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Updating a Kitchen with Oak Cabinets {Without Painting Them}

Tips and tricks to update dated oak kitchen cabinets without painting them. Make your oak cabinets feel modern and fresh with these easy DIY ideas.

Tips and tricks to update dated oak kitchen cabinets without painting them. Make your oak cabinets feel modern and fresh with these easy diy ideas.

Updating a Kitchen With Oak Cabinets

When we purchased the lake cottage, I told myself that we didn’t have to decorate it all at once. We could relax, enjoy the lake and embrace the charm.

After winter and spring, I became a little stir crazy and decided to freshen it up a bit, with the help of my friends at Delta® Faucet. We wanted to make it feel fresh, without doing remodeling, painting the oak cabinets or spending a lot of money.

How to update oak cabinets without paining them

Getting Inspired to Update the Kitchen

I wasn’t sure what direction I would take until after I visited Chicago for the Day of Design event in May. I was so inspired by the water that surrounds the city, the history of Chicago and architectural details that have endured the test of time that I integrated a few of the elements into our kitchen design.

champagne bronze faucet and flowers in an original porcelain sink

When we moved into our lake cottage, we immediately decluttered the kitchen, removing wall hangings and ivy. It instantly felt bigger and helped expose its charm.

replacing a faucet is an easy and inexpensive way to update a kitchen on a budget

How to Refresh A Kitchen With Oak Cabinets

I loved the unexpected sconce the builder put just to the side of the kitchen window and sink. We were also lucky to have neutral appliances, countertops and a backsplash similar to the one in the Delta Showroom to work with, but those are also easily paintable to keep a kitchen budget friendly.

delta cassidy faucet in champagne bronze

Where To Start When Updating Oak Kitchen Cabinets

We removed the wallpaper and painted the walls to make the space feel light, bright and open, but replacing the faucet with a Delta Cassidy™ faucet in beautiful Champagne Bronze made the most significant impact.

The original faucet felt dated while the Cassidy™ faucet felt fresh and beautiful. It reminded me of the timeless banister at the entrance of the Chicago Cultural Center and how the handrail and oak of the trolley we spent the day on played so well together, making my oak cabinets feel timeless, too.

I incorporated a striped rug just below the sink to distract from the original ceramic tile floors and as a nod to the blue stripes on the horizon above the water on Lake Michigan.

how to update a 90's kitchen without painting the cabinets

DIY Ideas To Update Oak Kitchen Cabinets

To accent the original oak cabinets and porcelain sink, I added a kitchen towel in a beautiful scallop pattern which reminded me of the breathtaking stain glass ceiling at the Chicago Cultural Center.

making a dated kitchen feel fresh and up to date on a budget

how to update a kitchen on a budget without painting the cabinets

How to Update Oak Cabinets Without Painting Them

Painting our oak cabinets wasn’t an option because it’s costly and time-consuming. I considered liming them with wax, but after a ride on the trolley, I decided to embrace them.

We repurposed the hardware from our St. Louis kitchen making it feel classic and up to date. The pulls complement the Delta Cassidy™ faucet without competing with it, allowing it’s classic design to be the centerpiece of the kitchen, bringing the original porcelain sink back to life!

how to update oak kitchen cabinets on a budget.

how to update a 90's kitchen without painting the cabinets

What Lighting Does For A Kitchen

I also couldn’t resist adding a rattan light fixture after admiring them at lunch while in Chicago. It fills the void above the kitchen window and gives the previously dated kitchen a more modern and waterside aesthetic.

making a dated kitchen feel fresh and up to date on a budget

how to update a 90's kitchen without painting the cabinets

Do you have a 90’s kitchen or dated oak cabinets? If so, do you plan to paint or refresh?

entertaining expert and lifestyle blogger Julie Blanner



This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of Delta Faucet. The opinions and text are all mine.

75 comments on “Updating a Kitchen with Oak Cabinets {Without Painting Them}”

  1. Did you do anything to the oak cabinets? They look so much lighter than on the before photo? Could you share the paint color you used on the walls? Finally, did you get new appliances? It just looks so different, but you didn’t actually do very much and no construction. Really nice work.

    • Thank you, Shelly! We didn’t do anything to the cabinets, but removing all of the ivy, blinds, etc and painting with eggshell sheen paint (to reflect light) allowed natural light to shine which makes them appear lighter. We didn’t get new appliances either since we’re on a budget, but hid the microwave. Glad you enjoyed it!

  2. Beautiful, Julie!!

  3. Looks great! I love the warmth of wood cabinets and would do everything I could to keep from painting. My new home has oak cabinets that are in pretty darn good shape. Just needed a good cleaning. I’m leaving them as is but replacing hardware. I have bin pulls and knobs but cannot for the life of me find bar pulls I like. Do you have a source for yours?

    • Thanks, Jen! Mine are Martha Stewart – I don’t think they are currently in production, but you can likely still find them somewhere online. I also love House of Antique Hardware’s brass pulls and used them in our kitchen at home.

    • Jen
      You might also try the big bix store kitchen cabintry area. You can just order the various hardware from different distributors…KraftMaid, Martha Stewart, etc.
      Pricey but uf you find what you live to me it is better than settling.

  4. Very nice. Good to see what CAN be done on a budget!

  5. This looks so pretty!!! I always thought I hated oak, but you make it look so so good!

  6. What a great transformation, Julie! I love how you tied the makeover to Chicago (I live just west of the city). I like the warmth that natural wood cabinets add to a kitchen. The new faucet makes a big difference, too. Funny how a small change can create a big impact.

  7. Wow! Who knew that kitchen could look so beautiful with painting the cabinets?? It’s stunning – the colors all work really well together, and the faucet actually compliments every color in the kitchen. I LOVE it!

  8. This was a welcome post. I stare at my 80’s cabinets a lot and sigh. But a new kitchen is out of the question at this time. Tonight, I will stand back and look at all the oak with a different eye and hopefully come up with my own way of embracing my dated cabinets. Great ideas!

    • Let me know if you’d like any suggestions, Rose! There are so many options other than paint!

    • Rose,
      When I had oak cabinets I found using Guardsman on them twice a year really made the wood pop in a nice way. I would use Murphy’s Wood Oil soap on them once a month and then twice a year give them a nice conditioning treatment with Guardsman…loved how they looked.
      They were only builder grade and held up nicely for almost 30 years. I have passed them on to a niece that home schools and she has used every single one in her home classroom and cannot believe how great they look.

      Just an idea….

  9. You definitely made the best choices to update the look while not undertaking a high cost/time solution. Good job!

  10. Great update, Julie, without so much expense and time. The stained cabinets actually look great in a lake house.

  11. I think it looks beautiful! Do you mind telling me the paint color you used in this kitchen. I tried scrolling through you post on favorite neutrals and creams, but couldn’t find this color.

  12. Do you mean me sharing the paint color you used? I looked through the post a couple times and also through your favorite neautral and cream colors posts, but didn’t find it anywhere. Thanks!

  13. Wow! How gorgeous. I love that you left the cabinets and still made it look so bright and modern. And the faucet is gorgeous! Great job.

  14. Isn’t it amazing what you can do when you work with what you have? I love the way this kitchen turned out. Very light, bright and beautiful!

  15. Amazing what a little paint and a new faucet can do!! I’m in love with that faucet, it really makes such a difference in the space- the Champagne Bronze is stunning

  16. You always seem to be to make a room look amazing even by doing simple things:) It looks beautiful! That faucet is just lovely & i love the colour of it also.

    • Thank you, Skye! I often overthink, but eventually get to a place I’m proud of. I actually think it helped to just tweak rather than renovate because I wasn’t trying to find perfection, which took the stress off and made it feel manageable. I hope you have a beautiful weekend!

  17. sorry,that should have said *seem to be able to make…..

  18. So very lovely. You did a beautiful job with updating this kitchen!

  19. I just love the soft gold of that faucet! Do you know if they have cooper ones?

  20. You did a very good job, everything look nicer and cleaner. I lové it!

  21. The biggest takeaway for me is that everything is so CLEAN. Thanks for showing us that you don’t have to rip everything out and have the ubiquitous stainless steel (which really aren’t) appliances. I appreciate a makeover that an average person could actually afford to do. Enjoy your time at the lake!


    p.s. the little sconce is adorable

    • Goodness you’re sweet, Judith! Thank you! It’s amazing how open a clear counter can make a kitchen feel and personally, I’m over stainless. Really, I’m over cleaning them! We considered moving our 2 year old stainless dishwasher and refrigerator to the lake when we renovated our kitchen at home and decided we preferred the no-fuss white appliances.
      The sconce is original to the home – the builder put several touches like that in that makes it feel so home-y. I had to keep it!

  22. This post is exactly why I adore your blog, your style, so much. Simple, gorgeous, never fussy or overdone. The cabinets look so pretty and I’m loving the warm wood finish. Now if I could only learn to love my granite countertops. ????

    • Thank you so very much, Tonya! I truly appreciate your kind words! Hmmmm…is there a way to tone them down by changing their surroundings? If black, hone them to look like soapstone {love!}?

  23. Love it! The cabinets make me think of nature which is perfect in a lake cabin. Drawing in in those elements that make us reflect in the great outdoors.

  24. Wow you are talented Julie! You’ve taken something almost everybody wants to get rid of (oak cabinets) and made them look great. What an excellent job you’ve done.

  25. Julie…..I love your blog….I really do…….but this is the first project I disagree with you about. I happen to loathe those oak cabinets that abound….strong words, but it’s true. I think white paint, with your new handles, etc., would look stunning, and you could change the shade on that adorable wall light, by the sink, to suit your preference…..together with a snappy rug, and it would be charming. More money, but not a lot, and a huge impact. Enjoy your new home…’s darling.,j

  26. Very nice. However, your “subscribe to our Newsletter” pops up and block a third of the screen so it’s very hard to read & see our posts. I already have a subscription and in order to get rid of it I had to fill out the pop up and then I got a message that I was already subscribed. Can’t you fix this?

  27. I love seeing another blogger that left their cabinets unpainted. For a while I thought I was the only one! I love how you made it feel modern with the rattan light!

  28. It looks so fresh and clean! Nice job!

  29. budget friendly, love that! Removing the wallpaper and clutter was the biggest impact, looks great.

  30. Julie,
    I also have oak cabinets and I have the same drawer pulls that you used. I purchased mine at Menard’s! They have a great selection of handles and knobs and in any color or style you can imagine.
    Your lake cottage looks fantastic and I too am amazed that by only changing the color of the kitchen that the cabinets look lighter.
    Take care, dear Julie, and keep up the great work!
    Aunt Cindy

  31. Julie,

    I just love your oak cabinets! You have inspired me to leave mine oak. I have been hesitating for two years now if I should paint them white, but I am So GLAD that I didn’t. I feel oak adds a richness to a kitchen and I certainly see that In your kitchen! Would you mind please to tell me what the wall color is?

    Thank you,


  32. Hi Julie- love this kitchen. Buying a home with same oak cabinets and floor need to be replaced. What do you recommend ceramic or wood floor? Color? Also, where did you get the dish soap ? Love the bottle in both of your kitchens!

    • Do you think you’ll ever change the cabinets? I just LOVE wood floors, but they may compete a little with the cabinets. Thanks! I find them at HomeGoods for $6 all the time!

  33. Hi Julie,

    I really don’t see changing the cabinets any time soon. It is big kitchen and the cabinets are almost new. I would paint the walls the same color you are suggesting. I was thinking the same thing that it would be too much wood. If I were to go with Ceramic/porcelain, which color would you recommend? Thanks

  34. Thank you, Julie!

  35. Hi Julie – Is Farrow Ball White Tie reads like BM Navajo white? Thanks.

    • I think a little lighter and less yellow, but lighting really impacts it! You can see White Tie in our garage and lake cottage (especially the hall), the Navajo White reads beautiful in our mudroom and in full daylight in the breakfast room, but can also read really yellow the rest of the day.

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  39. Do you know a product I can use to clean greasy oak kitchen cabinets????

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