Honey Oak Trim – Stain or Paint?

It’s no secret that we have honey oak everywhere in our house – and that I despise it. I have done three semi-big projects so far to cover it up including two bathroom vanities and my kitchen cabinets. Each time, I loathe the trim even more, but it’s everywhere. We’re not going to live in our house more than another year or two, so I keep stamping down my urge to do something with it.

I’m in a quandry though, when we repainted and updated our kitchen cabinets, we removed the trim from around the window and sliding glass door and we’re in the process of replacing it. It pains me to stain it honey oak to match the rest of the house. I’m getting the itch to redo it all. The big question is, do I try to stain it all just a little darker/warmer with a gel stain or do I paint it white? I’m a fan of darker wood for the most part. I do like the white trim look too though – BUT I’m not planning to actually replace it all, I’m just going to go over the current oak trim. I don’t want to strip any of it, although I would be willing to strip the mantle if I had to, but that’s it. Then, what to do about all the doors?

Here are a few pictures of what I’m dealing with. Excuse quality, I snapped most of them with my iPhone.

honey oak staircase

And I’m sure you’ve seen my mantel in other projects, as much as I try to hide it, it’s hard to.

Honey oak trimBurlap Monogram Letter with Wedding Year

And then here’s my kitchen and bathroom with the updated cabinets in a dark espresso color. When we replaced the hardwood in the kitchen, we did go with somewhat of a lighter color so it wouldn’t be too dark, but not the orangey honey oak we have everywhere else.

Bathroom vanity updated from honey oakKitchen floor update

Here’s a picture of it in the daylight (before we put the appliances back)

New hardwood floor

I feel some pressure to make a decision. My father in law (who is a retired carpenter) is visiting us this weekend and is going to help us cut the new trim for the kitchen. I can stain it after it’s cut, but once we have it, I want to get it up fairly quickly and FINALLY get the kitchen finished.

Any experience or advice?


  1. I am in the same boat as you and have it all over my house.I am big on matching, so any new cabinets we put into our house when i finished the basement have been the honey oak variety.If you are looking for the color of your floor, check out the Minwax Polyshades in the Mission Oak color.I have tested it on some honey oak kick plates and it mixes well.The Polyshades gets mixed reviews, but it worked well for me (just make sure you mix the can well).All I did was clean and rough up the surface with some 220 (or higher) sanpaper.If your goal is to have all the trim look the same, make sure that the new stuff is honey oak colored first, then re-finish.Obviously it is more work, but everything will match.

  2. Thanks! I think I can live with the oak if it was a little darker/warmer. I do still have an old piece of trim from the kitchen window I can experiment with. It’s just such a big project. Once I start I have to be “all-in”.

  3. I love the dark color you did in the kitchen and your bathroom.I think white or the dark would look good.I don’t think I would have the patience for such a big project.You are truly a rockstar!

  4. It always seems like a good idea until I’m 1/3 of the way done and get sick of it but still have so much left to do!

  5. Hi – I am trying to embrace the oak look and make it look great.I actually like the color of your walls with your mantel the way it is – what color did you paint on that wall???

  6. Hi Kate –

    It took a few tries to get the color right, but it’s a Benjamin Moore paint color – Baja Dunes #997. If you’re interested I recently restained my mantel a little bit darker and I’m really happy with it. It still blends well with the other oak if I decide not to do the rest of my trim. https://sometimes-homemade.com/2013/05/07/oak-mantel-makeover/

    Thanks for stopping by!

  7. My house is practically identical & I share the same opinion when it comes to the dreaded honey oak. What did you end up doing with the stairwell? I a looking to refinish my mantel, stairs & kitchen cabinets

  8. I am in the same boat as you also, I have a oak vanity in my bathroom and I have hung a new mirror which is the dark java color and a tall wall mirror also and my doors and trim are not oak but they are pine and stained honey and I am debating whether or not to paint all of the doors and trim and window trim white.I am nervous.The only thing is I will not paint my railing or my mantel, and wondering if that will look stupid.I am just scared of such a big project.I also don’t want to have a hodge podge house either.Suggestions???

  9. I ended up staining some of mine darker. I think as long as you make clear divisions in your house and don’t stop in a weird spot it looks just fine. A lot of newer houses seem to mix wood, especially with white trim or cabinets and stained wood (light or dark). Good luck with whatever you decide!

  10. So glad I found your blog! I, too, am wrestling with the same dilemma: paint, stain, or rock that honey oak? I have a 2900 sq ft home that has been practically hosed down in honey oak. Floors, trim, mantle, kitchen, bathrooms, staircase… All honey oak. It’s everywhere. It is in great condition, and I hate the thought of ripping it out to replace with white builders grade. It’s beautiful wood… There. Is. Just. So. Much. Of. It. we had a contractor in for the basement, and even he commented: “boy, you gotta lotta wood in here!”
    I am now really leaning towards staining it darker, and maybe glazing our kitchen cabinets. You made the trim look so easy. Have you done more?

  11. For the trim so far I’ve only tackled the kitchen and our mantel. The rest seems like a good winter project. We’ll see. I’m still going to go area by area. We’ll likely sell our house in the next 1-2 years so I’m really torn about whether to invest the time. I really would love to see it all finished though!

  12. I hear you… we are constantly wavering between selling or staying. If we sell, it doesn’t make much sense to invest the time and effort. At the same time, I’m concerned that if we sell, we won’t find a buyer who LOVES the oak. It’s just not in fashion right now. However, i did just see banana clips for sale at Walgreens (yes, banana clips), and I think honey oak was in style at right about the same time banana clips first came out. Maybe if we wait long enough, the oak will come back around and all of these poor people with the white trim and dark cabinets will be in the same boat I am right now.

  13. Ha! Your banana clip comment cracks me up. So true! I really prefer dark wood, but you’re right nothing is really timeless.

  14. I am seriously thinking about painting my hideous golden oak trim black. We are going with a really slick gray from Lowe’s for the house, which has a very open design.The interior doors will be painted the gray.The kitchen is getting 42″ white cabinets and a blue/black/silver metal tile backsplash.The tile is also from Lowe’s.I am not affiliated with them.They just happened to have something I like.I was thinking of putting quarter round for ceiling trim as an accent line.

  15. Sounds really sleek and modern! I’d suggest getting a spare piece of trim (a fairly long one) and painting it black. You can hold it up to various places in your house over your current trim to see how you like it. I did that with the darker stain and it really helped to see it against the cabinets and wall color to see if I liked it or wanted it darker.

  16. Hi Erin,

    How did you end up refinishing the trim?Did you have to sand it then re-stain?What grid sandpaper did you use and what kind of stain?Thanks!

  17. My house is also super similar to yours. I painted our kitchen cabinets white and the island a dark blue. I used gel stain to make our fireplace mantel darker. I used java gel stain to do two bathroom vanities, and plan on doing white trim in the bathrooms… the problem is when you are in the bathroom with the door closed–the oak door looks terrible. Would it be tacky to paint the inside side of the door white?

    Have you decided what to do about your stairs? I also have a loft space with a super long railing, so a million spindles! Not sure what to do.

  18. I haven’t done anything with our stairs yet. We keep thinking we’ll move and then I don’t want to put the effort in. I think about it a lot though because it drives me nuts! I’m not sure about painting just one side of the door. Might be a fine temporary fix until you paint all the rest of your trim.

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