modern upgrades made to update oak kitchen cabinets

How to Make Oak Cabinets Look More Modern Today

I’ve got easy ideas on how to make oak cabinets look more modern.

Incorporating oak elements into your modern interior design goals can be challenging.

These Ideas you can start today fit into both small and large budgets.

Please note that this article contains affiliate links, meaning I may earn a commission if you buy something. Read my full disclosure here.

Contrast, Neutralize, Embrace, and Replace

This blog post will provide ideas on modernizing oak cabinets with a simple strategy.

Contrast, Neutralize, Embrace or Replace!

Read on to discover how you can implement these strategies to update your kitchen with modern touches without completing a renovation project.

Upgrade Appliances

stainless steel appliance make oak cabinets modern

Oak cabinets were often paired with simple white or black appliances in the 1980s.

Adding stainless steel or black stainless appliances is a good investment if you want to give your kitchen an updated look that reflects today’s contemporary style.

Update Hardware

satin nickel hardware help to modernize oak cabinets

Cabinet pull hardware may be small but packs a big design punch.

You can transform or refresh any style of kitchen with cabinet hardware.

I like matte black or oil-rubbed bronze hardware to modernize your oak cabinets further.

For a more transitional statement, choosing satin nickel or chrome hardware works well too.

This a reminder the longer the pull, the more contemporary the look.

Choose hardware that is substantial and not flimsy to drive home that modern look.

Paint Kitchen Walls

white wall paint in an oak cabinet kitchen

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. Nothing transforms a space faster than a can of paint.

When honey oak cabinets were popular, homeowners often painted surrounding walls taupe, brown, and even green. These dark colors support a more traditional design.

When choosing paint colors to modernize oak kitchen cabinets today, I recommend simple white walls.

Benjamin Moore’s Super White and Sherwin Williams Extra White are great wall color options for modernizing oak cabinets.

If you’re looking for something warmer, try Sherwin Williams’ City Loft for a subtle hint of grey and a very soft beige.

Add a hood

add stainless steel chimmney hood to make oak cabinetry more modern
Stainless steel hood makes oak cabinets look more modern

Making your oak cabinetry kitchen look more modern can be as simple as replacing a few key elements.

One way to instantly modernize oak cabinets is by replacing the over-the-stove microwave or cabinets with a stainless steel chimney hood.

The sleek, contemporary look of the metal provides an eye-catching modern design element against the warm tones of the oak wood.

A solid wood hood painted black would also look fantastic.

Add Upper Glass Front Cabinets

18-inch glass upper cabinets add modern element to honey oak kitchen cabinets

Adding Glass-fronted upper cabinets bring style and sophistication to any space, drawing the eye upward and making the room appear larger.

They look more modern, and the glass doors help create an airy feeling by allowing light to pass through.

If you are disappointed to hear that plants and decor on your top cabinets are, a modern design fail. Then, this is your opportunity to showcase home decor or display beautiful white dishes.

With their sleek lines and contemporary design, adding upper kitchen cabinets with glass doors is an excellent choice for giving your home a modern touch!

Change Cabinet Crown

shaker crown adds a modern look to oak kitchen cabinets

Replace outdated kitchen cabinet crown molding.

If your oak cabinets have very ornate and traditional crown-like dentil molding, try replacing it with cove or shaker crown molding.

Crown can have a significant influence on defining your design style.

The unadorned style of cove crown or shaker crown lends itself to a modern aesthetic while adding a touch of architectural interest to your original oak cabinets.

Change out light bulbs.

daylight bulbs reduces yellow undertones of oak cabinet kitchens

You will want to neutralize the yellow and orange undertones in honey oak kitchen cabinets.

The easiest way to accomplish this is by changing out halogen and incandescent bulbs.

Daylight bulbs produce a cool white or bluish-white light free of yellow tints.

For those who prefer a warm look in their space, daylight-balanced LEDs have a warmer color temperature than traditional daylight bulbs.

Kelvin chart shows daylight bulbs are best for  kitchen with oak cabinets.
Kelvin, at least 5000k is best for Oak Cabinets.

Daylight-balanced LEDs offer the same cool white light but with added warmth for an inviting atmosphere.

Pro tip- Remember to update under cabinet lighting and replace under cabinet lighting covers. They can turn yellow and make your countertops appear yellow. 

Paint your kitchen island black

Painting the kitchen island black helps modernize an all oak cabinets kitchen

Painting the kitchen island black is a great way to contrast and modernize oak cabinets.

Not only does it create an edgy, contemporary look, but it also helps break up the monotony of matching wood grain cabinetry.

The contrast between the oak cabinets and the dark island creates a focal point; as an added bonus, the two-tone cabinet design makes the kitchen appear larger.

Replace Countertops and Edge Profile

natural stone make oak cabinetry look more modern

If budget allows, replace dated countertops with a more modern countertop selection.

Natural stone countertops like granite, marble, and quartzite bring out oak cabinetry’s natural beauty. 

Pro tip

 Breakfast-height kitchen countertops are being replaced with counter-height counters. 

Edge profiles like bullnose are being replaced with a simple, eased edge.

Try to keep countertop lines and edges straight without adding any decorative curves. 

Ten countertop colors that make oak cabinets look more modern

1. Lusso Quartz

2. Siberia Granite 

3. Eternal Calcutta Gold Quartz

4. White Macabus Quartzite

5. Gabana Quartzite

6. Taj Mahal Quartzite

7. Princess White Quartzite

8. Dolce Vita Quartzite

9.Blanco Gabrielle Granite

10. Eternal Pearl Jasmine Quartz

Replace Light Fixtures

Adding modern light fixtures can modernize a kitchen

Switching out your kitchen lighting fixtures can also help modernize oak cabinets.

Globe Pendant lights, natural material chandeliers, and swing arm sconce lighting are all great options for creating a contemporary atmosphere.

Updating lighting fixtures will provide a massive modern flare.

Add New Backsplash

Neutral color backsplashes help to minize yellow undertones in original oak cabinets.

Neutralize the oak cabinetry. You will want to select your backsplash after you choose your countertops.

If you selected countertops with lots of movement, you would want a more subtle backsplash and vice versa.

You could go with a bold backsplash if you picked a solid countertop.

Don’t try to be bold with both; there can only be one Celebrity Chef in the kitchen.

Best Type of Backsplash for oak cabinets

Oak cabinets are complimented nicely with backsplashes in the neutral or white color story.

*White subway tile
*Tumbled marble brick backsplash
*Glazed Zellige tiles in a pearl or ivory color.

The main idea is to neutralize the yellow and orange undertone in the oak cabinetry while accentuating the countertops.

Add Matching Oak Floating Shelves

Add oak floating shelves to make oak cabinets more modern.

Embrace the oak wood tones in your cabinets by adding matching floating shelves in the kitchen.

Open shelving can be rustic or modern, allowing you to add neutral decor pieces.

Go a step further and add accent lighting over or under the shelves.

Please check out my post on kitchen lighting ideas.

The thickness and length of shelving will be a personal preference. Decide what works best for your kitchen.

Paint or Stain Cabinets

I couldn’t possibly complete this post without including paint and stain options. I love the power of paint!

Oak is a durable hardwood, and if you took good care of your cabinets, you could attest that they are still in good condition with a lot of life left in them today.

Painting or staining your cabinets is a good choice for those with an oak-heavy home.

White cabinets are the best choice for a classic look that works well with oak flooring and baseboards.

Here is a DIY video from The Home Depot on painting your kitchen cabinets.

Home Depot Services offers partial kitchen remodels like refacing cabinet doors.

Update Flooring

Select modern floor tiles to make oak cabinets more modern.
Select a tile that highlights oak cabinets

Hardwood flooring can be sanded and restained to any color of your preference.

If your oak cabinets and wood flooring match exactly, give some contrast to your wood flooring. Try going for a more white oak stain color on the floors.

Tile floors with inset mosaic patterns were popular in the 80s and 90s. This can date the look and feel of your space reasonably quickly.

Luxury vinyl plank, also known as LVP, can be purchased in hundreds of colors and installed directly on top of the tile flooring. Avoiding the dusty and costly expense of tile removal.

Tile flooring on the market today has a modern look, color, and pattern complementing oak cabinets nicely.

Try tiles in more modern shapes like 24×24 or 12×24.

Remove Dated Decor

modern neutral decor and bar stools in a modern oak kitchen.
Neutral decor with natural textures makes oak cabinets look more modern

In the ’80s and ’90s, when oak cabinets were really having their hay day, it wasn’t uncommon to have many bold floral prints in kitchen decor.

Who can recall the safari trend with the monkeys, palm trees, and raffia?

Placing Ivy and other knick-knacks on top of the cabinets were trending.

In today’s modern kitchen, less is more. It’s best not to place anything on top of the kitchen cabinets.

Keep home decor neutral with natural elements.

Upholstered furniture should be clean lines and less ornate in nature.

Replace floral print curtains and drapery panels with solid white or neutral colors.

Bar stools should also be swapped out to be more reflective of today’s modern decor ideas.

Remove clutter and keep kitchen countertops to simple decor pieces like cutting boards or clear glass containers to house sugar, flour, and pasta.

Again the modern design is minimal, with natural materials and monochromatic color palettes.

Update Plumbing

white porcelain sink makes oak cabinets more modern.
White apron sink offers a modern farmhouse feel to oak kitchen cabinets

Remember to update the plumbing aspects of your space.

A stately kitchen faucet can take center stage in your kitchen as a modern focal point.

Take advantage of the countertop being removed to install a modern sink.

White porcelain apron sinks and black under-mount sinks will make the oak cabinetry more modern.

black bathroom faucet is a good choice to make oak cabinetry more modern.
8-inch spread bathroom faucets can modernize oak cabinetry

Pro Tip- A single lever faucet or an 8-inch spread looks more modern than a 4-inch spread in bathrooms.

Accent Wall

oak veneer wall slats are a great accent wall idea for an oak cabinet kitchen.

I wrote a post on kitchen accent wall ideas, and you should definitely check it out.

Adding an accent wall to your kitchen can instantly upgrade the space.

I love the idea of embracing your oak-colored cabinets in this scenario.

Try adding wood slats on the adjoining kitchen wall.

What a great way to embrace the oak color and modernize the space simultaneously.

Add Cabinet Organizers

cabinet roll out trays make oak wood cabinets function more modern.

Keeping your existing oak cabinets and making them look more modern is relatively easy with the tips and suggestions offered here.

Cosmetic changes won’t help much with the day-to-day functionality and conveniences that new cabinets can offer.

Installing pot and pan organizers, roll-out trays, base pull-outs, lazy susans, and cutlery tray dividers are all great after-market solutions.

Soft-close cabinet hinges and roll-out trash bins are kitchen luxuries everyone needs.

Final Thoughts and Conclusions

In conclusion, making oak cabinets look more modern doesn’t have to be daunting.

With the right strategy and some creativity, you can make your existing cabinetry look modern by embracing its natural color with an accent wall.

Replacing outdated decor for more neutral pieces, updating plumbing accessories like faucets and sinks, installing stainless steel appliances, and changing countertops.

By following these tips, you will achieve a fresh new look in no time!

With the help of modernizing your oak cabinets, you’ll be able to have a beautiful and functional kitchen that’s sure to last for years to come.

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