The New Look of Wood Kitchens: Timeless or Trendy?

I’ve received a lot of requests lately for this post about wood kitchen so here it is:

A classic white kitchen will always be my first choice. But since they have (happily) been trending in the last 9 years since the fresh (grey) trend happened, and as the average trend cycle lasts about 10 years, well, there are naturally those who are looking for something new or different.

And guess what? There’s a whole new look for wood kitchens, and it’s much fresher.

Lots of recently designed wood kitchens I’ve seen, have managed to sidestep the main issue with traditional ones: dated stains and finishes that are intended to create a “rich” look like cherry, golden oak or espresso but tend to look heavy, dark and overly formal.

And I’ve talked a lot about how a particular stain will date a kitchen quickly. For example, although there are outliers, generally, golden oak kitchens peaked in the 80s, cherry and orange maple 10 years after that, and then espresso in the early 2000s. They look of their time, and this is why I caution against installing a wood stained kitchen.

Right now, the wood stain that will be associated with this trend moment is anything grayed, weathered or “reclaimed”.

It’s much more difficult to guess the date of white cabinets, unless a trendy backsplash gives them away.

New ashy (cooler), unstained wood tones are cropping up in kitchens everywhere right now, and I think they will have a bit more staying power and this is why. First, they are lighter, airier and more natural looking which has broad and enduring appeal.

Second, they are much less likely to be combined with busy earthy granite and tile which is what made the dated warm wood kitchens so heavy and hard to live with.

In the nicest current wood stained kitchens, there is a beautiful balance of natural wood tones and crisp white.

Natural Oak and White Kitchen via Luxe.Daily

Here’s the pretty butler’s pantry from the same kitchen below.


And I’ve always said that the way to make a wood stained kitchen look fresher and more timeless is to install a white countertop and backsplash.

Because of technological improvements, wood finishes don’t yellow the way the old lacquers and alkyds did. These new natural wood tones are not just a passing trend, but a new classic. They are prettier because you can clear coat them without creating a warmer yellow cast so that the wood looks as fresh as when it was cut.

It’s the same with the current natural unstained oak floors. They are just as classic and neutral as a pale maple or medium brown walnut. It’s when they are grayed or overly rustic that they are more faddish and eventually dated.

People are looking for fresh, light and casual, and natural light wood tones fit the bill perfectly while still providing some warm earthiness to a light and bright space. The new wood finishes are grounding but not stuffy or heavy.

BK Interior Design

I don’t think the gold, orange and red wood stains of decades past will have time in the trend spotlight again anytime soon, but unstained wood has enduring appeal, it feels fresh and modern.

A little bit of wood or wicker is always pretty in a white kitchen and it’s also true that what makes a light oak or maple kitchen just right is lots of crisp white. While grey or soapstone countertops can look pretty in a light wood kitchen, there should really be a white backsplash and nice light walls to balance it out.

via Hernandez Greene

Here’s another pretty rift oak kitchen with soapstone counters and a brick floor (below).

Via the Home Bunch

So if a wood kitchen is your thing, natural unstained oak or maple is what I recommend, along with lots of fresh white and maybe some soapstone which I’ve been seeing a lot of lately; another trending classic.

A word of caution however, look for a truly natural looking finish and beware of anything with a gray or taupe cast, or anything that looks overly rustic, these are part of the gray trend and will soon look dated.

I also think that cerused wood could come off as dated in time just as the pickled oak of the 80s did. In other words, the more natural the better, keep it simple.

If you like a gray wash, cerused or rustic feel to your wood, indulge in it with a furniture piece, not your custom kitchen cabinets.

After all, the goal should be to only design your kitchen once and love it forever.

So over to you my lovelies, what do you think of the new look of wood kitchens?

PS. OMG I keep forgetting to tell you that I won second place in the Best Design Influencers award with Modenus! And that’s because of your votes, thank you so much!!

I love my readers, ya’ll are the best, truly! I am so grateful for this amazing community!

Related posts:

White Kitchen Cabinets for the Most Timeless Kitchen

Ask Maria: About Kitchen Cabinet Uppers and Lowers in Different Colours

Contrasting Kitchen Island; Get Your Colours Right



leave aREPLY

  1. I have never loved a kitchen more than my light/natural maple kitchen with a mix of flat and shaker-style doors with soft white bull-nose counters and simple white tile backsplash (though if I could have gotten a solid slab of solid surfacing for it in my budget, I would have done that in a heart-beat.) The maple’s light colors were perfect with the casual vibe but the fine grain and sheen of the seal made it equally pretty with the few formal, darker stain pieces we owned. Fresh, natural, inviting. Warm with wood, but not heavy-feeling – perfect for our hot, hot locale. Inexpensive white appliances were fine with it, and high end appliances would have been outstanding. Real food looks gorgeous against this backdrop, and a few decades later I haven’t gotten tired of the look, though I’ve been without it for nearly 20 years. If it were still my kitchen, I would sand off the clear-coat, reveal lighter wood below the surface and reseal it. And upgrade the laminate counter to a nicer solid surface with an integrated solid-surface or under-mounted stainless steel sink, and run it right up the wall as a backsplash. And I would have taken down the 90’s taupe/off-white stripe wallpaper long ago. The actual home had tasteful amounts of maple accents in niches, banister and on fireplace, so the flow was beautiful. We let the maple be the maple, kept the walls a soft warm white, installed cream berber carpet with beige flecks, and decorated simply, mostly in greens that harmonized with the wooded views outside the many windows that made the home beautifully light-filled. Had a designer help us with layouts and cohesion. Loved that place for its light, airy, nature-filled vibe!

  2. What do you recommend when you are doing wood floors and stained lower cabinets.? Should the floors be darker than the cabinets or visa versa?

  3. Omg I wish I’d seen this earlier. We are having custom maple cabinets installed Monday! I have a big house and everything is trimmed in golden oak- I decided to have the cabinet man factory stain the cabinets a color that is close to the
    Oak. I picked a black granite that has long white streaks in it and the island and desk will be a sheet black stain. Appliances are stainless-over the stove will be an updated chimney hood and cabinets on either side will have glass. All our hardware in the house is antique brass so I’m looking at an updated but matte ORB for hardware. Floor is ceramic in a neutral sandy and beige. Now I’m petrified I’ll have the heavy look you describe. Our wall are all a creamy beige (open concept) so white doesn’t feel right in our 30uear old traditional colonial.
    Please tell me it doesn’t sound awful!

    • I would rethink the granite, sounds busy and dark and it doesn’t relate to the tile floors. You’ll have this kitchen for a long time and if the countertops are not installed yet then likely they have not been fabricated yet. Hope that helps, Maria

  4. Great article! Thank you! Love this combination of the natural and white cabinets. Like the look of the light marble counters and backsplashes. ( name for a granite that looks like a marble?) Would you do the island in a black soapstone with a white veining? Love the look of a black metal hood over the range.