How to Update Old Wood Kitchen Cabinets

I get asked a lot of design and décor questions, usually through our Facebook page. I love that people are passionate about making their homes beautiful and the questions never stop.

To better manage the requests, I decided that once a month I’ll broadcast #AskJane on Facebook Live. It’s a perfect, low-tech solution. We stream live video on our Facebook page, usually on a Saturday morning and answer questions that have been submitted with pictures and real-time questions, too.

Recently I received two identical questions.

What can be done about dated, oak kitchen cabinets?

You can call them, “honey” or “golden”, but those cabinets are anything but sweet or perfect. They’re solid wood, they were expensive in the ’80s and ’90s, but now look too yellow, or orange. They’re the bossy, colour element in the space and it’s difficult to know how to tone them down.

Real wood is a natural product

If you take off the bark off a light-coloured tree, it will darken, a dark wood without its bark will lighten. It’s the natural oxidation process. The urethane seal on the cabinets is light sensitive and will change colour in the light and darken. The result, over time is something you may want to address.

You can paint wood cabinets

I have a few solutions. The first can be a DIY project if you’re confident and have a steady hand. Sand and paint all the cabinetry.

The wood will take to the paint beautifully, it will last and it’s not an expensive solution. What most people can’t see when someone suggests painting wood, is that while it’s attractive to some, it creates contrast in a room.

When wood trim stands out it’s no longer an accent, it’s a focal point, and wood over time can look so far off colour that it dominates a colour scheme. Painting wood neutralizes the colour but still accentuates the profile, the craftsmanship of the wood. The results can be quite beautiful.

You can tame colour with colour

Another option is to paint the walls behind the cabinets in a colour that settles the wood colour down. There are two directions I suggest. The first is Benjamin Moore’s Kendall Charcoal. It’s a great, dark, smoky grey. I’d use accent pieces in pewters, blacks, golds, yellows and a little white.

Chocolate is always the answer

Chocolate Fondue

Chocolate browns are still popular—anything with chocolate in it will never die. I suggest Benjamin Moore’s Marshlands, Willow or Chocolate Fondue, put that on the walls and it will instantly change the effect. Adding darker colour offers a sharp contrast and cleans up the space.

Evaluate your kitchen’s functionality

The last option is replacement. Maybe it’s time for an upgrade. Take the time to address all the quirky things that make working in your kitchen difficult. Do doors open into each other? It may be a good idea to work with a kitchen designer to help you see areas you can improve.

If you can, repurpose those cabinets or donate them if they’re in good shape. And finally, here’s a secret… if you’re patient, hang on to them, golden oak is slowly making its way back in style.