Added this pic 2/25/16, but the kitchen is not finished and this is just a cell pic. We took the original island, painted it white, added faux wainscoting, molding, and faux legs. The Mr. built a butcher-block top on it. We added Patagonian rosewood floors with undertones that work with the oak without blending in with it. There's a lot more to come with the kitchen such as new lights, a chimney hood is our latest project, backsplash, new appliances, etc. I will update with more pics as we accomplish these tasks. I hope this gives you some inspiration for your 90's style oak cabinets...they really can be beautiful again!!
Moving into a home with a lot of oak (not builder grade) has brought out my resourcefulness; I've read blog posts, interior design articles, refreshed my knowledge of color theory, and good ole trial and error over the past several years. With all that, I've finally gotten a handle on how to work with oak. I hope by consolidating these tips, someone out there can save themselves from extra work and headaches.
But! Be forewarned...I break rules when it comes to trim. I don't think a house must have matching wood throughout, and that includes trim. To me, a house can be decorated however you want it to be, especially if you're planning on staying in it for the long haul.
Here are 5 tips for working with oak without painting it all white:
1) Paint color undertones
Paint color you choose for your walls can make or break the appearance of oak. Stay away from pink beige undertones in paint, tiles, flooring, etc. with oak. Pink beige clashes with the orange and golden hues making the overall look seem off, and often times, makes the pink beige appear dirty.
The undertones in oak are usually yellow, orange, or even some red; if you think about the color wheel, the complementary colors would be as follows:
- Yellow ---> purple
- Orange ---> blue
- Red ---> green
Yellows also work with oak. Yellow and oak are sort of like allies; it doesn't clash the way pink undertones and oak do, but it doesn't make the oak stand out, either. Yellow, yellow undertones, and cream colors are a good choice if you want your oak to blend into the room without making the room feel cold.
It seems when a house has oak in it, the oak is everywhere. My home had an all oak staircase, oak trim, flooring, kitchen and bathroom cabinets, fireplace mantel, etc. Rather than going through and painting all of it white, try breaking it up by only painting some of it, or my personal favorite, create two-tone looks with different wood finishes.
Using a darker shade of stain to create an accent piece can really change things up and refresh a room full of oak.
I have broken up the amount of oak in my home in several areas; let me share a few of them with you!
- I painted the trim in the kitchen white, while leaving the window frame itself, oak. At this time, I'm not including pictures of the entire kitchen because I'm in process of making some dramatic changes (without painting the cabinets). Check back for the reveal! If you decide to paint some or all of your oak, be sure to get a stain blocking primer, otherwise the yellow will come right through and show on the white paint.
This color is Spalding Gray by Sherwin Williams and has purple/beige undertones.
Trim color is White Dove by Benjamin Moore.
Update 2/25/16: Changed the wall color to Natural Choice by Sherwin Williams because we put in new floors which made the space much darker. Still a lot to do...needs new countertops, new faucet, new windows, but this will do for now!
- The fireplace in our home used to have a stained oak mantel with hunter green tiles. I painted the mantel white, and painted the tiles with a cream, faux marbleized finish, while leaving the oak trim in the room as is. You can find the full tutorial for the fireplace, here!
For my style, I think the combination of a white mantel with wood trim was a good choice; it really makes the fireplace stand out, while the wood trim blends in and helps create a warm, relaxed feel.
The paint color on this wall is Butternut Wood by Behr, and has green-yellow undertones. The mantel color is White Dove by Benjamin Moore.
Update 2/25/16: First of all, take a look at the carpet...do you see the pink undertones next to the yellow tile and orange guitar? It clashes, and will be changed soon. It's more noticeable in lighting like this (overcast snowy day). Anyway, I don't claim to be an interior designer and I tend to just surround myself in things that make me feel good...like clay pots made by a cousin, walking sticks carved by Grandfathers, musical instruments, and color that makes me think of nature. This is just an update...same wall color, same wood trim, just different mantel décor.
- For the staircase, I knew a makeover was in order, but there were so many options and possibilities! After contemplating which direction to take the staircase, I decided to go with staining the spindles dark kona, and leaving the steps, risers, and banister, oak. This small change made a huge difference! The contrast is perfect and I absolutely adore how it looks.
During the process of staining the spindles, there was already a dramatic difference! In this pic, you can also see pink undertones in the wall paint (was here when we moved in) and how it clashes with the wood.
The color on the wall was here when we moved in and will be changed soon. It's hard to see the pink undertones in this picture in some spots, but if you look at the thin strip of wall under the moulding above the landing area, you can see the pink (specifically near the corner of the wall). You can see the undertones really well in the previous picture.
- We also added faux wainscoting and painted a rose on the landing in the kona stain to add more contrast and character. A full staircase makeover post is coming soon, but you can find the rose landing tutorial here.
Contrasting colors are the groups of colors opposite on the color wheel, aka: warm vs. cool tones. Oak is warm, so cool tones add contrast; warm tones will blend in and reduce contrast.
Contrast is something many people are drawn to, and is often what makes white trim look so good. Even when placed against a cream color, white stands out. With oak, a contrasting color is what makes the oak stand out. There is such a thing as too much contrast, so keep that in mind.
Tips for adding contrast to make oak pop:
- Rich colors. Going for medium to dark shades helps make oak appear bright. If your oak is really light, dark colors will make it appear even lighter.
- Choose colors with cool undertones.
- Two-tone effects like adding a darker shade of wood to some of the oak, or painting some of it white when there are large amounts of the same shade of oak in one space.
- Hardware that adds contrast. Dark hardware works really well for this.
- Choose colors that are Earth toned. Wood is a natural element, so when you pair it with an Earthy tone, it can reduce boldness in the appearance of the oak. If you go back to the picture of the fireplace, you can see how the earthy wall subtly complements the wood while the white fireplace takes center stage.
- Choose colors with warm undertones (don't forget to stay away from the pink undertones though!).
- Yellows, yellow undertones, and cream colors can reduce contrast without clashing with the wood.
- Paint colors that are close in shade to the wood.
Oak cabinets from the 90's look especially outdated when they are embellished with outdated hardware. By changing out hardware to something more current, it can make your oak look current as well. I personally like the contrast of dark hardware on oak.
Oak has a lot of wood grain going on, which can camouflage dirt and flaws like no other! The downside is, you might not realize just how dirty it is! Once oak gets dull looking, it immediately looks like old wood from the 90's. Seems too simple to be true, but try giving it a good cleaning; it can really make a huge difference!
The last tip is a matter of mindset. I know, I know, bear with me for just a minute or two...
If you focus on what you dislike about your oak, it will always look ugly to you. For some of you, this can't be changed, and maybe painting the oak is the best option for you; however, if you are the kind of person who can adjust your perception, you might find that you can appreciate your oak, and in turn, grow to like it!
Let's explore a touch of history...
The unique grain patterns in oak have made it a sought after wood throughout history, commonly used in high status homes, ships, cathedrals, and other prestigious buildings.
Oak is a strong, hard wood that is highly resistant to fungal growth and insect infestation because of a high tannin content. The strength and resistance made oak the primary timber choice for the construction of European timber-framed buildings, and was also used in Europe for the construction of naval ships, until the 19th century.
I enjoy looking at the oak throughout my home, and appreciating its unique and lovely grain patterns. Some of the most beautiful wonders on this planet have markings of distinction; the Bengal tiger, giraffe, zebra, leopard, birdseye maple, marble, granite, etc. I see oak similarly.
Try not to see the 90's when you look at your oak; while oak was very popular in that decade, it's been around long before that and can still be beautiful when paired with modern flare and the right colors.
More ideas for working with oak without painting:
- Oak cabinet remodel without painting: remodelaholic.com
- Reglazing honey oak cabinets: anythingpretty.com
- Paint color ideas for oak trim: apartmenttherapy.com
- Various pictures of mixing oak and white woodwork: houzz.com
Until next time...create away!
- Color Theory: Brown University
- Colour Me Happy- Ask Maria: Which colours don't go with honey oak trim?
- SFGate: Good colors with light oak woodwork
- Linda Holt Interiors: When NOT to use complementay colors
- THE HISTORICAL SIGNIFICANCE OF OAK by J. V. THIRGOOD, Faculty of Forestry, University of British Columbia, Vancouver 8, B. C., Canada.