Help! Design a Kitchen Around Oak Cabinets

Sharing is caring!

Help! Design a Kitchen Around Oak Cabinets

One of the most challenging things in a kitchen can be designing around builder grade oak cabinets that were prevalent in the 90’s and 2000’s. Even now, some builders use standard orange oak cabinets in the kitchens and bathrooms because they are affordable.

So you find yourself wanting to update your kitchen, but you can’t afford new cabinets and you don’t know where to start. I’ve come up with concept board for you to get started with your kitchen redesign.

The keys here will be to incorporate the orange oak into your kitchen be either living with it or painting it. If you choose to paint, make sure you properly prep them by sanding, using wood filler and priming before painting. I recommend using the only white paint you will ever need in kitchens.


Now if you choose not to paint, we want to use warm white colors to update the space, but not compete with the orange. In doing so, we will avoid any stark white comparisons against the oak while keeping the space light & bright.


I recommend painting everything Benjamin Moore’s White Dove, the trim, walls and ceiling. It’s a modern white paint color, but it is sightly warm so it will pair well with the warm orange oak cabinets.


For the backsplash tile, I’ve chosen a vanilla colored subway tile. It is 3″ x 6″ in a traditional pattern. You can have it installed in a fun direction for interest.


The next major element in a kitchen will be the flooring. Visually, it takes up the most space in the kitchen so we want to use a very neutral base that doesn’t look bad with the oak cabinets. For the kitchen flooring, I recommend a warm white marble look tile or a natural wide plank oak flooring in wood or water resistant laminate. Aim for 7″ wide planks for the biggest impact or 12″ x 24″ tile.

As always, make sure you purchase samples and bring them home to compare to the cabinets and countertop choices.


Updating your kitchen hardware is an easy and inexpensive way to bring your kitchen into this century. I like to balance with warm tones of the floor and cabinets with a polished silver knob and pull.

I love a polished silver. Chrome is too cold, brushed nickel looks cheap. So, polished silver (nickel) is my first choice for updating hardware in the kitchen. You can apply the same to the faucet.


One of the biggest design crimes committed by builders is to add small pendants over kitchen islands and peninsulas. Let’s correct that mistake by choosing large 12″- 14″ wide pendants when we update lighting.

This is a great place to mix metals if you like brass. If you prefer to keep it all the same, stick to polished nickel. Do measure you island or peninsula and choose your pendants based on that length. You can read about that formula here.


The last but not least things to work into your oak cabinet kitchen update is to accessorize the space. A kitchen runner is a great start for accessorizing. I love this Turkish looking runner that is faded tan and red. It ties in nicely with the other elements of the room.


Do you love the elements of this kitchen design? I’ve gathered the links for the exact products for your convenience (some may by affiliate links, when available at no cost to you!).

I hope this kitchen design concept around oak cabinets helps you update your kitchen with modern accessories that work with your cabinets instead of against them. Good luck in achieving your kitchen dreams and if you love this, share it!

I would love to see photos of your finished designs so that I can share them with my readers, so if you use this kitchen mood board for inspiration, please send me photos!


Kitchen Design Plan with Oak Cabinets

4 thoughts on “Help! Design a Kitchen Around Oak Cabinets”

  1. We just moved into a home with oak cabinets, a red brick style backsplash, terracotta tile flooring, and an antique bronze hardware.

    We placed an area rug over the tile with ivories, greens, and reds, but I am second guessing the color of paint. Originally we were thinking Greek Villa or Dover White, but should I go for something with a cooler or more neutral undertone?? HELP!

  2. I have been almost sick trying to choose materials for my kitchen remodel. My husband did not want new cabinets and refused to consider painting the honey oak. I can live with it. I had chosen a rather “busy” quartz but as I went to place my order at the showroom today, I spoke with an architectural design person who is a friend and read this article. I found a more neutral quartz, keeping my white backsplash and light porcelain floor. I did already choose black stainless appliances, sink and faucet. Thank you for offering advice to those of us struggling and really can’t afford a designer!

  3. In this example, I used an ivory colored Corian countertop. Bring home a few warm white samples and try them against the cabinets and wall color. Because it’s the only true white in the room, you may be able to pull off a brighter white!

  4. Wow! Just stumbled onto your article! Thank you so much. This is just what I’ve been looking for. I have been researching this very topic for over a year and had already decided to use White Dove and a similar flooring. We already have the same lighting..thank goodness.
    I am however stumped on what countertop to use. I have a limited budget and am wondering what the countertop is in your mood board? Or could you suggest another that would be similar?

    Thanking you in advance,

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.