Read This Before Painting Your Oak Kitchen Cabinets White

If you have oak stained cabinets in your home and are looking to change up the look of the space, painting them white has likely crossed your mind. Perhaps you shared these thoughts with family and friends or looked up feedback online, only to be met with a variety of very strong opinions. This polarizing topic tends to bring out arguments from two camps of people, those for and those against painting oak cabinets white.

The number one complaint you will hear about painting oak cabinets is that many say it's sacrilege to paint over natural wood. While some wholeheartedly agree when it comes to historical homes with original oak woodwork, some wood purists maintain it applies to all natural wood of any era. Another group of people will argue about home value. Team wood says a white kitchen could decrease the value of your house because it is boring, trending out, and looks like a project to prospective buyers. Team paint would say non-historical outdated oak cabinets (ahem... 1990s honey oak, they're looking at you) would hurt a home's value more than a neutral white kitchen because most people would think it needs a major overhaul and investment to update. However, all of these common arguments are subjective, so let's move on and focus on the real facts. Before you head to the hardware store for your favorite shade of white, check out this fact-based list of pros and cons to decide if painting oak cabinets white is right for you.

Drawbacks of painting oak cabinets white

Since the strong opinions of the wood purists seem to be the most widespread online, let's start with the disadvantages of painting oak cabinets. Oak wood has a very deep, distinct grain pattern so when it is painted, the grain pattern will show through. For those hoping for the smooth, crisp look of a factory-finished white cabinet, they will be disappointed. It is possible to fill the grain, but it is a labor-intensive (i.e. expensive) process and will never result in the super smooth finish of a pre-finished cabinet. Additionally, oak cabinets that are not thoroughly prepped could end up with chipping or scratched paint. On top of that, if too much moisture is absorbed during the painting process, it could eventually lead to warping or cracking, so a professional is best for the job to properly protect the wood.

Lastly, let's talk color — picking a white cabinet color can be tricky, as you do not want something too stark or with a bad undertone. White cabinets that are too stark tend to show everything, especially on oak with its grain indentations like little pockets for hanging onto grime. Creamy whites, like Sherwin Williams' Aesthetic White, are popular alternative paint shades to flat white options and do a better job of hiding dirt and dust. Plus, once you have painted, it is tough to go back. It is a much more challenging process to strip and refinish oak cabinets with stain in the future.

Advantages of painting oak cabinets white

But what if you have always dreamed of a beautiful bright and airy white kitchen? Well, quite simply, stained oak cabinets will never make you happy from an aesthetic perspective. Additionally, while some dislike the oak grain showing through the white paint, others love it because it has a softer, high-end solid wood appearance of custom cabinetry with character and texture, compared to a sterile, sometimes generic, look of a smooth white catalyzed factory finish that sometimes looks like it came from a big box store.

Tearing out and installing new white cabinets can cost a pretty penny, as new cabinetry is usually the most expensive part of any kitchen remodel. Therefore, refinishing your oak cabinetry is a more affordable (and typically much faster) way to get that modernized, crisp white kitchen without messing with the existing footprint, frames, or doors. Hiring a professional is essential to avoiding the pitfalls of a poor paint job and a frustrating end result.

Whatever you decide to do, paint your cabinets white or leave them stained, do it for yourself and your taste, not for resale value (unless you are imminently selling) or what your mom/coworker/nosy neighbor says you should. If that's keeping the oak cabinets and updating with hardware/tile/counters, great! If it's a bright, freshly white space, great! You spend so much time in the kitchen, so ultimately it only matters how the space makes you and your family feel.