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7 Ways to Create A Fresh-Looking Kitchen With Pale Wood Cabinets

Does the phrase “pale wood cabinets“ conjure up visions of the 1980s? If so, you’re not alone. Somebody got rich on churning out all those blonde wood cabinets with traditional details and rounded edges that ended up in so many kitchens. 

These builder-grade cabinets came standard with so many houses built in the 80s and 90s. Builders want to maximize their profits, so they used very inexpensive cabinetry, usually crafted from a composite wood product, plastic, and wood veneers. And a lot of people left them in place for years, since they were serviceable, if not very stylish.

But I’m so glad to see that wood cabinets and lighter stains are making a comeback. The key to doing them now is starting with cabinets with good clean lines, and combining the softwood tones with other elements that give the room energy. We’ve collected some of our favorite kitchens to show you how to design a fresh-looking kitchen with wood cabinets in a light stain. Here are seven ways to create a fresh-looking kitchen with pale wood cabinets

Wood + White

studio Dearborn modern on the Hudson oak cabinet kitchen
Photo credit: Studio Dearborn

The owners of this home wanted a modern and bright look, so a pale wood was a natural choice for this kitchen by our team at Studio Dearborn. The custom character oak looks up to date paired with white glass front cabinets and brushed stainless steel. Of course, all that natural light and stunning views of the Hudson River didn’t hurt either. See more views of the award-winning Modern on the Hudson kitchen in her portfolio.

White, Black + Scandinavian Style

Photo credit: E. Interiors Design

A standard builder’s kitchen is exactly what Megan Papworth and Dawn Terry of E. Interiors Design Studio started with (slide to see the before.) The mother-daughter design team paired custom pale wood (looks like oak) upper cabinets, with IKEA Sektion cabinets below and white doors from Semihandmade for minimal Scandinavian space. The black faucet, dark knobs, and wire stools make it feel very contemporary, while the vintage rug softens the room.

Blue for the Win

Shea McGee kitchen with light oak and dark blue cabinets and countertops
Photo credit: By Ryan Garvin for Studio McGee

Shea McGee can pretty much do no wrong when it comes to interior design. So the fact that she’s featuring a lighter stained oak in this kitchen collaboration with Eric Olsen Design means the look is here to stay. The California client loved both light oak and deep moody blues, so McGee created this combo that feels very natural. She talks about the balance between the dark marble and cabinets with the oak island and pantry in–the Crestview kitchen webisode on her blog. Now McGee is sharing her life and design philosophy on her new Netflix show, Dream Home Makeover.

Opposites Attract

The townhouses kitchen with white oak cabinetry and black marble by Nam Dang Mitchell
Photo credit: Nam Dang-Mitchell

The contrast between light and dark is everything in this kitchen by Canadian interior designer Nam Dang-Mitchell for her project at The Townhouses. A matte charcoal backsplash, angular wicker seating, and a sculptural pendant accentuate the streamlined bank of white oak cabinetry and that beautiful bleached herringbone floor. She shares more details in the October issue of House & Home magazine.

Polished + Pretty Kitchen Details

Jean Stoffer Design kitchen at The Madison with light oak cabinets and pretty detals
Photo credit John Stoffer for Jean Stoffer Design

Jean Stoffer is living her best life in Grand Rapids, Michigan now that she’s settled into her home called The Madison. The kitchen features light oak cabinets with pretty details like the orb lights over the island, shimmering pale grey quartzite counter, and curvy double sconces. And now that the Stoffer Home store is open, she’s spilling all the tea on paints and finishes so you can pick them up. In this space, she used her natural oak stain on the wall cabinets, window surround, and pantry; a paint shade called Cotswold Green on the island, and Sherwin Williams’ Iron Ore around the windows to add depth.

Artful Touches of Turquoise, White + Black

House Beautiful 2020 Whole House concept Home by Sarah Robertson of Studio Dearborn
Photo credit: Emily Minton Redfield for House Beautiful

In this kitchen at the 2020 House Beautiful Whole Home Concept House in Franktown, Colorado, interior designer Sarah Robertson of Studio Dearborn envisioned a place where a multi-generational family could cook and eat seasonal produce grown just outside. She designed custom cabinetry in knotty alder wood with a wire-brushed light stained finish and made it pop with a combination of shimmering zellige in Aegean Blue and Casablanca from Zia Tile. The white hood surround, wall pantry, Caesarstone wrap, and island keep it feeling clean. But the dark details on the modern lights, cabinet hardware, and faucets really ground the space and add some edge.

Steel Windows + White

Jennifer Robin pale wood kitchen in Calistoga California
Photo credit: John Merkl for Jennifer Robin Interiors

There’s no denying the best thing about this Calistoga, California kitchen by Jennifer Robin Interiors and architect Amy Alper is the panoramic view. In this space, the pale cabinets add a warm, almost sunny glow. Pristine white countertops, walls, and white counters create an inviting vibe, while the black steel frame windows keep it up to date. It doesn’t get much better than this.

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