If the first thing that comes to mind when you think of oak kitchen cabinets are the '70s-era, dark honey drawer fronts and cabinet doors with recessed center panels (aka Shaker style), we wouldn't blame you. Perhaps you currently have and love those exact oak cabinets that our parents considered fashionable in their day. And if they're in great shape, they're certainly worth keeping.
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Oak cabinet design has come a long way since that distinct look, though. So if you want to make your built-in kitchen storage space feel more modern, or simply want to know the pros and cons of this wood species, we're here to help out during your remodel. Let's dive in.
Pros and Cons of Oak Cabinets
Oak is an eco-friendly material.
There are about 450 species of oak in the world and an abundance of the trees in the United States with almost 60 species native to North America. This hardwood is also an organic material that's biodegradable. And if you go with locally sourced, unfinished oak for custom cabinets, you definitely get extra points for sustainability!
Oak is a durable wood that is affordable and attractive.
Since oak is plentiful, it tends to be less expensive (especially red oak) than other types of natural wood. It's also one of the most popular materials for base and wall cabinets because of its functionality and many desirable properties. Moreover, oak is renowned for its strength, endurance, and aesthetic. The grain is linear and smooth.
Oak comes in a variety of hues.
Red oak with pink undertones is a particularly popular choice for traditional base cabinets, while white oak — which has a warmer, honey-like tone — is often used in custom cabinetry. It is known to be stronger, smoother, and more water-resistant because of its pores.
"White [or light oak] has been very popular in furniture and interior millwork [in recent years]. Its appeal is the light brown color and strong grain, which give it a comfortable, slightly rustic feel," shares furniture designer Michael O'Connell. Both types of oak can darken as they age.
You can paint and stain oak cabinets to suit your taste.
If you wish to paint your kitchen cabinets, know that the lovely grain pattern will be less prominent. To refresh or update the cabinets during your remodel, staining could be a great DIY alternative to preserve the grain.
Oak cabinets are relatively easy to maintain if they have the right finish.
Cabinet maintenance depends more on the finish you use than on the wood. Oak can look nice with an oil finish, which is not as durable as, for example, a sprayed espresso lacquer, but it's easy to refresh.
Additionally, it's not challenging to clean your oak cabinets, especially if the finish is in good condition. For daily care, use a mix of a natural liquid detergent and water to wipe them down, then rinse, and dry with a clean cloth. To treat grease, consider vinegar and water.
Cons of Oak Cabinets
Because this material tends to be less expensive, installing oak cabinets does not necessarily increase the value of your home.
If you're not living in your forever home and want to add value in the kitchen, oak won't automatically make prospective buyers swoon. There are other ways to make your space desirable, though. You can splurge on appliances, countertops, or the kitchen island to make your home more attractive before it hits the market.
Painting can be challenging.
Painting older oak cabinetry can be difficult because of the existing finish. Attempting to strip it will be messy and time-consuming. However, if you want to revamp the look, try swapping the cabinet hardware and countertops.
Oak Cabinet Costs
The price of new oak cabinets depends on various factors, including the type, kitchen size, finish, customizations, and material costs. For instance, stock oak cabinets for a standard-sized cook space average between $4,000 and $5,000. Whereas semi-stock or semi-custom versions range between $5,000 and $12,000. Completely custom variations can run upwards of $20, 000 or more. You should also be prepared to spend around 20% of the cabinet costs on installation.
Oak Cabinet Decor Ideas
1. Skip the hardware.
Want a quick oak cabinet update? Resist the urge to add new hardware, and your kitchen will look modern in a flash.
2. Add a colorful runner to complement the wood.
This rich-hued runner adds contrast and personality to the neutral cabinetry. You can get the same look with a vibrant, vintage rug that will stand up to kitchen use.
3. Spruce up the backsplash.
While this backsplash design is subtle, it has just enough style to give the oak cabinets a fresh appeal.
4. Switch up the lighting.
When decorating around oak cabinets, keep in mind that you don't necessarily have to change the actual cabinets. The surrounding kitchen features are just as important. Bring in decorative lighting fixtures, for example, to complement your built-ins.
5. Be strategic with fixtures.
The Studio McGee team intentionally placed wall sconces on either side of the range to complement both the oak cabinets, the island pendant lights, and the counter stools.
6. Add artwork.
A focal wall with colorful artwork offers an effortless contrast to neutral oak cabinets. Bring in oversize prints for the perfect pop.
7. Add a few decorative vases.
A few organic vases placed atop black oak cabinets make for a simple, yet refined touch.
8. Experiment with two-toned cabinetry.
This lovely Studio McGee kitchen design dares to be different with two-toned wood cabinets highlighted by a gray marble countertop.