Skip to Content

How To Make Oak Kitchen Cabinets Look Modern (without painting)

If you want an updated kitchen but don’t have time to paint your cabinets, then this post is for you. Keep reading to discover 12 ways you can makeover your small kitchen today.

before oak kitchen cabinets and after with modern ideas.

*Disclosure: I only recommend products I would use myself and all opinions expressed here are our own. This post may contain affiliate links that at no additional cost to you, I may earn a small commission. Read our full privacy policy.

In our home, we have chosen to go the route of painting our kitchen cabinets and even repainting them. However, there are ways to update your oak kitchen cabinets without painting. This small kitchen makeover may have you rethinking your next kitchen DIY project.

Can oak cabinets look modern?

Oak cabinets can still feel modern and fresh and this post will prove it. Our friends bought this amazing lakehouse and chose to do just that. Here are 12 ways to modernize your oak cabinets without painting them.

The “before” kitchen with oak cabinets

Before kitchen makeover with oak cabinets, red walls.

How did they modernize the oak kitchen cabinets?


Here is a rough sketch of the main makeover ideas used to completely makeover this small kitchen without tearing everything out. You will absolutely love the after results and how they were able to do this on a budget!

kitchen makeover plan while keeping oak kitchen cabinets.

12 DIY Ideas To Modernize Oak Cabinets

1. Clean the cabinets

Seriously, have you ever seen how much grime can accumulate on kitchen cabinets? Take a wet towel or even kitchen cleaner and really get the grime off. Really look at the cabinets up close and in all the little grooves dust can sit. A simple wiping can really make a difference.

white geometric backsplash with black grout and glasses on wooden floating shelf.

2. Add a modern backsplash and grout color

We absolutely love the geometric backsplash they chose in this kitchen. While the color is simple, the shape of the tiles really added a more modern feel. Not to mention they played off of their black matte hardware when choosing their grout lines.

Don’t want to completely replace your kitchen backsplash?

Check out how we were able to paint our kitchen backsplash tile in our cheap kitchen makeover. Honestly, it is one of the best DIY projects we have ever done. Ideas like this can help you cheaply makeover your kitchen.

3. Remove some upper cabinets and replace them with open shelving

We know there are mixed reviews on open shelving, but taking a few cabinets down added so much style to this kitchen and showcased the awesome modern backsplash. You can make your own floating DIY shelves or buy premade ones that match your existing cabinets.

geometric white backsplash tile with oak open floating shelves and accessories.

4. Change out the hardware

This might seem like a no-brainer, but sometimes all cabinets need is a little bit of refresh with new hardware. These matte black handles (awesome bulk price) and contemporary knobs can bring a whole new look to the kitchen. 

Can you use spray paint on your old kitchen hardware?

You for sure can! In our DIY laundry room, we had a mix of metals that I wasn’t vibing with. We could have purchased new handles like the ones above but chose to spray paint the silver handles we already have. 

handles being sprayed with black spray paint.

Frequently touched handles may have a limited life span once spray painted, but properly cleaning will help the paint adhere. Hinges on the other hand are rarely touched and are the perfect thing to spray paint to match your modern decor.

5. Change the faucet hardware

The matte black sink hardware plays so well with the white counters and oak cabinets. You don’t have to ruin your budget either when shopping for black matte sink faucets. Stores carry all sorts of styles at different price points now.

black kitchen faucet hardware with white counters and oak cabinets.

6. Replace the countertops

This is the priciest suggestion on this list. Our friends did not have a ton of counter space so they were able to achieve this without breaking the bank. And by adding a premade island they saved money on putting a countertop there. Mixing and matching different surfaces can save you money.

Changing out your countertops to a more modern and airy feel can make the world of difference. Our friends went with a faux white marble granite that added a clean element to the space. They were able to give a fresher feeling to their kitchen by adding more light and bright colors in the surrounding elements.

oak kitchen cabinets with new white island and stainless steel appliances.

7. Paint a light color on your kitchen walls

The dated red painted walls really made this kitchen feel small. By using a nice white color on the walls the space immediately opened up. The color palette of neutral brown, white and black is a classic palette that will always stay on trend. You can always add fun colors to your accessories and items you chose to put on display.

Do you need help deciding what color of paint to use?

We recently just tried Samplize and it totally beats having to buy individual paint samples. These 9″ x 14.75″ samples will get shipped directly to you and save the hassle of clean-up (we loved that).

You can also check out our post, see our review and hopefully get the answers to those frequently asked Samplize questions.

8. Add a new kitchen island

The original kitchen did not have an island. Instead of trying to match the cabinets, you can purchase a premade island or cart that could work. As you can see in the before picture, taping out the dimensions will help you truly visualize what your space may look like with the new addition. 

Don’t be scared to add color or make this piece completely different than the surrounding cabinets. Add modern stools and showcase your personality in your kitchen island piece.

9. Replace some door front with glass

The upper corner cabinet was already a glass front. However, if you don’t have that you could always consider changing some of your upper cabinet doors to help break up the wall of oak cabinetry. Display cool cookbooks or dishes to really add some flavor to your kitchen remodel.

oak kitchen cabinets in modern looking kitchen makeover.

10. Change your light fixture out

Have fun mixing materials and textures in your space. The neutral light hanging over the table exudes boho-chic while still working with the oak cabinets. The basket light fixture is awesome but we could also see a capiz shell light there as well.

11. Add modern furniture 

Our friends snagged an awesome leather couch for the open living room by buy-sell-trade. Score cheap home items with our tips and learn the lingo for FB marketplace and BST.

The brown leather color plays off of the oak cabinets and has a complete mid-century feel. By adding contemporary furniture it gave the feel that the oak cabinets were always supposed to be part of the original design.

12. Buy new appliances

In this kitchen makeover, one oak cabinet was taken out and a dishwasher was added for functional reasons. The range and refrigerator were also replaced. The stainless steel and modern appliances help to visually break up the line of oak cabinets that were previously there.

If this isn’t in the budget, white appliances would still feel modern in this space. Just give them a fresh cleaning.

Before and After Oak Kitchen Cabinets That Look Modern

Now I don’t know about you, but these ideas will make me reconsider painting cabinets right away.

before dated small kitchen makeover with oak cabinets and after kitchen makeover with same cabinets.

Follow us on Pinterest, Youtube or Facebook for more DIY inspiration!

Related Reading

While we like painting cabinets we know that you can still make oak cabinets can look modern with these DIY home tips.

I accept the Privacy Policy

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Charlotte W Mraz

Saturday 15th of October 2022

You saved us A LOT OF MONEY! Hubby WANTED TO PAINT! I SAID " NOT OAK!"

Erin

Monday 17th of October 2022

Awesome. I am glad that you were able to get inspiration from this post for your oak kitchen cabinets!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.