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5 Ways to Make Honey Oak Cabinets Look Modern

warm honey oak kitchen cabinets

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Honey oak kitchen cabinets have taken a back seat over the years. However recently we’ve not only seen people renovating and incorporating their existing oak cabinets into modern design, but we’ve seen warm toned woods making a comeback in fresh new ways!

Current kitchen design trends continue to add wood in cabinetry and floating shelves. (We love to see it!) While wood was once thought to be only for traditional design, contemporary trends have been mixing wood with other materials to create ultra modern kitchens.

While honey oak can look dated, there are ways to add this rich material to your kitchen in a modern way. We’ll show you some updated examples!

What are honey oak cabinets?

Honey oak cabinets are stained to bring out the orange-yellow undertones of oak wood.

Left to right, alder wood with natural stain, oak wood with natural stain, and maple with natural stain.

Here you can see (from left to right) alder, oak, and maple all with a natural stain. Natural stain does not do much to change the undertones in the wood, rather allows the warmth to shine through, amplifying the natural characteristics of the wood.

Since all these samples are fresh off the manufacturing table, they have not aged or been exposed to much light.

Does honey oak age and change colour?

Most wood cabinets will go through an aging process over time, as the cabinetry is exposed to the elements: humidity, light, air etc. That is part of the reason why some people love them!

Oak cabinets will continue to get more golden toned over time as the wood is exposed to air and light. While the three examples above all looked pretty similar. Alder and maple will not darken as much as oak will over time.

This is why older oak kitchens look more “honey oak” than a new kitchen will.

However, applying a stain helps to prevent the wood from getting more and more warm toned over time. (Though it won’t stop the aging process).

Stained Oak Cabinets

If natural oak is a bit too warm for your taste, you can try a stain colour that neutralizes the warmth a bit. One that our custom kitchen designers use often is the stain colour “Loft”. You can see it pictured below on oak and rift cut oak (the same species of oak but cut differently for a straighter grain).

While all three oak examples are warm woods, you can see where the name honey oak comes from!

How to make honey oak look modern

If we are being honest, we don’t often see natural stain on oak or the traditional honey oak ordered very often. Being a custom cabinet manufacturer we make what clients order, and now that is more of a neutral toned oak cabinet.

However, there are some ways you can make these cabinets look modern. Here is what we would recommend if you are looking for new cabinets or are trying to match existing honey oak flooring or honey oak wood trim.

Creating a modern design is all about strategic pairings and subtle updates. For example:

  • contemporary hardware
  • light countertop and paint colours
  • flat panel or shaker cabinet doors (rather than ornate styles)
  • open shelving
  • modern accessories

Here are 5 design tips for modern kitchens:

1. Pair Oak with Black Hardware and Fixtures

Black is modern and industrial, balancing the traditional vibe of golden oak cabinets. This is a sure fire way to update kitchens new and old!

2. Stick to a feature island or accent cabinetry

Try keeping the warm wood tones just to a feature island or row of accent cabinetry. Combining wood and white is a popular example. This is a great option for renovations, since you can leave a portion of the existing cabinetry, saving some money in the process.

For new builds, adding some oak wood in an island or floating shelves is a lovely way to warm up a space for transitional styles.

3. Try Rift Cut Oak

Rift cut oak is the same species as “regular” oak but with a straighter grain pattern and slightly greener undertone. This creates clean vertical lines and modernizes the look of the wood. If you are installing new cabinetry, white rift oak may be an alternative to consider. It also won’t get too much darker with age.

4. Contrast Warm Oak with Green

If you are looking to make honey oak pop in a modern way, try green walls! Green beautifully contrasts the warm wood tones of honey oak. In this example, the designer paired oak island cabinetry with floating shelves, black cabinets, green tile backsplash, and green walls. You could also combine wood cabinets with green cabinetry.

They also added a large oak built in, which adds character and works really well with the flooring and vintage table.

5. Skip "Real" Oak for TFL or Wood Veneer Cabinets

If the natural beauty of aging wood scares you, or if you are open to engineered materials, try Thermally Fused Laminate faux wood cabinets or wood veneer cabinets. Warm wood tones can be engineered in a modern way with these durable materials. The flat panel doors are chic and modern.

Are honey oak cabinets a good idea?

If you are looking ahead to a remodel or kitchen renovation project, you may not want to cross natural oak off your list of options.

Why still choose a honey oak kitchen?

These cabinets bring warmth and timeless charm to any kitchen. Rich, golden hues create a welcoming atmosphere. When paired with the right complimentary colours and finishes, they can look organic, contemporary, or modern.

Why still choose honey oak? Here are 3 reasons why:

  • You’re matching existing honey oak floors, furniture, and honey oak trim.
  • You want to bring warmth to a contemporary or modern kitchen.
  • You simply love the traditional style of honey oak cabinets!

Ready to start designing your dream kitchen?

Decor Cabinets sells through our family of design partners at design centers across North America. Check out our easy to use locator map to find the designer nearest you!

Discover Your Dream Kitchen With Decor

Discover Your Dream Kitchen With Decor

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