Updating an 80’s Kitchen with Oak Cabinets

LAST UPDATED: Nov 01, 2020 | PUBLISHED: Oct 19, 2015 | By:

Updating a kitchen and cabinets without painting them.

In the era of Pinterest perfection, it seems we’re all striving more than ever for a picture perfect home. If painting cabinets white and updating countertops and a new backsplash aren’t in the budget or your husband refuses to paint perfectly good oak cabinets, you’re not alone. Behind many computer screens are hopes and dreams, even my own, but it’s not always a reality.

A kitchen makeover without paint - making the best of an 80's or 90's kitchen

After a stressful summer of renovations, we decided to wait on our kitchen. Despite what you see on Pinterest, you can do a kitchen makeover without painting your orange oak cabinets. While it’s a quick fix, there are a lot of other simple and inexpensive things you can do. To embrace our kitchen until we’re ready to remodel, I made a few simple changes.

kitchen before
dated kitchen

Our kitchen is like so many – it’s filled with 80’s oak cabinets, okay, veneer cabinets and soffits, which make the room appear smaller. It’s dark, with only one small window above the sink and the brown countertops leave a lot to be desired.

Rather than compete with it, last summer I took a cue from Martha Stewart’s Turkey Hill kitchens. I say kitchens because it evolved through the years.

Updating Oak Cabinets with New Hardware:

Upon moving into the house, we almost immediately removed the square nickel hardware and warmed it up by adding brass pulls and handles – the same we plan to use once we do a full kitchen remodel. In my opinion, nickel {a cool tone} tries too hard to compete with the warmer oak cabinets. Rather than competing with them, brass compliments the wood tone.

Martha Stewart Turkey Hill Kitchen

copper kitchen accessories

Martha’s Turkey Hill kitchen has been notoriously filled with copper, which reminds me of my Grandma’s basement kitchen. You had to have 2 to make all of the pies she knocked out! Much like Martha’s, the kitchen boasted a pot rack filled to the brim and pretty copper bundts hung on the walls, doubling as decor – even if unintentional.

decorating a dated kitchen

When our chrome KitchenAid mixer met the end in spring, I replaced it with a copper KitchenAid stand mixer. I was torn between cream and copper, but I knew in the end copper would add a little decorative element in our humble kitchen.

The copper utensil holder was a birthday gift from my sister last year. I love versatile pieces – it makes a beautiful wine chiller and a vase as well!

Copper kitchen accessories

I found the corner shelves to be a little awkward and susceptible to clutter, so I use them as storage. I fill the sweet little julep cups with a few blooms until their next use. It’s also a great place for overage of mugs, etc. Keeping them filled has seemed to deter other miscellaneous items being placed there {eh-um, toys we confiscate from the kids}.


I added a soft sisal runner, though I keep alternating it with a red and navy traditional rug. I just can’t decide! The sisal is plusher, which I prefer for washing dishes.

Making the best of a dated kitchen - on a budget

Updating a Kitchen with Lighting:

The kitchen used to have 3 tiny island lights that felt very 90’s and out of place. When I saw this pendant, I had to have it! It was an inexpensive quick fix. In 10 minutes it made a huge transformation. We have it up slightly higher since we have a narrow island and Chris tends to hit his head on light fixtures.

copper light fixture for kitchen

The previous owners used it as an eat-in kitchen, we decided to take advantage of the sunroom and make it a breakfast nook, eliminating the need to squeeze a kitchen table in the open area.

Instead, I found an antique table last summer that serves as my kitchen desk. It’s where I write a quick check or put a stamp on a letter, but doubles as a buffet for serving guests when needed. The copper canisters make the room cohesive while adding more storage space.

kitchen desk vignette

We also painted the walls in a soft cream to blend with the backsplash. It made the kitchen instantly appear larger and fresher. If we had used a cool tone paint color, it would have immediately made the cabinets feel out of place. Using a warm tone, it minimizes the orange undertones of the oak cabinets.

copper kitchen canisters

Our kitchen makeover is simple – embracing what we have and making the most of it, rather than fighting it.  Key elements like copper outshine the countertops and make it feel more classic. Soon I’ll share our kitchen plans! I’m bound to need a little advice as well. What do you think? Would these changes help you embrace a dated space a little longer?


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mini loaves of bread gift wrapped