Don't Let Oak Get You Down!

July 12, 2021

 One of the most common issues we deal with at K. Renee Home are clients that have grown tired of or have just purchased a new (older) home with lots and lots of reddish or yellow toned oak.  Oak cabinets, doors, trim, floors and furnishings with all the same finish.     And they are not quite sure what to do but know they really want to achieve an updated look.


Don’t let it get you down!   There are lots of things you can do!

Oak is a wonderfully durable wood species which is why it was used so much in the ’90s and early 2000s.   I read a quote somewhere that said: “Just because it’s wood, doesn’t mean it’s good.” And that I tend to agree with that especially if the look, style, and feel of the wood species in your home are not adding either emotional or monetary value to the life of your home.

But never fear, there are many options that you have available to update a home that has a dated ‘heavy on red oak’ feel.

Actually having oak can have its benefits.   Oak cabinets are usually always solid wood rather than melamine or veneer.   And having real wood creates real potential for updating without replacing and achieving a more current and modern look and feel to your home.  The issue is really not the wood but the dated finish and the sheer volume of it that you sometimes find in a home.


There are three primary ways you can update a home, some more costly and time-driven than others.


1) Create a fresh finish by staining

2) Create an updated look by painting

3) Change decor and repaint walls to complement existing finishes 




 Stain Your Wood


First, you always have the option to stain your oak with a more modern tone or neutralize it with a natural stain that doesn’t have the orange/yellow tone that was so dominant in the past.   


There are lots of staining options for your floor and kitchen cabinets.   I think these grayish-brown cabinets above look great and with the added touch of new hardware.  Voila!   An updated look.  

I have oak floors in my home that also have brownish-grey undertones.  And I love them!   Staining woodwork is typically a job for a professional and might be somewhat of a major undertaking and a little costly.   But one that might be well worth the while!

The next two options are not such a major undertaking.   



Paint Some of the Wood in Your Home


Paint.   You already knew this was going to come up as an option.    And for some reason, our natural tendency is to resist painting natural wood.   But remember what I quoted before…”Just because its wood, doesn’t mean it’s good.”  The kitchen below looks modern and fresh with a fresh coat of paint.


No, you're not going to likely paint your floors, but there is nothing stopping you from painting your doors, trim and/or cabinets.   The issue many times is not the oak itself but the mass amount of it in a home.



A recent client of ours was ready to move forward from the oak trim and doors that were dominating her home.    We helped her pick out a soft cream paint color for both her walls and wood and put her in touch with a painting firm known to do great work on both walls and wood, CR Painting (Des Moines, IA.)

They did a fabulous job, and our client had a great experience!     


The wood elements in your home can take up a lot of visual real estate.  Painting some of them can make huge strides in updating your home.    With a fresh palette on hand, our team was able to step in immediately after and transform her home completely.   You wouldn't know it was the same place!





Painting can give you a visual breath of fresh air.  I also read an article on this topic that stated 'oak cabinets appeal the most to a demographic of 70 and older.'   Hmmm.  Your goal in painting might be to appeal to the more modern side of yourself or a younger crowd if you are considering a sale in the near future.

When picking out a paint color, you will want to stay with neutral tones as it will be the easiest to coordinate with your existing (and future decor).  Painting cabinets will be an investment so while it might seem fun to go with a color (other than soft white, soft beige, grey or black) you take a huge risk of getting tired of it faster.  


One of our most popular blogs of all time was Kelli’s Black Book of Favorite Neutral Paints.   And in this valuable resource, you will find color suggestions for walls, cabinets, and trim.  (Just click on the link or book above for further guidance.)

But beyond painting your cabinets and staining your floors and doors, there is another easier, quick and beautiful solution.



Update with the right decor and a fresh coat of paint on your walls


The challenge that we often find in a home that has an abundance of oak (with strong orange and yellow tones) is a decor color palette that plays right into these dominant warm tones.  Oranges, reds, yellows, and everything in between. And we also find an abundance of matching wood furniture with these same tones.


When you already have lots of oak in your home, the trick is to stop trying to match its tone and instead to bring in a fresh mix of finishes. We recommend exploring a neutral color palette that complements the warmth of the wood but also allows you to introduce some cooler tones.  (Again,  Kelli’s Black Book a Favorite Neutral Paints will provide lots of guidance.)




So, if you are feeling a little oak heavy in your own home (or any dominant wood species such as cherry), the simplest answer might be to commit to changing out your wall colors and investigating home decor that will give your home a fresh start.  Our team has helped many, many clients with this very issue and are always up for any challenge that you throw our way.


So snap a few pictures of your home and wander in to talk with one of our stylists for ideas and suggestions for not only paint colors but how to mix and match upholstery, metal and wood tones that you may not instinctively this will work (but absolutely will.)

When you have the right decor in your home, the wood won't be the standout feature.   All you should be seeing is a satisfying new space with beautiful layers, tones, and finishes.  

Whether you are living in or looking at homes to buy, sometimes all you need is an outside eye to help you see all of the beautiful possibilities.   I promise we can help you be inspired.