Choose the Perfect Wood for Your Dream Kitchen Cabinets

Beautiful, functional kitchen cabinets can make or break your dream kitchen. The right cabinets should complement your style, match your other design elements, and withstand years of use.

Wood is a top choice for many homeowners due to its natural beauty, durability and timeless appeal. But not all wood cabinets are the same. The wood species, stain color, door style and finish dramatically impact the overall look and feel.

Popular Wood Species for Kitchen Cabinets

When selecting wood cabinets, one of the first decisions is choosing a wood species. Different woods have unique grains, textures and hues that lend distinct qualities.


Oak is one of the most common woods used for kitchen cabinets. This dense, strong hardwood has prominent grain patterns and a high resistance to scratches and dents. Oak cabinets bring a sense of warmth and familiarity to kitchen designs.

kitchen cabinet colors wood

The natural color range of oak spans from very light tan or beige to medium reddish-brown. Within that spectrum, popular oak cabinet stain colors include:

  • Light Natural: Subtle beige oak grain
  • Golden Oak: Richer tan color
  • Cognac: Reddish-brown oak grain
  • Mocha: Dark chocolate brown staining

Oak’s bold grain provides beautiful visual interest but can clash with painted finishes. The porous oak surface requires careful prep and primer for an even paint application.


Maple wood has a fine, uniform grain pattern and light blonde hue. This strong, exceptionally dense wood offers a smooth, consistent surface for painted kitchen cabinets. Maple takes paint beautifully for an immaculate appearance.

Maple lacks the dramatic graining of oak or walnut. But its pale, neutral wood tone provides an ideal backdrop for colorful painted cabinets or vibrant interiors.

Maple staining options range from nearly white to medium brown. Popular maple cabinet stains include:

  • Natural Maple: Light blonde, natural wood appearance
  • Dove Grey: Soft muted gray maple stain
  • Truffle: Milk chocolate brown maple stain
  • Ginger: Warm caramel maple stain


Walnut wood is highly valued for its luxurious appearance. The rich chocolate brown color, flowing grain patterns and smooth texture create an elegant, upscale look.

Native North American black walnut trees produce high-quality lumber perfect for cabinets and furniture. Walnut can vary from creamy tan to deep chocolate brown.

Popular walnut cabinet stain shades include:

  • Natural: Showcases raw walnut tones from light to dark
  • Latte: Warm medium brown walnut stain
  • Mocha: Dark chocolate walnut stain
  • Gray Walnut: Cool weathered gray staining

While beautiful, walnut is more prone to dents and scratches than oak. Walnut cabinets require careful handling, especially for high traffic kitchen areas.


Cherry wood contains subtle, fine grain patterns that range from pale pinkish hues to deep reddish browns. This elegant wood with hints of red naturally lightens to a warm honey color over time when exposed to light.

Staining options for cherry cabinets include:

  • Natural Cherry: Highlights existing rosy undertones
  • Chestnut Cherry: Rich reddish-brown cherry stain
  • Cinnamon Cherry: Warm cherry wood tones
  • Graphite Cherry: Deep charcoal stained cherry

Cherry’s refined appearance makes it a popular traditional cabinet choice. But the smooth wood dents and bruises easily, so cherry works best for low-traffic kitchen areas.

Wood Cabinet Door Finishes

Beyond selecting the wood species, choosing finishes for your cabinet doors also dramatically impacts the look. Consider the following popular options:

Stained Wood

Penetrating wood stains provide transparent tint that highlights the natural wood grain. Stains come in a wide spectrum, from extra light whitewashes to deep espresso colors. Custom mixing stains achieves further customization.

Staining protects the wood while revealing its unique swirls, knots and texture. This approach pairs well with traditional and rustic kitchen designs.

Painted Wood

Applying opaque painted finishes conceals the wood grain to create a seamless, uniform appearance. Paint adheres better to woods like poplar and maple versus strongly grained oak or walnut.

Painted cabinets work beautifully with contemporary, modern and vintage kitchen aesthetics. Any paint color imaginable can be applied for unlimited customization.

Whitewashed Wood

Whitewashing provides a muted, beach-inspired weathered finish. This technique involves applying white paint, then sanding it down to expose some of the underlying wood tone. Variations in sanding reveal peaks of wood grains and knots.

Whitewashed cabinets impart a casual, relaxed feel perfect for rustic, farmhouse, cottage and coastal designed kitchens.

Distressed Wood

Distressing is meant to mimic signs of natural wear by intentionally denting, scraping, weathering and sanding the wood. This imparts an antique, legacy appearance as if the cabinets were reclaimed from an old home.

Distressed wood finishes work well for traditional spaces and match beautifully with vintage accents.

Wood Cabinet Color Trends

Wood cabinet color trends provide inspiration for stunning kitchen designs:

Contrasting Dark and Light Cabinets

Combine shades by using darker woods like walnut or ebony for lower cabinets, then lighter oak, maple or painted upper cabinets. Floating shelves in pale woods also imparts this two-tone effect.

The contrast evokes dimension and texture for contemporary flair. Darker lower cabinets also conceal stains and wear from heavier kitchen use.

Matte Black or Charcoal Finishes

Super dark, matte wood stains and paints are having a major moment. Deep black or charcoal offers high drama and sophistication.

Pair these atmospheric cabinets with crisp white walls, countertops and backsplashes for stunning contrast. Use dark finishes in moderation against lighter woods to keep the palette from becoming overwhelming.

Neutral Wood Stains

Warm, multitoned wood stains in beige, gray, tan and brown are versatile contemporary options. These muted organic shades complement a wide range of floors, counters and backdrops.

Neutral stained oak, walnut, ash and maple cabinets make beautiful backdrops for pops of color via appliances, textiles, accessories and hardware.

Cool Blue and Green Painted Finishes

Soft sage, seafoam and sky blue-green painted or whitewashed cabinets are on trend. The muted tones provide an airy, calming ambiance perfect for cottage kitchens.

Pair blue and green hues with light countertops like white Carrara marble or quartz for a crisp, beachy aesthetic. Brushed brass hardware and accessories glow beautifully against cool paint colors.

Tips for Selecting the Best Cabinet Wood

Follow these tips for choosing wood cabinets tailored to your kitchen:

Consider Existing Kitchen Elements

Select cabinet woods that naturally coordinate with your flooring, countertops, lighting and other built-in elements that are staying. For example, cherry cabinets suit hardwood floors, while maple pairs perfectly with marble.

Look Inside the Cabinets Too

Focusing solely on visible exterior cabinet doors and drawer fronts misses a key point. Look inside the cabinets to inspect the finishes and workmanship of interiors, sides and structural framework.

Evaluate Durability and Maintenance

Consider which woods best match your family’s lifestyle and how your kitchen space functions. Prioritize durable oak or hickory over more delicate cherry or walnut if your cabinets will get heavy activity.

Determine Desired Wood Grain Appearance

Stained woods proudly display beautiful grains. But some contemporary designs call for a smooth, uniform painted finish instead. Decide how prominently you want the wood grain to show through your selected color.

Match Traditional Versus Contemporary Style

Lean towards classic oak, cherry or walnut stains for traditional aesthetics. Maple and poplar accept paint beautifully for contemporary looks. Mixing painted and stained finishes offers another creative option.

The right wood cabinets can make your kitchen feel warm, welcoming and a true joy to use for years to come. Take your time selecting materials tailored to your aesthetic preferences and daily activities.

You can create your dream kitchen cabinets with an abundance of wood species, stains, paints and finishes.

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