How To Make Oak Kitchen Cabinets Look Modern: Steps Explained

ByHachiskitchen Staff
Updated: Mar 15, 2024



Are your oak cabinets starting to show their age? Wanna know how to make oak kitchen cabinets look modern? Would you like to turn them into the present century but with minimum investment? Fear not, it can be done! From how to transform your 80s kitchen to a modern one to how to make oak cabinets look farmhouse, here we have discussed various DIY techniques and methods to redo kitchen cabinets for a stunning modern makeover You ready friends? Then let’s dive into the specifics.

What’s In The Guide?

  • Paint The Oak Kitchen Cabinets
  • Turn A modern Kitchen With Oak Cabinets
  • Preparing The Cabinet Doors
  • Turn Old Oak Cabinets Into The Farmhouse
  • Repaint The Kitchen Walls
  • Change The Cabinet Hardware
  • Proven Techniques To Lighten Your Oak Cabinets
  • How To Make Oak Cabinets Look Rustic
  • Upgrade Your Kitchen With Honey Oak Cabinets And Black Hardware
  • Rustic Charm: How to Make Your Oak Cabinets Look Farmhouse
  • Farmhouse Kitchen Cabinet Ideas To Add French Country Vibes To Your Home
  • Final Thoughts On Updating Wood Kitchen Cabinets

Revamp Your Kitchen Cabinets: Modern Oak Cabinets That Wow

One of the questions people mostly ask is, “How to make oak kitchen cabinets look modern?” And people who have 80’s oak cabinets might be desperately looking for ways to change the look of their outdated kitchen. So, if you are one of them, below you can find a list of few things to do to transform them into a modern oak cabinet.

Paint The Oak Kitchen Cabinets

Painting the oak kitchen cabinets is the cheapest and the fastest way that helps in updating 80’s oak cabinets. Believe us, it will not harm the durability of cabinets yet still give it a fabulous look. Let’s keep reading to know how to make oak kitchen cabinets look modern. You can pick any neutral colors like gray, taupe, black, cream, or any pastel color. Asking why?

Well, these colors are less likely to become outdated, so you can choose any of them. But, if you are looking for the basic step to complete your painting project, we are here to help you. Here is how to paint oak cabinets, trim, and doors:

  • Get extra-fine sandpaper and start sanding the wood. Make sure to rub it lightly because this is needed to rough up the surface.

  • Now, use a deglosser to wipe down the oak.

  • Moving forward, it is a vital step, so do not skip this one. Get a tape and stick it around the areas that you do not want to prime and paint. But if you want, you can use any primer as well.

Please note, if you can’t stomach the smell of strong primer or have kids and pregnant women in your house, then latex primer is our best bet. You can use any latex enamel paint for this DIY project.

  • And if you do use coat of premier or paint, make sure to coat two or three times to achieve the look you want.

  • After that, make sure that the applied paint gets enough time to dry before adding hardware (like handles or vanities), letting kids bang the fresh paint with their toys, or accidentally hitting moving furniture.

  • Once the paint is dried, you can now add the hardware and other furniture items. You can also add new affordable laminate countertops and a glass tile backsplash to enhance the modern look without worrying about your budget.

And here, the task is finished, but, if you D=don’t want to waste your time and effort on repainting? we have got some ways. Keep reading!

Turn A Modern Kitchen With Oak Cabinets

Changing the entire look of the kitchen is true sounds exciting yet a tough task. But, as rightly mentioned, ‘when there is a will, there is a way. So, let’s know the perfect answer for how to turn a modem kitchen into an oak cabinet. Here are the steps:

1. Restain The Oak Kitchen Cabinets

You can restain your oak kitchen cabinets. Many people will recommend this DIY project because it is a less tiring option. Depending on the amount of time and effort you want to spend staining the oak cabinets, you can make them darker. Besides, you can also make them more modern or even neutralize the wood with a lighter color.

If you opt for lighter or golden stains, then it will give them a natural look. But remember one thing! Leave the red, yellow, or orange tones aside. Lastly, always put the cabinet’s style into consideration while giving the old cabinets a new look.

2. Buy Or Make A Two-toned Oak Cabinet

In this option, all you need to do is paint the parts of the oak kitchen cabinets instead of painting all components and sides. Additionally, if you pick a contrasting color to paint them, it will add diversity and beauty to your kitchen area. Many people consider white as the safest option to start with. Specifically, oak furniture and white color can create a rustic or country atmosphere, based on what accessories you like and pick.

Do you have a flat or shaker panel style door?

If you do, then this combination will give a more modern look to your kitchen. And that’s what you wanted, right? From our perspective, we suggest you go for a trustworthy brand whose cabinetry paint and products have received good reviews from the customers.

Don’t want to hire any painter? Are you thinking about giving your oak cabinet a whitewashed look by painting it in your own way to save some money? But don’t know how white washed oak cabinets are made? Then here is an easy guide for you:

3. Whitewashing The Old Oak cabinets

This DIY is best for those who own a set of honey oak or pine kitchen cabinets. And many people, including you and us, do not like the appearance of this furniture type. Regardless of the wood type, any wooden cabinet owner can successfully whitewash their furniture.

There are times when you think your old honey oak kitchen cabinets need to be changed, but removing all the oak furniture is too bad as it can increase the cost of your painting. So, if you want to keep the original oak cabinets in their place, but want to change the color, whitewashing them is the right choice. And that is why we have shared simple steps to whitewash and update the appearance of the oak cabinets for your home.

Check out here for further steps!

4. Whitewashing The Cabinets

Step 1: Choose a whitewash wood stain

Get a wood stain from a renowned brand that will work best for your oak cabinets in your kitchen. We recommend you to go with water-based stains, which will produce fewer fumes, clean up easily, and dry fast. You can also use oil-based wood stains, but make sure to dry them in well-ventilated areas.

Step 2: Test the stain before you use it

Before applying any type of stain, make sure to do a patch test in a small piece of oak wood or the wood you are working on. Do not forget to shake the stain can to mic all the settled pigments before opening it. Now, use a paintbrush to apply the stain on the scrap wood and let it stay for three to four minutes. If you are happy with the results, then you can move on to the next step.

Step 3: Apply the stain to the cabinets

Apply the stain with smooth long strokes to the oak cabinets with a clean rag. Make sure to follow the line of the grain and wipe away the excess stain with a clean cotton cloth or another rag. Also, put more pressure on the pad or rag to make the stain show more in the wood grain.

There are large pores in the natural grain pattern of oak so, make sure to wipe it against the grain to help it get into the pores of the wood. Once this part is done, make sure to wipe away the excess with a clean rag. You can replace the cotton cloth or the rag if it becomes tacky while staining.

Step 4: Let the cabinets dry completely

The cabinets will take one to two days to dry. If you feel that the wooden surface is too tacky to the touch, it means more time to dry.

Step 5: Finish the cabinets with a topcoat

Whitewashing does not offer any protection to the wood grain, so you can use a non-yellowing protective topcoat to finish the cabinets. Once you apply a water-based, natural, or create acrylic oil, it will penetrate the pores of the wood and protect the cabinet.

Use a high-quality brush to topcoat the water or latex-based products. Use continuous strokes to finish the surface. Then, let the first coat sit for four hours. After that, sand the cabinets with grit sandpaper one last time before applying the second and the final coat. But make sure to sand the cabinets lightly before the final application.

Once the bottom of the cabinet is done, place it on shims or a small block so that the polyacrylic doesn’t stick to the surface of your working area.

Step 6: Re-install your whitewash cabinets

Now, hang your oak cabinets where they were using the hardware and labeled screws. And voila! Your new whitewashed cabinet is ready! We are sure the new look will brighten up the entire kitchen area and show the wood’s natural grain.

But tell, have you prepared the cabinet doors?

Not Yet! let’s begin!

Preparing The Cabinet Doors

Step 1: Pickle the oak

First of all, you need to pickle the oak. Don’t know what pickling is? Well, pickling is a technique of whitening wood. But many people confuse this method with wood finishing. And various softwoods like pine and oak are the most common pickled types of woods.

Since you have decided to complete the DIY project on your own, you can make your pickling stain for oak as well. But if you don’t have much time for that, then you can buy premade pickling stains from your nearby shop.

Step 2: Detach the cabinet doors

Removing the doors will make it easier for you to whitewash the oak cabinets. This way, you can also easily access the cabinet frames and work on both doors and cabinetry separately. Get a drill to remove the doors, and once the screws are removed, store and label them so you can remember which one goes on which door. Doing so will prevent any confusion, and you will know where each screw came from.

Step 3: Clean the doors

Before beginning the actual work, clean the doors to get rid of dirt. Then, apply degreaser to the frames and front and the back of each cabinet. Next, wipe down and repeat the same procedure until the frame and cabinet are spotless and you are satisfied with it.

Step 4: Strip the old stain from the doors

If you have planned to whitewash the oak cabinets, then it needs a blank canvas. It means you need to remove the old stain and replace it with the new one. How to do it? Paint strippers are quite handy and will do the work. But remember, you are about to come in contact with hard chemicals so, you will require,

  • A drop cloth to protect your floor,
  • Neoprene/latex gloves,
  • Safety goggles, and
  • Excellent ventilation (or a respirator)

Now, it is time to apply one coat of paint stripper with steel wool. When the finish gets dissolved, you can wipe it with a rag. Be sure to dispose of the rag and steel wool in a seal metal bucket because certain paint strippers are flammable.


  • Furniture re-finisher: Mild product
  • Other paint strippers: Varnish, lacquer, paint, and polyurethane removers (from weakest to harshest).

Step 5: Sand the cabinets

Use a power sander to sand the surface. Your goal should be to sand until you see the natural color of the oak cabinets. Also, make sure to sand in the direction of the wood grain. You can also opt for other methods like sanding with grit sandpaper, use a sheet sander to avoid marks, or use a powerful fast orbital sander.

Step 6: Condition the wood

Conditioning softwood is important, or else it can look blotchy when stained. You can use any pre-stain conditioner if you want. Use a clean brush designed for latex paints and apply it directly to the cabinets. Then, let it sit for thirty minutes. Follow up with a final round of light sanding to ensure the oak cabinets absorb the stain. And here goes the finishing of the task.

Furthermore, when you are already working on your creativity, you wouldn’t want to miss out some interesting ideas. So keep scrolling and find out!

Turn Old Oak Cabinets Into The Farmhouse

Are you wondering how to make oak cabinets look farmhouse? Then, have a look below and transform your old kitchen into a farmhouse beauty:

Day 1 – Thoroughly cleaning and Painting the Base Of Oak Cabinet

  • Clean all the cabinets from the top to the bottom with a trusted degreaser.
  • Mix a batch of DIY chalk paint or get one from the shop.
  • Paint the base cabinet with three coats of chalk paint.
  • Sand the freshly painted surface to smooth the paint.
  • For protection, brush the base cabinet with topcoat paint.

By the end of the day, the base cabinets will look delightful, and your hard work will pay off.

Day 2 – Painting Upper cabinet

  • Take off the upper cabinet’s door.
  • Now, stick tape around the upper cabinets that meet the ceiling and wall.
  • On the outside of the upper cabinets, paint three coats of white paint.
  • When it’s completely dried, sand it lightly.
  • Lastly, apply two topcoats to finish.

Day 3 – Painting Inside of Upper Oak Cabinet

  • Before painting the inside of the upper cabinet, make sure to coat it twice with primer.
  • Now, paint five coats of white chalk to completely cover the oak.
  • Then finish it with the topcoat of the paint.

Day 4 – Painted Doors

  • Apply three coats of white chalk paint to the front and backside of the doors.
  • Then sand it lightly and brush on a poly topcoat.

Day 5 – Painted Shelves

  • Paint the top and bottom shelves with three coats of white paint.
  • Lightly sand it and brush it with a topcoat.

Phew! Finally, the painting, sanding and, topcoat application are complete. Now you can enjoy and admire the look of your farmhouse cabinet.

Repaint The Kitchen Walls

Don’t want to get wood painted? No problem! Redecorating the wall is yet another option. But be careful when you pick the color of the paint and avoid warm colors like pink and yellow because it will make your kitchen look older. Also, do not go with contrasting colors such as blue or green, which will make your oak cabinets look not so good. We suggest you pick simple, cool, or neutral colors, which will make tone down the orange shade of your oak cabinets.

Change The Cabinet Hardware

Want to change the look of your oak cabinets? Then try changing the hardware! We are sure that altering the hardware will change the whole look of the cabinet. So here are some of the hardware recommendations for you:

  • Black hardware
  • Polished nickel hardware
  • Gold/Brass hardware
  • Oil rubbed bronze hardware

Replace The Backsplash

Lastly, you can replace the backsplash and upgrade your old oak kitchen cabinets into a modern ones. Talking about modernizing the kitchen, you can go for subway tiles with contrasting grout. You can also partner it with a modern neutral-colored countertop to improve your kitchen’s appeal.

Doing so is the surefire solution to not only update, but also brighten and lighten your oak kitchen cabinets. In the end, you can also compare updating oak kitchen cabinets before and after pictures and see the difference. Looking for some farmhouse oak cabinet kitchen ideas? Then search no more and check out the next section.

Proven Techniques To Lighten Your Oak Cabinets

Lightening oak cabinets is a popular way to update the look of your kitchen without completely replacing your cabinets. Here are some tips on how to lighten oak cabinets:

  • Sand and Strip: Sanding and stripping the cabinets can remove the darker stain and reveal the natural lighter color of the oak wood.
  • Bleach the Wood:Bleaching the wood can lighten the oak cabinets significantly. Be sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions carefully and take proper safety precautions.
  • Use a Lighter Stain: Applying a lighter colored stain can help to brighten up your oak cabinets. Be sure to test the stain on a small area before applying it to the entire cabinet.
  • Paint the Cabinets:Painting the oak cabinets with a light color can instantly lighten up the space. White or off-white paint can create a fresh, clean look.
  • Change the Hardware:Swapping out the hardware with lighter-colored knobs or handles can also help to brighten up the oak cabinets.

In conclusion, lightening oak cabinets can be achieved through a variety of methods including sanding and stripping, bleaching, using a lighter stain, painting, or changing the hardware. Choose the method that best fits your style and budget to achieve a brighter, fresher look in your kitchen.

How To Make Oak Cabinets Look Rustic

If you’re looking to give your kitchen a cozy and rustic vibe, transforming your oak cabinets can be a great way to achieve that warm and welcoming atmosphere. Here are some tips to make your oak cabinets look rustic:

  • Distress the Cabinets:Creating a distressed look on your oak cabinets can give them an aged, rustic appearance. Sanding the edges and corners and using a chisel or hammer to create dents and scratches can achieve this effect.
  • Stain the Cabinets: Applying a darker stain to your oak cabinets can create a deeper, richer look that is perfect for a rustic style. Be sure to test the stain on a small area before applying it to the entire cabinet.
  • Add Decorative Accents: Adding decorative accents like hardware, molding, and trim can enhance the rustic look of your oak cabinets. Consider using wrought iron or antique bronze hardware, or adding wood molding to the cabinet doors.
  • Use Reclaimed Wood: Adding reclaimed wood elements to your kitchen, such as a wood countertop or floating shelves, can complement the rustic look of your oak cabinets and create a cohesive design.
  • Finish with a Patina: Applying a patina finish to your oak cabinets can give them an aged and weathered appearance, perfect for a rustic style. Consider using a glaze or wax to achieve this effect.

In conclusion, giving your oak cabinets a rustic look can be achieved through a variety of techniques, including distressing, staining, adding decorative accents, using reclaimed wood, and finishing with a patina. With a little creativity and effort, you can create a warm and inviting kitchen space that exudes rustic charm.

Upgrade Your Kitchen With Honey Oak Cabinets And Black Hardware

Combining honey oak cabinets with black hardware is a stylish way to modernize your kitchen. Here are some tips to make it work:

  • Choose Complementary Hardware: Select black hardware that complements the style and finish of your honey oak cabinets. Simple black handles or knobs can add a modern touch, while vintage-style black bin pulls or cup pulls can create a more traditional look.
  • Add Black Accents: Incorporating black accents throughout the kitchen can help tie in the black hardware. Black appliances, light fixtures, and countertop accessories can enhance the contrast between the honey oak and black finishes.
  • Experiment with Textures: Playing with different textures can create interest and depth in your design. Consider adding a textured backsplash, woven placemats, or patterned area rugs to bring together the honey oak and black hardware.
  • Integrate Natural Elements: Integrating natural elements like wood and plants can soften the contrast between the honey oak and black hardware. Wooden cutting boards, herb gardens, and decorative branches can add warmth and character to the space.

In summary, pairing honey oak cabinets with black hardware can be a stylish way to update your kitchen. Choosing complementary hardware, adding black accents, experimenting with textures, and integrating natural elements can all help to create a cohesive and modern design.

Rustic Charm: How to Make Your Oak Cabinets Look Farmhouse

If you want to add a touch of farmhouse charm to your kitchen, transforming your oak cabinets is a great place to start. Here are some tips on how to make oak cabinets look farmhouse:

  • Distress the Wood: Sand down the oak cabinets to give them a distressed and weathered appearance. Use a wire brush or sandpaper to create a rustic look.
  • Install Open Shelving: Replace some of your upper cabinets with open shelves to give your kitchen a farmhouse feel. Display rustic dishes, mason jars, and other vintage kitchenware.
  • Add Beadboard: Install beadboard paneling to the backs of your cabinets for a cozy and cottage-style look. Choose a distressed or whitewashed finish for added character.
  • Install Barn Door Hardware: Replace standard cabinet hardware with barn door hardware for a farmhouse touch. This can be a simple and affordable way to update your oak cabinets.
  • Paint with a Light Color: If you want to add some color to your kitchen, consider painting your oak cabinets a light shade of white, cream, or gray. This can create a clean and airy farmhouse look.

In conclusion, making your oak cabinets look farmhouse can be achieved through simple upgrades such as distressing the wood, installing open shelving, adding beadboard, installing barn door hardware, and painting with a light color. These options can add character and charm to your kitchen and create a cozy and inviting farmhouse feel.

Farmhouse Kitchen Cabinet Ideas To Add French Country Vibes To Your Home

We know that you are craving a farmhouse kitchen cabinets look for so long. So in the chart below, we have listed some of the awesome farmhouse kitchen cabinets that will turn your kitchen into a rustic farmhouse. Keep reading to know how to make oak kitchen cabinets look modern.

1.Cozy Yet Lightly Rustic Off-White Farmhouse Kitchen Cabinets
2.Grayscale Shiplap Cabinets with Rustic Vibes
3.Vintage Victorian Farmhouse Kitchen Cabinets
4.Modern Farmhouse Light Gray Cabinets
5.High Contrast Kitchen Cabinets with Black Accents
6.Tuscan and Modern Blended Kitchen Cabinets
7.White and Greyscale Cabinets with Black Accents
8.Mint Classic Style Kitchen Cabinets
9.Paneled Cabinet with White and Black
10.Open-Face White Paneled Kitchen Cabinets

Oak kitchen cabinets

Final Thoughts On Updating Wood Kitchen Cabinets

By the end of this read, we are sure that you have grasped our techniques and steps on how to make oak kitchen cabinets look modern. And we hope it helps you in updating your old kitchen cabinets in a major way. Our methods are easy and inexpensive, which has shown why you should keep your 80s oak cabinets. If you have a little more budget, you can spend that money on certain stuff of this project which needs a quick update. Do not forget to check back with us for more ideas.

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