What Kitchen Color Schemes Work With Oak Cabinets?
Someday…someday my friends…I will have a kitchen full of white cabinets (and white counters and a white backsplash). But alas, we have now moved into our 6th consecutive rental with honey oak kitchen cabinets. My least favorite cabinet color ever. Whomp. You’d think by now I’d be a pro at incorporating…or at the very least decorating around…a kitchen full of oak cabinets. But truth be told, they have always been something I tolerated out of necessity. I’ve never fully embraced them, nor have I figured out how to downplay the orange tones to create a look that is somewhat stylish. Well…6 homes is enough time pining for a kitchen I love; so this time around, I’ve decided to do some research to figure out what kitchen color schemes work with honey oak cabinets. Today, I’m sharing what I learned and serving up some swoon-worthy inspiration in case you too have oak cabinets in your home you’d rather love than loathe!
Rentals with beautiful white kitchen cabinets. I’m not sure they exist. Well, they do. I’ve seen them. But we never seem to be able to land one. Whether we’re living in military base housing (where most kitchens are builder basic) or we’re scrambling to get whatever we can at the right time and right price, we’ve never been able to score a great house that also happens to have a white kitchen.
It’s all good…really. It’s just that, as I look at these pictures of our last 6 homes…it’s almost comical. The one thing I’ve always wanted has alluded me over and over. I suspect that’s reflective of how common honey oak cabinets really area.
Further, quick glances at these pictures show my attitude toward decorating them. While I love to organize every little nook and cranny of our kitchens, I’ve just never been able to embrace our oak cabinets so that they look…well…good!
Below is our new-to-us kitchen in our current home. As I mentioned in my “Before Tour,” this historical home is grand and sophisticated…except for the kitchen. It is builder basic through-and-through with “extra orange” oak cabinetry, linoleum flooring (the roll out kind), cream walls, and beige laminate counters with a matching backsplash (seriously). And while we are allowed to do a lot of things to this home, painting cabinets (and even installing hardware) is strictly off limits.
To say I have my work cut out for me in here is an understatement. And while I’m tempted to shove this space onto the back burner and get to it later (or never), this space (like most kitchens) is our family central. Not only do we spent a ton of time in here doing homework, making meals, eating snacks, etc; but this is also where most friends and guests come into our home (via the back door rather than through the foyer).
So I’m determined to finally have a kitchen space I love, that I’m not embarrassed of, and am happy to welcome guests and friends into. And in order to do that, I have to work with my oak wood cabinets rather than against them.
In all the rooms I’ve decorated over the years, I’ve never been able to crack the code on making honey oak cabinets look great. So I hunted down a bunch of pictures that sure make them look mighty fine indeed! Let me show you some great kitchen inspiration and highlight some key take aways too.
Honey Oak Cabinets + White
Since I’m drawn to white kitchens in general, it’s probably no surprise that I strongly gravitated toward kitchens that primarily utilize hues of white to offset the pervasive honey oak color. In almost every example shown below, these kitchens feature bright white backsplashes (usually subway tile), white countertops, white appliances, and white seating to create feelings of brightness, airiness, and openness. Since white is the ultimate neutral color, this is not only a safe but classic option that could also be adapted seasonally with colorful accessories.
Key Take Aways
Using white in a kitchen runs the risk of looking like you did nothing at all. In order to make this classic combination look really stylish, be very intentional with bringing in white details. Adding a decorative tile backsplash (or even a peel-and-stick version), hanging crisp window curtains, painting the trim white, and accessorizing with textiles (e.g., towels, curtains, runners) in various shades of white are all opportunities to intentionally contrast the warmth of the wood grain.
Honey Oak Cabinets + Black
Another good choice is the combination of white and black with honey oak cabinets. Adding black definitely shifts the vibe from airy and fresh to modern and edgy, but still with a very classic feel. Of all the different “color schemes,” this one is most approachable and do-able with smaller updates such as hardware and stools.
Key Take Aways
Adding black to a kitchen doesn’t have to look heavy and dark. In fact, most of the spaces shown above are still light, airy, and fresh. Instead of relying on black for the cabinets, woodwork, or wall color, use it as an accent on an island, rolling cart, window trim, backsplash, light fixture, and hardware.
Honey Oak Cabinets + Blue
At this point, a vast majority of our home and belongings are blue, so I was interested to see how blue could work in our builder basic kitchen. Blue kitchens are incredibly trendy (still!), and a cool navy is a beautiful contrast to warm wood tones (since it’s almost on the opposite side of the color wheel).
That said, I was only able to find examples of (stylish) kitchens where the predominant color is blue and is accented by natural wood (not the other way around). If you’re tempted to use blue in your honey oak kitchen (as I am), it likely needs to be in a very broad, prominent way to sufficiently balance out all the warm undertones.
Key Take Aways
In almost every kitchen I found that utilized both blue and honey oak tones, there was also a very heavy presence of white (usually on the upper cabinets and/or backsplash). In order to keep this combination sophisticated instead of juvenile or muddy, bright white elements and even some matte black accessories can help make the contrasting colors work better together.
Honey Oak Cabinets + Green
One final color combination that jumped out at me while researching color choices for honey oak cabinets was the use of green. This surprised me a bit since green and the cabinets’ yellow undertone can be a little too close on the color wheel. That said, this combination works best when earthy tones such as forest, moss, and sage greens are used (rather than lime or kelly greens).
Key Take Aways
Unlike blue, I feel like the green works best when used as a small or single accent rather than a pervasive color. And like most examples shown throughout this post, the green looks best when tempered with heavy amounts of white and a smattering of matte black accessories.
So what’s my plan? This makeover is “in progress,” and you can catch up on my current kitchen transformation below:
- How to Shiplap a Kitchen Island with Command Strips
- A DIY Butcher Block Island Countertop (Anyone Can Do!)
- How to Install a Peel and Stick Tile Backsplash
- The Best Affordable Black Light Fixtures on Amazon (Coming Soon)
If you have any thoughts, suggestions or have discovered the best colors to use with the honey oak cabinets (or even honey oak trim) in your home, please share in the comments!
In the meantime, I hope these inspiration boards and color scheme suggestions help you make sense of (and maybe even love!) your honey oak cabinets a little more!
21 Comments on “What Kitchen Color Schemes Work With Oak Cabinets?”
You’ve already got a great deal of white in the kitchen, so you could use black which is kind of another neutral. I don’t think you would have to worry about it clashing with the blue in the other rooms. It is too bad you can’t add pulls and knobs to the doors and drawers because we know those are the jewelry of the kitchen.
However, if you really want to have fun, I would look at British Racing Green. It is a dark green and would go well with the oak and the blues in the rest your house, but it would also really punch up the kitchen. You could use it on the backsplash and the bar stools. John Knight just used this color in the latest episode of Farmhouse Fixer. It looked really cool.
I have orange-ish hickory cabinets and blue laminate countertops.
Definitely do not recommend, and deeply regret. Since they’re almost opposite on the color wheel, they bring out the worst in each other. White appliances help, but not enough.
So I have the opposite problem…black and white tile floors (think 1960s retro literally), black counters, white cabinets and gasp red walls. Thankfully, the owner allowed me to paint the walls white….but I’m adding in all the wood accents to warm things up and contrast the black and white lines. Actually, really loving it now….black, white, wood and then splashes of blue (because all my kitchen towels, mixer, etc are that color…what can I say, it’s my favorite)
I really liked this exercise. We have cherry kitchen cabinets, and I have been trying to figure out a way to brighten things up since we cannot paint the cabinets. You have given me some ideas to at least start my research to find ways to change things up. I never thought of looking at different color schemes and how I can be drawn to parts of them to make them work with what I have.
I just remodeled our kitchen because the 35 yr old ash toned cabinets yellowed horribly and worse yet were falling apart. Soft wood is not the best at keeping hinges attached. We did not replace all the appliances so we are temporarily living in an all white kitchen. I chose a very neutral grey flooring that looks like old barn wood and black hardware, faucet and sink. And I have to say goodbye. And move to a home with ghastly golden oak….it was inherited, is only 10 yrs old and we did a terrazo style floor and granite counters with black and flecks of caramel. The first thing i did was cabinet hardware which was necessitated by needed a manicure weekly from prying doors and drawers open when my mom lived there. I so sympathize with your hardware plight. I chose a brushed nickel for that home. White subway and greige paint. Done before mom passed away. I can live with it. But I commiserate. And plan to paint them white, replace the jamoca almond fudge granite with nice white quartz. If you don’t have options I think a lot of your vignettes are lovely but no green. Bright blue is out as well. My mom did a lot of mustard and wine colors before we painted it and tore out the white tile. It was dated of course – but the tuscan shades did work with the cabinets.
I think it is funny you want white. I’ve had white for 10 plus years, and cannot wait to switch out for a wood toned kitchen. Maybe not the honey oak color, but wood tones none the less. I’ve had a white kitchen while my kids have been in the “younger” age range. And I hate cleaning off their finger prints. It is not my favorite thing. My raised panels get dirty so fast.
That said, I like the combination you have settled in. White with black and all the honey oak. I can’t wait to see how you pull it together.
I grew up in base houses in the 70-90s nothing about the aesthetic of them have changed in all that time.
Mom used to have white canisters labeled with the flour, sugar, coffee, and tea from Tupperware, though sometimes they were the orange ones too, she liked changing things often too. We also had a signature cookie jar from my artist aunt that was about the size of the flour canister and had a mushroom shape with little bears and mushrooms popping out all over and in a very 70-80s color scheme as that’s when auntie made it in her ceramics class that she led. Otherwise we usually had blue hand towels, not because of color theory, but that was mom’s favorite color. So, I say go with what makes your own heart sing. If you loved whit-black-neon purple, which is what I would do if given a chance, then go for it, but that’s my opinion.
Are you allowed to stain the cabinets a darker color since you can’t paint them? Or sand them to a lighter color?
You could remove the upper cabinet doors and paper the inside with white or a patterned paper. Or swap out the cabinet doors and cover the frames in white contact paper (not the most economical solution but maybe IKEA or ReStore have some options).
A patterned peel-and-stick wallpaper with the cabinet color somewhere in it might help. Like a floral pattern in golds on a navy background. It could be used as backsplash or to wrap the island.
The lack of hardware would drive me nuts too but I can’t think of a way around that.
Can’t wait to see what you decide on!
I would lean towards the black, white and honey combo as well. It seems like the black kind of tempers the orange tone down a bit if you know what I mean. May the stark black and white contrast draws your eye away from the orange hue?
Well, I like the warm tones of the oak cabinets. They remind me of the ash cupboards in our farmhouse kitchen. We always had off white walls and laminate counters. Our daughter lives there now and she painted an accent wall a lovely not quite navy blue, and brought in blue again in dishes and other accents. It looks very nice!
It’s nice that you have white appliances to avoid adding another color (like silver). I would consider bringing in a blue (royal or bright navy) and white geometric pattern on the walls, including the space above the cabinets, with white and blue accents. I’d probably keep the white backsplash to keep the room light and bright.
Maybe don’t focus on the kitchen doors and focus on the oak of the carcass. We have black tape on the carcass and kickboards and it creates a modern negative detail around the doors and drawers. I’m not sure what you might use that is reversible, but you seem to have a lot more choice in USA than in NZ for a variety of craft or DIY products.
Megan, I feel your pain. I was researching a couple of years ago just what to do with the 80s blackwood kitchen (and all the other wood) in our new house. Very orange and brown!
I found a resource from a Canadian site called True Design House. They have an ebook and other resources called living with oak. This was very helpful for me to explore different colour combos that could bring out the feeling I want my home to convey.
We ended up doing a complete gut and refit with dark blue lowers, white uppers (it’s a very dark kitchen), but they tie in with the wood that we left: the pantry and storage cabinets nearby etc. Check it out, you may find some helpful inspiration! Good luck!
I would use paint on walls, also, get the wall opposite the
cabinets, behind the island, rocking! Hey, look at me
over here – instead of focus on dull cabinets and the
appliances. Of course, it would be rental friendly,
ex: stencil, abstract mural, block painting, or note
high end restaurant looks, etc. Lots of luck on your project!
As an alternative to stick-on wallpaper, years ago a military family shared the idea of using liquid starch to apply fabric to a wall. When you leave the rental, the fabric easily pulls off, and you can wash off the excess starch with a sponge and water. I even did my kitchen backsplash with great results! Easy to keep clean, too. I used non-textured drapery fabric that was 54′ wide to reduce seams (not sure it would work as well with dress or quilt cotton fabric). May give you many more color/design choices.
I recently saw a video where a lady in a rental used FOAM BOARD as a backing to overlay on the front of the top kitchen cabinets and put the Peel-n-Stick wallpaper over it without damaging the cabinet doors, I wish I had saved her web link to give her the benefit she deserves. I am partial to your navy blue hues & thinking of doing my cabinets white on top and navy bottom – with foam board as backing to have a smooth front & modernize them (in my rental). You always choose good colors and am sure you will do fine. Thank you for all the updates and ideas.
I agree with you on the black and white combination with the oak cabinets. I feel like it will give you a modern look and feel without having to change too many details to accomplish it. I would consider painting the ceiling black to add drama. I would paint the walls and trim white. I would do a black and white window window shade in a black & white check or windowpane pattern. If you currently have white tiles, I would see if you could find a stencil that you like or maybe make a waterproof sticker in a pattern of your choice in black and place them in a pattern that would add drama when you enter the room. You could add touches of black to the rest of your home with little accessories to help tie everything together, or you could even add a few little blue touches to tie the kitchen with the rest of the house. I know that you already have black touches in your son’s room. I look forward to seeing what you come up with.
Your floors appear to have a yellow/gold undertone, the cabinets have an orange undertone and on my screen it appears that the counters and whatever is on the walls above them — paint? Wallpaper? — come with a pinkish undertone. That’s a lot to deal with. Peel and stick tiles on the floor might help eliminate the yellow/gold element.
I think you said it’s a two year posting? By the time Christmas rolls around you will have only 18 months to go. Do a window treatment, accessorize the heck out of it (did I see some cute blue and white containers to corral tools in an earlier kitchen?.) cover up the floors and call it good (enough).
Since you’re leaning toward the white+black+honey oak, is it an option to use navy in place of the black? A dark navy would almost look black.
Oh my goodness those look as though we lived in the same homes. I have scored a few white cabinet kitchens and I did love them but something else was off. So becareful what you wish for. I’m trying to just spruce up my kitchen with Oak cabinets in my latest home. Thanks for the advice.
I have used a pale grey walls and black granite counters !