Linen Color Trends & Inspiration Ideas

Transform Oak Cabinets To Look Sleek & Modern

Virginia Shelley
6 minute read

Outdated oak kitchens don’t have to stay stuck in the past. With some simple upgrades and DIY renovations, you can easily transform traditional oak cabinets to look sleek, stylish and modern.

In this article, we’ll explore easy techniques for giving oak cabinets a modern makeover. From sanding and restaining to new hardware and fresh paint colors, you can update oak cabinetry to feel crisp and contemporary. Read on to learn how to turn your traditional oak kitchen into a gorgeous modern masterpiece.

Sand & Prepare Oak Cabinets for Paint or Stain

The first step to modernizing oak cabinets is proper sanding and preparation. This prep work ensures the new paint or stain adheres smoothly and evenly.

Here are the key supplies needed:

Step-By-Step Sanding Technique

When sanding oak cabinets, work in sections removing any existing stain, varnish or paint. Begin sanding with a coarse 80-100 grit sandpaper to strip the finish, then work up to 180-220 grit for a smooth surface. Always sand in the direction of the wood grain.

Be sure to sand inside drawers and door frames too. Use a tack cloth after each pass to remove residue and prepare for the next grit type. Apply wood filler to patch any scratches or holes.

Priming Oak Cabinets

Priming freshly sanded oak provides an essential base coat before painting. Use a high-quality primer designed for wood cabinets. Apply an even layer with a brush or roller and let fully dry before painting.

Choosing Gel Stain Colors

For staining oak cabinets, select a rich gel stain in a darker modern tone like espresso or dark walnut. The thicker consistency allows more control. Test samples on cabinet interiors first before full application.

Paint Cabinets in a Modern Color Scheme

A fresh coat of modern paint is one of the easiest ways to transform the style of oak cabinets. Painting over oak allows you to cover up orange undertones for a clean, contemporary look.

Benefits of Painting vs. Staining

Painting provides more dramatic transformation than staining. It hides wood grain and fully revamps color. Stain mainly tints the existing oak tones. Paint also allows more options for bold, modern colors from crisp bright white to daring matte black.

Best Modern Paint Colors

For a sleek modern kitchen, popular cabinet paint colors include:

Matte and satin sheens have a contemporary vibe. Be sure to buy high-quality cabinet paint.

Painting Process

Thoroughly prepare sanded oak cabinets with primer first. Then apply two coats of cabinet paint using a foam roller or paint sprayer. Allow proper drying time between coats. Finish with a protective topcoat for a smooth, even surface.

Achieving a Modern Finish

Careful sanding ensures results free of brush marks for a seamless modern look. Maintain clean lines with painter’s tape between cabinet and wall or ceiling. Finish with satin or semi-gloss sheen for subtle luster.

Stain Cabinets for a Rich Modern Look

Staining oak cabinets darker enhances their natural beauty while still allowing the wood’s grain to show through.

Simple Ideas To Modernize Your Oak Cabinets

Applying Gel Stain

Prep sanded cabinets by wiping them with mineral spirits first. Use a foam applicator to brush gel stain liberally over oak. Maintain wet edge and work systematically from top to bottom.

Best Gel Stain Options

For a contemporary vibe, use an espresso or dark walnut gel stain. Black tones with a hint of brown create a rich modern look. Test samples first to ensure the desired color.

Sealing Stained Cabinets

Once stain is dry, apply 2-3 coats of a clear polyurethane topcoat for protection and sheen. Lightly sand between coats for maximum smoothness and durability.

Adding Glaze Over Stain

For extra depth, brush on a dark glaze over stained cabinets. Remove excess for an antiqued finish. Topcoat seals in the glaze for a modern weathered style.

Replace Cabinet Hardware for Instant Update

Simply switching out old cabinet hardware is one of the easiest ways to upgrade oak cabinets to look modern.

Modern Hardware Options

Some of the best hardware finishes for a contemporary look include:

Go for streamlined shapes and clean lines rather than ornate or gaudy hardware.

Measuring for New Hardware

Carefully measure and record the distance between existing hardware pieces. This ensures proper spacing with new hardware. Note hinge locations as well.

Installing New Hardware

Remove old hardware and fill any leftover holes with wood filler. Allow to dry before attaching new modern hardware using a drill. For a finished look, choose matching pulls, knobs, and hinges.

Filling Old Hardware Holes

If opting to go handleless, carefully fill previous hardware holes with wood filler. Sand smooth when dry before painting or staining over.

Upgrade Countertops to Complement Oak

Replacing outdated laminate countertops is a great way to refine an oak kitchen’s look. Modern materials like quartz pair beautifully.

Benefits of Modern Countertops

Materials such as quartz, granite, and concrete offer advantages like:

Choosing the Right Countertop

Cool-toned neutral quartz complements oak cabinets nicely for a seamless look. While granite adds elegance and concrete has an industrial vibe. Select a style that matches your modern design vision.

Removing the Old Countertop

Use a reciprocating saw to cut the caulk bead and separate old countertop from cabinets. Then pry up gently. Remove any stubborn leftover adhesive with a chisel.

Installing the New Countertop

Carefully lower and set the new countertop. Apply adhesive to cabinets then press down firmly. Attach countertop braces beneath for support. Re-install backsplash and caulk seams for a finished look.

Install Stylish Modern Backsplash

The backsplash area offers ample opportunity to add modern flair. Tile, stone, metal and glass are all stylish options.

Modern Backsplash Materials

On-trend backsplash materials like:

Reflect light beautifully and pair nicely beside oak. Keep colors neutral for a seamless look.

Modern Backsplash Design

For contemporary style, opt for clean lines and minimal fuss. Run large format tiles vertically using white grout for cohesion. Accent with metallic mosaics or carved stone.

Preparing the Backsplash Area

Remove old backsplash completely – tile, adhesive and drywall. Cut 1/4 inch backerboard to fit then attach with thinset and screws. mud seams.

Applying New Backsplash Tile

Spread thin-set on backerboard and press tiles in carefully. Spacers keep everything even. Use a grout float to apply grout between tiles. Wipe diagonal across tiles gently to clean grout.

Update Lighting for a Modern Kitchen

The right modern lighting casts oak cabinets in a fresh stylish glow while providing ideal task and ambiance illumination.

Ideal Modern Lighting Options

Perfectly positioned recessed can lights eliminate shadows. LED undercabinet lighting illuminates countertops. Sleek low-hanging pendants make a statement.

Tips for Installing New Lighting

Consult an electrician if wiring new lighting layout. Use dimmers for adjustable brightness. Install any electrical beforehand to avoid damaging new surfaces.

Creating a Lighting Plan

Determine ideal lighting placement based on kitchen layout and cabinetry. Blend task lighting with accent illumination. Highlight modern architectural details.

Choosing LED Light Bulbs

Opt for energy-efficient LED bulbs in clean daylight or soft white tones. Avoid greenish fluorescent or yellow tinted bulbs. Dim warm white bulbs to reduce glare.

Achieve a Modern, Stylish Oak Kitchen

With some strategic upgrades, you can utterly transform the style of your outdated oak kitchen cabinets. The result is a gorgeous modern space perfect for entertaining and everyday life.

Use these tips for sanding, restaining, painting, hardware replacement and lighting installation to remake oak cabinets and achieve your dream kitchen. With a little labor and love, you can craft a breathtaking modern kitchen without breaking the bank.

For more inspiration, check out these stunning oak kitchen makeovers. Then start planning your own easy renovation using the techniques above. You’ll be amazed at the dramatic yet budget-friendly impact small changes can make.