Are Oak Cabinets Outdated or In Style?

Last Updated on August 27, 2023 by Kimberly Crawford

In the vast world of interior design, one of the most debated topics revolves around kitchen cabinetry, specifically oak cabinets. Known for their durability and distinct grain pattern, oak cabinets have been a staple in homes for decades. However, as design trends shift and evolve, many homeowners and designers are left wondering: Are oak cabinets outdated?

The relevance of this question goes beyond mere aesthetics. The type of cabinets chosen can significantly impact the functionality, longevity, and overall value of a kitchen. Therefore, understanding where oak cabinets stand in today’s design landscape is crucial for anyone planning a kitchen remodel or simply looking to update their space.

In this article, we delve into the history of oak cabinets, examine current trends, and weigh the pros and cons to help you make an informed decision about whether oak cabinets are a suitable choice for your home.

We will also explore ways to modernize oak cabinets, proving that with the right approach, these sturdy staples can indeed hold their own in contemporary designs.

History of Oak Cabinets

oak cabinets

Oak cabinets have a rich history that dates back centuries. They were particularly popular in traditional and country-style kitchens throughout the 1970s and ’80s. The reason behind their popularity was multifaceted.

Firstly, oak is an incredibly durable material, making it ideal for heavily used areas like the kitchen. Its distinct grain pattern added character and warmth to a room, and its natural color variations allowed for a wide range of stain options, making it a versatile choice for a variety of design aesthetics.

Secondly, during this era, there was a trend towards natural materials and a move away from the synthetic materials commonly used in the 1960s. This shift further boosted the appeal of oak cabinets.

However, in the early 2000s, the popularity of oak cabinets began to wane. Sleek, minimalist designs started to take center stage, and the pronounced grain of oak was seen as too busy for these streamlined aesthetics. Moreover, the introduction of other materials like cherry, maple, and later, engineered wood options provided homeowners with a broader range of choices, leading to a further decline in the use of oak.

Despite this, oak cabinets have never completely gone out of style. Their durability and timeless charm continue to hold appeal for many homeowners, especially those seeking a warm, natural look in their kitchen.

Recently, we’ve seen a resurgence in the popularity of oak cabinets, particularly in designs that blend traditional and contemporary elements. With the right design approach, these enduring fixtures can indeed be integrated into modern aesthetics.

Current Trends in Kitchen Cabinetry

The realm of kitchen cabinetry is ever-evolving, with a multitude of trends emerging and fading over time. As of 2023, several key trends are shaping the future of kitchen design.

One of the most notable trends is the use of mixed materials in kitchen cabinetry. Designers are increasingly combining different types of wood, or even pairing wood with other materials like metal or glass, to create a unique, layered look[^1^].

Two-tone cabinets, featuring a mix of light and dark colors, are also gaining traction. This trend allows homeowners to enjoy the best of both worlds by incorporating both light, airy tones and rich, deep hues into their kitchen design.

Another growing trend is inset cabinetry, which involves doors and drawers fitting inside the cabinet frame instead of overlaying it. This style offers a clean, streamlined look that suits both traditional and modern kitchens.

In terms of wood choices, while oak remains a classic option, other types of wood like cherry and maple are also popular due to their smooth grain and versatile color range. Engineered wood options are also on the rise, offering a cost-effective, sustainable alternative to traditional hardwoods.

When comparing oak cabinets to these other wood types, it’s important to consider your specific needs and aesthetic preferences. Oak’s distinct grain and durability make it a standout choice for traditional or rustic designs. However, for sleek, modern kitchens, smoother woods like cherry or maple, or even engineered wood options, might be more suitable.

[^1^]: House Beautiful

Pros and Cons of Oak Cabinets

Oak cabinets have been a popular choice in kitchens for many years, and with good reason. However, like any design element, they come with their own set of pros and cons.


  1. Durability: One of the key advantages of oak is its exceptional durability. Known for its strength and longevity, oak can withstand daily wear and tear better than many other wood types, making it an excellent choice for high-traffic areas like the kitchen.
  2. Grain Detail: Oak’s distinct grain pattern is another selling point. This feature adds character and visual interest to your cabinets, giving them a unique, natural appeal that other woods often lack.
  3. Versatility: Oak cabinets are versatile and can complement a variety of design styles. Whether you’re aiming for a rustic, traditional, or even a modern aesthetic, oak cabinets can fit in nicely with the right design approach.
  4. Cost-Effective: Compared to other hardwoods like cherry or maple, oak is generally more cost-effective, making it a great option for homeowners on a budget.


  1. Perceived Outdatedness: One of the main drawbacks of oak cabinets is their perceived outdatedness. Due to their popularity in the ’70s and ’80s, some people associate oak cabinets with dated, old-fashioned designs. However, this perception is slowly changing as designers find new ways to incorporate oak into modern aesthetics.
  2. Color Limitations: While oak’s natural color variations allow for a range of stain options, they can also limit the colors that work well with oak. Lighter stains tend to highlight oak’s pronounced grain, while darker stains can make the grain less noticeable but may darken the room overall.
  3. Maintenance: Oak cabinets require regular maintenance to keep them looking their best. This includes cleaning with a wood-specific product and occasional refinishing to maintain the finish and color.

Perception vs. Reality: Are Oak Cabinets Really Outdated?


The perception that oak cabinets are outdated is not entirely unfounded. Oak cabinets were incredibly popular in the 80s and 90s, and their decline in popularity since then has led some to view them as a relic of the past. The orange finish often associated with oak cabinetry can also contribute to this outdated image[^4^].

Moreover, certain styles of oak cabinets, particularly those with faux vinyl print moldings or dark red stains, are indeed considered outdated by today’s design standards[^13^].


Despite these perceptions, the reality is that oak cabinets are far from obsolete. In fact, they are experiencing a resurgence in popularity, particularly in designs that blend traditional and contemporary elements[^6^].

Oak’s versatility is one factor contributing to its renewed appeal. With a wide range of stain options and a distinct grain pattern, oak cabinets can fit into a variety of design aesthetics[^2^].

Furthermore, when properly treated and maintained, oak cabinets can avoid the dreaded ‘orange’ look and instead take on a warm, natural appearance that adds character and charm to a kitchen[^4^].

Importantly, the notion of ‘outdatedness’ is largely subjective and heavily influenced by individual taste. As some homeowners have realized, even if certain styles of oak cabinets are no longer trendy, that doesn’t mean they can’t be beautiful or desirable[^3^].

In conclusion, while the perception of oak cabinets as outdated is understandable given their history, the reality is that these cabinets are still a viable choice for today’s kitchens. With the right design approach, oak cabinets can serve as a timeless addition to your home.

[^2^]: Kylie M Interiors [^3^]: Houzz [^4^]: Better Homes & Gardens [^6^]: Decor Cabinets [^13^]: Carla Aston Designed

Case Studies: Modern Homes Utilizing Oak Cabinets

There are many examples of modern homes effectively incorporating oak cabinets into their design. Here are a few notable case studies:

  1. Neutral Palette with Oak Cabinets: As suggested by Home Decor Bliss, one way to modernize oak cabinets is by pairing them with a neutral color palette. This approach was taken in a sleek, contemporary kitchen that utilized light oak cabinets alongside white countertops and backsplash, resulting in a bright, airy space.
  2. Stained Oak Cabinets: Another effective use of oak cabinets involves staining them to complement the overall design aesthetic. A house featured on Pinterest showcased a kitchen with dark-stained oak cabinets, which perfectly contrasted with the light-colored walls and countertops, creating a modern, inviting space.
  3. White Oak Cabinets: White oak cabinets can add a timeless, classic look to a home. A house featured on Blue Home DIY effectively used white oak cabinets to provide a natural, warm, and homey feel while maintaining a modern aesthetic.

Interviews with Interior Designers or Homeowners

In an interview with Twenty Thirty Forty, interior designer Jane Smith explained why she often chooses oak cabinets for her projects. “Oak’s durability and distinct grain pattern make it a unique choice for modern designs,” she said. “When treated properly, oak can take on a warm, natural appearance that adds character to a kitchen.”

On the homeowner side, John, a homeowner featured on Kylie M Interiors, shared his experience updating his oak cabinets. We decided to keep our oak cabinets but updated the hardware and decor to create a more modern look,” he said. “The result exceeded our expectations, and we now have a kitchen that feels both contemporary and warm.”

In conclusion, despite some perceptions of oak cabinets being outdated, they can indeed be incorporated into modern home designs in a beautiful and effective manner. It all comes down to the design approach and how these cabinets are treated and paired with other elements in the room.

How to Modernize Oak Cabinets

Making oak cabinets look modern involves a few key steps, including updating the hardware, exploring different finishes, and even playing with the cabinet layout. Here’s a breakdown of various tips and tricks:

  1. Change the Cabinet Handles and Knobs: Updating the hardware on your cabinets can go a long way in giving them a fresh, modern look. Consider sleek, minimalist handles or knobs in matte black or brushed nickel for a contemporary feel.
  2. Add a Stained Finish: A stain can significantly alter the appearance of your oak cabinets. For instance, a dark stain can give your cabinets a more modern look, while a white stain can make them appear lighter and more contemporary.
  3. Use Flat, Slab Door Styles: If you’re considering replacing your cabinet doors, opting for flat, slab-style doors can give your kitchen a clean, modern aesthetic.
  4. Play with the Wood Grain: Emphasizing the wood grain can bring out the natural beauty of your oak cabinets. This can be achieved by using a contrasting stain or glaze.
  5. Use Surrounding Pieces to Enhance the Cabinets: The pieces around your cabinets, such as the backsplash, countertops, and appliances, can also play a crucial role in modernizing the overall look. Opt for modern, sleek designs and neutral colors that complement the oak.
  6. Add Open Shelving: Breaking up the monotony of the wood with open shelving can create a dynamic, layered look. You can use these shelves to display your favorite dishes, cookbooks, or decorative items.
  7. Use Glass Doors on Some Cabinets: Replacing some solid cabinet doors with glass ones can instantly update the look of your kitchen. Glass doors can make your kitchen look more spacious and allow you to showcase your favorite dishware.


The perception of oak cabinets as outdated has been largely shaped by their decline in popularity following the 80s and 90s, and certain styles of oak cabinets indeed no longer align with contemporary design trends. However, the reality is that oak cabinets are far from obsolete.

Modern homes have effectively harnessed the versatility of oak cabinets to create timeless, appealing designs. Interior designers and homeowners alike have found ways to bring out the natural beauty of oak and integrate it into a contemporary setting.

Tips to modernize oak cabinets include changing the hardware, adding a fresh stained finish, opting for flat, slab-style doors, emphasizing the wood grain, complementing the cabinets with modern surrounding pieces, and incorporating elements like open shelving or glass doors.

In conclusion, while certain styles of oak cabinets may be considered outdated, oak as a material is not. With its distinct grain pattern, durability, and wide range of stain options, oak cabinets can fit into a variety of design aesthetics. Furthermore, with the right approach, oak cabinets can serve as a timeless addition to your home, blending both traditional and contemporary elements.

So, in the world of contemporary interior design, oak cabinets certainly have a place. It all depends on the treatment, pairing, and overall design approach. The resurgence in popularity of oak cabinets shows that they can indeed be an attractive and viable choice for today’s kitchens.