How to keep oak kitchen cabinets from looking out of place in a modern kitchen

Oak kitchen cabinets are a staple in many traditional homes. Their earthy tones and elegant appearance have placed them at the top of the ladder, making them one of the most beloved cabinet materials in recent decades. While this wood has stood the test of time in interior design, keeping an oak-heavy kitchen from looking out of place in a redesigned home can be challenging.

If you’re a modern enthusiast who wants to maintain the traditional oak cabinet look without creating a tacky design, then we have the tips for you. Here’s how to dress up your kitchen to balance modernity with traditional oak cabinets.

Is oak a good choice for kitchen cabinets?

We can thank 1990s interior design for giving oak cabinets a bad name due to an abundance of cheap, kitschy honey oak cabinets. Traditional oak cabinets, however, don’t disappoint. As a high-quality, dense wood, traditional oak is perfect for kitchen cabinets. The neutral colors can flow with any design, and the natural grain is stunning to behold.

Additionally, oak is one of the most durable woods to use in cabinetry, as its natural hardness resists warping due to age or humidity. When choosing oak cabinets for your kitchen, there are a few options. Red and white oak are most popular, with the former inviting warm, red undertones into your space and the latter offering a dark and rich color to your existing palette.

remodeled modern kitchen with oak cabinets and a black countertop

Are maple or oak cabinets better?

Maple and oak are some of the most popular woods used for kitchen cabinets in recent years. Because of this, the two can easily be confused for one another, and many homeowners have difficulty deciding which is best for their space. Below, we’ll cover some of the distinct differences between these woods to help ease your decision-making process.

Based on appearance

Maple comes in light colors ranging from pale blondes to reddish cinnamon tints. Its color is gentle and refined, making it a perfect choice for those looking to lend a more subtle touch to a space. In addition, maple has a very fine grain, making it easy to smooth and often allowing the overall appearance to be consistent with little flaw.

Oak, on the other hand, tends to be richer and darker than maple. Red oak features a rich, red undertone that can sometimes come through in the sunlight. White oak is another variant of this traditional wood that also tends to be much darker and with a more robust hue than maple. Oak wood is strong and often appears earthy and natural in the home. You can also expect to see minor imperfections and knotholes in the grain, giving this wood more character.

When it comes to durability

Due to the nature of their grains, maple tends to be a lighter wood compared to the strong and hardy oak. Oak wood is extremely durable and resistant to warping, a problem often seen in older or worn cabinets. If you have a family and need a bit more durability in your kitchen, oak might be the way to go.

Considering the price

When it comes to cost, oak probably won’t break the bank. But while it’s not expensive, it’s also not as cheap as some woods used in kitchen cabinetry. Maple, however, leans toward the more expensive side due to its stunning appeal and even grain. So if price is a consideration and you love a bit of character, oak would be the best option for you.

traditional oak cabinets in a modern home

How to make oak kitchen cabinets look modern

One of the challenges of oak kitchen cabinets is finding a way to blend the natural grain with a modern space. Typically, we see oak cabinetry in traditional, rustic, or farmhouse designs. However, that doesn’t mean it can’t look lovely against a modern backdrop!

Keep a light, bright feel

One of the most important tips for pulling off a gorgeous modern oak cabinet look is to keep your palette light and bright. Focus on using white and cream shades as much as possible, and avoid darker hues like browns and blacks. Oak cabinets are traditionally darker wood tones, so it’s best to pair them with equally light wall colors or countertops. Try to use a white quartz counter and a white backsplash to really show off your gorgeous oak cabinets.

Opt for a neutral palette

Feel free to branch out with other neutrals if you don’t want to limit yourself with your color palette. So long as you keep the palette light and airy, a neutral palette with muted grays or tans can look stunning paired with oak cabinets. Additionally, since oak offers a rich and earthy shade, try decorating with some greenery and plants to bring out the natural appeal of the wood.

Paint your cabinets

While some people adore oak cabinets for their durability, the color isn’t always what they’re looking for in their design. If you want to keep your oak cabinets but are in need of modernizing them, try staining or painting the cabinets to blend in with your existing modern design. Black, gray, and white are popular paint shades on oak wood, but opting for more neutral or subdued stains is another excellent option.

If you’re feeling bold, try painting your upper cabinets while keeping your lower ones in their traditional oak hue. This can offer a beautiful juxtaposition in your space. Alternatively, if you have an island, try adding color to your wall cabinets and leaving the beautiful oak on display in the center of your kitchen.

Pair oak cabinets with open shelving

Another way to modernize oak cabinets is to remove the preexisting upper cabinets and swap them for some beautiful open shelving. Open shelving is a fun and unique aspect of modern home design and can really enhance the look of your space. Additionally, by taking out the upper cabinets, you create a bigger statement with your lower oak cabinets, drawing the eye naturally around the room and creating a sense of flow. This also prevents the wood from dominating the space too much, which can make the entire room feel out of place when compared to the rest of your modern-designed home.

Oak kitchen cabinets are a lovely addition to any home, no matter the design style. And if you are already fortunate to have this sturdy wood in your space, try up-leveling it by creating a sense of juxtaposition with your modern design. Stick to light and bright colors or experiment with different neutrals to find what works best for you and your space. Also, consider open shelving or trying a new spin to incorporate your oak cabinets with your modern design. The results could be jaw-dropping!

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