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Ideas to Update Oak Cabinets

You might be surprised to hear it, but I’m actually a huge fan of oak cabinets…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.

Potential for what you may ask? Well, firstly, the potential for many many ‘hardwood’ jokes (always a personal fave), and second, the potential for updating them regardless of the century you’re in, for example…

  • An updated look via paint
  • A fresh finish with stain
  • A facelift with hardware, decor and painted walls – ideas that involve much less work, labour and wine drinking when compared to paint and stain (or more wine drinking, because why the heck not)

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

You ready Betty?


Update Idea   #1 New Hardware

I talked about new hardware in my blog post here and today I want to add to those ideas with a few more thoughts…

Antique Brass. If you’re looking for a low-contrast look, antique brass is a beautiful finish with oak cabinets. The bonus is that most oak cabinets (if they have their original hardware) have hinges in this colour, so that’s just one less thing to worry about!

Oil Rubbed Bronze. Another beautiful finish with oak cabinets, adding a bit of contrast and drama without being as stark as black.

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!

ViaJulie Blanner

Now the cathedral style door (as shown above with the arched top) is the hardest look to update as a shaker style/square frame is a more modern style. By choosing hardware with soft, curved lines, Julie managed to give this kitchen a new lease on life and the cathedral style door/hardware look natural and well-coordinated.

Read more: The Best Hardware to Update Cabinets

Update Idea #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 some reflective value to your kitchen.

And of course you can 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.


Update Idea #3    Use the Right Decor

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


Using a yellow and off-white palette, this bathroom looks simple and well-coordinated. Adding just 1 other colour would have interfered with the flow and simplicity of the look.

Copper is another 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 your decor as copper tends to have the same warm undertones as oak.

The use of greenery keeps the accessories in this room well-connected and complementary to the oak cabinets. Remember, oak is already a ‘busy’ look as it tends to be pretty grainy – keeping thing simple with your decor will help to calm things down.

  • In the top ‘copper-inspired’ photo, notice how the palette is just white and copper – classic and simple
  • In the bottom photo, notice how the copper isn’t just on the canisters, but the copper ‘colour’ is picked up on the terra cotta pots on the window sill


Update Idea #4    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.


Now, of course, there are MANY different kitchen layouts, so it can be challenging to say ‘always paint these cabinets and leave these one’s 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


Update Idea #5     Add a Backsplash

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

The most popular, timeless choice would be a white subway tile with white or gray grout, however, this doesn’t suit EVERY countertop.  You can also check out travertine which is a beautiful natural stone and then choose a colour range that falls in line with the other products in your room (travertine is FAB with most oaks).

Kylie M E-Design

This photo shows how adding a more modern countertop and backsplash can lighten, brighten and update oak cabinets – make them look rich and stunning, rather than heavy and old.  And while they still have a bit more finishing work to do, you can already see how fabulous this kitchen is going to turn out! (stay tuned…)

Need HELP?

Do you want some personalized ideas to update YOUR oak cabinets? Check out my affordable and FUN E-Design and Online Color Consulting Packages – I’d love to help!