Published on May 25, 2021

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Courtesy of Space Exploration

We spend so much time in our kitchens that it’s only natural to want the room to feel warm and welcoming. The easiest way to do that? Wood cabinets. The brown and golden tones bring us back to nature, not to mention that unlike particleboard, which has a short life span in the grand scheme of things, the material practically lasts forever (that’s why antique wood cabinets are a thing). On top of that, they can tolerate high humidity without swelling or warping and you won’t see any seams, just the beauty of the grain.

From resilient oak and easy-to-paint maple to heavy hickory and fine-grained birch, there’s no way you won’t be able to find one that works for your space, lifestyle, and—most important—budget (the quality of the variety drives up the cost). The hard part is just narrowing it down. So we are breaking down seven of our favorite types of wood kitchen cabinets and what to know about each before you commit. 

Oak Wood Kitchen Cabinets

This wood has a ton of advantages, which explains why it’s one of the most popular options these days. Oak is hardy, which prevents denting, and the prominent texture hides minor scratches and reflects natural light. Plus any water that touches its surface runs off instead of soaks in. The only catch is, when natural white oakwood is sealed, it turns a honey yellow color. But this can easily be fixed by neutralizing the coating with a dash of white paint, explains designer Abbie Naber. 

Pine Wood Kitchen Cabinets

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Photography by Karyn Millet

If you’re really determined not to go one cent over budget, look no further than this pick, which is known for its distinctive knots. It is less durable than some other higher-end woods (it’s a soft wood and more vulnerable to dings), but it’s got that English cottage–meets–Poconos cabin charm that never goes out of style. 

Cherry Wood Kitchen Cabinets

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Photo courtesy of Stephanie Dyer

Cherry, a strong closed-grain wood, is probably the type you’ll see the most when surfing real-estate listings in the suburbs. The red-brown-toned option, which is easy to carve and polish, was super-popular in the late ’90s and early 2000s, but don’t knock it as dated just yet. When paired with multicolored cabinets (think: modern sage and pops of red), its dated reputation is washed clean. 

Walnut Wood Kitchen Cabinets

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Courtesy of Naked Kitchens

Consider this one the chameleon of the bunch. Walnut takes finishes well, so you can go super light or chocolate brown. It’s also easy to carve, so it lends itself to detailed door designs. Psst: You can cheat on the custom route by opting for semi-custom ones, like Semihandmade’s walnut veneer doors that can go with IKEA’s Sektion, Akurum, and Godmorgon kitchen cupboard systems. 

Birch Wood Kitchen Cabinets

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Design by Emily Henderson Design; Photography by Sara Tramp

Blondes have more fun, right? While this is a medium-density hardwood that can be stained to resemble fancier woods like mahogany or walnut, we love when it’s left in its natural yellow state. Hello, laid-back SoCal living. 

Douglas Fir Wood Kitchen Cabinets

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Photography by Sarah Yates Mora

Another softwood option, this one has a uniform texture and rich orange hue, which is great if you’re going with sleek-looking slab door fronts to get a mid-century feeling. The wood is laborious to work with, though (it has a tendency to split off where the grain runs out), so it requires some extra skill.

Plywood Kitchen Cabinets

Lastly, the underdog of the group. Manufactured from thin layers of wood veneer that are glued together, the hardware store staple has only become a popular pick in the past few years. Designers and renovators are using it in creative ways, giving it a fresh look using Osmo finish, which, when dry, creates a whitish surface and is food-safe. Consider yourself out of the woods. 

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