Oak kitchen cabinetry tends to be considered old fashioned and unattractive. This is due to its dark color and outdated look. However, it is possible to upgrade oak kitchen cabinets and give your kitchen a modern flair without replacing them.
Keep reading to learn how to make oak kitchen cabinets look modern.
Tips to Modernize a Kitchen with Oak Kitchen Cabinets
Paint Your Walls
A light, neutral wall colour contrasts the oak so your space feels more open. Try out a white, off-white, or lighter neutral tone in your kitchen to help break up the visual monotony of your space. Test out a few swatches of paint to see what colours work well with your cabinets and countertops. When you find a colour you like, paint the walls with a few thin coats
If your oak cabinets are already painted a lighter colour, then try using a bold, dark colour on one of your walls as an accent. Don’t be afraid to try out a non-traditional neutral colour. A pale green or a warm light yellow can really make your space feel homey.
Create a Focal Point
Large stretches of oak cabinets have a tendency to overpower kitchen designs. To minimize this, create a different focal point. Install a striking tile backsplash or opt for a statement range hood to shift the attention away from the cabinetry. For a more budget-friendly update, lay down a patterned area rug or runner to balance the visual weight throughout the room.
Replace Your Countertops
A fresh countertop can complement the look of your oak cabinets. Look for a natural stone or matte finish countertop that fits with the colour of your cabinets. Choose a simple pattern or solid colour for a really clean appearance, or go with a marble finish to create a bold accent with the natural wood grain of your cabinets.
Replace your countertops once you find a style that fits well in your space. New countertops can be pretty pricey, especially if you have a lot of counter space or an island in your kitchen.
Cool Down Oak Cabinetry
Oak cabinetry often features an orange finish that can make your kitchen appear outdated. To tone down the warmth and create a modern kitchen with oak cabinets, outfit the rest of the kitchen in cool refreshing tones such as blues or greens. Cool grey walls and blue accessories reinforce the effect.
Upgrade Your Appliances
A matching set of new appliances breaks up the look of your cabinetry. If you have older appliances, they might stand out and make your cabinets look more dated. If you’re able to, try to get some new appliances that all have similar finishes, such as matte black or stainless steel. Once you install your appliances, they’ll help your space look more updated.
Look for panel-ready appliances that can have cabinet panels installed on the door to blend in with the rest of your cabinetry. These may be a good choice if you have painted oak cabinets already so the natural wood grain doesn’t overwhelm the space.
Accessorize Oak Cabinetry
Wood furniture or cabinets act as a neutral, opening up opportunities to incorporate colour into your kitchen. Accessorize around oak cabinetry with treasured objects such as decorative plates or coloured glass vases.
Add decorative things to your kitchen that reflect your style or preferred colour palette, such as ceramic planters, dish towels, or small appliances. Lighting contributes to the ambiance, so use fixtures that complement the existing architecture or the overall aesthetic.
Update Your Light Fixtures
A new light can brighten up your kitchen for a clean, modern look. Old lights might make your room look a little dark and dated, so start looking for new lighting options. Choose lights that clearly illuminate the main work areas of your kitchen to ensure they’re bright enough.
Try to find something that has a clean metal finish, or go out of the box and get a fixture made with a material not in your kitchen. For instance, a woven basket light can really play off the colour and texture of your oak cabinets.
Design Contemporary Oak Cabinets
Oak that doesn’t have a lacquered shine and is left in its natural state makes a more modern statement. Consider alternative ways to update to a modern kitchen with oak cabinets. Use contemporary pulls, sleek countertops and fixtures, or a backsplash in modern geometric shapes. For another fresh update, minimize clutter and introduce artwork and home accessories in moderation to balance the weight of the heavier wood surfaces.
Add A Modern Backsplash Pattern
Fresh looking tiles automatically create a crisper look and your oak cabinets will blend right in when the look is that sharp. A simple tile pattern helps connect your cabinets to your countertops. Use either traditional tiles or try using peel-and-stick tiles to make a temporary backsplash. Choose tiles that match or accent the colours of your counters for a clean appearance.
Measure the space between your wall cabinets and your countertop, and lay out a simple geometric pattern to follow. Install your backsplash with adhesives to change the look of your space. For example, try installing a subway tile backsplash with black grout to really bring your kitchen to the modern age. Try to avoid tiles that have busy patterns or designs since they may clash with the wood grain on your cabinets.
Mix Wood Tones
There’s no design rule that states wood tones need to match. In fact, mixing wood tones brings an updated feel to a kitchen. A rich walnut stain will add depth and richness to cabinets. Combine the dark cabinets with lighter ones in natural or rustic exposed wood for a look that showcases the grain’s natural beauty.
Install A New Sink Faucet
A new faucet is a great way to update your kitchen on a budget. New faucets can add to the overall look of a modern kitchen without making pricey or time-consuming changes to your cabinets. Look for an updated faucet for your kitchen that matches your appliances and cabinet hardware. Try putting in a stainless-steel faucet for a bold, shiny look, or use a black faucet to keep your sink looking sleek.
Industrial sink faucets with a long flexible head are great for modern kitchens. Install the new faucet when you find one that fits your style.The type of faucet you choose also depends on the layout of the existing one. If your existing faucet only uses 1 hole, look for an all-in-one faucet unit. If you have 3 holes, you can get separate handles from your faucet.
Pair Oak Cabinets with Light Tones
Detract from the heavy look of oak cabinets by opting for lighter tones in other areas of your kitchen. Use white or light-coloured walls, flooring, and countertops to brighten a space. Shiny surfaces, including glass tile and stainless-steel appliances, can also reflect light and give the room a visual lift. The oak cabinets in the kitchen will be balanced by lighter walls and sleek color accents for a polished look.
Change Window Drapes
Get different curtains for your kitchen windows can modernize an old-fashioned kitchen. Plus, it’s a relatively inexpensive way to keep experimenting. Try an all white fabric, or pastels, or geometry patterns.
You can also use blinds or pull-down drapes. But stay away from lace and floral patterns though. This will further outdate your kitchen and make it look like it belongs in the Victorian era.
Declutter your Kitchen
A clean kitchen will make your cabinets look sleeker and more modern. Take a little time out of your day to declutter your countertops and surfaces in your kitchen. Only leave out all the items that you regularly use, or set up some simple decor, like fruit bowls or plants.
In an instant, your kitchen will look more modern even if you have some older oak cabinets. Use this opportunity to clean your cabinets as well. There’s a chance they’re dirty and cleaning them may help revive their natural colour.
To give your kitchen a good clean, take ta wet towel and wipe off your counters, clean even in the little grooves of your cabinet, and reduce the number of unwanted things on the countertop. All this new space will make the oak cabinets a little less overwhelming.
Try Two-Tone Oak Cabinetry
Two-tone cabinets are a great look in kitchen design. Consider painting a block of cabinets, such as the base cabinets, in a contrasting accent colour to add interest and variety to a kitchen that feels overwhelmed by wood surfaces. If you’re nervous about going bold on such a big project, warm white is a classic choice that pairs well with most oak cabinets. Repeat the shade chosen for the painted cabinets in accessories for a cohesive kitchen colour scheme.
Add A Stained Finish
A simple way to escape the stigma of traditional-looking oak cabinets is to break away from the honey colouring. The easiest way to do that is to give your oak cabinets a stained finish. Adding a stain adds a beautiful quality to your cabinets while still allowing the allure of natural wood grain to pop.
For example, playing with a darker stain on your oak cabinets is a great way to move further away from the light honey colour, and into a more sophisticated aesthetic. You can also implement a sheen to customize how shiny the finish is. Stained oak grain, specifically, is inherently shiny. Adhering a matte finish will help to make it look more muted and modern.
Restain your Cabinets
Staining a cabinet allows your kitchen to break away from the honey oak cabinets. It adds some beautiful elements, while keeping the natural wood grain intact. You can opt for a darker strain, or sand the cabinets down for a lighter stain.
The more subtle the stain is, the lighter and modern it becomes. Choose a stain that gives a matte finish to the cabinets instead of a regular glossy one. It’s more muted and in trend.
Note: You have to diffuse the honey color of the oak cabinetry. So, choose a stain that tones down this warm hue for a more elegant finish like maple cabinets.
Replace Some Upper Cabinets with Open Shelving
Open shelves add some empty wall space between your cabinets. Take down a small section of your wall cabinets to expose the wall behind it. The shelves allow the room to breathe and even allows you to showcase the modern backsplash or your wall color. Even just breaking up the visual space between your cabinets gives your kitchen a modern look.
To get back some of the storage that you just took down, install a few shelves that have long, clean lines to make your space even more modern. Aim to get some shelves that have solid matte colours, like white or black, so they look sleek and don’t conflict with your cabinetry’s wood grain.
Change your Floor
Replacing old crusty kitchen flooring with modern contemporary light colored floor tiles will work wonders for your kitchen. You can even use vinyl peel and stick tiles if you have a limited budget. The point is to pull light into the kitchen making your kitchen look brighter.
Install Some Floating Shelves
Take down those extra oak cabinets and install floating shelves instead. Open floating shelving is a key aspect of modern kitchens. They are also great for displaying your crockery collection.
If you are a clean freak and don’t like dust accumulating on your utensils, use open shelves for storing things that you rarely use.
Remove some Upper Cabinets
Removing some of the upper cabinets and leaving a few to let your walls breathe, will lessen the overpowering nature of oak cabinets and allow your kitchen backsplash to go all the way up to the ceiling. This also serves to draw more attention to other parts of the kitchen, giving it all a lighter feel and vibe.
Add White Cabinets
The last way you can update your wood kitchen is by adding white cabinets to the space in a way that pairs well with your oak cabinets. White cabinets are both classic and current, and go in practically any kitchen.
A wood and white kitchen can easily have a country, rustic or farmhouse look depending on the accessories you put with it. But a kitchen with both wood cabinets and white cabinets will look modern. Especially if you happen to have a shaker or flat panel style doors on your oak cabinets.
Paint Your Oak Cabinets
An alternative to preserving the look of oak is to take the plunge and paint your kitchen cabinets in an appealing shade. Neutral colours such as white, cream, black, taupe, or grey make timeless cabinet paint colours. Painting cabinets preserves their integrity and provides a fresh new look without the cost of replacement.
Once you’ve painted oak cabinets, consider adding new hardware, a glass tile backsplash, and affordable laminate countertops in modern patterns that replicate stone. These updates are budget-friendly ways to transform a kitchen.
Use glass doors on some of your cabinets
Glass doors make your cabinets more visually interesting. Choose a cabinet or two that you want as focal points in your kitchen, and take off the doors. Cut out the middle of the door so you can add a glass pane. Then, just reinstall the doors back on your cabinets. Fill your cabinets with nice dishware that you want on display in your kitchen.
Try to keep unsightly items, like colourful food packaging or unorganized stacks of dishes, out of sight since it could make your space look a little cluttered and messy. Using glass in your doors helps break up your cabinets visually and can help get rid of some wood grain patterns that looks a little dated.
Use Flat, Slab Door Styles
A flat slab style door is the most economical & sleekest style of door. The doors are the key contributor to oak’s reputation as an old-fashioned cabinet. Bulky, arched doors with a great deal of ornamentation were often used with the oak cabinetry of decades past.
A straightforward solution to that is to choose a simple and subtle door style. Using slab/flat doors will streamline your whole cabinetry aesthetic and adhere to the simplistic, straight-line qualities of modern kitchen style.
Slab doors also allow the prominent wood grain to shine through, as opposed to the decorative cabinet ornamentation of traditional style cabinet doors.
Install flat wood trim pieces on your cabinets.
Trim pieces on your cabinets add a modern touch on a budget. Rather than having your cabinets end suddenly on the floor or ceiling, cut a trim piece for them. Use a straight piece of trim on top of upper cabinets to give them a really clean, defined edge.
Try smaller pieces of trim or decorative wooden feet near the corners on lower cabinets by the floor. Use flat, smooth pieces of trim for the most modernized look.
Add Crown Moldings or Valances
You can make your oak kitchen cabinets look customized with crown moldings or valances. Crown moldings go on the top of the kitchen cabinets, defining the cabinets and making them more of a focal point, all the while giving the illusion that your oak cabinets were specially designed!
Valances on the other hand are used as decorative accents to bring together all the kitchen woodwork harmoniously. The addition of valances also give your oak cabinets the illusion of having been custom built for the kitchen.
Play With the Wood Grain
When it comes to emphasizing a modern aesthetic for oak cabinets, the best way is to let the wood speak for itself and shine as the focal point of the kitchen. Playing with oak’s natural wood grain patterning is a great way to do that. Oftentimes, wood cabinets are presented with a vertical wood grain.
Going with a horizontal wood grain for your oak cabinet door not only differentiates it from many other kitchens, but it also utilizes one of the key concepts of modern kitchen design: using horizontal lines.
Change The Cabinet Handles and Knobs
A different set of handles or hinges can quickly modernize your kitchen. Measure all of the knobs and handles that are already on your cabinets so you can get ones that are the same size and have the same screw pattern. Try using black cabinet handles since they’ll look really sleek and modern when you pair them with the oak’s natural wood grain.
For an even more modern look, install concealed hinges so they aren’t visible from the fronts of your cabinets. Modern kitchen cabinets are often magnified by their cabinet hardware, and sometimes lack-there-of. Incorporating modern hardware with your oak cabinetry can make them take on a more modern appeal.
Typically, modern hardware is simplistic and unassuming. Long, oversized pulls are great for modern, flat-panel cabinets. These are handles that often extend the majority or full length of the drawer and doors.
Upgrade Your Kitchen Furniture
Add some contemporary furniture to emphasize the modern theme of your kitchen. Replace some wooden pieces with sleeker furniture. Opt for cleaner, minimalist lines for your furniture. A contemporary couch, side table, dining tables and chairs will go a long way in modernizing your kitchen.
Paint a Portion of The Cabinets
If you are not against having some wooden units in your kitchen, you can try painting only a few key units of your cabinets instead of the whole thing. This will create a beautiful contrast and change the vibe of your cabinets.
You can try to pair oak cabinets by painting your upper cabinets and leave the lower ones in their natural color, or paint only the lower ones. According to the layout of your cabinets, you can paint only some parts to best bring out the warm hues of the oak in your painted cabinets
Use a Contrast Colour
A contrast colour can add a pop and give your oak kitchen cabinets a fresh new modern look. It can be as simple as black for a dramatic look or a fun playful colour. Whether this is a short-term solution until you can afford to renovate your kitchen or it’s your long-term plan it’s a great way to add your personality for making your oak cabinets look modern.
Change the Grout Colour
Grout is the first thing to get dirty, especially if you have a light-colored one. Paint the grout to give it a newer feel. Painting the grout will refresh the look and create a contrast with the tiles.
Note: If you have changed the backsplash tiles as we suggested earlier, paint the grout in colors that’ll synchronize with the tile pattern. Black always goes well with light-colored tiles.
Replace the Island
Paired up with some of the other options, replacing the kitchen island can take you to the next level of how to make oak kitchen cabinets look modern. Even if you choose not to paint all of the cabinets.