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Homes & Gardens
Homes & Gardens
Emily Moorman

Unpainted kitchen cabinets are in for 2024 – here's how to style the natural pared-back look

Kitchens with unpainted kitchen cabinets.

In 2024, there's one kitchen cabinet style that's trending, and it's all about keeping things simple and stripped back. Far from brightly colored kitchen cabinets, we're seeing designers and homeowners turn to unpainted kitchen cabinets, letting the natural wood take center stage.

To learn more about this rising kitchen cabinet trend, we spoke to interior designers to get their views. We've explained why this look is trending as well as designers' top tips on how to style this look for an understated, timeless kitchen

Aligning with a wider shift in interiors to nature-inspired design, the unpainted cabinets kitchen trend is the perfect option if you're looking to achieve an organic look. Unpainted cabinets celebrate the craftsmanship of natural wood, focusing on the timeless appeal of wood that we're gladly welcoming in interior design, instead of synthetic materials. 

'We love that the tide is shifting toward natural wood cabinets in kitchens,' say Cameron Shepherd and Jill Norman, co-founders and principal designers at Studio Mesa. 'There are so many opportunities to lean into the inherent beauty of wood... stains that pull out the character in the grain, notched finger pulls in place of more traditional hardware, and showcasing the workmanship that goes into joinery by leaving it exposed.'

As Studio Mesa designers explain, opting for unpainted wood kitchen cabinets allows the wood to act as the standout feature, which works well in organic modern decor schemes, as well as rustic kitchens that both emphasize natural materials and decorating with neutrals

(Image credit: Marie Flanigan Interiors/Julie Soefer)

How to style unpainted kitchen cabinets

'Styling a kitchen around unpainted cabinets offers a unique opportunity to embrace the natural beauty of the wood while creating a cohesive and visually appealing space,' explains interior designer Jennifer Davis. 

Choosing the right type of wood is the key to creating a stylish look with unpainted cabinets. With so many varieties each presenting varying tones, think carefully about whether you want a light wood for a delicate look, or a warmer-toned wood for a look that leans more mid-century modern

'The tone of the wood is the key player here,' says interior designer Tyson Ness. 'Opting for more natural tones of oak and walnut will warm up a small space and can also be paired with painted cabinetry for contrast in finish and balance. I would keep the timber cabinet style simple, letting the grain of the wood be the star of the millwork. Going with a darker stain will give it a dramatic and welcoming feel.'

Below, we've rounded up five different ways you can decorate a kitchen around unpainted cabinets. While a lot of these ideas focus on leaning into a pared-back look, there are also ideas for incorporating brighter colors for an unexpected take on this trend.

1. Create a nature-inspired scheme

(Image credit: Rincon Rd)

To emphasize the natural appearance of wood, pairing it with additional nature-derived decor can create a cohesive, organic-looking scheme. 'To complement the warmth and character of unpainted cabinets, try incorporating natural elements into the design scheme,' suggests Jennifer Davis. 'One approach we love is incorporating natural materials such as marble, which offer both durability and elegance.'

In addition to the more permanent kitchen fixtures, you can also play to the natural feel by incorporating smaller decor items, such as plants which will contrast nicely against the wood tones. Massachusetts-based interior designer Robin Gannon suggests: 'If you have light-colored wood cabinets that are very organic-looking, I would lean into that and style the kitchen with organic elements: greenery, ceramics, marbles, kitchen utensils. I love greenery in a kitchen – it's so fresh.'

2. Decorate with earthy neutrals

(Image credit: Studio Jake Arnold)

When it comes to choosing the best kitchen colors to complement unpainted cabinets, earth-toned neutrals can be a great choice. 'Pairing natural wood cabinets with cooler complimentary kitchen wall colors can create a harmonious kitchen aesthetic that feels both warm and inviting,' says interior designer Kati Curtis. 'Consider hues such as soft blues, gentle greens, or even a light gray to complement the natural wood's orangey warmth.'

Laura Williams of ATX Interior Design adds that this approach allows the wood to remain as the room's main feature for a timeless, minimalist look: 'With unpainted kitchen cabinets, I'd recommend styling with neutral minimalism in mind. Keeping a neutral color palette will make the natural wood elements stand out. We want the star of the show to be the gorgeous wood of the cabinetry so allowing that by balancing the look with soft, subtle decor is crucial.'

3. Contrast with stone countertops

(Image credit: Studio Zung)

To create a sophisticated look with unpainted cabinets, choose stone kitchen countertops that provide a sleek feel to the space in contrast to the more relaxed wood finishes. 'When it comes to countertops, wood cabinets pair beautifully with natural stones like marble and quartzite with their organic shapes and movement,' say designers Cameron Shepherd and Jill Norman.

While marble will create a luxe look, Jennifer Davis also recommends soapstone countertops for a more understated, modern look with a matte finish: 'Soapstone countertops, with their smooth matte finish and subtle veining, provide a stunning contrast to the rustic charm of unpainted cabinets. Their natural hues range from soft grays to deep charcoal, adding depth and sophistication to the kitchen.'

4. Channel a modern look with black accents

(Image credit: deVOL Sebastian Cox kitchen)

For a modern kitchen that makes a statement, pair unpainted cabinets with black details for a highly contrasting, eye-catching scheme. This combination works especially well with light-toned wood, for a contemporary look as shown above in a deVOL kitchen. You can add black in lots of different ways, whether that's through kitchen lighting, appliances, or hardware. 

Opting for matte finishes in place of anything too shiny will also further establish a modern look, as Jennifer Davis suggests: 'Consider using matte finishes for hardware and countertops, which complement the organic feel of the unpainted cabinets and natural materials while adding a touch of modern sophistication.'

5. Design a playful, color-centric space

(Image credit: Nicole Franzen/GRT Architects)

While unpainted kitchen cabinets are commonly seen in fairly pared-back schemes that embrace a neutral color palette, that's not the only option. If you love decorating with color, you can equally pair wood cabinets with a pop of bold color for a playful look. Pictured above, a kitchen island with glossy, wine-colored tiles contrasts against the unpainted cabinets, adding interest to the otherwise pared-back space.

'If bringing color into the kitchen is important, consider going bold with wall or backsplash tiles,' suggest Cameron Shepherd and Jill Norman.

Depending on how much of a statement you want to make, you can also embrace color in more subtle ways. Colorful appliances can be an effective, less permanent way of adding color, as Kati Curtis suggests: 'Colorful glossy appliances can inject a vibrant contrast into the space, playing off the matte wood finishes and the cool wall tones to create a kitchen that is not only functional but also a feast for the eyes.'

If you want to create a kitchen that feels laid-back and understated, unpainted cabinets are a great choice. With these expert ideas, you can play around with the rest of the room's decor to cater this trending look to your own interior design style

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