How To Make Oak Kitchen Cabinets Look Modern (6 Effective Methods)

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Oak kitchen cabinets may have been popular 30, 40 years ago. But recently, people would discard them as something old-fashioned.

However, if you happen to own them, don’t think of throwing them away yet. Below are the 6 easy-to-do ways to completely modernize your oak cabinets with all their pros and cons.

1. Paint The Oak Kitchen Cabinets

The fastest, and considered to be cheapest, way to modernize your oak cabinets is by painting them. It does not harm the cabinets’ durability yet still brings up a new, fantastic look. You can choose neutral colors like white, cream, black, taupe, or gray since they are less likely to become outdated. 


However, this solution brings forth a few drawbacks. First, the painting may look good from far away, but not when you see it up close. All you get are paintbrush lines and grainlines from the wood beneath if it’s not done by a professional. 

Moreover, the paint may not sustain well, especially the area surrounding its handles. Also, in exchange for this easily chipped paint, you have to put in quite an effort in prep works, such as cleaning the cabinets, sanding them, filling the wood grain, removing the doors and the hardware. 

Once you finish painting your oak cabinets, consider adding new hardware, a glass tile backsplash, and affordable laminate countertops in modern patterns that replicate stone as a way to transform a kitchen on a budget.

2. Restain The Oak Kitchen Cabinets

If you don’t want to waste too much effort on repainting your oak kitchen cabinets without any sound results, restaining them may be the less tiring option. 

Depending on the amount of effort and time you want to spend, you can make them appear in a darker, more modern color or neutralize the wood with a lighter, more natural stain. 


Remember to leave the orange/yellow/red tones aside. You should also put the cabinets’ style into consideration. Shaker style can be changed into modern style with ease, but not cathedral or arched style.

3. Make (Or Buy) A Two-toned Oak Cabinet

With this option, you just need to paint parts of your cabinets instead of all sides and components. In addition, painting a contrasting color will add diversity and interest to your kitchen. 

White is the safest option in case you don’t know where to start. Specifically, white and oak colors can create a country, rustic, or farmhouse atmosphere, based on what accessories you choose. If you have a shaker or flat panel style door, this combination will make your kitchen look more modern.

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4. Repaint The Kitchen Walls

If you don’t want to get your wood painted, redecorating the walls is another option. However, be careful when choosing the paint color. Warm colors like yellow, pink… can make your kitchen look 20-year older or even more.

While the contrasting colors such as blue or green may make the oak cabinets stand out too much, and not in a good way. You should choose something to tone down the orange color of the oak wood like neutral, cool, simple colors, especially ones belonging to the gray family.


5. Change The Cabinet Hardware

Altering the hardware can bring huge changes to the cabinet’s appearance. Here are some suggestions for you:

Black hardware

Black is the favorite color of many people since it makes the wood more modern. It also becomes the centerpiece of the cabinets, as when looking at them, your eyes will focus on the black knob or pulls.

However, black hinges coming along can be a problem because they look harsh and reveal the actual age of the cabinets. That’s why you should change them if they show when closing the cabinet door.

Polished nickel hardware

If your kitchen has stainless appliances, then polished nickel will be the second-best choice, besides black. It can modernize your cabinets and also go well with the appliances. 


Gold/Brass hardware

These colors are getting trendy these days. However, they are not a good choice for your cabinets’ hardware. Because gold and brass are usually yellow-toned, it does not match well with the orange/red tone of the cabinets. But if you still want to stick will them, aged brass or shaker style cabinets can be the better option.

Oil rubbed bronze hardware

Oil rubbed bronze is a common type used with wood cabinets but most likely to fit with oak instead of other woods like cherry, maple. But you should consider this before choosing this color. Because among all four choices, this is the least modern looking.

6. Replace The Backsplash

You can upgrade your oak kitchen cabinets by replacing the backsplash. Some may choose a brown-toned backsplash in a small tile mosaic design, which suits the oak wood but does not modernize your kitchen because the tiny rectangular mosaic pattern is outdated.

Moreover, the combination of brown and orange/red tones only worsens your kitchen’s appeal. 

A better choice would be subway tiles with contrasting grout. This works perfectly, especially when partnered with a neutral-colored countertop. A new subway tile backsplash coming along with dark hardware and a modern countertop is a surefire solution to lighten, brighten and update your oak kitchen cabinets.

Here is a video about changing the oak cabinets without painting them for your reference:

How to Transform Oak Cabinets – Without Painting Them 


By the end of this article, you should have had a grasp of our 6 best recommended tips on how to make oak kitchen cabinets look modern. Don’t forget to revisit us for more valuable advice.