How to Make Oak Cabinets Look Like French Country

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There are several techniques to turn your kitchen into a French Country style.
Image Credit: Anatoli Igolkin/iStock/GettyImages

French country kitchens attempt to encapsulate the nostalgia of a bygone era in which meals were made from scratch in cottages across the French countryside. French country kitchen cabinets and counters should look somewhat worn as if the kitchen has been used for decades and has stood against the test of time. Even in a brand-new kitchen installation, you can add this sense of timelessness to your French country painted cabinets by following a few techniques.

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French Country Painted Cabinets Appearance

Although the French country style involves many subtleties, the cabinet details truly distinguish this style from others. According to Old House Online, natural wood stains were not used during this period. You'll need to paint your cabinets to capture the spirit of a French country kitchen.

Crucially, however, you'll want to choose a paint that looks somewhat faded. In order to fit in with the "days of yore" aesthetic of a French country kitchen, the paint should give the impression that it was once much more vibrant but has since been aged by the sun. Blues and greens are very popular colors for French country painted cabinets, but you can also choose a pale yellow or off-white. After painting, you can add the appearance of even more age with a technique known as distressing.

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How to Distress Kitchen Cabinets

Distressed kitchen cabinets require at least two different paint colors to be layered on to each other. Typically, black is the "distressed" color, but you can also choose to have brown or gray distressed kitchen cabinets. The goal is to let this distress color show in strategic areas so that it looks like the top coat of paint has been worn down over the years from the cabinet doors opening and closing thousands of times.

Start by sanding your oak cabinets to ensure proper adhesion and wipe them with a damp cloth to remove excess dust. Once the wood is dry, apply a quick-drying milk paint in black, gray or brown as a base coat. Allow this layer to dry and then finish up with a top coat in your desired French country-inspired paint color (in milk paint or matte finish latex paint). After this layer has dried as well, use sandpaper to scrub away the paint around the handles, corners and crevices until you've achieved your desired look.

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What if you've already painted your oak kitchen cabinets and want to add distressed features after the fact? This can be accomplished with a colored glaze. Apply the quick-drying glaze to the areas you wish to distress (or to the entire cabinet surface if you want an all-around weathered look) and then wipe off the excess with a cotton cloth. Finally, follow-up both methods with a protective clear top coat.

Other Details for French Country

When you choose hardware for oak cabinets in a French country kitchen, opt for robust iron drawer and cabinet pulls with an element of decoration, such as a swirling leaf pattern. Don't be shy about allowing some iron hinges to show on the outside of your cabinets as well.

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The wall-mounted cabinets in French country kitchens often have glass doors or an open design. Consider featuring a plate rack shelf or removing the doors to the cabinets that showcase your cups and bowls. Traditional kitchens typically avoid a long line of monotone cabinets on the walls — mix things up by having some glass doors, some open doors and some traditional cabinet doors for a true French country look.

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