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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.

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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. Use these 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

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. 

Read More>>>Trendy Matte Black Hardware Ideas

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 & trim

The dated red painted walls really made this kitchen feel small. By using a nice white color on the trim & 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).

Promos: Use code “FIRSTFIVE” to get $5 off your first purchase.

See our review to also get answers to 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 fronts 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.

Oak Cabinet FAQs

What countertops go well with honey oak cabinets?

White counters or white counters with slight veins go really well with oak cabinetry. Consider a granite color like Super White which is meant to look like Carrara marble or Colonial White for a warmer color for a modern feel.

How do you make honey oak cabinets look good?

Add bright and crisp colors to the walls, backsplash tile, and in appliances. A pure white color can help brighten a space with honey oak cabinets. White or stainless steel appliances will also help bounce light around and make your kitchen feel larger.

Are oak kitchen cabinets making a comeback?

More and more modern kitchen designs are showing lighter wood cabinets or a mixture of some colored cabinetry. Consider refacing your oak cabinet boxes with newer style doors such as Shaker, adding modern hardware and adding soft-close drawers to modernize your oak kitchen cabinets.

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.

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Cindy

Tuesday 12th of September 2023

I'm keeping my honey oak cabinets, but changing countertops to something NOT white. They're white now and it's too easy to stain white. I like the backsplash tiles in the new kitchen, but don't care for the open shelving or that institutional "island." I would chose a different light fixture but anything is better than the nondescript fixture in the old kitchen picture.

Erin

Tuesday 12th of September 2023

Hi Cindy. Good luck with your kitchen makeover. I would love to know the countertops and light fixture you picked.

Shelby

Monday 31st of July 2023

We have some old oak cabinets in our kitchen and have desperately wanted to invest in cabinet refinishing or cabinet painting of some sort. Thank you for the inspiration, Erin!

Gina

Thursday 9th of March 2023

Thank you for sharing your fresh and practical transformation! Can you please be more specific about the countertop material - “faux white marble granite?”

Erin

Thursday 9th of March 2023

Hi Gina. So my friends used granite that is meant to look like marble for their countertops and not actual marble which can be harder to maintain. We have seen awesome success with the granite color called Super White which is meant to look like Carrara marble.

Cindy Brandt

Saturday 4th of March 2023

I have a lot of the oak cabinets, I am thinking about distressing them, and painting my kitchen that flows into my dining room a medium rich yellow. It kind of freaks me out, because what if I don't like the look and then then I have all this on my cabinets. LOL! I can visualize it, and it looks nice, but......I have already done the hardware, glass doors, just not making much of a difference. I like you back splash, this house has none (we bought it a year ago) and I think that would make a huge difference. Us DIYers have lots of creative ideas, and they go around in circles in our brains. LOL

Erin

Monday 6th of March 2023

Hi Cindy. Yes, DIYers are always letting one project lead to another. We do that all the time here! Good luck with your kitchen projects.

Deb

Saturday 21st of January 2023

The white walls over the uppers blend so much that at first glance, it appears that the ceiling was lowered.

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