From the early 1970s into the 1990s, oak cabinets were a mainstay in most middle-class homes. If you had wooden cabinets, you likely had oak cabinets. And if you had cabinets, you likely had wooden cabinets. They were ubiquitous. Eventually, oak fell out of favor and was replaced with engineered wood, maple, and MDF. Those different types of cabinetry still remain popular but oak is making a significant comeback. There’s a few reasons for the return of oak, but the biggest reasons are versatility, timelessness, and durability.
In the United States, oak is typically available in white oak or red oak. White oak tends to be somewhat lighter in color than red oak. It’s also a little bit harder. Red oak is pinkish in tint and slightly brighter than white oak. The versatility comes into play because both types of wood are very attractive. If you wanted, you could just install bare oak cabinets in your house. They’d look great and likely match whatever other decor you have in your kitchen.
You could also ceruse, fume, stain, or paint the oak. Cerusing refers to a medieval technique for applying a lead-based pigment to wood that makes it look somewhat washed out. It’s a look similar to whitewashing. These days, cerusing refers to the look and not to actually using a lead-based pigment. Fumed oak is oak that’s been exposed to ammonia to deepen the color and enrich the grain. Stain is available in just about every color, but white oak tends to take a stain better than red oak. Finally, you could just paint the oak to get it whatever color you would like. That’s a wide range of options for customizing the look of your cabinets.
White oak and red oak are not the hardest woods available in the United States. However, they are fairly hard hardwoods and readily available. You can’t easily scratch or dent oak cabinets. In the course of regular day to day use, your cabinets likely won’t face anything that would severely endanger the wood. The biggest danger will likely come from moisture. That could be moisture rising up from pots of boiling water or moisture from wet dishes. Putting down some cabinet mats or finishing the cabinets with a waterproof finish would mitigate that danger. Oak cabinets could easily last you for decades with a little bit of maintenance.
For these reasons, oak cabinets have experienced a resurgence in homes across the country.