living with oak

The Best Hardware to Update Oak Cabinets

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In a house filled with golden oak, it can be a challenge to update things in a way that is both stylish and doesn’t cost a ridiculous amount.  This is especially true when it comes to cabinets in the kitchen. 

After all, most people are thinking ‘if I’m going to spend so much money to make this oak work, I’m going to just wait to completely renovate the kitchen.’  There is little point to investing in stone counter tops, new flooring and the rest of it, if you are just biding your time until you can deal with the cabinets.

But, what can you do that will update the oak and make your kitchen look amazing in the meantime?

I hear it all the time.  You might be wondering, too: ‘is there such a thing as a quick, simple and cheap update for an oak kitchen?’  My answer?  Yes!

There are a few ways you can make it work.  Right now.  For little money.  All of them check those boxes and can be done, by you, in a few hours or afternoons.  My go-to steps:  Paint the walls, change out the lighting fixtures, work with the other colors in the room (art, accessories, rugs) … and one of the biggest impacts:  change the hardware!

Hardware makes an enormous difference in the bones of the cabinetry and the style of the room.  If I was facing down an oak kitchen that I wanted to live with, in harmony, for a bit of time, here’s what I would do in one weekend:  Paint it a great color.  Clear the counters.  Lay down a great, eye-catching rug.  Change out the hardware.  Add some color (probably a big framed print and a huge plant in a nice planter).  That’s it. 

Rest easy, friends, you can do this, too.  And then, since it looks much better and you are thrilled and at peace with it, you can move on to dreaming about that full kitchen reno you are still working towards… one day.  Or, maybe you will be so happy with the small changes you made that you can cross that idea right off the list and move on to dreaming about making other areas of your home just right.


Wondering if the hardware on your oak cabinets is outdated? 

Here’s what’s to look for:

Full plastic

Overly ornate


Brass or gold look (yes, I know it’s back but on golden oak and in the 90s styles, it’s not)

Ceramic inserts, especially painted with flowers or fruit

Wood center on pulls


Here’s some thoughts on getting that update right:

Stick to either historic (think luxurious historic mansions or Frank Lloyd Wright) or modern with simple lines.

Respect the integrity and style of your home’s architecture.

Balance the oak with a more updated style when choosing hardware, colors, counters, sink & faucet, appliances and accessories.

Contrasting colors will make the new hardware stand out and give some visual breaks in the monotony of overwhelming golden oak (and add The Power of Distraction!) so go for black, oil-rubbed bronze or a nice silver finish.


Take a look at my list of top 20 suggestions for updating oak cabinets with fresh hardware! 


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Make Your Oak Kitchen a Pinterest Stunner (in one weekend, without a major reno!)

When you are not ready, willing or able to do a complete renovation of your oak kitchen, the next best thing to do is transform it with pure style.  Yes, it can look absolutely amazing!  

If you can paint the walls, add a rug or two and accessorize until your heart explodes, your kitchen can go from 'Sad & Outdated' to 'Pinterest Stunner' in a weekend!

Level one:

Clear away all the clutter, banish accessories that are too beige or orange, and give yourself a clean slate.  

Choose one or two accent colors and choose accessories in several shades of that color.  In the example below, I went with a rich turquoise.  Blues and greens are great shades to work with honey oak as they both neutralize the orange tones in the wood really well.  At the most basic form, even just adding lots of eye-catching accessories will take the focus off of the oak.   

Rugs are a great investment in an oak kitchen because (just a guess) the flooring tends to be dated and normally lacks the style we are aiming for.  Well, really, when it comes to things like dated and yellowed linoleum flooring, it probably lacks the style that anyone in the current year is going for. 


Level two: 

If you can paint the walls, it creates a gorgeous backdrop that downplays the oak and pulls everything together.  Please, please do this if you can!  Have time and inclination to paint baseboards and trim, maybe even the table or other furniture?  That creamy, neutral white will take things up a notch. 

Major bang for your buck: changing out the door and drawer hardware for a dark oil-rubbed bronze pull in a smooth look that is big enough to make a statement.  This is so easy to do and makes an incredible difference in the style of your kitchen.  

Also firmly within the DIY category of change:  updating the lighting fixtures to something sleek and stylish, something without too much detail, is a huge style-maker as well.


Level three:

Ready for some minor renos that you can totally tackle yourself or have done in a few days by a pro?  Replacing the counter top with a deep charcoal or graphite colored laminate and adding a drop- dead gorgeous hexagon marble backsplash will transform your kitchen completely.  These items are a bit more of an investment, but not out of range if you are going to be making do with your oak kitchen for a few more years.  The 'wow factor' of these larger ticket items make them well worth it.  They are absolute game changers for the feel of your kitchen as they take up so much visual real estate.  Besides, I don't know who could say no to that hex marble tile?  It's stunning!

What not to do:

In general, I wouldn't waste your resources or precious renovation energy on replacing flooring or adding granite countertops to an oak kitchen.  Why not?  Well, chances are when the time comes to replace or refinish the entire kitchen cabinetry, you are going to want to change those things at that time to either coordinate with the new cabinets or because styles have changed and they will need updating.  

You also don't like want to get 'out of your league' when it comes to return on investment with the kitchen cabinets as-is.  If you sell your home before renovating any further, sinking big bucks into major items in an outdated kitchen is just not a wise investment.

Getting started:

I had a lot of fun putting together a look that you can actually shop!  All of these items are available on Amazon which also has that great Prime shipping so you really could be starting on this project in a few days!  You can do this, I believe in you!  It's going to be amazing!


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The Best Wall Paint Colors To Go With Honey Oak

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.