29/03/2022  •  , ,

How to Make Oak Cabinets Look Modern

Estimated Read Time: 5  Minutes 


A lot of people hear oak cabinets and immediately think back to their parents or grandparents' old and outdated kitchens. Honey-coloured, arched door styles, and a traditional design that doesn’t mesh with today’s modern kitchens. 


But these preconceived notions don’t have to be true. Oak cabinets have much more to offer than that! In fact, if designed correctly, oak cabinets can look modern and up-to-date.


At Deslaurier, we’re experts in all things custom cabinetry. Be it traditional, or modern, we know oak cabinets can provide the versatility needed to fit into any kitchen design. 


With that, join us as Deslaurier Design Consultant Vanessa Horwat lends her expertise and offers several methods for how you can make oak cabinets look modern.


Let’s get started! 


Table of Contents

What is Modern Kitchen Design?

Add A Stained Finish

Use Flat, Slab Cabinet Door Styles

Modern Cabinet Hardware

Play With The Wood Grain

Use Surrounding Pieces to Accentuate the Oak

Design With Deslaurier Custom Cabinets


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What is Modern Kitchen Design?


First thing’s first: what is modern kitchen design?


Technically speaking, modern kitchen design sits somewhere between transitional and contemporary. Modern design was initially characterized by flat surfaces, geometric forms, and little to no ornamentation. 


Now, modern kitchen design has become a part of a larger trend emphasizing clean lines, open spaces, and minimalistic design elements, featuring highly functional post-industrial materials.


A modern kitchen design will incorporate several of the following characteristics: 


  1. Horizontal Lines
  2. Frameless or Full Overlay Cabinetry
  3. Monochromatic Colour Palettes
  4. Minimalistic Details and Ornamentation
  5. Simple Hardware
  6. Industrial Accent Pieces


Driven by simplicity, modern kitchen design maximizes functionality by utilizing space and organized cabinetry. 


Simply put: less is more. 


Now, let’s look at a few simple, yet effective, ways to add a modern touch to oak cabinets!


1. Add A Stained Finish

A simple way to escape the stigma of traditional-looking oak cabinets is to break away from the honey colouring. 


The easiest way to do that is to give your oak cabinets a stained finish. Adding a stain adds a beautiful quality to your cabinets while still allowing the allure of natural wood grain to pop. 


For example, playing with a darker stain on your oak cabinets is a great way to move further away from the light honey colour, and into a more sophisticated aesthetic.


You can also implement a sheen to customize how shiny the finish is. Stained oak grain, specifically, is inherently shiny. Adhering a matte finish will help to make it look more muted and modern. 


At Deslaurier, we offer a standard sheen and a low sheen. Depending on the client's preferences, this can add or reduce the shine on their cabinets. 


2. Use Flat, Slab Door Styles

The key contributor to oak’s reputation as an old-fashioned cabinet material is the door styles that were often associated with them. 


Bulky, arched doors with a great deal of ornamentation were often used with the oak cabinetry of decades past. 


A straightforward solution to that is to choose a simple and subtle door style. 


Using slab (flat) doors will streamline your whole cabinetry aesthetic and adhere to the simplistic, straight-line qualities of modern kitchen style. 


Slab doors also allow the prominent wood grain to shine through, as opposed to the decorative cabinet ornamentation of traditional style cabinet doors.


Like what oak provides for modern kitchen designs? Kickstart your dream kitchen by booking a free consultation with a Deslaurier expert today!

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3. Consider Cabinet Hardware 

Modern kitchen cabinets are often magnified by their cabinet hardware, and sometimes lack-there-of. Incorporating modern hardware with your oak cabinetry can make them take on a more modern appeal.


Typically, modern hardware is simplistic and unassuming. Long, oversized pulls are great for modern, flat-panel cabinets. These are handles that often extend the majority or full length of the drawer and doors.

"You don't want to pick something big and bulky, you want something slim and discreet. Whether it's no hardware at all, to give that ultra-modern look; or just a very light accent of hardware so that it is not competing with the door."                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        -Vanessa Horwat 


These handles, while long, are often slim and square; they are never bulky. 


Modern kitchen design can also forego cabinet hardware altogether. This can be done using push hinges, as well as a lip or underpull handles that are designed within the cabinet door itself. 

4. Play With The Wood Grain

When it comes to emphasizing a modern aesthetic for oak cabinets, the best way is to let the wood speak for itself and shine as the focal point of the kitchen.


Playing with oak’s natural wood grain patterning is a great way to do that. 


Oftentimes, wood cabinets are presented with a vertical wood grain. 


Going with a horizontal wood grain for your oak cabinet door not only differentiates it from many other kitchens, but it also utilizes one of the key concepts of modern kitchen design: using horizontal lines. 

"Letting the grain speak more, opposed to doing a door style that makes it busier, where you're not really getting a true sense of the grain direction. Play with a horizontal wood grain as opposed to always a vertical grain."                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   - Vanessa Horwat


At Deslaurier, we offer both traditional red oak, as well as rift-cut white oak. While both are from the oak wood species, the two offer distinctly different characteristics. 


Red oak, although multifaceted and capable of seamlessly fitting into a modern kitchen, tends to be viewed as more traditional due to its tight, textured grain pattern with straight lines. 


Rift-cut white oak, on the other hand, has grown in popularity over recent years. From hardwood flooring to kitchen cabinets, white oak is a hot commodity. 


To compare the two, white oak is a lighter colour than red oak, has a smoother surface, and also has a more open grain pattern with similarly straight lines. 


Positioning either of these oak species to have horizontal lines helps accentuate the horizontal goal of a modern kitchen design. 


5. Use Surrounding Pieces to Accentuate the Oak

A modern kitchen design goes much deeper than just your cabinet selection. In fact, when it comes to making oak cabinets appear modern, the elements surrounding it can play a big part. 


The countertop selection you adorn your kitchen cabinets with will have a large influence on how they’re presented. Going simple, with basic white or dark countertops, is the best way to accentuate oak cabinets with a modern flair. 


The countertop patterning should ideally be quite subtle and not too busy, so as not to take away from the oak grain, which can also be quite busy. 


Since oak grain is so prominent, a great way to counteract that in a modern kitchen is to pair it with painted cabinets. Often paired with white cabinets, you can also juxtapose the oak grain with a solid coloured paint.


Two-tone kitchens are the best way to do this. A two-tone kitchen is when the upper wall cabinets and lower base cabinets are different colours. Perhaps painted white uppers with a dark, stained oak adorning the base and island cabinets. 


Another modern touch is to utilize some floating shelves


This adds more natural wood texture to the kitchen’s overall appearance and plays well next to painted cabinets in a two-tone kitchen. If oak cabinets are situated for the base, having floating oak shelves next to painted upper cabinets is a beautiful way to tie the room together. 


Further, when it comes to modern kitchen design, sometimes it’s what you don’t include that has the largest impact. 


The easiest way to adhere to the “less is more” motto is to cut down on decorative ornamentation in the kitchen. Don’t use busy crown mouldings or trim, both at the top and bottom of your cabinetry.


Instead, use flat trim or panels. This adds to the simplicity of the design and keeps the eye on the oak cabinets instead of decorative mouldings. 

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Design With Deslaurier Custom Cabinets


Interested in seeing how oak cabinets would look in your ideal modern kitchen design? Book a free consultation with a Deslaurier kitchen expert at our Jupiter showroom!


If you have your eye on custom cabinetry, Deslaurier Custom Cabinets has everything you need. With over 40 years of experience to our name, we provide our clients with a wholly customized design process with our talented team of designers


Interested in becoming an authorized Deslaurier dealer? Visit our Become a Dealer page to learn more! Live outside the area? Find a Dealer to connect with a Deslaurier dealer near you!

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