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5 Fresh Looks for Natural Wood Kitchen Cabinets

 

Natural wood kitchens are back in a big way, and men all over the world (if they gave the subject any thought at all) are probably celebrating. Men love wood. One of my most popular posts this year continues to be The Knotty Pine Problem and 3 Alternatives to Painting it All. It’s probably because so many wives are desperate to lighten up their ’50s-’80s homes with a little white paint, but the man of the house likes it cozy like a bear’s cave.

Natural wood kitchen cabinets have been around since the Neanderthals pulled up logs to sit on while they cooked their freshest kill over the fire.

Funny picture: If I didn't already have enough cleaning and sewing to do, the big galoot goes and invents cooking!

In the last 20 years, they went out of style due to a glut of bad builder’s grade work. For example, the below kitchen was dated the moment the cabinets were hung.

Dated kitchen with glut of bad builder's grade work.

Well, the floors and the lights and the yellow paint don’t help, either.

As I detailed in this post, I’ve always be partial to painted kitchen cabinetry and a good dose of color, but many of the kitchens coming up have really turned my head. Perhaps they will for you, too. I think you’ll notice there is one unifying factor in every style — a hefty dose of white! We’ll call it “the fresh factor.” If you want wood, don’t forget the white! Counters, walls, and sometimes upper cabinets.

As always, pay attention to the bones of your house before deciding what to do with your own kitchen renovation! These are not necessarily one-size-fits-all.

1. The Belgian Kitchen

Whether historical or historically-inspired, these Belgian look kitchens all have a few things in common:

  1. Cerused oak cabinetry, with mostly lower cabinets
  2. Lots of white — white marble (or marble-like) countertops, white tile, white plaster, white walls
  3. Wood or warm travertine floors
  4. Black accents

Definitely an upscale look. It works well in some of the high-end new-build homes I am seeing that span a sort of Southern/Craftsman/French look. I think this can also work well in grander home from the early 20th century and certain homes in California, as well.

Southern/Craftsman/French look with natural wood kitchen cabinets.
Jeremy Corkern and Thomas Paul Bates
Southern/Craftsman/French look with a modern natural wood kitchen cabinets.
Source Unknown
Beautiful kitchen with natural wood kitchen cabinet and island surrounded in an elegant white.
Dana Wolters Interiors via Instagram
Light, lower natural wood kitchen cabinets with white walls and floating shelf accent wall.
Welke
Metal upper cabinet with lower natural wood kitchen cabinets highlighted with a white patterned tile backsplash.
Francis Bryant Construction via Instagram

I like the metal upper cabinets and chevron marble backsplash in this one. Feels very patisserie-like.

Light natural wood kitchen lower cabinet with white square backsplash.
via Vintage Whites Blog

A real Belgian kitchen in Belgium. Sigh….

Gorgeous kitchen with natural wood cabinetry accented with a beautiful marble backsplash.
Andrew Howard

2. Sleek Sophisticate

Cabinetry is still lighter in color, frequently cerused as in the Belgian style, but the cabinetry has a simpler silhouette. Whites in the counters and the walls. Great for modern style homes.

Light natural wood kitchen cabinets with a simply, sleek style.
Chloe Warner
Light natural wood lower kitchen cabinets with white tiled backsplash.
Better Homes & Gardens
Natural wood lower cabinets with light upper kitchen cabinets. Accented with white square tiled backsplash and white countertops.
Emily Henderson

The kitchen in Emily Henderson’s first house the way it looked for its first photo shoot. I know she wasn’t crazy about the lower cabinets, which had been sanded and finished, but in the photo, it looks fine.

Better Homes & Gardens kitchen with gray tone wood cabinets and backsplash.
Better Homes & Gardens

3. Downton Abbey

This turn-of-the-last-century look is best employed in houses that were actually around during that period, IMO. Using highly patterned woods like oak, reclaimed chestnut, or hickory for both upper and lower cabinets can all work in this setting. But beware! If you don’t want this type of kitchen to look like a 1980s builder-grade house, PLEASE —

  1. No shiny, orangey varnishes. A rich, medium — not dark! — stain is required!
  2. Take your cabinets all the way to the ceiling
  3. Incorporate some open shelving or glass front upper cabinets
  4. Again, a hefty dose of white — counters and/or walls

Medium stained upper and lower cabinetry with white subway tile backsplash and white trimmed window.

The above kitchen is absolutely gorgeous, but the white trim above the upper cabinets bugs me. Should be the natural wood.Medium cabinet with glass door for a more open display.

Glass front upper cabinet give a more open feeling to a kitchen with lower ceilings.

Gorgeous kitchen with wooden beams, open upper natural wood cabinets, and lower natural wood cabinets. Kitchen island with thick marble slab.

Stunning. I am in no small way smitten by the beams, plate rack, sliding ladder, the 3 inch marble slab on the island — oh, just about everything.

4. Industrial Farmhouse

This look is great for so many of the modern farmhouse and craftsman style homes being built but translates just as easily to your Brooklyn loft. Look for:

  1. Darker stained base cabinets
  2. Steel, iron and bronze accents
  3. Exposed brick
  4. Modern light fixtures
  5. Mostly open shelving
Rustic natural wood lower kitchen cabinets surrounded in white - white walls, countertops, trims, and tile.
Samantha Sacks
Medium lower kitchen cabinets with a mix of open and closed upper white cabinets.
Design Manifest
Wooden lower cabinets with a gray tiled backsplash and sleek open shelves.
Better Homes & Gardens

5. Your Typical 1970s-1990s Pseudo-Colonial Transitional Homes

But what if your kitchen dates back to the ’90s or earlier, and your man loves the natural wood kitchen cabinets your kitchen already has? This is the type of house I grew up in and probably at least 50% of America currently owns. Ceilings tend to max out at 8 feet and kitchens are comfortably sized, but not ginormous. These kitchens usually need all the storage they can get, so upper cabinets are often a must. Paint just the uppers white. If you can,  opt for a white backsplash and counter. All that uninterrupted white keeps your the eye moving up to give the illusion of height. Don’t chop it up with lots of changes in color by using a funky counter and/or backsplash.

White upper cabinets and wooden lower cabinets with a table style island.
via Houzz

My own ’90s cabinets would look great with the above treatment. If my kitchen’s layout weren’t terrible, and if my style cabinetry weren’t completely inappropriate for a 1790 house, the above would be an option for me.

Medium/ dark lower cabinets with white upper cabinets featuring a small glass panel display.
Better Homes & Gardens

A little glass in the upper cabinets also adds airiness.

White upper cabinets, white subway tile backsplash with wooden lower cabinets.
Copper Dot Interiors
Natural wood lower cabinets with black countertops and white shiplap backsplash topped with white painted upper cabinets.
Source Unknown

This kitchen would be even brighter with white counters, but dark black works aesthetically as well. I’m actually thinking of one friend/client who has wood cabinetry and black counters that the above scenario may work very well for! (Hey, friend, can you guess who you are? 😉 )

 

Any thoughts? I find myself really loving so many of these natural wood kitchen cabinets. I still think I will go the painted route for myself — just fits my house and my style — but I think this could definitely be an option for many couples who can’t agree on wood vs. painted kitchen cabinetry.

‘Til next week!

-Amy

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5 thoughts on “5 Fresh Looks for Natural Wood Kitchen Cabinets”

  1. Melissa Trafton

    I knew that you were thinking of me the minute I started reading the post! This made me want white countertops even more than white upper cabinets. And then I could also get rid of my funky little 3in back splash. Well, new fan and dishwasher first 🙂

  2. Am I the friend with the wood cabinets and black counters??? Did I win? ? If so, our challenge is that the granite was used as a blacksplash as well – we would have to rip it all out to go with the lighter wall looks in these images and if we had to do that then we would likely do a completely different color for the counters!

  3. Paula Moreshead

    Another wonderful post…Thank you for all that goes into doing these! It’s great to see how beautifully wood cabinets can be worked into a kitchen, and it’s a nice change from all of the white.

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