Design by Room Kitchens

7 Ways to Give Wood Kitchen Cabinets Personality Without Paint

Serpentine-shaped doors go against the grain.
Lydia Geisel Avatar
shadowy kitchen with wood peninsula

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There’s something comforting about plain, solid wood kitchen cabinets. Maybe it’s the sense of nostalgia we feel (they bring us back to the days before lacquer was a thing). Or perhaps it’s the sheer honesty of it all: They’re not pretending to be something they’re not. 

Letting the natural tones shine will lend a ton of warmth to your space—not to mention they’ll practically last forever. Solid wood doors—think: resilient oak, easy-to-paint maple, heavy hickory, fine-grained birch—are known for their durability, unlike plastic veneer, particleboard, and laminate, which all have shorter life spans. Other pros: They can tolerate high humidity without swelling or warping and you won’t see any seams, just the beauty of the grain. The con? The quality of the product does drive up the cost, but the years you get out of it are worth the expense. And contrary to popular belief, they don’t have to be boring. Here are seven ways to help your nonboring solid wood doors shine—no paint involved

Rethink the Shape of Things

cabinets with handles going in all directions
Photography By Dina Avila; Design By Osmose Design

Andee Hess’s serpentine-shaped space is like a game of Tetris, where the bumps and grooves (really, the handles) in the white oak cupboards are the puzzle pieces. One upside of solid wood cabinetry is that the edges can be curved, unlike pointy laminate, making it an ideal choice if you are going for a no-hardware look. 

Give Appliances a Natural Look, Too

dark mid century kitchen
Photography By Kara Mercer

Shiny metal doesn’t exactly scream “organic.” Cladding the refrigerator in the same wood that covers the cabinetry, as seen in this mid-century modern home, is an extra step that pays off. While you’re at it, make way for a tall utility cupboard or small garage for other unsightly kitchen tools. 

Combat the Warmth With Something Dramatic

rustic cabin kitchen
Photography By Amy Neunsinger

The majority of Leanne Ford’s former Los Angeles kitchen consists of custom oak doors from the Lauren Liess collection for Unique Kitchen and Baths, but for true storybook whimsy, she topped them with a black soapstone counter and had her carpenter make the sink base cabinet out of salvaged wood. 

Surround It in Texture

tropcial kitchen with yellow island
Photography by Skye Parrott; Styling by Elaina Sullivan

Read in between the edges of the Rosa Morada wood cupboard in this Todos Santos, Mexico, kitchen, designed by Alex Boudreau, and you’ll find concrete. Micro-cement, which also has a plaster-like look to it, is another great option for a border. It doesn’t stain like the real deal, so you don’t have to stop cooking with colorful spices. 

Put Paint in Your Sealer

white and wood cabients
Photography By Charlotte Lea; Design By Abbie Naber

When left untouched, natural white oakwood has a beautiful, raw appearance. However, sealing is unavoidable, and once you do so, it turns a yellow hue. Designer Abbie Naber came up with one solution: Neutralize the coat by mixing in a dash of white paint. 

Camouflage the Pulls

modern wood cabients in london town house
Photography by French and Tye; Architecture by Bradley Van Der Straeten

Don’t disrupt the beauty of the grain with chunky matte black pulls or glistening brass knobs. Instead go the barely there route. Bradley Van Der Straeten carved out half-moon notches along the edges of these cupboards. The trick is having another sliver of wood behind it so you don’t see an empty gap. 

Treat the Surface Like a Canvas

light wood doors with curved desing
Photography By Vincent Tullo

Ellen Van Dusen’s doors might be made out of plywood, but she gave the basic composite variety some pizzazz by hiring a woodworker to route a pattern of curves into the doors. The humble material isn’t so basic anymore. 

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