Update a kitchen w/out Painting Oak Cabinets

Update kitchen w/out painting oak cabinets

Honey oak cabinets are one of the most common kitchen cabinets you will find…and today you might not be too happy to find them, lol! They are not the trend du jour, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have your cake and eat it, too.

You can have an updated farmhouse style kitchen without having to either paint or get new cabinets.  Wood tone cabinets also give a warmth to your kitchen you can’t get if everything is white, and another benefit, easier to keep clean….white cabinets show every little finger that touched them, lol! Also, chances are your oak cabinets are solid wood and not a veneer like many painted cabinets.

I’m going to share with you some of the updates I made to completely change the look and feel of my kitchen.

If you are trying to decide between WHITE or WOOD CABINETS in a new kitchen or a remodel, you will want to check out my post on WHITE OR WOOD CABINETS? WHICH IS THE BETTER CHOICE FOR YOUR KITCHEN. I have an easy to follow guide to help you through the process deciding on that and the other main elements in the kitchen, as well as some great inspiration kitchens to check out!

Let’s get started.  Here’s a quick outline of all the areas I will address in this article.


  • WINDOW TREATMENTS – Remove valances, replace w/ wreaths.
  • ACCESSORIES – Use metal, greenery, & white decor.
  • HARDWARE – Use black knobs & drawer pulls.
  • WALL COLOR – Paint a color that neutralizes the honey tone in cabinets.
  • BACKSPLASH – Avoid bright white tile against most wood tones. Consider a cream toned subway tile.
  • GROUT – Pick a light grey to give some contrast against the tile, but to not be too busy against the wood grain of the cabinets.
  • COUNTERTOPS – Select a quartz that has minimal grain pattern as to not clash with the wood grain in cabinets.
  • PAINT FURNITURE – Paint any wood furniture that clashes with the cabinets.

Head to our RECOMMENDED PRODUCTS PAGE to check out some of our favorite decor items, tools, and more.


Kitchen Update w/out painting oak cabinets

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Update Kitchen w/ Oak Cabinets w/out painting

Update Kitchen w/ Oak Cabinets w/out painting

UPDATE: I just finished this additional project. I shiplapped my cabinet edge….and it is REMOVABLE!!!

—> Be sure to check out my how-to SHIPLAP WITHOUT NAILS OR GLUE OR PEEL N STICK BOARDS.  And, yes it is made done with wood boards & is not peel n stick!!

removable shiplap DIY update kitchen with oak cabinets without painting cabinets


removable shiplap DIY update kitchen with oak cabinets without painting cabinets



Shop items referenced here in our RECOMMENDED PRODUCTS PAGE.

  • The first thing I addressed was very simple.  Remove dated valances from kitchen windows.  One of the easiest ways to start to introduce a farmhouse look to your kitchen is to incorporate wreaths over your windows.
  •  Faux boxwood wreaths  from Amazon are a great option.  They do a lot to simplify the overall look of the kitchen, meaning they give an uncluttered look.  I personally love burlap ribbon, so I chose that to secure my wreaths to the window frame.  Again, I love a neutral color palette, so burlap always works well for me!  You could choose to change the ribbon seasonally…my favorite RED VELVET RIBBON would be beautiful to use at Christmas time.  Be sure to check out my FARMHOUSE RIBBON DIY TUTORIAL.  It will help you easily make beautiful & classic bows for tons of uses around your home.
  • Also, a simple farmhouse sign on your windowsill adds a lot of style without adding any counter clutter.  I use mine as holiday decor changing the signs through the seasons.

Update Kitchen w/ Oak Cabinets w/out painting

Update Kitchen w/ Oak Cabinets w/out painting


Shop items referenced here in our RECOMMENDED PRODUCTS PAGE.

  • There are some really easy ways to make a big impact on the look of your kitchen with some decor items.  When you see white kitchens styled, what you will notice is wood tone accessories, for example there are often a series of wood cutting boards displayed.  In a kitchen with wood tone cabinets, you already have the warmth from the wood, so you will want to focus at bringing in a few other materials.
  • Some Galvanized Metal Decor Items with greenery, like Faux Boxwood will really begin to change the look in your kitchen.
  • Another metal toned item I recommend is the Compost Bucket we got from Amazon that we use in our kitchen. If you do not already compost, we have a post you will want to check out where we break down (no pun intended) how EASY IT IS TO COMPOST .
  • One of the wood items you see is a Personalized Cheese Board . These are great to display and also make great gifts!
  • In our breakfast nook, you will see a RUSTIC STAINED BOARD SIGN that Joe made. I wanted to make this to add some texture and interest to the lightness of the walls in that area.  We custom designed the dimensions to fit in the narrow space above our window.  We have a how-to to show you exactly how to make these signs in various dimensions using only simple hand tools, so be sure to check that out.
  • Finally, a very simple way to ‘farmhouse up’ your sink area is with MRS. MEYER’S CLEANING PRODUCTS  that you can order right from Amazon. Their labels are the perfect look to go with that style.
  • Below you can see a peek into our playroom (my post showing how we styled this room) that we recently updated, as well.  Check out my DIY on how to make Farmhouse Style Poster Frames that you can see in the picture. They are very inexpensive and easy to make!

5 fav FARMHOUSE STYLE Drawer Pulls/Knobs

Update Kitchen w/ Oak Cabinets w/out painting


Shop items referenced here in our RECOMMENDED PRODUCTS PAGE.

  • Since you have decided that you are not painting your oak cabinets, what can you do to update their look?  Take a look at your hardware.  Updating this can be an easy & inexpensive way to give them a facelift. Our cabinets had simple black drawer knobs, which I like, so I did not change those.  If your kitchen has shiny brass, silver tone or another hardware style, consider BLACK DRAWER PULLS.  This will make a big change with very little money! All my cabinets and drawers have round knobs, so I am considering switch the drawers to this style pulls. This article from another blogger, INBETWEENCHAOS, shows a beautiful update to the hardware on oak cabinets with a dramatic result.
  • I gathered some of my favorite cabinet hardware here.
  • If your wood cabinets are in rough shape, check out this POST from my friend at LIFEMADESIMPLE on how she did an easy process to refresh & restore them for her kitchen update.
lifemade simple cabinet restore


  • When you are trying to pick a wall color to update the look of honey oak cabinets, what you want to do is to downplay the ‘honey’, the yellow tone of the cabinets.
  • And, if you are interested in a farmhouse look you know white is the wall color of choice.  However, in my opinion white walls don’t necessarily translate from Instagram blogger pictures to real life….they can easily end up looking like contractor painted white walls, looking unfinished and cold.
  • So, for my project….I was searching for a color that would tone down the yellow in the honey oak cabinets, would be as light as possible, but that would have a contrast against our white trim (window and baseboard).
  • And, if you ever have stood at a wall of paint chips in a paint department and have seen how many whites and greys there are…you know trying to pick one is, well impossible without some advice from a professional.  So…I took the chance to email Sherwin-Williams Customer Service.  (I actually didn’t expect a reply from them, but much to my surprise….they did!)  They were quickly able to direct me to what I was looking for.  They gave me 3 ideas to take a look at:

SW 7568 Neutral Ground

sw neutral ground

SW 7531 Canvas Tan

Sherwin Williams Canvas Tan

SW 6098 Pacer White

pacer white sherwin williams

  • I settled on Neutral Ground. I actually also used Canvas Tan, one of the other colors they recommended in another room, our office.  Before you settle on a color, always take a look at the lighting in your room, especially at different times of the day.  Neutral ground really changed during the day in my house…on some walls during the day it can read as a really, really light grey tone, while on other walls during the day, it really looks white.  Our kitchen has minimal wall space that is painted, so using such a light color works, but in a room with a lot of wall space to paint, it might feel too light, so it is always worth checking with at least a couple swatches first.


Click HERE for my guide on picking the BEST BACKSPLASH FOR YOUR KITCHEN.


best backsplash tile


best subway tile alternatives
  • One of the most dramatic updates you can make to the overall appearance of your kitchen is to add a backsplash.  And, if you are a lover of farmhouse style…you know that means SUBWAY TILE.
  • I knew I wanted to go in this direction, but I knew I didn’t want the traditional 3 x 6 flat subway tiles.  I wanted a 3 x 12 tile.  I think the 3 x 12 tiles give an elegance to the room, with less grout lines, you get an overall more simple, less busy look, especially if you plan to use a contrasting grout color.
  • I also wanted tile that had some texture to it.  This adds so much to the overall look, I really love this style. It looks handmade, which gives it a beautiful finish to your walls. But, my favorite thing that it does is it gives a lot of light play and reflection that you can’t get with a flat tile.
  • At the time I was searching for tile, I had a terrible time finding what I was looking for…a 3 x 12 subway tile, w/ a textured face, and a cream tone.  I did not want a white tile, I wanted a softer tone to the room and one that complements a wood tone cabinet.
  • If you are going to do a subway tile backsplash with wood cabinets, I really recommend taking a look at some samples of white versus cream to see the difference of how that work next to the wood.
  • I eventually was able to find exactly what I was looking for from TILEBAR. I can’t say enough about the service I got from them. Their shipping was very fast, which I really appreciated because right before starting the project my contractor, David A. Wible Contracting, recommended a pencil trim (I am so glad I did, it gives a beautiful, simple finished look.), so I had to order it as the project started and it came within just a couple days! Whew!! Crisis averted! I have also emailed them with some questions and have gotten prompt replies to assist me, which I really appreciate from a company. The tile I chose is LANCASTER VANILLA. It is just beautiful!!! I highly recommend checking it out!
Update Kitchen w/ Oak Cabinets w/out painting, subway tile


  • When designing your backsplash, one of the most difficult decisions can be what color grout to use.  I actually ended up making a last minute change to my plan.
  • Initially, I thought I would go with white grout, since my goal was a simple, uncluttered, clean look. But, when the tile was installed, I found I really liked the way it looked without the grout…which was a darker look in the areas to be grouted.  I was totally unprepared to on a whim go searching for grout colors, but I am so glad I did.
  • I ended up picking a grout color called ‘oyster grey’, a light grey shade.  It kept the light look I wanted, but gave the contrast I found I really liked, too.
Update Kitchen w/ Oak Cabinets w/out painting, subway tile grout
  • Changing your countertops is definitely an investment, so depending on your budget for your kitchen project, you may or may not choose to make a change here.  Our kitchen already had granite counters, so that was not something I was making a change to.
  • But, what I did do to update the look was to add a quartz top to our center island.  I wanted something that would not compete with the business of the granite and wanted something light and with a small amount of horizontal veining. I searched local countertop stores in my area and found what I was looking for with Cambria Ella
  • I ordered a remnant piece with a little overhang on each side from the original top to the table and all that was involved in installing was to do a light sanding on the table top and then use some silicone caulking to secure it in place.  It really was a very easy DIY!  ==>READ HOW TO ATTACH GRANITE TO WOOD TABLES HERE
  • The biggest tip I have for you with a project like this is to shop around!!! I was quoted prices more than 3 times the amount I ended up paying and that was even for a lesser quality surface material.  It is definitely worth putting in a little time to call and look around before purchasing solid surface countertops.
Cambria Ella Quartz Countertop Island
Dining table redo to farmhouse look
Dining Table Redo to Farmhouse Style
  • Although I didn’t paint our cabinets, I did paint our dining table in our breakfast nook.  It was a generic dark stained table that I wanted to lighten up to coordinate with the new look in our kitchen.  To start, I did a light sanding of that table and chairs and then wiped it down with a damp microfiber cloth.
Dining Table Redo to Farmhouse Style
  • Next, I painted everything with a Bonding Primer. It is worth taking this extra step on something like a dining table that will get heavy use to help get the best adhesion of your paint.
Dining Table Redo to Farmhouse style
  • I then painted two coats of Olympic One Paint. I used SW 6385 Dover White on the table base and chairs.  This white works great in the lighting in my breakfast nook and great room, but be sure to check it out in your space…whites will show very different in different lighting.  This one has quite a bit of yellow in it, but in my lighting the yellow does not show.  For the table top, I used SW 7019 Gauntlet Grey and it worked perfectly.  I wanted a grey that was darker and had almost a slate look to it.  I used a satin finish.
Dining Table redo to Farmhouse Style
  • This biggest tip I can give with painting furniture is do not over brush.  Get the paint on and let it go, it will flatten out itself as it dries.  When you keep brushing over what you already painted, you will have a tendency to remove paint from the surface and end up brushing ridges into the finish, which you do not want.  These chairs were a bit of a handful to paint, to be honest…so many nooks and crannies to try to get into.  I ended up using a foam brush on the chair backs, which worked better than a bristle brush for that job.
  • UPDATE: I did not seal the table set for a number of months, I wanted to see how it wore and knew if there was an issue, I could touch it up.  After a number of months, I decided to seal the top with POLYCRYLIC I ordered from Amazon. I only did the top, as I was concerned that over time I might have issues from moisture from glasses with condensation sitting on the top.  I did not notice any damage, but when glasses were left I could see a ring where the moisture was that would dry and disappear, but I figured that would not be good for long-term wear. It was very simple to do, I did a couple coats with a foam brush.  
  • I have additional detailed information on painting furniture here –> HOW TO PAINT FURNITURE.
Dining Table Redo to Farmhouse Style
  • How pretty are those flowers?!?!  They are all from our native plant garden!! We have some great articles and videos to share our love of native plant gardening, so be sure to head to our NATIVE PLANT page and our GARDENING TIPS page.
  • It has been a lot of fun working on our kitchen, the most recent thing we got done was the quartz island top.  I originally thought I would want to paint the wood on the island base, but once the quartz was on, I really like it as-is.  I think it ties it together nicely with the cabinets….but, who knows…give me a few more months and maybe I’ll want to change it up. One more thing on my to-do list as far as painting in the kitchen is to paint our stools for the island.  They are dark stained wood like the dining table used to be, so now they do not coordinate with anything.  My plan is to paint the stools the grey color like the dining table top.  Be sure to check back for an update to this article when I get those done.
  • UPDATE- I still haven’t painted the stools….I haven’t been able to decide which way I want to go…hello indecision! haha! I’m now toying around with stripping the finish and trying to bleach the wood.  Let me know if you have ever tried that!

7 ways to update kitchen w/out painting cabinets

Tara Foster

Hi! I'm Tara, half of the Growit Buildit duo. I am a frugal DIY enthusiast!! My professional background is in education and counseling, but have spent the last few years as a stay at home mom, which has given me the opportunity to explore my passions that have been put aside for so long. I gravitate towards what I'd consider modern farmhouse style, with a little boho mixed in. I have planned remodels for larger projects, like our kitchen, as well as many smaller DIY projects around our house. In addition, I create a lot of smaller craft projects. I am currently a maker for a local retail boutique in our area called 6ix North. I hope my posts provide you with some useful information for your DIY projects.

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