are suited to the home!  

If you want to update your home, restain with a darker, more modern stain colour OR sand things down completely and opt for a lighter, more natural stain (no strong orange/yellow/red hues). Most home buyers (if you have resale in mind) are looking for the more subtle approach offered by a neutral wood tone, OR they want painted cabinets (usually white).

Iron Ore soft black feature accent wall in kitchen with formica marble look countertop, concrete floor. Budget friendly ideas to update, Kylie M

Sherwin Williams Iron Ore feature wall

5 THINGS TO CONSIDER BEFORE YOU RESTAIN YOUR WOOD CABINETS

  • Are you thinking of staining them a lighter colour than they currently are? Lots of blood, sweat and beers.
  • Or maybe you want to stain them a darker colour? Still takes lots of work, but it’s easier than going lighter.
  • Stay away from the strong yellow, orange and red hues as they will not look updated unless you still live in 1990 (helloooo sponge paint!).
  • Choose a stain depth that best suits the surrounding finishes and potential target market (if selling is in your future).
  • If you want to refinish your cabinets properly, you’ll need to sand them down entirely. You can play around with Gel Stain, which ‘can’ go over existing stains. However, even professionals have a hard time getting a consistent and quality look that doesn’t wear off (it’s not penetrating, it’s sitting on top of the old finish).

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

2. OAK CABINET UPDATE IDEA – UPDATE YOUR HARDWARE

More often than not, cabinets from the 80s and 90s don’t have hardware (handles or knobs). While functionally it’s not a big deal as you can still open them, decoratively it’s like you’re missing the last piece of the puzzle.

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)

Transitional style hardware is great and works ESPECIALLY well with cabinets with a shaker door profile. For cathedral-style doors, you’ll want to choose hardware with slightly softer lines (#9, 10,12), nothing too tubular or sleek.

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

And of course, there are always knobs…

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

3. OAK CABINET UPDATE IDEA – ADD CROWN & A VALANCE

Crown moulding isn’t just for ceilings!

Crown moulding is the ‘crown’ that sits on top of your cabinets – not to be confused with the crown moulding that attaches to your ceiling line. The valance is the strip of wood (approx. two-three inches) that’s attached to the bottom part of your upper cabinets. It increases the visual height of your cabinets, gives them a custom profile, and allows them to hide under-cabinet lighting.

These two features take your cabinets from looking like builder basic – to custom-made.

While adding crown moulding and a valance isn’t easy-peasy to do, ESPECIALLY with older wood stains, it’s manageable for the average homeowner or a semi-capable handyman.

The best gray or white paint colours for kitchen or bathroom cabinets. Edesign, online paint color services. Diy home decorating ideas blogger.market

Click HERE or on the above image to view available packages

4. OAK CABINET UPDATE IDEA – FILL IN THE BULKHEAD

NOTHING makes basic cabinets look more custom than a filled-in bulkhead. And while you can do it with proper cabinets (ideally), you can also save a LOT of money and even DIY it with some well-placed MDF and decorative moulding.

My client (below) did just as described above, giving her arched oak cabinets a whole new look…

Kylie M Interiors Edesign. Oak cathedral style arched cabinets painted Benjamin Moore Cloud White, travertine tile backsplash, beige countertop, navy blue Ocean Floor island.

My next client did the same, although the look is a BIT more natural as the space between the cabinet/ceiling isn’t as tall…

Kitchen with built-in eating bench in nook, cabinets painted Sherwin Williams Agreeable Gray, warm greige taupe paint color, Pure White walls. Kylie M Interiors Edesign

As for this next kitchen, believe it or not, my client updated it for LESS than $3500 – bulkhead and all. She even handpainted her Zellige-look tiles!

Kitchen wood cabinets painted Sherwin Agreeable Gray, Classic Gray walls. Kylie M INteriors Edesign online virtual paint color advice blog

 A Budget-Friendly FULL KITCHEN Makeover!

5. OAK CABINET UPDATE IDEA – PAINT

You had to see this one coming.

Why?

For wood cabinets that have seen better days, paint is a GREAT way to update and modernize them. Many men (and some women) will say, ‘but it’s wood; YOU CAN’T PAINT WOOD!’ and this is where I hand them a scotch on the rocks and calmly repeat my previously mentioned mantra…

‘just because it’s wood, doesn’t mean it’s good.’

And they will still BE wood – they will just be painted wood.

These next cabinets didn’t have any redeeming features…

kitchen before cherry cabinets (5)

  • the stain is too dark and red and clashes with the flooring
  • the door profile is dated

And while my client opted for new doors, she saved money by keeping the cabinet boxes and having them all painted the same beautiful white…

Benjamin Moore White Dove, painted kitchen cabinets (Baby Fawn), island, dark wood floor. Kylie M Interiors Edesign, online consulting and diy

See the FULL REMODEL HERE

And HUGE thanks to all of my E-Design clients who send in their after photos. I rely 99.9% on these and couldn’t do this blog without you! 

You can also consider a happy medium by leaving some areas wood while painting others, as shown in this next beautiful kitchen…

Benjamin Moore Graystone paint colour on walls, dark green undertone gray painted island with wood cabinets, slate tile backsplash, black countertop, light wood floor. Kylie M Edesign

Sherwin Williams Urbane Bronze on cabinets, Graystone walls

WHY IS IT GOOD TO PAINT WOOD?

Well, it’s good for resale. Generally speaking, traditional golden oak cabinets appeal to those 70 and older. If that’s your target market, then keep them stained and call it a day. However, if you’re looking to appeal to a younger and more modern crowd (69 years and younger), you’ll want to consider painting them.

I know your hubby is cursing my name right now and polishing his darts – and you’re checking the birth date on your driver’s license and yelling, ‘HONEY, SHE JUST CALLED ME YOUNG AND MODERN! But seriously, if you have resale in mind, you might want to put paint at the top of your to-do list.

Wood kitchen cabinets before painted edesign

Sherwin Williams Alabaster warm white painted wood cabinets, black granite countertop, wood floor. beige backsplash tile, Kylie M Interiors Edesign, Jenna Christians home

The kitchen of my LOVELY and talented client – Jenna Christian

Undoubtedly, this next kitchen has MUCH more personality than it used to. And while this might not appeal to the masses, if you’re staying in your home, don’t be afraid to embrace a bit of COLOUR!

Sherwin Williams Cascade Green painted wood cabinets, Cloud White walls. Kylie M paint color blog, best cabinet colours

The Best Green Paint Colours 

Still not sure whether to stain or paint your wood cabinets? Take the QUESTIONNAIRE

A FEW CONSIDERATIONS WHEN UPDATING OAK OR WOOD CABINETS

SHEEN LEVEL

While you want your finish to be wipeable, you also want to avoid seeing your reflection in it. If you have cabinets with little to no grain, then sheen isn’t as much of an issue, but I’d still do satin/pearl regardless (read more HERE).

EXPOSED HINGES

If you have exposed hinges make sure the finish of them matches your handles/knobs – no mix-and-match hardware finishes allowed!

HARDWARE FINISH

Polished nickel and black are the most popular hardware finish, hands down (read more HERE).

CONSIDER KNOBS ON THE DOORS, PULLS ON THE DRAWERS

If you currently have handles on your cabinet doors, consider filling in that hole and installing knobs instead. Using two different types of hardware on your cabinets creates a custom look (see hardware HERE).

THE GRAIN OF YOUR WOOD (OAK IN PARTICULAR)

The shinier your paint finish is – the more the grain of your oak will show. If you can have them professionally sprayed, go for it. This will give you the best chance to reduce the amount of grain you see. While you CAN take the time to fill in the grain to get a more seamless approach, it’s a biiiig project.

APPLIANCE COLOUR

If you have white or black appliances, you’ll need to figure out which colour makes the most sense regarding contrasting with the appliances (black appliances with white cabinets) or blending them in (white appliances with white cabinets). I can help! Black appliance owners HERE. White appliance owners HERE

Door painted Sherwin Williams Bunglehouse Blue, walls White Duck, oak wood cabinets, wood trim. Kylie M Interiors Edesign, diy subway tile backsplash, laminate countertop

THESE are some gorgeous wood cabinets!

Want more?

5 MORE Ideas: How to Update Oak Without a Drop of Paint (PART 2)

Budget-Friendly Hardware to Update Wood Cabinets (PART 3)

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

 

READ MORE

The 15 Best Paint Colours to go with Oak / Wood

Are Gray Cabinets, Walls & Exteriors Still Trendy?

How to Pick the BEST Paint Colour for Your Kitchen Cabinets

The Best Gray and Greige Paint Colours for Cabinets

 

Not sure what to do with your kitchen?

Check out my Online Decorating and Colour Services 

E-design, online paint color consulting with Kylie M Interiors. The best cabinet paint colour ideas. diy decorating and design blogger. Market

Originally written in 2016, awesomely updated in 2022

*This post may contain affiliate links that I have carefully selected, meaning if you purchase an item or sign up for a service through a link in this post I may receive a commission.  These programs are a big help to me to be able to maintain this blog. Thank you in advance if you find something you are interested in and choose to purchase with these providers.



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Comments

  1. Great post, I wish I could add a photo of my oak oak and more oak kitchen for everyone to see :). (You’ve seen it before when you were here!). Cathedral style, exposed hinges, black appliances…

  2. I live in Kentucky but am interested in getting your professional help for my kitchen! How would that work?
    I enjoy reading your articles-they inspire me!

  3. I love your ideas when it comes to oak cabinets. I have an open concept kitchen, dining room, living room area with oak cabinets, oak trim around the windows and doors, and oak mantel around the fireplace. If you paint the cabinets, do you paint all that other oak stuff as well?

    1. Thank you Maija! Nope, you definitely don’t need to do that! However, if it were my home and I was painting my cabinets, I’d probably look at painting my mantle as well. The mantle feels more like a ‘major’ items – like the cabinets, whereas the trimwork can be a bit more in the background. You might eventually paint it all out, but I think you could do it gradually and see how you feel!
      ~Kylie

  4. LOVE this post! Definitely going to check out your online consulting!
    My question is: if my house’s crown moulding is a cream/vanilla color, do I have to paint the cabinets that color too (if I wanted to do white)? I am worried about it making the trim look dingy. Thoughts?

    1. Hiya, great question! (and I’m sorry for the delayed reply – I’ve been a bit back-logged!!). You don’t have to do white cabinets, but you will want to make sure that your cabinets have a slight yellow/vanilla undertone that matches the undertone of your trim. Basically, take your trim colour and have the paint store make it in a lighter version (20% is pretty normal). It’s only when undertones don’t match that things get wonky. White can be pretty ‘stark’ which can make it look cool in comparison to creamy trim. I hope that helps!!!
      ~Kylie

  5. I love this post on updating oak cabinets. It’s definitely time to do something about my early 90s white washed oak cabinets that are getting more and more pink with age. We updated our countertops a few years ago with a beautiful granite called Giallo Napoleon and that helped for a while. My walls are a pretty green by Ace Hardware called Olive Oil. My dilemma is this….the trim in my entire house is Porter Paints Super White Gloss, and I do not want to tackle redoing it. My kitchen chairs are a glazed, distressed off-white finish with a beautiful floral fabric with a slightly off-white background with florals in greens, browns, orange, amber, and my favorite turquoisey blue. There is also an old piece of furniture painted in this same blue color. The adjacent dining room has been updated with a beautiful pale blue gray called Smoky Candle. My question is what color to paint the cabinets. The trim is a very stark white and would not look good on the cabinets with the granite or the kitchen chairs. It works OK on the trim…don’t love it but don’t feel like changing the whole house either. I considered whether perhaps a very pale, almost white gray would work on the cabinets to flow with the dining room and pull in more of the blue tone that I love in a subtle way. Any suggestions?

  6. We just moved into a new home (new for us, not the house its self)…its ur typical 1980’s contemporary house…you can tell it was nice in its hayday but its a bit outdated…what are some ideas for decorating the interior to coordinate with all the wood but still look modern. also, whats a good idea to decorate around a mirrored wall without having to remove it?

  7. Loved the information. My house is dark dark panaling and my kitchen is dark as well like everyting from the 70s. I just don’t know if I want to color or stain I have a dmall kitchen. So I have to keep in mind grease on cabinrts. Thank u so much for ideas

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  8. Oh my gosh, my husband and i were trolling Pinterest for bathroom ideas when we got into the whole painting oak debate…your commentary was spot on and had me howling and him grimacing. Fun times…

    Wish me luck, I think I’m in for a long fight.

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  9. Thank you so much for this great post. My husband and I have been debating whether or not to paint our arched, honey oak cabinets from 1972. The only reason we are leaning away from painting is that the kitchen and the rest of the house has the same honey oak wood trim, baseboards, stairs, etc. doorways from the kitchen into other rooms are trimmed in oak as well. We can’t see a way to paint the cabinets and not have to paint all the other wood as well. Which we really don’t want to do! We will try adding new hardware and see if it makes enough of an improvement. Thanks for the great advice!

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      Hi Jen! That is a tough one. You’re right, you would probably want to bring it in SOMEWHERE else, otherwise it won’t be visually tied in to your home. If it were ME, I would focus on hardware and maybe wall colours. I just did an e-design consult yesterday where my client was planning on painting her oak cabinets, and leaving her trim/doors/etc… in oak. I actually talked her out of it and asked her to wait for the new paint as that can make a HUGE difference. So my best advice right now is to hold tight and see if there other more manageable things you could change out 🙂
      ~Kylie

  10. Hi Kylie, I was wondering what are the cabinet colours in the photo under the appliance colour section? (the one with the grey island?)

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      Hi Patricia, I believe that was BM Gray 2121-10. It’s a lovely steely charcoal colour. And cabinets can be deceiving as they tend to look a bit lighter once all is said and done via the bit more sheen in the paint and light reflectance!
      ~Kylie

  11. OhMG!!! Thank you Universe I found your blog. You are God Sent! I’m going to sign up for an e-consult soon because the oak has been driving me insane!!! I feel like my new (to-me) home looks so old. I want to paint the oak EVERYTHING but I feel like white will be out-of-trend soon and espresso is a challenge to keep clean. Plus I have brick flooring. Did I mention all the furniture I’m interested in is mirrored… will totally clash. So I want to keep some elements but I want my house to look more updated.

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  12. hello Kylie! I love your work! We recently purchased a very large 90’s home with loads of oak EVERYWHERE!!! I am trying to get used to it but am not loving it 🙁
    anyway, the kitchen is massively full of oak and I they are a decent brown tone, I plan on keeping them…. but would like to paint the trim and ( possibly ) doors in the rest of the house white. Walls will be a green toned gray ( SW conservative or aloof gray) Lots of natural light in this home with southern/eastern/western exposure.
    If I do paint the trim white, what would you suggest that would blend with the oak cabinets? I am thinking alabaster white, but wanted to ask you first 🙂
    thank you!
    Amy

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      Hi Amy, I think Alabaster could be a great choice! It’s versatile for sure and will be softer than a more traditional clean white! The only other one would be BM White Dove which is just a touch lighter/less warm – just a touch 🙂

      ~Kylie

  13. Thanks for the info! Do you think pickled oak will ever come back into style (since it often times has some grey undertones)?

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      Hi Cristal, I’ll never say never…but I’ll be surprised, just because they often come across slightly pinkish…

  14. Hi Kylie! I’m so glad I found your website! Looking to paint my oak cabinets but I’m afraid I’ll choose the wrong color. What do you think of Edgecomb Grey on cabinets. Flooring is also oak. Also do the cabinets need to be sanded at all first? Thanks for your input!

  15. Hi Kylie my cabinet doors are wood but my sides are a smooth almost like corkboardy like wood, do they need to be sanded to paint?

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      Ooo you betcha, but just a light sand as I don’t think you’ll want to break that surface. Then some primer to get things going!

  16. After reading your article I am inspired to change the color of my cabinets. They are 9 yr old Timberlake Cabinets and I think the color is Maple Spice (brownish-tan). My appliances are black. Keeping with “low contrast”, what color would you recommend? We will be replacing the floor and countertops later.

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  17. I enjoyed reading your posts. I also am n a dilemma with the Over 70 husband so painting the oak cupboards is definitely non-negotiable. Having said that I at least got him talked into a new floor. What is your take on grey vinyl plank with the honey oak cupboards?

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      Hi Karen, new floors are exciting and those warmer woods ARE coming back! Now as for gray vinyl I’d be careful – it will HAVE to have some of those warm oak tones running through it or it will be a BIG miss and this can be hard to find, so you’re likely looking at a warmer toned vinyl plank, not a gray one.

  18. Awesome tips!
    I have oak ceilings, along with oak hardwood flooring & cabinets. I love the ceilings so i do want to keep them. I am not a fan of the oak kitchen cabinets but my boyfriend will not let me paint them!!!! Also wanting to change the flooring but unsure if he will allow me to do that either…. tips???

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      You know, it’s funny, but sometimes one wood can actually CANCEL another one out as in ‘too much of a good thing’. Wood comes to life when it has something to work off of, something to play with and when you have wood on wood on wood – it’s not always good. And I advise clients ALL the time to NOT paint wood this/that, but it sounds like in your case, you might actually not be doing the wood any justice – that’s my 2 bits anyway 🙂

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  19. My house has maple trim, baseboard, door, maple wooden arch in my living room plus maple kirchen cabinets. They do not look old. I like grey and white kitchen cabinets. But i do not want my trims or baseboard to pain white. I feel like if paint my kitchen cabinets white they will not blend in with rest of my house and will look very much contrast. What do you think?

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      Hi Sarah! It can depend on the layout of your home and your other decorative accents (ie: are there more white/gray items in your decor/furnishings/fixtures), but generally speaking, yes, doing the white/gray cabinets can feel a bit detached from the rest of the home.

  20. What are some paint colors you recommend using with oak cabinets? I keep looking at gray, but feel like it doesn’t really help the oak. This leads me back to kind of tans and linen colors.
    Help please! 🙂

    1. Let me make sure I clarify- I am talking about colors for my walls. I’ve decided I don’t want to paint the cabinets. Thanks!!

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      Hi Kris, it can GREATLY depend on the stain on your oak, countertop, backsplash and flooring! If you go to the SEARCH bar on the upper right hand side of my home page and type in ‘oak’ or ‘wood’, you’ll see quite a few articles where I’ve touched on this exact topic!

  21. This is awesome! There are so many different options when it comes to a kitchen remodel that it can be a little overwhelming. So this is perfect that you put them all into different categories and talk about the benefits of each one. I love the idea of painting my cabinets, because like you said, it would have a good resale value later. Thanks for sharing!

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