Source: La Casa Azul Designs

How To Make Oak Kitchen Cabinets Look Modern

This post is all about how to make oak kitchen cabinets look modern.

Oak cabinets were all the rage in the 80’s and 90’s, but modern interior design trends have kicked them to the curb. In 2023, a modern kitchen style is defined by clean lines, neutral colors, open spaces, and dark and light contrast. Oak cabinetry has a warm, traditional look that doesn’t naturally blend with this contemporary aesthetic. However, you can still create a modern kitchen without completely replacing your oak cabinets. 

No matter how old or outdated your cabinetry may feel, these tweaks and touch-ups will instantly transform your kitchen space. Here’s how to make oak kitchen cabinets look modern, from paint to hardware to simple decor and more.


Paint your cabinets white

Oak cabinets tend to feel busy and claustrophobic, which is opposite to modern trends. 

You can’t go wrong with white cabinetry – it has been a top kitchen cabinet trend for years. White cabinets will make your kitchen feel brighter, cleaner, and more open. A white paint color is also the best choice because it can be paired with any interior style.

You can even take on this touch-up on your own with a DIY paint job. It’s budget-friendly and should only take a couple days. Here are a few tips for painting your kitchen cabinets:

  • Acrylic latex-based paint is the most user-friendly and water-resistant.
  • Prep your kitchen before painting by emptying cabinets and covering surfaces with tarp.
  • Sand your cabinets beforehand for a smooth finish. 
  • Use primer before paint. 
  • Take your cabinets off the hinge to make it much easier to tackle.  
  • Check out this article for a more thorough step-by-step tutorial for painting your kitchen cabinets. 

Add a geometric backsplash

Backsplash brings character and personality to your kitchen. Most modern kitchen spaces use geometric backsplash tiles, such as hexagon or herringbone, due to the minimalist finish and clean lines. 

Update your kitchen backsplash to provide balance and simplicity. Make sure to stick with colors like white, black, sage green, or blue to maintain a neutral, modern palette. If you’re searching for a budget-friendly route, you can find adhesive stick-and-peel tiles on Amazon and just layer them on top of your existing backsplash.

Replace your kitchen hardware

Updating the hardware in your kitchen is a small task that will make a huge difference. Kitchen hardware includes knobs, pulls, faucets, hinges, and more.

I highly recommend matte black hardware to contrast your warm oak cabinets. Bronze and gold are also common finishes in a modern kitchen. This minor update will freshen up your space and add a bold, sleek touch.

Style your countertops

Don’t forget to take advantage of your kitchen countertops. The open surfaces are the easiest design tool. You can dress up your counters with modern decor pieces, like a matte vase or marble Lazy Susan, to balance out the oak cabinetry. 

You can even upgrade your appliances, like your toaster or coffee machine, to fit a modern aesthetic. Less is always more, so don’t overcrowd your counter space.

Update your kitchen wall paint

A new coat of paint in your kitchen might be the key to modernizing your oak cabinets. White paint is always a go-to, since it will soften up the distinctive look of oak cabinetry and open up your kitchen.

If you feel like white will be too plain or stark, try a neutral blue-gray or sage green. Shades of blue will tone down the warmth of the oak wood, and green will bring out the earthiness for a more boho modern look.

Add modern kitchen seating

The seating in your kitchen, whether it be barstools or dining chairs, solidifies your design style. Sleek kitchen seating, such as a leather barstool, will establish your modern aesthetic. 

Leather will elevate and complement your oak cabinets as well. You can also try industrial black bar stools or dining chairs to infuse contrast, and combat the traditional look of the oak cabinets.

Paint your counters

If you have laminate countertops in your kitchen, you can paint right over them to revamp your kitchen style. Again, white is a reliable paint color to brighten up your cabinets and add contrast. White surfaces will help your kitchen feel cleaner and more spacious, which is always a must-have. 

Here are some tips to keep in mind when painting your countertops:

  • Thoroughly clean your counters before painting.
  • Use water-based acrylic paint for the best results.
  • Use painter’s tape to avoid getting paint on any areas that don’t need it.
  • Use a primer first.
  • Seal it off when you’re done.
  • Here is a more detailed guide to painting your countertops. 

Darker or lighter stain

If you want to preserve the natural texture and charm of oak wood but aren’t a fan of the color, you can apply a stain to your cabinets. Stains aren’t as smooth and sleek as paint, but they’re still effective and even more budget-conscious. 

If you want to create a cozier atmosphere in your modern kitchen, opt for a darker stain. This will also provide more depth and dimension. On the other hand, a lighter stain will refresh and brighten up the space. 

Spruce up floors

You can utilize the kitchen flooring to modernize your oak cabinets in both big and small ways. If you want a quick tweak, add a runner carpet to your kitchen floor to accessorize the cabinetry and bring out its modern elements. A simple pattern with muted colors will emphasize the contemporary feel.

If you’re willing to take on a larger project, you can replace the flooring in your kitchen altogether. Kitchens designed with oak cabinets in the 80’s and 90’s were usually paired with beige tile floors. This tile could make your kitchen feel even more outdated. 

Upgrade your floors with light-toned vinyl wood or hardwood to cool down and alleviate the space.  

Replace your kitchen lighting

Lighting is essential to any interior space for both style and ambiance. Oak cabinets have a reddish-orange hue that can make the atmosphere feel overly warm, so you can use lighting to soften that up. 

Lighting will also contribute to your aesthetic. You can counteract the classic, traditional appearance of oak cabinetry with super modern fixtures. Sleek, practical pendant lights blend seamlessly with modern design. 

Modernize your island

The island is the heart of your kitchen. If you modernize your kitchen island, the surrounding cabinetry will appear more modern as well. 

A white marble countertop is the perfect piece to infuse minimalism and sleekness into your kitchen. If you need a more cost-effective upgrade, you can also paint it white or use adhesive marble wallpaper from Amazon

You can also add contrast by painting the base of your island a darker shade, like black, navy blue, or forest green. Modern kitchen style is all about bold contrast. 


Last pro-tip: always keep your surfaces clean and your cabinets organized. Modern design emphasizes minimalism and simplicity, so a quick clean-up will transform your space into a modern haven. 

Oak cabinets can feel old-fashioned and dated when you don’t style them the right way. With these upgrades and touch-ups, your kitchen can feel on-trend and brand new, even if your cabinetry isn’t. 


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