A Question about Refinishing Kitchen Cabinets

Refinished Cabinets

I received this question concerning changing the color on existing kitchen cabinets and I thought I would share it with everyone. I get a lot of questions regarding cabinet colors, wood flooring selections and how they should “work together.” The question was:

I have new medium cherry cabinets in a new home that we have just purchased.  I would like them to be much darker.  Is it possible to do this without refinishing the cabinets?  What wood for flooring would you suggest to complement/contrast the darker cherry cabinets?

My answer:

To change the color of cabinets usually means you would need to refinish the cabinets to some degree, depending on their condition. Since yours are new and in good shape, you could clean the surfaces and apply a polyurethane finish with an integral stain over the finish you already have. Minwax Polyshades is one of these products. This would mean that you would not have to strip and sand the existing doors and cabinets. So if that’s what you mean by “refinish,” then the answer is, “No,” you won’t have to refinish new cabinets to change the color. You’ll merely have to add a colored finish on top of the existing finish. Just be sure to follow the directions exactly. Don’t skip any steps. You might try samples of colors on the backs (insides) of the doors before doing any of the fronts. That way you’ll see what you’ll get in an inconspicuous place.

 As far as wood flooring choices go, take a look at the medium to lighter woods, like white oak or even reclaimed heart pine. Don’t go dark with the floor if you are darkening your cabinets. Try for a nice, eye-pleasing contrast between the woods. I’m not sure where you’re located and what is available. But with the smooth cherry cabinets, you could select a flooring that has an “active” and interesting grain pattern, if you like. If oak is too grainy, take a look at rift sawn and quarter sawn oak before rejecting it. Normal, plain-sawn oak can have arch-shaped grain patterns that some folks don’t care for. Rift-sawn and quarter-sawn oak has a beautiful straight grain look and accents of what are called medullary rays, or pith rays. Rift sawn oak is one of my favorites. My mantel and adjoining cabinets in my family room are built of this wood.

 I hope this helps. Good luck with your project.


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Bill Hirsch | Architect

Bill Hirsch


  1. Diana Killen on March 9, 2010 at 1:25 pm

    Hi Bill!
    I sure hope you can help me. We are renovating our kitchen. We have dark red cherry cabinetry. We would like to put wood in this room as well as the family room. What color and type of wood would you recommend. One problem we have is this wood would butt up to a medium oak floor. I really don’t think two kinds of woods would look right. I could put oak in the kitchen and fr but the oak is a brown tone and it would not look right with the red cherry cabinets. Any ideas? Or should I go with tile? I also have 4 dogs – would I have to worry about scratches if I go with wood? Thanks for your help.

    • Bill Hirsch | Architect Bill on March 9, 2010 at 3:40 pm

      Diana – I agree that you can’t easily change the wood species and color if they join at a wide opening. But if they join at a doorway, even one up to six feet wide, you could install a flush threshold of another species, such as the dark cherry in your cabinets, to make a transition from one flooring color to the next. Another option is to install more oak in the new rooms and refinish the existing oak and finish the new oak to a less brown color. Choose a color that is more compatible with the dark cherry. A light colored oak could be very nice. But all wood floors take a beating with dogs, I’m sorry to say.

      Tile would certainly work. I recommend porcelain tiles. They look great and are virtually indestructable. The dogs can’t hurt it. There are lots of “stone-look” tiles you can choose from. It’s a very high end material at a very nice price. But tile is hard underfoot You will probably want to put a small area rug in front of the sink so your legs don’t get tired when standing on the tile for extended periods of time. Or you could just get someone else to do the dishes!

  2. Cindy Holbrook on April 18, 2010 at 11:00 pm

    Thanks for the great site! We are building a new home with a Maple kitchen floor. It will have some light and some darker wood in the floor, not the uniform light Maple (I think it’s called #2 Maple?) We are debating going with a medium color Quarter Sawn Oak for cabinets and regular oak for trim and doors (a little worried about mismatching). OR a medium color Cherry cabinet with matching trim and doors. We don’t like really dark wood. Which of these would you suggest? And do you have a suggestion for stain for the Cherry so it isn’t too dark but compliments the Maple?

    • Bill Hirsch | Architect Bill on April 20, 2010 at 9:58 pm

      Cindy – The #2 maple sounds like it will be more interesting than “normal” maple, which can look so uniform, it is almost artificial looking. The #2 maple will have more life to it. The quarter-sawn oak is a nice choice for the cabinets, but I would worry about plain sawn oak for the trim and doors. Some pieces of it could look very grainy, much more than your cabinets would. Can you get quarter-sawn oak for the trim and doors?

      Cherry is a great wood with a beautiful grain pattern. The darkness will only be “medium” if you used cherry with no stain at all, just a sealer finish. The cherry will darken a bit as it’s exposed to light, but it will never get dark. This is the wood and finish I have in my kitchen in my own house. And just like the #2 maple, if you choose a grade of cherry that is less than “select,” it will have a lot of visual interest even have some light, sap-wood streaks.

      If you want to match the cherry look in your doors and trim, a skilled painter can stain pine trim and doors to look like cherry. Have them prepare some samples for your review to make sure they know their stuff. They will probably need to seal the pine first and apply the stain over that. The sealer prevents the stain from soaking into the pine too deeply. Pine has a tendancy to soak up stain unevenly. The sealer it the secret to controlling this.

  3. Johnny on October 27, 2010 at 8:39 am

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  4. Judy on December 5, 2010 at 1:17 pm

    Thank you for your website. So glad to find it. I am remodeling my kitchen. It was built in the 80’s. The floor plan is very open with lots of golden oak wood. I would like to reface my kitchen cabinets. They are currently golden oak and same color on the hardwood floors. The floors I could leave the same or change to a different color. I would also like to go darker. We have a large golden oak fireplace, oak staircase, and trim, in the living room, visible from the kitchen. My question is: can I go with darker brown cabinets with so much of the golden oak every where else. if it’s visible from the living room. Or would it be to much contrast? Also could you recommend a wood for the cabinets and stain color. Thank You so much I would love a change.

    • Bill Hirsch | Architect Bill on December 6, 2010 at 3:55 pm

      Judy – I think a darker wood for the cabinets would work well. Cherry or another smooth grained wood would be best. Oak is “grainy” and another grainy wood would compete with it. Cherry has a nice nature medium tone. But a bit of a stain may be nice to deepen the color and provide some more contrast with the oak. It’s hard for me to name actual stains. The names vary from one manufacturer to another. Ask the cabinet dealer if you can borrow full door samples of some colors you are considering and take them home to see how they look with your golden oak. The choice may become obvious.

  5. kitchen drawers on June 11, 2014 at 9:21 am

    That is good answer to the question.

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