A Case for Wood Cabinets

During a conversation with our architect a few months ago we were picking his brain for any tips he could give us, based on his experience working with other builders.  We were talking generally about the style and finishes we’re planning to use in the house we’re building, and when we got to the kitchen he stated that of course we would do painted cabinets in gray or white because that’s what everyone wants and they’re a “no-brainer.”


Having fallen deeply in love with the kitchen at Flip #10 and the master bath in Flip #8, I had actually been planning on putting stained wood cabinets in the kitchen of our first build (you know, the one that’s stuck in limbo) – instantly I began to wonder whether I was crazy to even be thinking about anything other than painted cabinets, and whether anyone in the universe (besides me, of course) actually even likes stained wood cabinets!

I mean, I like a classic white kitchen as much as the next girl, and I obviously want to be able to sell this house for top dollar, but I also feel really strongly about making sure that this house doesn’t look exactly like every other house that’s being built right now.  We can do that with white or gray cabinets, and we still may (and we’ll definitely be going Preppy Modern in the second build), but for the moment mama’s got her heart set on stained!

What I have in mind isn’t the honey oak or cherry cabinets of kitchens past – oh no my friends, we’re talking modern day here!

stained cabinets

Sources, left to right: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8

The keys to pulling off stained wood cabinets and making them look current, as opposed to dated, are pretty straightforward:

  • keep the cabinet profile simple and streamlined – preferably a flat front cabinet like the ones pictured in a full overlay style (so that none of the box behind the door and drawer fronts is visible)
  • let the natural wood grain shine – don’t try to make the wood look like something it’s not, and don’t go too dark or red/orange with the stain
  • opt for minimalist hardware without a lot of unnecessary detail

What do you think about stained wood cabinets – would you consider putting them into a space that you’re remodeling or building, or are you painted cabinets all the way?  What factors make you say yay or nay?

P.S.  Looks like stained cabinets might be an upcoming trend – check it out on My Domaine.

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  1. Anni says:

    I now have a painted white kitchen, and if and when I do another kitchen, I would definitely be open to doing something very different. I think the examples in your pictures are all beautiful. The one thing that gives me pause is if the floors are also wood. It can easily end up being too much wood.

    • Liz - It's Great To Be Home says:

      I absolutely agree about worrying about too much wood – for our next kitchen I’ve been wanting wood cabinets, but also wood floors – probably not a good idea! One of them has got to go. ;)

  2. Leslie says:

    I think the bathroom examples are really beautiful, and I like some of the kitchen examples, but unless I could do a really beautiful wood (like teak), no. I grew up with those horrible oak cabinets and couldn’t take them. I also think wood is best in limited doses, like one wall or top OR bottom cabinets. Even some of your examples are too monolithic and/or not the right shade for me.

    • Liz - It's Great To Be Home says:

      It does seem like wood cabinets are a lot more polarizing than painted cabinets!

  3. Sarah says:

    I think your desire for stained cabinets is awesome. You will create something gorgeous.

    Me, on the other hand, I’m struggling here. I had water damage so our kitchen re-do came upon us before I was ready. I am dying. I love your cabinets in #10’s kitchen, but I already have a wood floor and I don’t know if it will look like too much wood with wood stair rail, wood cabinets, wood dining table, etc. I needed to have ordered cabinets last week but I can’t seem to make progress in figuring out what I want!

    • Liz - It's Great To Be Home says:

      Ugh, I feel ya! That is such a tough decision! What about adding wood accents instead of full-on wood cabinets? Like painted cabinets with wood floating shelves or a wood hood? Or just wood on the bottom and white on top? If you went that route you could break up all the wood on the lower half of the kitchen by adding a pretty runner… I like the idea of wood on the lowers since they’ll get the most wear and tear. Here are some links! Wood lowers, wood hood, wood lowers again, wood floating shelves, more floating shelves, and more floating shelves. :) Let us know what you choose!!

  4. Karen, BC says:

    Of course wood cabinets can be beautiful, as your examples show. And so can white, grey, blue (robins egg blue is popular in the UK), black, etc., etc. To me, saying cabinets should ONLY be white is like saying blondes have more fun! There is so much more to an attractive kitchen than the colour: I’ve seen my share of ugly white kitchens for sure! Door style, upper cabinets/fronts, uppers to the ceiling, open shelving, display areas, lighting, etc, play such an important role in the look. And even mixing two colours or wood and a colour – less of the homogenous builder blah white (dumb blonde?!) kitchens! This you know, Liz – your kitchens have been pretty amazing and varied and I’ve no doubt you will create another awesome wood kitchen too. As for resale, if someone doesn’t buy into your eye for a wood kitchen, they can always paint it white! Can’t wait to see your choices!

    • Liz - It's Great To Be Home says:

      Karen, I think you make an awesome point that a great kitchen is about SO much more than just the color of the cabinets!

  5. Angela says:

    Hi! I just found your blog yesterday looking up stuff about flipping houses and got lost reading everything. I loved watching your process from house to house and every kitchen was gorgeous whether wood or white. We ended up doing a combo here with wood lowers and painted uppers. I love them, but it does feel like a lot of stained wood with the floors a similar color. When they get too dinged up (6 kids and all) I’ll be pulling out the paint brush. I’m thinking maybe navy blue on the bottom?!!!! I like contrast and I like keeping things light up top. If the home you’re building has a ton of natural light, wood cabinets will show off even better.
    Angela´s last blog post post ..Kristen’s Living Room Makeover

    • Liz - It's Great To Be Home says:

      Hi Angela! Oooh, if you do wind up painting them think about trying Benjamin Moore’s Hale Navy on the lowers – we recently tried that with a client of mine and it looked dynamite!

  6. Cari Skuse says:

    I like wood cabinets, but in my new house I will be putting in painted cabinets. I do like the look of these if I had the money: http://www.semihandmadedoors.com/pages/before-after . I love the mix of the Walnut and the painted cabinets. I purchased all of my cabinets at the last IKEA sale (almost a year ago! – I am the one that has been waiting 2 years to build!) and I will be painting the doors myself.
    I have the white IKEA kitchen in my current home and I love them. No issues, except for my old side-venting dishwasher that ruined the finish on the side of my sink cabinet.
    On a good note — we are actually building now! The basement is almost dug, our Superior walls will be in when the weather moderates and decides to be warm or cold several days in a row. And our plans just passed engineering, so our SIP walls will starting to be made!

  7. Julia says:

    I love the modern wood cabinets. I think they’ll look great and be timeless. I’d much rather have a kitchen that’s well designed and classic than a cookie-cutter, trendy kitchen.

  8. Ali O says:

    I don’t know … cheerful white cabinets still look as fresh to me as they did back in the early ’00s when they first started getting popular.

  9. kristin says:

    Funny that I mention on Instagram NO because of the oak and cherry–exactly what you state here you would not do. Because that is what always comes to mind. With that being said–it always comes to mind! Of course I am dying for an all white kitchen but hasn’t it been determined that all white is considered a classic? Could you just do something in the baths? I also feel like that modern/clean line of the wood looks so 1970’s. Like the George Jetson TV console with the sliding doors and little pocket hole for your finger to slide it open. I am sure there was one in my home growing up. We did have the wood paneled station wagon. :) I think you may not want to chance tooo much when doing the whole home build??? My two cents. That all being said–you have probably made a name for yourself in your area. Buyers may stalk you work/homes and would love it.

  10. Ann says:

    I think you could have wood floors paired with very light wood cabinets — think blond birch or maple. Flat fronts with those long finger-pull ledge type pulls that attach to the top of the drawer and stick out just enough for your fingers to get under and pull out would be dynamite. My daughter just did her entire kitchen in Ikea birch cabinets w/ glass fronts on top, and it looks so good. Good contrast to the oak floors, white quartz counters and white subway tile backsplash.

  11. Linda Z says:

    I had light natural maple cabinets. They were ok for a while… it was what the builder put in. After 16 years they had yellowed considerably. We put large crown moulding on the top and had them professionally painted in a “Decorator’s White” and I absolutely love them now. No one believes it’s the same kitchen. I do like the photos of the stained modern cabinetry that you put in this post. I think a lot of people really love that style and like to see the wood grain. I think both styles appeal to different people.

  12. acm says:

    Plan to do cherry wood for my own personal kitchen (with white counters). Still mostly white in flips, although I’m going for a rustic wood vanity in the next one, with marble tile, for a bit of an edge. (keep forgetting I can’t post a photo here!)


  13. Victor says:

    They look awesome, stained kitchen cabintes remind of that 70s look.

  14. Lucy Tobias says:

    Wow!!! Just Wow! We redid our kitchen 4 years ago and back then I was crazy about medium brown…Eh…I would give anything for a white kitchen today! You guys did an amazing job pulling this kitchen together! And your photogrpahy and styling is stunning:-)) Xo

  15. This means these cabinets are best in all seasons.

  16. Nellie says:

    The show of wooden cabinet is extra oridinory. I love your ideas about wooden cabinets.

  17. Trenton says:

    Great post. This was really helpful for ideas on how to update the cabinets in my kitchen. Thanks for sharing.