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!

Builder basic rental kitchen in base housing at Camp Lejeune

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.

Builder basic rental kitchen in base housing at Camp Lejeune

Builder basic rental kitchen in base housing at Camp Lejeune

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.

Mood board of kitchen color schemes for oak cabinets - white

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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.

Mood board of kitchen color schemes for oak cabinets - white

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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.

Mood board of kitchen color schemes for oak cabinets - white

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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).

Mood board of kitchen color schemes for oak cabinets - white

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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? Honestly, I don’t have one yet. Part of this post was actually an exercise for me to figure out which direction I want to go in. I am most drawn to the white+black+honey oak combination, but I’m also sensitive to site lines into other rooms of the house (which heavily feature a variety of blue hues). 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!

See You Soon!
Megan