Updating ’80s Oak Cabinets on a Budget, without Painting!

Updating ’80s Oak Cabinets on a Budget, without Painting!

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I love a white-cabineted, marble-countered kitchen as much as the next gal. But sometimes many times, it’s just not in the budget. And many times, folks just don’t want to paint cabinets. Holy cow, that’s a lot of work–I did it in 2008 with our first home. And sometimes, an immaculate, sterile kitchen is just not a priority for a gal, or it might not even fit the house. If you’re considering updating your ’80s oak cabinets instead, read on.

After all, white cabinets are really a pain to keep clean.

My cat can only do so much housework in a day.

Despite what the Instagram Stepford Wives might tell you, you do not have to paint your cabinets white or install $8,000 shaker-style cabinets to update your kitchen. You can have a cute, warm, updated oak kitchen that you’re proud to unload groceries in without breaking the bank. Turns out, there are many little things you can do when updating ’80s oak cabinets to make a huge difference even on a tight budget.

Oak cabinets may not currently be the favored trendy look, but many people appreciate the warmth it can bring a kitchen. Given the choice, I’d prefer a warm, inviting kitchen over a sterile-looking operating room kitchen any day. Plus, remember how people covered up gorgeous hardwood oak floors with carpet? Now people are desperate to get that hardwood again! I wonder if in the not-too-distant future, it’ll be the same for these warm oak cabinets…crazier things have happened.

Updating ’80s oak cabinets without painting them

1. Easy kitchen update #1: Cabinet Hardware

I think adding or modernizing cabinet hardware makes the biggest difference when updating ’80s oak cabinets. I knew these cabinet pulls and knobs were perfect the second I saw them on Wayfair. These matte black pulls were the ideal look to help bring my kitchen a little more up to date. *They keep selling out due to immense popularity, but you can give them your email to let you know when they’re in stock.

updating '80s oak cabinets

Then I found these adorable squarish black pulls for the cabinets:

If you want a Wayfair coupon for $10 off your first order at Wayfair, send me an an email boisegal01 at gmail dot com.

2. Let in the light!

Nothing screams outdated like darkness. Ok, darkness plus oak overload–see #3 below. Modernizing an outdated kitchen requires letting in as much light as possible. When we moved into our home, we noticed the previous owners had an oak obsession–including the color of the blinds in the kitchen.

updating '80s oak cabinets

We initially updated the window treatment to an ivory roman shade from JCPenney. They were gorgeous, but the cat wouldn’t leave them alone.

So we returned the roman shades and chose thick, white wooden blinds from Homedepot.com. The kitchen no longer feels like a dark, outdated corner. In fact, the morning light makes our oak-cabinet kitchen appear….dreamlike.

updating '80s oak cabinets

3. De-oak the oak overload when updating ’80s oak cabinets

If you have oak cabinets, a wood or Pergo floor, and oak accents in your stair rail or front door, you’ve got too much oak, my friend. Oak isn’t a bad thing in moderation, but too much oak is…ick.

I de-oaked my oak overload by painting the area underneath the counter that faces the dining room. Some people add shiplap or beadboard here, but I just went the cheapo-route with a simple couple coats of paint that matched the dining area. I sanded the wooden area and calked all the cracks, then added primer and three coats of paint. I also took out the tacky plastic ivory trim and installed white wooden trim to match the rest of the house.

updating '80s oak cabinets
updating '80s oak cabinets

4. Clean the cabinets

You might be surprised at how much better your cabinets look after a good cleaning. I highly recommend Method’s wood cleaner for this. I used a rag and hot water plus a little of this cleaner on each cabinet. Method has a nice almond scent and easily picks up the grease and grime from cabinets. This stuff is great for cabinets and floors!

5. Consider hiding your hinges

We found some concealed hinges for our overlay cabinets on Rockler.com. Visible hinges always look a little outdated compared to hidden hinges. Painting the hinges was an option, but we liked the cleaner, updated look of invisible hinges.

6. Add updated accessories when updating ’80s oak cabinets

After you add hardware to your cabinets, clean the cabinets, and lighten the windows, de-oak the surroundings, hide the hinges, and get all your junk off the counter, take a step back. What kind of modern accessories can you add to your ’80s kitchen to help upgrade it? Check out hobbylobby for cute decor, and sort the items by “top selling’ to see what the most popular decor is.

updating '80s oak cabinets

We upgraded our basic wooden stools to cute metal + wood barstools from bestchoiceproducts.com. Go through Rebatesme.com to get 5% cash back!

Cute towels, a modern plant, and metal farmhouse decor can all help bring your kitchen out of the ’80s and into the…’20s.

7. Upgrade your appliances if possible

Upgrading kitchen appliances won’t be for every budget, but if you can, it’d make a huge difference. Think outside the box and don’t be afraid to utilize free Craiglist appliances and outlet appliances.

We bought our stainless Whirlpool fridge and oven at Searsoutlet.com, and paid $1000 total for scratch and dent models. Our dishwasher was free off Craiglist. The microwave was on sale at Lowes for $200, and we paid $160 after using my military discount and discounted gift cards from Ebay. We paid around $1,160 total for our four stainless appliances.

For another big change for a smaller budget, look into a more modern sink faucet. We paid $90 for ours at Homedepot.com, and it was a small changed that help transform the kitchen.

updating '80s oak cabinets

8. Restore any areas that need it

Your ’80s or ’90s cabinets from several decades ago aren’t likely to be in pristine condition. Consider trying Restor to help add a refinished look to your cabinets. It’s quick and easy to do, but it’s very stinky. Make sure you open your windows and hang outside that day.

9. Declutter, declutter, and declutter some more

I wasn’t going to mention the benefits of decluttering, but recently decided to add this 9th feature after watching too many episodes of Hoarders. Wow, can clutter can take over a person’s kitchen–and life! If your kitchen is a warm gathering place in your home, the last thing you want is clutter taking over this space.

Find a place for everything, and seriously consider downsizing or relocating anything from your kitchen that doesn’t absolutely need to be there. Appliances that get infrequent use can go the pantry or hall closet if you don’t have a pantry. Recipe books get a designated cabinet or drawer. Medicines that aren’t taken daily can hide behind the coffee maker or up above the fridge. Pens, scissors, and miscellaneous papers get a junk drawer or basket.

I extensively decluttered my counter and am amazed at all the counter space I didn’t realize I had.

A word about countertops

While I didn’t mention counters as its own feature, that’s obviously one of the top ways you can update a kitchen without painting. It’s also a very expensive way. Try a few smaller changes first, and you might just decide the laminate counters aren’t that bad. If your laminate countertop is in good shape and not an offending color like bright orange, you might conclude it looks OK next to better-looking cabinets and appliances. Or work your way up to redoing the counters once you find it in your budget. We were originally going to install Allan Roth solid surface counters from Lowes for around $2400, but decided to hold off after making other updates instead. Remember not to overdo the counters for your neighborhood. Not all homes (my home included) warrant marble counters! Check Zillow to see what others in your neighborhood and price point have done to their kitchen.

Gonna try updating ’80s oak cabinets?

With all these small changes you can try, you’ll be able to easily update your warm kitchen even if it’s not to the 2020 stark-white style.

updating '80s oak cabinets

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