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4 Ideas: How to Update Oak or Wood Kitchen Cabinets

Posted on September 1, 2019 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How to Update Your Outdated Wood Cabinets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 labelling, but I come across the same gender divides again and again when it comes to decorating.

Oak cabinets stained before new countertop, backsplash and paint

The above cabinets have great bones, but are they worth keeping as they are? Keep on reading…

Here’s the great thing about oak cabinets – they’re solid wood (not the interiors necessarily, but the doors at least). In particular, oak cabinets from the 1980s and 90s are my faves as MAN do they stand the test of time and only after 30 years of wear and tear do they need some love (kind of like me, wink wink). I’ve seen more modern kitchen installations that haven’t lasted five years.

How to update oak kitchen cabinets and floor. Greige subway tile, quartz countertop, Sherwin Williams Mindful Gray paint color. Kylie M Interiors Edesign, online paint color consulting

If you want to learn whether your cabinets are worth keeping or painting, click HERE

However, when it comes to wood cabinets, 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, your solid wood cabinets won’t be adding value (emotional or monetary) to your home. But, before we get into the guts n’ the glory, 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

  • Top left: Shaker style with raised panel / Top right: Shaker style with flat panel / Bottom left: Double cathedral / Bottom right: Single arch
  • And I know that top right isn’t oak, but it’s the best example I could find of a flat panel with the shaker style frame
  • The door on the top right and left-hand sides are usually the easiest styles to update. The bottom left is a double cathedral and is the MOST difficult. The bottom right is EASIER, but not as fab as the shaker style

Now let’s talk about some solutions…

Best ideas and tips to update oak, wood, maple, cherry kitchen cabinets. Kylie M Interiors Edesign, diy home decorating blogger and advice on paint colors

1. Oak Cabinet Update Idea: Restaining

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

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

UPDATE:  Add value to your home by making it look more current and modern

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

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 to the home as they look totally updated and are suited to the home!  

If you’re truly wanting to update your home, you’ll want to restain with a darker, more modern stain colour OR sand things down completely and neutralize the wood with a lighter, more natural stain (no strong orange/yellow/red tones). Realistically, most home buyers (if you have resale in mind) are looking for the more subtle look that’s offered by a neutral wood tone OR painted cabinets. This means that the colour of them (stained or painted) is VITAL to their survival if you’re hoping to appeal to the masses.

Consider these things before you restain your oak/wood cabinets

Do they have a cathedral, arched or shaker style? Shaker style is great as the look transitions to modern styles quite easily, but a cathedral or arched style is not so easy. Even if you decide to restain your cabinets a lovely tone stain, they might STILL look outdated as it’s the style that’s dated.
  • Are you wanting to stain them a lighter colour than they currently are? Lots of work
  • Are you wanting to stain them a darker colour? Still lots of work, but it’s easier than going lighter
  • Stay away from the yellow, orange and red tones as they will not look updated – they will look fresh, fancy and awesome – if you still live in 1980
  • Stick with lighter and darker stains that don’t have dominant undertones
  • If you want to do it properly you’ll need to sand them down entirely. If you want to play around you can try Gel Stain which ‘can’ go over existing stains (it’s oil-based and I find it easier to use than most water-based stains), however, even professionals have a hard time getting a consistent and quality look that doesn’t wear off

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

I’d love to give you a how-to on staining oak cabinets, but I’d rather leave it to the pros…

HGTV – How to Restain Wood Cabinets

DIY Network – How to Restain Wood Cabinets

2. Oak Cabinet Update Idea: Change the 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 because you can still open them, decoratively it’s like you’re missing the last piece of the puzzle.

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

Transitional style hardware is great and works ESPECIALLY well with cabinets with a shaker or even arched/cathedral profile. For cathedral style doors you’ll want to choose hardware that has slightly softer lines (ie: #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

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

3. Oak Cabinet Update Idea: Add Crown Molding and a Valance

Crown moulding isn’t just for ceilings you know! This idea takes your cabinets from looking like builder basic – to custom made.

Crown moulding is the ‘crown’ that sits on top of your cabinets – not to be confused with the crown moulding that attaches at your ceiling line. The valance is the strip of wood (approx. 3 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 offers the opportunity to hide under-cabinet lighting and dirty drawings (private joke).

While it’s not easy-peasy to do, it’s still manageable for the average homeowner or a semi-capable handyman. I also had a client paint their oak cabinets and fill in the ENTIRE bulkhead area and finished it with mouldings for a full-height, custom 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.

Read more about crown mouldings and valances for your kitchen cabinets on this post (cost/details)…How to Update your Kitchen on a Budget

4. Oak Cabinet Update Idea: Paint

You had to see this one coming…painting your oak cabinets 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…

‘Just because it’s wood, doesn’t mean it’s good’

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

Oak kitchen before and after, painted cabinets in Benjamin Moore White Dove, Sherwin Dovetail and Keystone Gray. Kylie M Interiors Edesign, online paint color consulting advice

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! 

Why is it good to paint wood? Well, it’s good for resale. Generally speaking, traditional oak cabinets appeal to those 70 and older. If that’s your target market then just 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.

Maple or oak kitchen cabinets before being painted with edesign

Painted wood maple cabinets. Pure White and Iron Ore, Sherwin Williams Kylie M Interiors online virtual paint colour and decorating advice

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.

Oak kitchen cabinet update ideas before being painted white with island colour (3)

Kylie M Interiors Edesign, online paint colour consultant. Painted oak cabinets, Sherwin Williams Panda white with green beige granite countertop, travertine tile backsplash. Kilim

maple kitchen before cabinets were painted and new countertop and backsplash

hexagon subway tile backsplash. Maple cabinets painted Cloud White, soapstone formica countertops and gray quartz with kitchen decor

Read more: How to Pick the BEST Paint Colour for Your Kitchen Cabinets

Read more: The Best Gray and Greige Paint Colours for Cabinets

Other Things to Consider When Updating Your Kitchen Cabinets

Sheen level
The shinier your paint finish is – the more the grain of your oak will show. While you want it your finish to be wipeable, you also want to avoid seeing your reflection in it. If you have cabinets that have little to no grain, then sheen isn’t as much of an issue, but I’d still do satin regardless
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 finishes, hands-down

Consider handles instead of knobs

If you currently have knobs on your cabinet doors, consider drilling an extra hole with a template and installing handles instead

The grain of your cabinets wood (oak in particular)

If you decide to paint, the grain or texture will show through. If you have the opportunity to have them professionally sprayed go for it. This will give you the best chance to reduce the amount of grain you see. Some take the time to fill in the grain to get a more seamless approach, but it is a biiiig project

Appliance colour

If you have white or black appliances, you’ll need to figure out which painting direction makes the most sense re: contrasting with the appliances (ie: 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

And discover how to update your oak cabinets without any paint here…5 Ideas: How to Update Oak WITHOUT a Drop of Paint

Not sure what to do with your kitchen?

Check out my E-Books & Online Decorating and Colour Services 

Diy decorating and design ideas and home staging ebook. Kylie M Interiors Edesign, online virtual paint colour consulting and advice blog

Read more

The 15 Best Paint Colours to go with Oak / Wood

5 MORE Ideas: How to Update Oak Without a Drop of Paint

SHOULD You Paint Your Wood Cabinets OR Keep Them Stained? A QUESTIONNAIRE!



Originally written in 2016, awesomely updated in 2019

*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.



  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!

  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!!!

  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 🙂

  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?)

    1. Post

      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!

  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!

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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 🙂


  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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