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 or pine, can be distinctly yellow or orange, too, due to the stain or polyurethane used to finish them and the fact that the polyurethane ambers over time.
When you are looking for 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.
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 (highlighted and 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 (analogous) color palette that uses colors similar to the dominant undertone (orange) to help the honey oak blend, or you will create a contrasting palette that incorporates some complimentary, or opposite, colors that will enhance, or create a focal point, of the honey oak.
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 an analogous color palette (colors that sit next to each other on the color wheel) will help to downplay the orange or yellow wood tones. This will help to tone down the yellow or orange wood tones. Choosing the right color is important though, so as not to end up with little to no contrast in your room.
- Or, you can choose to embrace what you have and use a complimentary color (one on the opposite side of the color wheel) that will highlight the cabinets and really intensify the color. When done right, this can bring new life to your honey oak , create a beautiful focal point and actually help balance out the color, all the while make you love them (even if you never did before!)
Figuring Out The Perfect Color
Figuring out the perfect color for your honey oak cabinets, trim or floors comes down to finding a harmonious color palette, whether that be using analagous colors or complimentary colors.
If you’re already confused by all this color theory jargon, take a look at a color wheel and pinpoint the color you’re trying to work with. Honey Oak is an orange color. From there I suggest using one of the two following ways to create a harmonious paint color palette:
Analogous Color Palette
The analogous color palette will help the honey oak to blend more into the surroundings.
Using the two colors on either side of your main color, you create an analogous color palette. In this case, we’re working with orange, so the colors on either side would be yellow and red.
Obviously you’re not going to paint your walls orange, yellow or red, but these are the undertones you may want to consider working with. So yellow toned beiges, orange toned beiges and grays with a warm, creamy beige undertone will work well. Avoid the green toned beiges as they start to look flat against the warmth of the cabinets.
If you surround the warm oak with another warm color, it’s going to blend in and look purposeful. A soft, warm neutral paint with orange or yellow undertones can make a space look harmonious and help the oak fade in a little.
Again, stick with a natural, earthy color. The look of warm oak is very natural and can sit very nicely with colors pulled from nature. You do want to make sure that there’s still enough contrast so as not to leave the space feeling bland. I find that using gray (even if it technically has the right undertone) can leave a room with a lot of honey oak can leave the room feeling washed out and drab.
Complementary Color Palette
Using the color on the opposite side of the color wheel, you get a complementary color palette. The color on the opposite side of orange is blue, across from yellow is purple. Any bright blue color will strongly contrast with orange in the honey oak, thus intensifying the color effect.
Before you start thinking contrast is a bad thing, it’s not. Well designed rooms have contrast that works beautifully between the different colors to create a cohesive color scheme.
Providing some contrast with the orange-toned cabinets can be a good thing. You just don’t want a bright primary blue color on the walls! However, using this color in a more subtle way (a blue-green paint color for example), will create balance and add some life to those cabinets without making them pop too much.
Enough color theory! Let’s see some colors paired with honey oak and you’ll get a better visual of what works.
Paint Colors That Work With Honey Oak
Based on what we’ve discussed so far, we’re going to narrow in on paint colors that are warm grays or beiges with a yellow or orange undertone (or even a bit of pink to bring us towards the red). If we want to make those cabinets the focal point and really pop, we’ll focus on the complementary colors and bring in some blues and greens.
My go-to paint color for the modern home usually comes down to a shade of gray. Even though designers will tell you that it’s falling out of favor, most homeowners still prefer it.
And while I will be sharing some warmer grays and beiges 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. So steer clear of those.
So let’s get down to the nitty gritty and talk through some paint colors that will actually work.
Gray Paint Colors
Benjamin Moore Revere Pewter
This is a warm gray with a green/beige undertone. It can be quite saturated in color if you don’t have a lot of natural night so definitely test it before committing.
Benjamin Moore Collingwood
I love this paint color anytime, but it does wonderful things alongside the honey oak. It has that modern look of a greige but lots of cozy warmth that works well with the orange undertones.
Sherwin Williams Repose Gray
This is as gray as I would go. Repose Gray has a slight purple undertone as well as green that stops it from falling completely flat. Repose Gray is my all-time favorite paint color, but I think something warmer works better with honey oak.
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 above, it’s also a perfect color for a bedroom or bathroom.
Beiges & Tans
Benjamin Moore Muslin
This is my top pick for a beige that works well with the honey oak. It’s the right type of beige that’s not too tan and doesn’t wash out.
Benjamin Moore Linen
This is another close contender for the perfect beige alongside honey oak. I love the warmth and how it downplays the orange tones without looking “blah”!
Sherwin Williams Oyster Bar
If you’re not dealing with a swatch of orange cabinetry, and just need a color that works with honey oak flooring and trim, then I think Oyster Bar is a solid choice.
Benjamin Moore Manchester Tan
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 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. It’s a more traditional beige, so probably not your best choice if you’re looking to modernize your room. But if you like tan, it certainly works.
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.
I don’t love white walls with honey oak cabinets, but if you really want white walls, then these white paint colors with yellow or orange undertones are a great starting point.
Sherwin Williams Westhighland White
Westhighland White has a subtle orange undertone that works nicely with oak cabinets.
Benjamin Moore White Dove
White Dove is always a great choice of white when you’re dealing with other warm elements. It’s a soft, buttery white with just enough yellow that it works well with the
Blues & Greens
If you can embrace a more vibrant color in your home, then these blues and greens are where it’s at when dealing with honey oak. Yes, they will bring attention to your cabinets and make a focal paint, but the balance of colors is really beautiful (in my opinion).
Benjamin Moore Philipsburg Blue
This shade of blue is so stunning! It’s quite saturated but if you have a well-lit room then this is a really pretty choice. It also makes for a stunning front door color!
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.
Sherwin Williams Rainwashed
Rainwashed is such a perfect color alongside honey oak. It’s a green with a strong blue undertone, and truly looks amazing with the orange-toned wood. It actually makes me like honey oak.
Benjamin Moore Saybrook Sage
I’m not sure I can choose between Saybrook Sage or Rainwashed as my favorite green. They are very different shades of green, but equally stunning. If I was going to pick a non-gray/beige color for my kitchen (or bathroom), I think this would be it.
Sherwin Williams Evergreen Fog
We’re getting a little darker with this color, but Evergreen Fog looks so good against the honey oak! If you just have oak trim and floors and want a whole wall of color, in your living room, for example, this would be a fabulous choice.
Benjamin Moore Salamander
THIS is how you make honey oak look rich and expensive. How amazing is this dark shade of green in the photo below?
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. But remember, these colors are only a starting point. I can’t tell you if these colors will work in your kitchen. You will have to decide that for yourself based on paint samples combined with what you currently have for backsplash, counters, etc.
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.
Don’t forget – no matter what you’ve read or photos you’ve seen online, it’s really important to sample paint colors in your home before committing!
Samplize provides real paint samples that are easy to move around your home, and cheaper than buying a gazillion paint pots! It’s the only way I buy paint samples.
Honey oak is beautiful and a classic that is timeless and yes it is back in style, plus not everyone cares for painted wood or white or trendy wood finishes.
Show a little more respect for natural, beautiful wood, no matter the color.
Oak is indeed very much in style but bright orange honey oak is NOT and will not come back in style. If you love it, that’s awesome but most people don’t. That’s just a fact.