Popular Again: Wood Kitchen Cabinets

By Kate Riley June 23, 2014

Our oldest daughter is finally back home and over the weekend we unloaded the moving truck with all of her college bedroom furniture and the memorabilia from four years residing in San Diego. It’s so good to have her home even if it’s only for a year before she continues on with her education. We spent Sunday evening laughing, eating, and watching the grapes grow, I am reminded how blessed we are to be together, healthy, happy, and in such a wonderful place we call home. 

Topic change: I’m fascinated with kitchen design, I never ever grow tired of talking about it with friends and also with you! So can we talk today about a design movement? I won’t call it a trend because I think this one really is here to stay. In a world where we’re turning more to organic looks and eco friendly finishes, the appeal of wood cabinetry in the kitchen is on the rise. Again! How history repeats itself…

For years we’ve all been on a mission to rid the world of 1980s builder grade grainy oak kitchen cabinets, and as a budget solution we’ve painted them for the better. However, natural and stained wood cabinets in the kitchen are surging in popularity and it’s to be expected, how can you deny the warmth of wood in the home? 

rustic wood kitchen lower cabinets

via Greige Design

The modern look embraces drawer and door fronts with clean lines, reclaimed or sustainable wood products, and often open shelving above instead of upper cabinets. Some are taking a very rustic approach, using barn or rustic wood on the cabinet fronts.  rustic wood kitchen cabinets


rustic wood kitchen cabinets jolanda kruse

julanda kruse


In the painted v. wood kitchen cabinet debate, some designers have labeled the all white kitchen trendy but I disagree. I believe a kitchen with white cabinets will always feel fresh and clean and is therefore timeless. I have a white painted kitchen too and I love everything about it. Am I biased? Perhaps, but you can’t argue with a classic. White, gray, or black paint on cabinetry will always look good; mixing white and wood is another fresh approach.

white uppers wood lower kitchen cabinets

wood and white kitchen

wood lower white upper cabinets

in view design / feldman architecture / renovation planning

What I think is happening is that the interior design community is growing bored with the all white kitchen look and is in search of something different despite the fact that the rest of America is still very much in love with the all or mostly white kitchen. (Or gray, we love gray!) 

Frankly, I’m one who cares little about trends, especially when it comes to kitchens since the choices made for that space need to look good for at least a decade or more. I prefer to leave the “new and next” kitchen trends to the architects and designers who seek features in shelter magazines.

Wood cabinetry has returned as a top request in new and remodeled kitchens for its organic appeal. Man made metal cooktops, hoods, and appliances offer sanitation and easy clean up but alone can leave a kitchen feeling cold. Partnering cool metals with warm wood brings beautiful contrast and balance to a modern kitchen space. 

modern espresso cabinets

rustic wood cabinets in kitchen

sb architects / mark hickman homes

If you have a kitchen with wood cabinets and you’d like to make it feel more modern without painting your cabinetry or suffering through a full renovation, instead consider replacing only the doors and drawers with full overlay contemporary flat fronts in a coordinating stain. Shaker style cabinets offer clean lines, and upgrading the hardware also goes a long way.  

stained shaker style kitchen cabinets

rustic chestnut cabinets


braams / crown point cabinetry / andre rothblatt

Wood lovers unite! Think of it in all its different forms, walnut, maple, alder, chestnut… the list goes on. Wood is rich, cozy, and elegant in these contemporary kitchens.

What is your cabinet preference in the kitchen, painted, stained wood, or a mix of the two? 



  1. Beautiful! I think both white and wood cabinets will always be classic, as long as the wood doesn’t get too trendy. (I love the distressed barn wood cabinets, but while I think touches of that will be classic, I think the fronts from that will probably date like espresso finish did.)

    Something like walnut will always be classic.

    I guess the good thing about wood is you can always refinish it! (Not that it’s not an undertaking, but what kitchen renovation isn’t?)

  2. Please don’t tell my husband this! Talking him into a white kitchen was the coup of the century. LOL. I too, believe a white kitchen is timeless. Wood will also always be as well, but the finishes and styles will come and go. You can’t deny the warmth they add to a space though. I am still trying to find a way to bring that into my all white kitchen. I am thinking some reclaimed wood shelving would be a great compromise.

  3. I think it depends upon where you live. I live in the upper Midwest (Chicago area) and white kitchens rarely exist here. Indeed, I think it might depreciate a home. We have very cold winters, so people like to generate a feeling of warmth inside when everything outside is white with snow (good quality Maple cabinetry is popular here). I love the look of white kitchens (classic!) and might consider having one if we lived in the South or a warmer climate.

  4. I love the raw and rustic look the best! Love your new profile picture Kate – so carefree and pretty!

  5. I am one of those who is suffering the builder grade blahs and want desperately paint my oak cabinets white. Can you direct me to the best instructional on how to do this? My research has mixed protocols and mixed results. What is the best that I can hope for when painting oak white? What should I avoid?
    Thanks so much!

    P.S. LOVE your blog and inspirations!

    • Hi Pamela, you can definitely paint them! Oak grain can show through, even after two coats of primer and paint so expect that. I painted my kitchen island years ago with Zinsser Oil Based Primer and Ben Moore Oil Based paint, it still looks amazing. I do like the new Ben Moore Advance formula for cabinets in semi gloss, see this tutorial on painting bathroom cabinets with that product, the steps (I use) are the same: http://www.centsationalgirl.com/2013/08/how-to-paint-bathroom-cabinets/

  6. I like the rustic look of the first 3 photos but must say they don’t say “sanitary.” Maybe that’s why white kitchens and bathrooms are appealing; they just plain old look clean.

  7. I have become extremely bored of white kitchens myself, so I understand the designers’ feelings! They are everywhere! I’m not necessarily against them, I’m just so tired of seeing them. I admire people who go against the norm and do something different. Plus, those wood cabinets are gorgeous! And, there’s so much more variety that you can get with wood so that every kitchen won’t be a carbon copy of another one.

  8. I will always love a white kitchen – yours is drool worthy!! I like the idea of adding in some of that reclaimed looking wood and have been doing so all over my house! I live in Ontario – so our winters are cold – and you see LOTS of white kitchens here. I am just not a fan of wood kitchens – doesn’t matter the wood type, colour etc. Just not for me!

  9. I love a white kitchen but I dont think wood kitchens ever went out of style. Its all a matter of how you use it. I can’t imagine anyone thinking any of the kitchens above aren’t gorgeous.

    • Agreed Mrs. Limestone! I love that we’re seeing so much more wood used and featured in kitchen remodels in the past few years. :)

  10. I love all kinds of kitchens, mine is wood but I think white ones are gorgeous too. as Melissa said, popularity of different styles is probably pretty regional. here in the Pacific Northwest wood rules so I guess I’m lucky it’s my favorite :-) I could be happy in any of the kitchens you featured, great post!

  11. I am a die-hard wood lover, happy to unite here. I see everywhere people painting furniture and cabinets and that’s fine if they like it, but I just have a hard time doing it. I tell myself it must be that I love certain antique furniture and I worked hard to get the few pieces we have and it was the wood, not just the lines of the piece that I fell in love with. I just plain love the WOOD. I’ve decided I just don’t care about trends and styles and what anyone else is doing. I love what I love and it isn’t changing. I’m so lucky my husband loves the same. I’d take builder’s grade oak any day over the painted color even though I can enjoy someone else’s white kitchen. weird, I guess. But the natural elements in my home do wonderful things for me I guess. We are about halfway to saving up enough to start building a TIMBER FRAME home with lots of big windows, stone, wood and even metal textures. It’s too bad everything I love in home design is so much more expensive. *sigh* . . . . so we keep working hard and saving and waiting. lol It will be soooo worth it in the end!

  12. I love the look of the rustic wood in the photos in the beginning of the post, but would be afraid that any surface that wasn’t smooth and with a finish for durability would just get, well, icky over time. Besides, the architects, designers, and photographers don’t have to come back and clean them! :) But, incorporating the rustic wood as a shelf or detail is awesome!

  13. I love the look of the first picture! I painted my cabinets light gray (really wanted them white, but a friend with a white kitchen advised against it with small kids… one day though…). I would love a rustic, wooden hutch or shelves to add warmth though! Light and warmth; I need both!!!

  14. I love wood kitchens. When we built our new home last year, we went with dark wood cabinetry, travertine look counters, and open shelves – no uppers. We couldn’t be happier! Definitely not traditional for my area and our builder thought we were crazy but really likes how it turned out.

  15. I dream about having a white kitchen. I would love to have a white kitchen. Why? Because every apartment and house (3!) since we married in 1974 has had warm wood (maple or oak) cabinets. That’s 40 years of warm wood cabinets! By the time I finally get my white kitchen it will most likely be “out of style”! LOL! Most of us can’t afford to update our kitchens just to have the latest “trend”. We take what we get and we learn to live with it. Now, don’t get me wrong I like wood cabinets but I must admit I am tired of them. Hey, I wouldn’t mind painting them but I’m just not a DIYer on that scope. I can’t be alone in always being “out of style”. But the time I catch up the style has moved on. I’m still hanging in for a white kitchen. LOL!

  16. I started buying houses back in the early 80s so I think I’ve seen quite a few styles come and go! For me the Danish style wood/white/stainless kitchen in the 4th photo with is so “been there, done that” – and in fact was the cheapest style for those of us wanting a new kitchen in the UK.

    So for me, the painted look is much cleaner, brighter, fresher and that’s what I’d go for next time I have the opportunity to install a new kitchen (when we’re done renting as globe trotting expats!).

  17. When I saw your title, my mind immediately flashed back to my old knotty pine cabinets that I lived with for 25 years before my kitchen makeover! Yuck! I thought, there is no way that look will ever come back into style. But I was pleasantly surprised when I clicked open your post and saw all of the amazing, fresh and modern wood kitchens. Absolutely adore those shaker style kitchens! I am presently remodeling my mom’s kitchen, that 1970’s dark oak, and painting the cabinets white, but the backsplash in your picture may be perfect. So fresh and clean but still rustic!

  18. I personally prefer white kitchens, but there’s definitely a way to have wood cabinets and make them look good! These are NOTHING like the horrible orange oak cabinets we dealt with when we moved into this house. Haha. Gorgeous finds!

  19. My grandfather & dad built the knotty pine cabinets in the house I grew up in–funny enough, our first house had them as well. I hadn’t thought of either in years. Your post has me thinking that, with a matte finish and new hardware along with touches of white–both would be great! Nice to see a post on not.stark.white. kitchens, thanks!

  20. I love white kitchens. but gray or light blue cabinets currently have my heart…
    my cabinets are also builder grade…some sort of wood material with a strange, almost laminate over lay (they are white)… I’ve wanted to paint them, but since its not real wood I’ve been a little scared. I was wondering if Chalk Paint might work well on them, or maybe something else?

  21. I am really loving the natural look on kitchen cabinets. But I also love the classic look of white cabinets. I wonder if you could transform honey oak cabinets that everyone has and wants to change out, and bleach them to a natural look like the ones you’ve shown. I think it could work! Or at least worth a try :)

  22. I am glad to hear that! We just bought a house with gorgeous Cherry cabinets in a Shaker style. I love them, and would never paint them. I do love white cabinets though, and if I were building I might get them.

  23. I’m still a fan of white cabinets and am aiming for a French country white kitchen look in the future and will be painting over my 1980s oak cabinets. I do love the weathered look; however, as some mentioned above, it looks a bit too rough, perhaps splintery and hard to clean; sort of reminds me of faded jeans that were so in once – always looked to me as if someone had found them discard in a field where they’d been lying for years. Just don’t really groove to dark cabinets.

    One thing I found particularly interesting. I’m planning to redo my #10 envelope with extra postage stamp floor (tile into carpet into tile into carpet) and doing a single floor throughout. Here in the dry and dusty Arizona desert and with 3 white cats, hardwood is out. I noticed several of the pictures above with wood cabinets that I liked were shown with neat tile floor and some of the wood cabinets combined well with the wood floors, but a few of them downright clashed to me and took away from the whole experience. I’m feeling the need to determine the flooring, my greatest expense, before I do other major work so that I don’t end up with something just as bad as what I have now. I think sometime builders and owners don’t think carefully enough about the floor. Thanks for the inspiration pix.

  24. ooh! I love when I am right! ;) lol
    so what I would love for you to do a post on next is the next big thing in kitchen backspkash. I need some ideas for my kitchen to go with my dark grey granite and my med. wood cabinets. id love something light and feminine and easy to clean (would it balance out the masculinity of my kitchen or just clash?)

  25. HI Robin, yes you can go light, bright, feminine-ish with your backsplash, that would be a nice contrast! White subway tile is no fail, but colorful or iridescent glass tile backsplashes are gorgeous ! If you see something you love, go for it!

  26. I like and prefer wood for the interior not only in the kitchen but for the other rooms as well. Lately glass, stone, metal and even plastic are commonly used materials for furniture and decoration but I am a little old-fashioned and think that the wood add warmth and comfort and turns a house into a home.

  27. It’s incredible how trends can come and go from one generation to the next, and then come back again. I love the wooden look!

  28. When we built in 2009 I insisted on solid oak cabinets and, to make them a little more contemporary, went with a flat drawer front and shaker doors. They were stained in a light provincial stain that let the beauty of the wood show through. I haven’t regretted my decision at all. Oak/wood is classic, it will never go away.

  29. I like a variety of kitchen styles, but they have to have two main attributes for me to be attracted to them:

    1) There must be contrast. I love white kitchens, but hated the white cabinets/white/light counters/white on white appliances that were so trendy in the 90s. It’s like walking through a cloud. The last picture with the light wood cabinets and medium-light counters and light green backsplash just feels so boring to me. To me, light cabinets call for dark countertops and vice versa. You need something for your eye to grab onto.

    2) The kitchen needs to be a bright space. It doesn’t have to be cold & bright, but it needs to feel bright. A kitchen that doesn’t have much natural light is not the best choice for dark cabinets.

  30. I agree the warmth of wood is essential in a kitchen- but NOT the bad dated builder wood or old oak…so clarification is in need here! right? These woods are gorgeous in style and tone.
    Done simply it can be beautiful. Also a white kitchen with butcher block tops is the best of both worlds – warm and fresh and clean – so you can achieve it with white.

    I have light maple – pretty cabinets in a fairly large kitchen…and my sister keeps telling me to paint them. They are NOT builder grade and I actually really love the cabinet but it can skew pink from time to time…so that has been a struggle – not to mention the horrid baltic brown granite.

    Some ideas are:
    simplify the backsplash with something like a black slate/chalkboard look or concrete????? (maybe SW urbane bronze to stay warm) and go almost white (BM china white) on the walls. Any other color seems to just look bad with the cabinets! My goal is to make the backsplash look like a solid surface that coordinates with the granite but does not add more visual noise to the room. So all these decision can date the look of perfectly good cabinets…simpler seems better to me – like photo number one!

    Im seeing a lot of backslashes that appear to be a solid surface. Thoughts?

  31. My family and I just built a new home in central Arkansas. We went with knotty alder cabinets and stained them a medium tone. They have a nice rustic look that everyone loves and comments on. Very few people around my area jumped on the white cabinet trend. I love the look in magazines and online but don’t see them as practical. Love your blog!

  32. I would love for you to do a post on “mixed media” kitchen cabinets. Lots of photos and ideas of how to mix wood cabinets and cupboards with painted cabinets and cupboardsl. Both finishes looking fabulous together.

    Pretty, pretty please??

  33. Love white in other people’s kitchens. I cannot keep white clean and prefer wood. Always loved my natural maple cabinets and would never change. They go with everything.

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