If you are surrounded by honey oak in your home, you are in the right place for design help!
Are you living in a home that is filled with outdated oak and it’s just not feeling like you? Most of my clients that approach me with this problem are feeling a little stuck: they are awesome people that have great taste and style but for a whole bunch of reasons, they are having to create a beautiful home around the oak that exists there. All they want is a house that makes them feel happy when they walk in the front door, oak and all, starting with the paint color. Is that even possible?
I get it: try searching online for ‘oak kitchen’ or ‘oak trim updates’ and the inspiration and advice is pretty dismal. Standard advice is to either rip it out or paint over it. This isn’t always practical or even what everyone wants. The more a person searches, the worse you start to feel about your house. Any photos you can find seem to be mostly really ugly and, well, depressing stock photos. All you want is a simple update, without a major renovation. The good news is that yes, it is possible to do and I can show you how. Paint is the easiest and least expensive things you can do in a home and the best part is that it is one of the biggest game changers. Can you choose a gorgeous paint color that makes your home beautiful updated and lovely, without touching the oak? Yes!
The Three Steps (and one bonus step!)
I have helped clients to tackle this problem so many times and I can guide you through the process as well. There are 3 steps to navigating choosing the right paint color (and one bonus step), so let me help you to work through them!
1. Accept the great parts of the oak in your home (and there are some!)
2. Understand a bit about color theory
3. Take a look through all of these color suggestions and try a few out at home.
4. Bonus: I have an entire ebook on this topic, so consider buying the Living With Oak: 2019 Design & Style Guide to let me take you step-by-step through setting up a plan to updating more than just the paint in your home.
Step One: Why work with the oak?
There are some great things about oak in a home and though, yes, it can be painted over or replaced with MDF trim or a new white kitchen, there are a lot of reasons to leave it be and work with it!
Oak is a rock solid wood – it’s durable and practically bullet proof.
It’s warm – those warm tones are earthy and look great in a lot of spaces.
Oak is also ripe with wood grain that really stands out, even when painted, so it has a very natural, patterned look that never looks manufactured or ultra-modern.
Even if the only reason it’s staying put is because you don’t have the time, money or desire to replace it right now, it absolutely can look great in your home by surrounding it with a great wall color and surrounding it with things that are more in your taste – things like furniture, art, lighting, new hardware or updated counters will all help give a new look to the space and put all thoughts of ‘outdated oak’ right out of mind.
Step Two: Color Theory
When it comes to updating a house, you better believe the oak can absolutely be toned down & styled to look good with a fresh wall color.
There are two main ways of working with any existing element in a home: it can either be enhanced (used as a focal point) or downplayed (neutralized and camouflaged). What we are going to focus on is the idea that oak, which just boils down to an overwhelming amount of a yellow-orange color and lots of texture, needs the rest of the room to balance it out. It needs to be downplayed, neutralized and camouflaged.
To achieve this with paint, either we are going to create a harmonious palette that is similar to the oak, or we are going to create a contrasting palette that incorporates some opposite colors. Either way, we are going to pay attention to those subtle undertones so that the oak looks it’s best.
Here are the two directions to transform your honey oak trim, doors, or cabinets with wall color:
1. Neutralize it with a complimentary color
Oak can be neutralized a bit by using colors around it that are on the opposite side of the color wheel. So, for orange oaks, this means something with a purple or green tone. Does it have to be a loud, obvious purple or green? Nope! There are undertones to a lot of soft, neutral colors like warm greys and creams. Yes, the oak is going to stand out: it’s going to sit among a contrasting color like a piece of art sits in a mat and frame. That’s okay – let’s be honest, it exists, it is there and you can’t make it disappear, but you can trick the eye into feeling like what is there is a little less “loud oak” and a little more “neutral warm wood”. Think of a gorgeous redhead wearing a soft lavender top – beautiful. Redhead wearing a harsh yellow shirt? Not so flattering.
2. Blend and camouflage
If you surround the warm oak with another warm color, it’s going to blend in and look purposeful. A soft, warm neutral paint with orange or yellow undertones can make a space look harmonious and help the oak fade in a little. I would go with a natural, earthy color here, not anything too harsh. The look of warm oak is very natural and can sit very nicely with colors pulled from nature. Be careful not to choose anything too bland here as you do want your space to have some energy to it and avoid harsh black-greys as they generally just don’t work well.
Step Three: Color Suggestions for 2019
Color styles and trends are always evolving and while I believe that a foundation of good design is timeless, I still thought you would be inspired to see what I’m loving for pairing with oak in 2019.
For a printable version of this cheat sheet complete with all the paint codes, along with my oak paint finder tool and the original 2016 paint color cheat sheet, sign up for my free design resource library for instant downloads.
Step Four: Bonus step!
There is so much to unpack about updating oak in a home (and yes, it’s totally possible!) and paint is only one aspect. The problem with looking for design help online is that a lot of information is, well, a little sad. If you are looking for real, inspirational, down-to-earth design advice about taking your home from where it’s at now, to updated and stylish, maybe my ebook is just what you need to get started. Check it out below and see if it’s a good fit!
Free Printables! Cheat Sheet & Paint Finder Tool
I've created a free printable cheat sheet to help you choose the right paint to go with your honey oak and a printable paint finder tool! Please save them, print them off and take them to the store with you when choosing paint samples for your space! They are both available for free, instant download in my Design Resource Library.
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Hi, I'm Tara. I'm a professional interior designer living in rural Canada where I help the practical & down-to-earth to love where they live. I offer professional interior design services in person and online and am the author of a design & style guide to Living With Oak.
I believe you can become a happier person in a more beautiful home and I’m here to guide you in creating a practical plan to pull it all together. I’m here to offer interior design advice and inspiration to help you make that happen.