If you are looking to update your home and need to work around the expanse of honey oak kitchen cabinets or trim, then a few coats of the right shade of paint can instantly bring your space into the modern era.
Oh, honey oak. The wood of choice in 80's and 90's homes. Oak of course is not naturally this honey shade, but ambers over time due to the use of stains and polyurethane. Unfortunately, honey oak kitchen cabinets, trim, casings, doors and even floors are not the modern look that most homeowners want these days.
Whether you have budget constraints or simply no interest in tackling cabinets or an entire house of trim right at this moment in time, your honey oak nightmare can be worked with! Interior wall paint can do wonders to transform any space, and rooms filled with wood are no different.
First things first, you need to decide whether you want to accent the wood tone or blend and slightly camouflage it?
The most important thing to understand about honey oak is that it has a color, and that color is orange, or a more yellow-toned-orange. Of course, other wood types can be stained and end up with the same orange or yellow color, but generally when we see these colors we refer to them as "honey oak". Other woods, such as maple, can be distinctly yellow-toned, too due to the stain or polyurethane used to finish them.
When you are looking for a paint colors that will go with honey oak trim, floors or even cabinets, you have to always keep in mind the undertones in the wood that you are working with.
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Will Honey Oak Come Back in Style?
Unfortunately, it probably will not. Like many things from the 80's and 90's, honey oak had its hay-day and probably will not be making a come back any time soon.
But just because honey oak is no longer the standard, doesn't mean your home has to be stuck in the same era forever. Whether your trim, cabinets or flooring are that wondrous shade of orange-yellow, there are in fact things you can do to modernize your home.
In order to figure out what paint colors will work alongside these wood tones, it's first important to understand the basics of color theory.
Understanding Color Theory
There are two main ways of working with any existing element in a home:
- it can either be downplayed (neutralized and camouflaged);
- or enhanced (used as a focal point);
Honey oak, which is distinctly known for its orange color and strong grain, needs to either be downplayed, or you really just have to embrace it and go with a color that will work well alongside it. The same goes for maple, which can be very yellow.
To achieve this with paint, you will either create a harmonious color palette that uses colors similar to the dominant undertone (orange), or you will create a contrasting palette that incorporates some complimentary, or opposite, colors.
Which ever color palette you choose to work with will require you to pay attention to the undertones in your wood to determine what paint colors will work best.
There's two main ways to transform your honey oak trim, doors, or cabinets simply by painting the walls:
- Using a harmonious color palette (similar colors or colors with a similar undertone) that will work alongside and help fade or camouflage the orange or yellow wood tones.
- Using a complimentary color (one on the opposite side of the color wheel) to tone down the yellow or orange wood tones
Paint Colors That Go With Honey Oak Wood Trim and Cabinets
My go-to paint color for the modern home usually comes down to a shade of gray. And while I will be sharing some warmer grays with you in this blog post, I generally find that cooler grays alongside warm honey oak cabinets result in an ashy look that just doesn't work well at all.
In fact, some of the best colors to go with honey oak cabinets are actually those that embrace the warm tones of the cabinets, instead of trying to fight them. Warm neutrals like beiges and creams can actually look quite beautiful and will have you seeing your cabinets in a whole new light!
On the other hand, if you really want to downplay the orange undertone in your cabinets, then you need to look across to the other side of the color wheel and choose a paint color that's either a blue, or a slightly purple undertone.
Let's get down to the nitty gritty and talk through some paint colors that will actually work.
Harmonious Color Palette
Warm Neutrals in a Similar Tone to the Oak
Benjamin Moore Manchester Tan
Manchester Tan (HC-81) was one of the most popular neutral paint colors around 5 years ago.
While it seems to have fallen out of popularity in favor of the more modern grays and greiges, it is still a beautiful warm beige, that works really well alongside orange or yellow toned woods.
It has been described as a "warm neutral beige" but also "mushroom". Both of which I agree with.
Benjamin Moore Pale Oak
Pale Oak (OC-20) is a lovely soft taupe paint color with a slight purple undertone. This undertone means it works really well with more orange-toned honey oak cabinets.
Not only does it blend with them, thanks to its warm beige nature, but the purple helps to downplay some of the orange in the oak cabinets, trim or flooring.
Sherwin Williams Oyster Bar
SW Oyster Bar (SW-7565)
Another lovely creamy beige that pairs wonderfully with oak cabinetry, trim or floors.
Sherwin Williams Repose Gray
Like I previously mentioned, gray would not be my first choice to pair with a lot of honey oak cabinetry or trim, simply because it has a tendency to look ashy and dull.
If you are really dead-set on painting your walls gray, then you have to go with a warm gray like SW Repose Gray (SW-7015). It's one of my all-time favorite colors because it works pretty much everywhere.
If you want a similar tone but a bit lighter, try lightening it by 50%. If you're looking for more saturation, try SW Mindful Gray which is the next shade darker on the color card.
Benjamin Moore White Dove
White Dove (OC-17) is the first paint color that I bought for our first house, which was covered head-to-toe in very dated orange oak.
It is a creamy, almost greige white that adds warmth to walls and works well when paired with orange-toned wood.
With a lot of bright natural light, it will look white, but in darker rooms the slightly warmer, greige undertones will come out.
A white shade like this works well with oak trim. Pairing it with a bright white trim will really bring out the warmth in it.
How to Tone Down Orange Cabinets or Floors? Pick a Contrasting Color!
If neutrals are not your thing, and you want to downplay some of those orange-yellow tones in either your honey oak or maple woodwork, then picking a color on the opposite side of the color wheel will help to tone down orange cabinets, trim or floors.
Do you know why women with dyed blonde hair use blue or purple shampoo? The blue/purple helps to diminish brassy (orange/yellow) tones in the hair. The exact same principal applies here!
Now, I do not suggest painting your walls purple. Purple is not, and never will be, a color that works anywhere besides a little girl's room. You can however, use a paint color that has a purple undertone.
By using colors across from orange or yellow on the color wheel, you will soften the overall look of your cabinets, trim or floors.
Personally, I find that shades of blue green paint work best alongside oak, especially in kitchens with cabinets that have lot of that orange going on.
Benjamin Moore Pleasant Valley
BM Pleasant Valley (696) is a cool blue with some warm green mixed in. It's a beautiful transitional color that works very well with warm wood tones.
While no paint color is ever going to stop your woodwork from looking like stained wood, it will give it a softer, more balanced look.
Sherwin Williams Comfort Gray
Sherwin Williams Comfort Gray (SW 6205), unlike the name suggests, is actually a light blue-green paint color with a gray undertone.
It's a lovely paint color to bring a coastal vibe to any space. It works equally well with oak and other wood tones (even dark mahogony!) as it does with crisp white trim. And while you can see how beautiful it is in the kitchen below, it's also a perfect color for a bedroom or bathroom.
Benjamin Moore Salamander
Benjamin Moore Salamander (2050-10), is not a color I would usually gravitate towards, but when I first spotted this image it stopped me in my tracks.
If you are looking to make a statement, whether it be in a kitchen, bedroom or even an office, Salamander certainly does that. It's a very dark moody green that - dare I say it - makes honey oak actually look good.
Not only does it look amazing on walls, but if you ever decide to paint those oak cabinets, it makes a stunning cabinet color!
Paint Colors That Go With Honey Oak Floors
Because floors are on the horizontal and not on the vertical right in front of your eyes, they don't impact your wall color choices as much.
However, if you do want to tone down their amber qualities, the same color theory applies.
Final Thoughts on The Best Paint Colors To Go With Honey Oak
Don't let your oak woodwork get in the way of creating a home you love. Not everyone has the funds, desire or ability to change their kitchen or all the trim and moldings in their home and that's ok!
Heck, maybe you LOVE those original oak accents and just want to know the best colors to complement them.
Whatever your reason for reading this article, I hope it has provided some insight into the paint colors that will work best for you. No matter what you end up choosing, just remember the basics of color theory and it will help you understand how to work with the orange undertones of your honey oak.