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Before & After: A Quick Fix for Updating 90s Wood Stained Cabinets

This reader used a quick fix to update the existing wood stained cabinets for a look that’s current and fresh – and it didn’t involve painting her cabinets. Sometimes, white hard finishes can do most of the heavy lifting when you want to freshen up your kitchen. Here’s how.
Want to know what I love MOST about what I do?
The happiest surprises regularly land in my inbox to brighten my day. Like this email full of before and after photos from a long time reader Dawn.
Using my large painted colour boards and all the advice she has gleaned from my blog over the years, she took the plunge and boldly updated her kitchen in an unexpected way!

I read your post about greens and I thought I’d send you some before and after pics of our kitchen. We decided to change out countertops and keep our existing cabinets (which were installed in 2004 by previous owners) while the greens and woods were trending. (it’s what fit in our budget). The Manchester tan you suggested for the walls several years ago worked great with the Baltic brown granite but I couldn’t ever convince myself to like the granite so we switched to quartz and I painted the walls on off-white, Simply White (thanks to your color boards!) 

We wanted to extend the cabinets on the right so it would balance on both sides of the windows but after tracking down the manufacturer they said there was no way to match those cabinets after 20 years. So we just make do with artwork for now. The wood color on the cabinets is not my favorite first choice but I think I like it a lot more now than I did before. 


Green Cabinets Before

Going Green in the Kitchen

In the post she’s referring to, Greens that are HOT and Greens that are NOT, I’m talking about how greens that are cooler and mintier have been big for a while now, and the trending greens are getting earthier and more muted.  

Grounded greens, everything from Hunter to Olive and Sage are a huge trend for kitchen cabinets. And anything that can be painted is a great opportunity to indulge in a  trend!

Have you noticed how everything 90s is suddenly looking new and hot again? Deep greens, sage, even maroon and burgundy. And yes, warmer, more natural wood tones are coming back too.

When Trends Circle Around Again

Just because trends circle back, doesn’t mean that a kitchen – especially one that has been plainly transplanted directly from the 90s or 2004, because trends bleed into each other – is suddenly hot again. 

That is to say, NOT without some additional design tweaks and updates. And, really that’s just the thing with trends circling back around. They always come back with some new innovation and connection to intervening trends blended in.

Dawn’s kitchen, for example (above), had a rustic country feel popular in the 90s with its muted green beadboard island and warm wood cabinets. She saw a way to work with her kitchen and use some fresh tweaks to make it new again!

A Quick Fix for Updating Wood Stained Cabinets

The key to creating a more current look is to find ways to introduce contrast. In many of my blog posts, you can find advice for how to pair wood stained cabinets with fresh white countertops and backsplash. And, that is just what she did here. 

Without touching the cabinets at all, white hard finishes dramatically refreshed this kitchen and brought a dated look into a current trend (below). Did you get that… she didn’t need to paint her wood cabinets!


More of Dawn’s work here

Green Cabinets Before

The earthy granite had dictated green beige walls, which was a good solution then, but now, to tie in the off white granite and backsplash, she used my large painted colour boards to arrive at an off white for the walls to relate (below).

She did a wonderful job with styling. The vintage framed art perfectly picks up the warm wood tones and makes the rustic vibe of the kitchen feel really intentional.

Green Cabinets After


And let’s circle back to the green on her island. It looks very similar to the trending green cabinets clients are asking for all the time in our eDesign department. My recently updated VIP collection of large painted colour boards has some wonderful on-trend greens for cabinetry similar to this. 

PS. If you bought the VIP collection before March 2021, we have a few supplement sets of 20 available for sale, contact our customer service department go here for a link to purchase.

Green Cabinets After

The green on the island is BM Caldwell Green, which is one of the updated colours in the VIP Collection

This is how Dawn replied when I asked her which green she used:

“Funny that the original owners picked that green in 2004 to go with the Baltic brown countertops but now it’s a lovely on-trend green! I’m glad we could design around it without having to change it. Thank you wood floors!” 

Green Cabinets Before

BM Manchester Tan coordinated well with her earthy granite. When you have an involved pattern like this with several tones, you are pretty much stuck with the colours in the pattern, you can’t simply slap a bright off white backsplash above granite like this. 

Green Cabinets After

White quartz and subway tile are the quickest fix for wood cabinets (if you also have wood floors).

Read more: Are Hardwood Floors Considered a Pattern?

Green Cabinets Before


Green Cabinets After

Such a beautiful transformation!

Very charming Dawn! Beautiful job and thank you for sharing!

If you would like help refreshing your kitchen, there is limited stock available for my Create a Classic Kitchen eDesign package here.

If you’d like to add some new colours to your large colour board samples, get them here.

And if you bought the VIP Collection before March, email my team here if you want to purchase the updated supplement collection of 20 samples. They are now in stock and are being shipped out this week but we only have a limited supply left. 

Related posts:

How to Update 90s Granite & Make it Disappear

WWMD: Will a White Kitchen Work with my Existing Granite Countertops?

WWMD: HELP! My White Painted Kitchen Cabinets Look Bad!

6326 pins


  • Kimberly Graybeal says:

    Beautiful update, good enough to be inspirational for a new build!

  • HP says:

    I would not have thought white would work with the finishes in this kitchen but, wow, it looks fabulous! Also, the kid chilling on the floor makes the perfect accessory. Great work. Love it!

  • Holly says:

    I would call this look Country Chic. That kind of picture frame to me can look very stuffy in certain settings, but somehow it adds a vintage charm because everything is was kept so simple. Good use of restraint. Love it all and the cabinets look fresh with the paint, countertop and tile update.

  • Nancy says:

    Beautiful! Dawn did a great job making her outdated kitchen look fresh and today !
    I love that she just didn’t start slapping paint on her cabinets .
    It’s awesome !!!

  • Amy Glasscock says:

    Wowsa, is all I have to say! We did something very similar with our kitchen last year thanks to the advice in your blog. We replaced the countertop and backsplash to white quartz and subway tile and kept the stained wood shaker cabinets. Huge change. I haven’t repainted yet though. Walls are Revere Pewter and this is helping me see they really need to be off white as well.

  • CK says:

    Beautiful evolution of this space using so many of the existing elements.

  • Julie S says:

    It looks really fantastic! Great way to freshen up this overly brown space. If she extends the cabinet run with a wooden kitchen cart/island or console table instead of actual cabinets I think it would work well. I agree it need something there.

    • Lorri says:

      Or a narrow china cabinet! A stand-alone piece in a kitchen adds character and that’s the perfect location.

      • Thank you and yes yes! We’ve been hunting for something for a while. We even had left over piece of quartz finished in case we found a desk or something… but I want a lovely china cabinet or something there- just haven’t found one yet. I just snagged the vintage art at a thrift shop to put there for now.

  • Carmen says:

    It could only be better if she took the photo with the kid all grown up, lying on the same spot on the floor!

  • LOL….I love the little one hanging out on the floor! What a fabulous transformation!! I love that you recognized where to spend and where to save. Sometimes we just cannot have it all…you did a beautiful job!!

  • Sarah says:

    OMG! It’s sooo much better! I’m especially glad she took that tiny cabinet down that was above the range.

  • Priscilla says:

    Very nice! Good job everyone!

  • Michelle L says:

    New countertops, new stove and new stove hood were definitely the places to spend the money. My next change would be the stools.

    • Thank you!! Great suggestion, the stools were actually on my list of things to change out! I’ve been on the hunt for several months. What type of stools could you see as a replacement?

      • DeniseGK says:

        You should do a search over at Emily Henderson’s blog. She has been using a very similar mix of styles as you for her last 3 houses that she has redone. I think you will find either the exact stool you want, or something that is close enough to be used for inspiration and to narrow down your shopping. Watch for the prices though! Sometimes she’s very budget conscious and sometimes she indulges, but she will almost always include a cheaper version that duplicates the look as much as possible.

  • Kim says:

    Beautiful transformation, Dawn! Everything you changed looks intentional and well-styled. Very well-done!

  • Nikki says:

    Kinda sad to see how granite is installed and ripped out so quickly. Same with quartz. I know some companies use recycled quartz and maybe that is what they went with. When I installed my new countertops I went with a eco-friendly option: paper composite countertops.

    It’s a great “before” and “after” though. I appreciate how she worked with a lot of existing elements to create a new look and feel.

  • Cynthia Taylor-Luce says:

    If I were her, I’d put a piece of furniture at the end of the cabinets where she has the framed picture. It could be a kitchen dresser type of item with display for cookbooks, nice mixing bowls, etc. That’s a good piece of kitchen real estate that could hold some nice stuff and be decorative as well. There’s a plug on the wall there, so it could even be a lighted cabinet. Very impressive job with the white refresher.

  • Pam says:

    I think I have the same cabinets and granite! I won’t be able to replace the granite any time soon, but it’s great to see what a change new countertops can make and inspires me for the future. Thank you! In the meantime, I’d love to see a post on how to decide what colors are in your granite and how to update it with some color and fresh accessories.

  • Rebecca Burlingham says:

    I love the transformation of this kitchen. I would have invested a few more dollars and added another trim piece to the top of the range hood to give the impression that it went through the ceiling. I wanted to see wood trim around the windows, until the wide shot of the rest of the room. that’s too much wood trim to commit to. This kitchen would mix well with antique wood furniture and vintage paintings.

  • Brenda says:

    Oh wow, She did such a good job!!! It is amazing what a few tweaks will do. It is so much brighter too. The shot with the little girl on the floor made me laugh, my kids would totally have done the same thing when they were younger!!

  • Janet R says:

    I appreciate seeing this transformation!

  • Sue says:

    We are also replacing countertops and backsplash to go with an existing combination of off-white and dark wood cabinets (Wood floor is staying too). Was wondering your thoughts on a solid color off-white countertop with no veins/pattern…would a subway tile still work or is a more patterned or textured tile needed to balance the solid color of the countertops?

    • Maria Killam says:

      You could do that but plain is way better than a risky pattern that you have to live with forever. Hope that helps, Maria

      • Sue says:

        Yes – Thanks! I wanted to do a subway tile with the solid counters but was told (against my gut feeling) I needed something a little more creative to off-set the plain countertops. Happy you think the subway tile is still the right way to go!

  • Becky says:

    Wow! From blah to fantastic! I love the way the wood cabinets look in the after.

  • Sheree L says:

    What a beautiful transformation! The space looks so inviting and fresh. Kudos to Dawn! And kudos to Maria for providing us with such useful content!

  • Sarah Adams says:

    Few additions to consider: What about an upholstered chair under the wall art to add some softness? Maybe in a lighter green that relates. I’m thinking to paint the uppers white – would that work? Also a runner somewhere would look smashing. I’m at a bit of a loss on the stools – maybe low profile in gold. Not necessarily backless, but def streamlined and not chunky. Also some gold pulls on the green drawers would be bright & fun. Good job!

    • Thanks Sarah! We’ve definitely been on the hunt for new more modern stools, your suggestion is a great suggestion! We’ve also been looking for a arched armoire or cabinet of sorts for the dead space where the art is- a chair is a fun idea too! Funny because I considered several times switching out the pulls on the island to brass, but alas we had to stop spending money at some point on it😉. Thanks for your suggestions!

  • M says:

    Thanks Maria, I love before and afters…..and wow Dawn, you did a great job!

    When read new countertops with same cabs, thought oh oh, that rarely works, and white with these cabs, hmmm, but it works here!

    Big difference getting rid of the dark busy granite and that squat cabinet above the range that stuck out like a sore thumb. The slide in range more streamline too.
    All just looks more refreshed and open.

    You lucked out with the color of the wood floors too. 🙂

    Dawn is the ceiling and trim Simply White also? Can you please tell us what brand you used?
    Thanks for sharing.

    • Claire Seng-Niemoeller says:

      It IS a beautiful transformation, but I’m thinking these pictures have the same over-exposed color shifts that you see in other places. Benjamin Moore’s Simply White is bright but not this stark, with some yellow in it so it probably looks great with the warm cabinets. BM Caldwell Green is MUCH darker in the fan book than it appears in these pictures. It has an LRV of only 13, so it should be basically the same color as navy blue but with a green shift. Dark, very dark. The only picture that shows the green even close to fan book is the heavily shadowed side of the island with the young lady sprawled next to it. On my color-calibrated graphics monitor, the green I’m seeing in most of the pictures looks a lot closer to something like BM 698 Grenadier Pond with an LRV of 33, or possibly the next darker shade BM 699 Garden Oasis with an LRV of 24. Please be wary if trying to duplicate this look, and use your sample color boards to confirm a choice in your own environment.

      Dawn, it was a nice touch to use what appears to be a rippled/textured subway tile for a more handmade look rather than a plain tile, and a lovely use of large-patterned quartz. Kudos for such attention to details!

    • Hi!
      The trim is simply white semi gloss. I originally sampled it all color matched in Dunn edwards but kept seeing a flick of green in it! So I went back and got Benjamin Moore (eggshell for walls, semi gloss trim) we still have our old ceiling paint which is Roman Column (sherwin Williams) luckily it’s a bit lighter on the ceiling- but we will paint it someday! Don’t color match white- they are never exactly right!
      The floors use to be much more yellow- but we had a water leak that damaged them and found an expert who was able to refinishe them and luckily lighten them to the tone I really wanted! Then I could so much more possibilities with updating the kitchen.
      Thank you so much for your kind comments!

  • M says:

    Forgot to add…

    Also great to see the transformation of a “real” kitchen rather than staged or perfection from Architectural Digest. Seeing realistic possibilities is inspirational.

  • Lena says:

    Wow great refresh Dawn!!

    A couple ideas:
    Brown leather stools, with black legs. Like west elm’s Slope stool. Target also has a cheaper version (which I have and love!).

    And for the side cabinet, I love the one Chris Loves Kulia added to their kitchen. With lots of glass to keep it airy and light.

    • Thank you Lena! Funny because when I’ve been on the hunt for stools those are the same ones I almost bought several times! (Low back leather) As for the cabinet- I wanted that specific one from Chris Loves Julia! But at a $3,000 price tag- it was just to much for what we were wanting to spend on the kitchen- so for now my $75 thrift store art will do. And I keep hunting for an arched cabinet at thrift and antique stores!!

  • Marta says:

    So cool! Love the countertops! Which color of the countertop would for with the cream kitchen? We want to go with the marble, but I am worried it will not be a good fit.

  • Beth says:

    Looks great! What is the wall color? I just installed off white quartz counter while keeping wood cabinets and floors and am wondering what to paint the walls.

  • Lisa says:

    I too, have oak kitchen cabinets. I am wanting to update with white quartz and subway tile. Love the floors with the wood cabinets. Do you have any idea, what these floors are.
    Beautiful kitchen remodel!

  • Mary says:

    Love ,love what you have done! What an achievement! One little suggestion: buy the stainless steel extension and collar for your vent hood. I know it vents to the outside near where it stops but you can put an extension above to it to reach ceiling. This of course is a faux piece since it’s not really venting higher. This was my same situation and it really gives a finished look.

  • Jane Duchene says:

    Is this one of those kitchens that actually has another working kitchen attached? Because otherwise, I can’t wrap my head around where you put all the dishes and food items you need to actually cook and serve a meal with essentially no cabinets. It does LOOK good however!

  • B. Susan Bond says:

    Hello Maria – Do you consult on exterior make-overs? Thanks again

  • Robin says:

    I’m coming to this party late, but have to say this is still very updated! I so appreciate the highlight, Maria, of a REAL kitchen makeover. And Dawn, your discipline to work within a budget and your patience to wait for the right thing truly inspiring! There is more to life than makeovers! I am looking at a very similar update to the kitchen in my new house. Do you have an update on the armoire/hutch?

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