Should You Paint Your Oak Cabinets?

I wanted to use this kitchen re-furbish as a teaching lesson as much as I just want to share with you the beautiful outcome!

Contractor- On Time Builders Materials Supply-Ashley Interiors

Many times, I get clients wanting to do partial kitchen and bath remodels.  Meaning they want to keep existing cabinets and just do flooring and countertops.  Or keep floors and just do floors and cabinets.  My advice DON’T!  In the beginning of my career, I let clients do this over and over again and the results always looked like something was still old.  I have seen instances where the room turned out OK but many times…it doesn’t.  I always suggest people either wait until they have the budget to remodel right or go simple with their new selections. If you try and make something older looking newer (like installing modern glass mosaics in a kitchen with honey oak cabinets) it will just look off.   The alternative to replacing an entire set of oak cabinets is to paint them. It can make a tremendous difference in the result.  And you aren’t doing this to necessarily save money, you are doing this for the good of your design!  A good painter won’t be inexpensive but this is one area you don’t want to skimp.

Luckily these clients were on board with painting the cabinets from the get go but they did want to keep their existing floor tiles.  You’ll see whey I really pushed them to replace it later in this post.

The style of this home overall is traditional.  The goal was to keep it traditional yet modern.

Cabinet Paint:: Benjamin Moore OC-38 Arcadia White
Granite:: Santa Cecelia

I get apprehension from some clients about subway tile.  Of course it is not for everyone but if you are open to it, your kitchen will stay classic rather than be dated 7 years down the road by installing the latest fad.  I love subway tiles and their are so many options as far as colors and textures that there really is a right option to fit any style of decor.  They are also the perfect contrast to a busier granite.  It is imperative to use a tile with your granite that will not compete against it.  If you are a granite lover, let it shine and be the star of the show.  Otherwise your eye will be overloaded and not have anywhere to focus in the room.

The floor tiles are a porcelain limestone look so they will be easy to maintain…no sealing.  The offset rectangular pattern modernized the stone look. Another way we blended some modern into the traditional was with the chandelier in the eating area.  Drum shades always add a modern touch to a chandelier.

Woven wood shades added texture to the space as well as brought in some contrast to an otherwise light space.  I like how they balanced out the darkness from the homeowners existing wooden hutch on the opposite side of the room,

Both the floor and the granite had a slight green undertone to it so I we selected a that tone of beige for the paint.  The wall in this image looks a little off but in person it really looks great.  It’s Sherwin Williams Ecru 6135.

And now…get ready….for the before shots. Quite a transformation wouldn’t you agree?

And remember when I talked about how originally the homeowners wanted to keep the existing tile?  Well, here it was.  12×12 ceramic beige tiles.  The first and foremost reason I stressed we needed to change it was that it had a pink undertone to it and all of the granites we were interested in were in the gold/green family.  By far, the number one mistake I see being made in homes, is people not understanding the undertones in beige.  The second reason I suggested the tile be changed was that is was a 12×12 in a fairly large kitchen.  It was really too small and busy for  the scale of the space.  In the end the homeowners agreed and were so happy they made room in the budget to allow for a new floor.  I cannot imagine this tile with the rest of that new beautiful kitchen!

And one after again so I don’t leave you with pink tile!

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  • Amber

    Wow! Beautiful kitchen! We’re in the process of updating our kitchen by staining our existing oak cabinets a dark brown/almost black finish. I hope it will turn out even somewhat as beautiful as this one!

    May 21, 2012
    • Thanks Amber! I like the direction your are going as well. I’ve always loved black cabs and staining them dark is a great way to update as well. And also the perfect alternative for those who don’t like white cabs…they aren’t for everyone.

      May 21, 2012
  • Alison

    Fantastic Jen!!! Truly a gorgeous kitchen!!

    May 21, 2012
  • Carin

    Wow! Looks great! I am in the process of trying o find someone to paint my custom oak cabinets to cream but the samples I get back you can see way too much of the grain !
    Does the grain come through on these?

    June 27, 2012
    • Thanks Carin. Yes I would say that you do see some grain through. The painters battled these cabinets because they were just sucking up paint like crazy. I was so worried about grain showing through. In the end it still did a little but with the overall transformation it was not that noticeable. Good Luck with yours and thanks for the comment!

      June 28, 2012
  • Susi

    What is the name of the granite you used

    July 15, 2012
    • The granite is Santa Cecelia.

      July 21, 2012
  • Bettina

    Gorgeous! You have convinced me. I am wondering about the paint and color you have used. I am currently looking at Benjamin Moore’s new Advanced Paint in White Dove. What did your painter use? Thank you for the beautiful pictures and the encouragement.

    August 17, 2012
    • Thanks Bettina! So the color is Benjamin Moore OC-38 Arcadia White but I think they may have used Kelly Moore paint and matched it. My contractor is a Kelly Moore guy but I’m a Benjamin Moore color girl so we meet in the middle. Just so you know it takes MANY coats so don’t get discouraged. Good Luck!

      August 17, 2012
  • Barb

    Beautiful kitchen and wish it were mine! What finish did you use on the cabinet? Do you recommend a gloss paint?

    October 22, 2012
  • Lisa Post

    Thank you Jennifer! I have been having a really difficult time deciding what to do with my ugly oak. I have floors and countertops ordered. I will go ahead and paint the cabinets. My problem is I have a great room and the opposite wall is a huge mantle that is oak. I really don’t want to start painting all the oak in my house.

    November 2, 2012
  • Kim

    Beautiful! I have same counter being installed in powder room. I was planning on having it painted in a rich chocolate brown. What do you think? Since I only have small sample right now.

    February 13, 2013
  • Anna-Catherine

    Love the kitchen! We are in the process of remodeling our kitchen and we have oak cabinets also. I have had a few contractors say that if we paint them you will be able to see the grain still once painted. Any suggestions on ways to keep that from happening. Wanting to paint them an off white or cream

    April 4, 2013
    • Thank you Anna-Catherine! Yes the contractors are correct. The grain will still show through. I’m not sure there is any way around it. I discussed this with my client and she understood. In the end, the grain did still show through a little. I know the painters really had a heck of a time getting these to work but in the end…they did and turned out great. To us the grain coming through a little was still an improvement over the entire Oak kitchen. Good Luck!

      April 12, 2013
  • Smitty

    Jennifer – I am also looking to update my kitchen. Our home is fairly new so it has beautiful granite countertops, but I have no idea why the original owners chose oak cabinets! I was thinking of an espresso color for the cabinets and thinking of getting them professionally stained. Any reason why you recommend painting over staining?

    April 18, 2013
    • No real reason to paint over stain. It sort of depends what your floors are though. If you had some really dark floors, then painting would probably be better than a dark stain. If you have lighter floors then going dark could work. Staining is a lot easier then painting. I have been seeing more and more sort of taupe-grey stained Oak cabinets and they are GORGEOUS. They vary from light to dark so could be adjusted to contrast a floor easily.

      April 19, 2013
  • Elizabeth

    Would you tell me what you used for the porcelain tile? I have been looking but can’t find anything that is spot on.

    April 27, 2013
    • Hi Elizabeth,
      Are you talking about the floor or backsplash?
      Backsplash is American Olean Urban Canvas Color Biscuit (Gloss) 4 1/2″ x 8″
      Floor is Surface Art-Classic Cross Cut color: Beige 12″x24″

      June 22, 2013
  • Natalie

    Beautiful kitchen! We are looking to re-do our kitchen with this same granite color, with White Dove instead. Do you know the name of the floor tile you used for this kitchen? Also, do you remember where the chandelier came from? Thanks!

    June 11, 2013
  • Natalie

    Thanks again for the info!

    June 28, 2013
  • Janice Drummond

    I would love to paint my oak cabinets as you did on

    can you please share instructions for painting the cabinets?

    September 2, 2013
    • Janice I recommend hiring a professional to paint oak cabinets. They can be very difficult to get right.

      September 3, 2013
  • Kate

    Hi Jennifer,
    You’re truly talented and the kitchen turned out beautifully. Thank you for sharing your sources. May I ask what color of grout you used for the backsplash? Thank You.

    October 1, 2013
  • Ajnabi Unjana

    What a gorgeous transformation. I love the tiles. I tried to find Surface Art-Classic Cross Cut color: Beige 12″x24″ tiles that you mentioned but I can’t seem to find them here in Atlanta. I even googled on it with no luck. Can you please tell me where can you find these tiles?

    October 12, 2013
  • Michelle

    Love the white. We are painting over our medium oak cabinets. Hearing scare stories about the oak expanding & contracting. I don’t mind seeing some grain, but don’t want the glaze look. Is there a way to avoid the cracking other than hiding a darker glaze?

    January 15, 2014
    • These were not glazed just solid white. They were A LOT of work and I recommend only going this route if using a professional. The Oak was very absorbent and even the painters had a tough job in front of them. In the end, they did a great time. You do see some grain still though but they look great. I haven’t heard anything about them cracking.

      January 15, 2014
  • Sarah

    I love this kitchen. I have been searching for an example to convince my husband of our remodel and this is it! Would you mind telling me the wall color? Also in viewing others comments about cabinet grain showing, I’ve read a primer like Kilz helps in covering the grain and reducing the amount of paint. Thanks!

    January 18, 2014
  • Heather

    Hi Jennifer, The kitchen is gorgeous! Did you have the interior of the cabinets painted too?

    February 24, 2014
    • Hi Heather, No the interiors of the cabinets were not painted.

      March 14, 2014
  • Lise Fairhurst

    Hi Jennifer,

    this kitchen is gorgeous! finally a white painted kitchen that doesn’t look like it was painted.

    I have honey oak cabinets and want to paint them white.
    Can you please tell me what paint finish you used here? high gloss or what?

    how does one choose which white to use?

    thanks so much for the inspiration!


    March 6, 2014
    • We used a semi gloss. The white will depend on many factors and lighting will affect it. We made the final decision for the cabinet color while coordination it with the white of the subway tiles.

      August 23, 2015
  • Ann

    What was the grout used with the subway tile?

    March 27, 2014
  • Caroline Nix

    Do you know what color grout you used for the tile?

    April 30, 2014
  • Hi Jennifer, a few months ago I begin wondering how I could transform my 25 year old kitchen into something new and different. I have oak cabinets and was always told that you should never paint over such beautiful wood but I was tired of them. I ran across your web page “Should You Paint Your Oak Cabinets” and I was sold. My kitchen actually looks very similar to the one shown and I knew that this was exactly the look I was wanting so I hired a painter and got the courage to follow your lead. I have the same counters as shown on your page so I selected the same Benjamin Moore’s Arcadia White OC-38 for my cabinets also done by Kelley Moore, since my painter only uses them. My kitchen turned out beautiful. If I had a dollar for every wow I have gotten it would pay for the job I just had done. Thank you for your web page which gave me the courage to make this transformation. I love it.

    March 14, 2015
    • Wow Beverly we are so happy to hear that! Thank you for sharing your success and letting us know. Paint can be tricky with different lighting so we don’t necessarily recommend using the same ones for each job. But we are glad to hear that your outcome was positive! Enjoy that fresh update!

      August 23, 2015
  • Julia Tyler

    when you stain honey oak cabinets a darker color – what do you do with the inside, the inside walls and shelves (which are laminate not oak)? Does all that stay honey oak? Sounds odd….but staining or painting the insides would be a huge task!

    May 20, 2015
    • It depends on the condition of the cabinets. We did not paint the interiors of these particular cabinets.

      August 23, 2015
  • Gail

    Would staining oak cabinets for an amateur?
    What type of stain would you suggest

    May 30, 2015
    • Hello, We do not recommend any particular stains ourself. We hire professionals to do the work and work with them on what products are best suited for the job.

      August 23, 2015
  • Peggy

    Hi, I have a question about what to do with the color of my oak cabinets. They are a mid color and I have new granite because my husband would not replace the cabinets. I would like them to be a different color either with paint or stain. The granite I chose is mostly black. It is called Saturnia in some places and is really pretty but I do not like my floor or cabinets . I have a tumbled stone tile backsplash. Floor is tile from 1997 and is gray swirled with a tiny bit of beige. They are 12″ tiles. Please help. My email is or phone is 410-251-7847

    August 23, 2015
    • Hi Peggy,
      We offer Design by the Hour if you are needing assistance with your home. Please contact us through our website if you are interested in setting up an appointment. Thanks!

      August 23, 2015

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