Honey Oak from Hell!!! I need help!

August 22, 2019
last modified: August 22, 2019

We have just purchased a 4k sq ft home that is COVERED in oak trim/floors/etc. Most of our furniture and decorations are cool blues and grays. I want to paint the entire great room/kitchen/entryway area, but I have no idea what color would work for the honey oak AND our decor. It needs some color! Also, it seems like consensus is to keep hard woods, but the trim and floor together is just too much - how can I correct this without updating everything? I feel overwhelmed thinking about painting ALL of the trim/windows/doorways white. I could though, if that's ultimately the best option. Also, I want to re-do the carpet runner up the stairs and carpet into the three bedrooms up there (we have 3 kids under 5) and I would need THAT to match as well. I realize that may not be the modern choice, but I'm picturing their feet on cozy carpet when they wake up in the mornings. I don't have the luxery of time for trial and error (reference 3 kids comment). Please please please help me!! I want all of your ideas!

Comments (56)

  • jessicaleigh17

    Is painting the windows and trim a job I (and family) could tackle or is it better to hire that done? I just don't want it to look shoddy or peal off easily if I do it myself.

  • acm

    Agreed -- catch your breath. I'd probably plan to have all the trim painted white, which will make the remaining wood feel less overwhelming. However, with the large open space and so much trim, the trick will be deciding where to stop -- could start to get spendy, and you've just bought a whole house!

  • Related Discussions

    Help! Need granite suggestions for honey oak cabinets


    Comments (7)
    I would probably paint the cabinets white to freshen the look which would really set off the granite and the floors.
    ...See More

    Need help w/ boring honey oak stairway. Let's jazz this thing up! :-)


    Comments (11)
    Try just java staining the handrail to start. You can also look into the Miniwax Polyshades which are a "finish and stain in one" product which I think can be applied over the lighter wood to darken it. If the white newel post continue to bother you they could be stripped - messy but doable using the gentle low odor Orange Citristrip. It would obviously be easier to paint, but I have sometimes regretted taking the fast and easy way. It looks like you have just recently moved in - no furniture. Sometimes things quit bugging a new homeowner once they get their stuff in the house and realize some things are not as noticeable or a problem. I don't have any problem with going black if that is your style, but if the only thing black is the stairs, you might wish you had stained it. Just a warning - I moved into my 1970's house in the nineties and hated the 1970's dark stained pine trim, so I painted it white - no regrets, but because I like wood, we replaced hollow core doors and cabinets with oak paneled doors. The house is not overwhelmingly oak because of the mix with white and wood which I like, so not a problem and still no regrets. However, many would call my house "dated" even though much of the work is less than 20 years old and required a good deal of both money spent and DIY effort. Fortunately, many changes we did are more timeless but few can afford to constantly update. Go with what you love and try not to be too influenced by what is "in" because chances are the powers that be in the design world will keep changing things up and marketers will try to convince you that you need to "update" to something different.
    ...See More

    Ideas to make our honey oak kitchen fabulous? Please help!


    Comments (22)
    I was reading a thread on golden oak kitchens somewhere else and one of the posters talked about their kitchen's transformation. They went with a dark grey Quartz counter (soapstone would also be spectacular!), white subway backsplash with grey grout, and dark grey walls...Martha Stewart's Mushroom. With dark bronze drawer pulls and knobs, and the right light fixture this could be spectacular. Think Belgian bistro style. I would stay away from travertine or patterned granite if you're trying to update an oak kitchen.
    ...See More

    Need help with honey oak floors!


    Comments (14)
    I agree that there are some beautiful new wood floorings out, but what you have is classic. You will find it in homes over a hundred years old as well as in newer homes. It is more timeless, though not trendy. It is also a very flexible floor in that it goes with most styles. Refinish the floors if they need it and get a new pretty tile for your floor. There are many fine tiles that would look good with your floor. Go to a reputable flooring store and someone there should be able to give you some ideas.
    ...See More
  • cawaps

    I'd paint the walls white and add color through furnishings and art. If you really don't want white walls, green can work nicely with honey oak.

    I'd look for white counter stools with cushions in a color of your choice. The oak stools in the pic (I assume they belong to the previous owner) just double-down on the oak.

    I think once your stuff is in the house, you won't find the oak so glaring, and you'll be able to better assess what projects are worth taking on and which aren't.

  • PRO
    Beth H. :

    the floor is nice. you could always have that refinished if you want a different shade.

    as for the trim/baseboards,,,,I'd paint it. yes, it's a lot of work, but if you do a section every day, it will get done.

    start off by cleaning them and giving them a fine sanding. remove all dust. you can choose to prime (with Kilz or Zinsser) just to be sure you're getting a good coverage. and then use a semi or gloss enamel meant for trim work. I like Advance by BM. I use the white straight out of the can w/no added tint. it's a nice bright white. You can see it here on my baseboards and crown. I know this isn't oak flooring, but it gives you an idea:

    some other before and after pics to convince you that painting 80's oak trim/baseboards is a good thing!

    notice on this one how small the baseboards were. you could always replace them like they did here after adding some wainscot. they also added larger window casing.

    Another trick to make the baseboards seem taller:

    you mentioned you had a lot of gray, so here is an upstairs done in gray walls, white trim work and black bedroom doors.

    here are some colors you could try that might work w/your oak flooring.

    a suggestion for colors to go w/your oak kitchen cabinets. hardware, paint colors and fabric choices.

    Are you up for some more photos for the staircase? I'll post them in my next comment because I have a few more pictures.

  • jessicaleigh17

    Yes! The more I think about it the more I may end up painting all of the trim. Another reason I was thinking of carpeting for the stairs is because the ECHO in the house is almost alarming, especially with rambunctious kids. And the runner on the stairs is actually set into a cutout so I don't think removing it all together is even possible.

  • PRO
    Beth H. :

    part II !

    (once you get your furniture and everything in including some area rugs, it should absorb the sound)

    Your staircase could be a beautiful focal point. Can you guys DIY at all? You could save up to replace the bannister at some point (something from this decade!) but for now, I'd paint them white or black (or gel stain a dark espresso) and replace the spindles to something less fussy looking.

    Here are examples:

    (the baseboards were switched out to the taller ones though. if redoing your oak floors, I'd get new baseboards)

    same staircase, diff view. notice the gray on the walls. I believe she used a very dark gel stain and redid the bannister/handrail. this will require some sanding to get off any previous clear coat.

    similar to yours. notice the white everywhere else, and the added trim work on the wall around the staircase. it makes a huge, visual difference.

    you could also prime it w/a good bonding primer in a dark gray, and paint it.

    Simply changing out the balusters (spindles) to something simple like these square ones,

    also make a huge impact. The stain color on both of these pics looks like a nice Walnut shade. Same as the flooring, above

    This is future railing I mentioned earlier. Still looks great w/the deep stained treads and white risers.

    and just a before/after pic to show you one variation of painting your oak cabinets.

    jessicaleigh17 thanked Beth H. :
  • hollybar

    With 3 little ones,I would hire professionals to paint all the trim. The floor,if you don't want to refinish, will work fine with your furnishings and probably with your rugs. That is part of the beauty of hardwoods.

  • jessicaleigh17

    Thank you, Beth H! I absolutely love all of those suggestions!!

  • PRO

    Hire a professional and do the painting before you move it. I NEVER recommend this but in this case it will be so much easier, faster and CHEAPER if the pros can get in there and just SPRAY, SPRAY SPRAY. Just do one color for all the walls and one color for the trim and doors. If at a later date you want to paint out a room it will be easy to do.

    Here are two wall and trim color options for the house.

    Frankly, I would refinish the floors too. That orange shiny finish is only going to be more orange once you place blue and green on top of it. That floor finish just doesn't look CLASSIC in my opinion.

    These are current Red Oak Finishes below that will be more neutral for your home.

  • frostyfootball

    Beth, amazing renderings. Beautiful. Jessica, ....what Beth said.

  • beckysharp Reinstate SW Unconditionally

    I want to re-do the carpet runner up the stairs and carpet into the three bedrooms up there (we have 3 kids under 5) and I would need THAT to match as well

    Jessica, have all three kids been toilet trained for a while? If not, I'd wait on this project...

  • tartanmeup

    Three rambunctious kids under 5? I'd wait before painting all that trim white. Honestly, if honey oak is anything, it's forgiving. You don't see dings and dust easily on it. Obviously, it's your choice. I'm just sharing my opinion based on experience. Transformations shared above are beautiful, of course.

  • einportlandor

    A 4k sq. ft. house and three kids under 5? That's a LOT of tedious hand work. Before you commit to painting it yourself, pick one room to paint to get a realistic view of the time and work involved -- sanding, cleaning, taping, drop cloths, priming, two coats of paint, clean-up. Then get a few bids to do the rest of the work. Don't rush into anything. Good luck!

  • Matt

    I would consider new trim vs the labor of painting.

  • frostyfootball

    My sister compared cost of replacing her trim, pulling the old, painting the new trim, installing it in the whole house and touch up on the drywall compared to just painting the old trim and there as no comparison. Paint. But for the love of God if you can, have a painter do it.

  • SJ McCarthy

    I too say pay to have the trim painted BUT WAIT on the carpet. No matter what carpet you get, it will be killed very quickly with 3 young children. The carpet came with the house so you might as well get all the life out of the carpet before sending it too the dump. It costs NOTHING to leave it in place for a little while.

    Pay the price to get the trim painted out (interior doors as well) and then move into the house. Kill the carpet over the next couple of years (no need to baby don't like it anyway) and then change it out once you have a feel for how the house works with your furniture.

    Keep us posted.

  • Cadyren

    I'd pick the before picture in every case. Beautiful home, enjoy!

  • PRO
    Beth H. :

    Matt,,new trim still has to be painted. and cut. and installed. and paid for. what she has is already there. much cheaper, and less work just to paint it.

    Jessica, of course if you can spare the extra money, have a painter come in and do it. it is very tedious work. you have a large area w/3 kids. Going to be hard to find the time to do it yourself. Maybe try one window or door frame a day. Baseboards are just crappy to do. I did my own and hated every second of it. getting ready to redo my floors and have to have all new baseboard and trim put in. I'm not looking forward to painting all of it. You can do a section for an hour or two after the babies go to bed. or invite some friends over, buy pizza and wine, and hand out brushes for help! have relatives baby sit. if it takes you a month or 6 months to complete, so be it.

    Also, as a tip for the staircase, priming those spindles. do a quick fine sanding to knock off any bumps/rough spots, lay down some plastic sheeting and mask off anything else that's not getting painted, (and make sure the fine spray doesn't float off onto other surfaces) and spray on the primer (Zinsser in a can. oil base primer) it will save you a lot of time and agony of brushing those things.

    after primer dries, give a quick fine sand to smooth, wipe clean. now you can paint.

  • ci_lantro

    3 kids under 5 and you want painted trim? I'd hold off on painting trim & doors for another 10-15 years.

  • PRO
    Oak & Broad

    That looks like very good quality Oak. It just need to have the finish changed. That would make a dramatic difference in the look. Look at Bona Nordicseal as an option.

  • PRO
    Glo European Windows & Doors

    Wow, I see the dilemma, that is a lot of oak! Fortunately it is a beautiful home!

    I would eliminate the oak in 3 phases...

    With three kids I would get a quote to get the trim painted in the common areas (first floor and stairs). Once the trim is painted the floors will look more balanced and showcase their true beauty.

    Then do Phase 2 for bedrooms, upstairs bathrooms, etc. I would even wait on getting carpet done for the kids rooms until that trim is painted. In the meantime, area rugs for kid's rooms are your friend. I have a 1.5yr old and 7yr old with hardwoods in their room and rugs work great. Plus, they enjoy the wood since its easier to play with some toys.

    Phase 3 can be focusing on the kitchen cabinets, which I don't think will be as bad with white trim. Keep in mind, you also won't have barstools that emphasize the oak look.

    Good luck!

  • K Laurence

    IF you’re going to have the trim painted ( I don‘t think it’s absolutely necessary , I think it looks a bit much because there’s nothing else in the rooms ) , have it done professionally before you move in. I wouldn’t want the fumes & dust with three children around.

  • itsourcasa

    Paint the trim white! You're not flipping the house, on a timeline and have to have it all done right away... paint little by little during kids bedtimes, naps, etc. We are DIYers so it wouldn't even phase me to do a project like this over time, we are constantly painting or building something in our home.

  • gwc1973

    Paint all the honey oak except for the floors. Honey oak was created by builders in ruin lives!

  • gtcircus

    I had mine professionally done. But it was the 1980’s oak. A refinishing firm came in and sanded and sprayed it. It stunk to high heaven - think leave the house during the process, but so far no issues.

  • gtcircus

    And I got rid of all the oak doors, painted all the oak trim an replaced them with mahogany solid doors - because the doors were cheap hollow wood doors. As others have said, it transforms the property and I have zero regrets - mainly because I can’t stand oak trim. We joked, our 70/80’s houses had oak, oak and more oak.

  • RNmomof2 zone 5

    How were hollow core doors oak?

  • gtcircus

    They were hollow core doors stained to look like the rest of the oak in the house. To be honest, they were so ugly and cheap feeling that I never paid much attention to them. I don’t know f they were veneered, pine stained oak or what but they were flim flammy doors. I have solid mahogany doors now and its no comparison. I think the upcharge was $3000 and I would put it as some of the best money spent on the project.

  • Matt

    Once you prime used oak trim all the dings and imperfections will show up. May pay a little more for new but it would be worth it.

  • suezbell

    Really nice home.

    Agree you should move in before you paint -- but the only rugs you should buy is one to define the living/sitting area and a small entry rug.

    If you decide painting is needed, DO NOT decide to paint everything at once. Paint one item and then pause and live with it a while before you paint again.

    Before painting anything and, with one notable exception, do not paint the kitchen cabinets. You might, however, check to see of a local cabinetmaker could put glass in the existing over head cabinet doors or at least some of them. You could then paint the interior of the cabinets visible thru the glass.

    The first few candidates for paint could be these -- choose one and if painting that one doesn't end the honey oak overload effect for you, then paint the others, but only one at a time, pausing between changes..

    1. The one notable exception to painting the kitchen cabinets is painting the island base your favorite bold color. You might even consider changing the countertop to it. Change the seat covers for the bar stools and/or paint the bar stools. Make your bar a focal point of the great room.

    2. If the honey oak around the windows appears too bold for you, you could paint only the window and door trim white.

    3. The stair railing could be painted white. Not a great fan of painting rails in good condition.

  • tartanmeup

    As others have outlined, you have a few options. I just wanted to say that there's absolutely nothing wrong with moving into the house AS IS and living with it for a while. Honestly, with three young kids under five, I would have my plates full and put this "honey oak from hell" project on the back burner. (I'd want new counter stools though.) Once you have your furnishings in place, the trim won't take center stage as it does in the realtor pics.

  • justlol

    I would either replace it or leave it if you plan on doing it yourself. If you replace it, you buy the trim already primed, then all you have to do is paint it (that's what we did). If you want to paint the oak, you'll have to sand it all, prime it all, and then paint it all. With three little kids, if you DIY, you should have the all the moulding painted by the time they graduate college. Good luck! :-) Beautiful home!!

  • Amanda

    We also moved into large house last year with lots of that trim! (And three young kids). I am honestly glad we haven’t painted it. It is SO MUCH more forgiving! Especially if you are the type of person that is bugged by nicks and imperfections. Our Thomas the Train ride on runs into walls daily!

    With updated furnishings it is not as glaring IMHO.... I’d replace the stools, furnish, tackle some smaller updates and then re-consider.

  • justlol

    I love the colors that Beth H posted above that will go with your oak. I would work with the oak instead of painting it all.

  • chispa

    I would have all the trim painted white before I moved in. I did exactly that in our first house and would do it again. The truth is that most of the wood/oak trim out there isn't that great quality. It isn't like the OP bought an original craftsman or victorian and wanted to paint all the woodwork!

  • btydrvn

    The main thing that must be considered on all this you want this color to dictate your decor for the rest of your time in this home ?...this is my case for changing the floor as well...never mind how this color undermines the elegance and subtleties and potential of this home...

  • katinparadise

    I would paint the stair balusters white to give some contrast. Replace the stair runner with something that's not beige. Lay down area rugs to define living spaces and add your furniture, drapes, and blinds. Change out the bar stools as suggested to something that's upholstered or leather. Moving into a large new house and getting everyone settled is going to be enough to do without adding in work that doesn't need to be done to make the house livable.

  • johnsoro25

    Our house looked like that at closing. We did repaint all the trim- that was nonnegotiable. Then we painted the walls and refinished the floors. I could have lived with the floors for a while if I had to, but we figured it would be easier to refinish before we moved in. It was a big expense to do it all at once, but so worth it. I recommend doing the same.

    We did wait 1 year to completely gut the kitchen and it was a long year...

  • housegal200

    I'm going to be the contrarian here, taking into account your young family, an upcoming move and settling in. There isn't a stick of furniture besides the oak stools in your photos to break up the oak. You won't have acres of oak once you have an oversized rug covering the floor with coordinated stair runners and your furniture, which we haven't seen. The granite countertop seems to have some gray in it, so good.

    First of all, do you even need to paint the walls? The white looks fine on my screen. If you are going to repaint the walls, get a color consultant, who can look at your furniture and visit the house during daylight, to choose a color that will work with both the oak and your cool color furnishings.

    Trim: Your trim on the big windows is like a lovely wood frame to the greenery outside. Leave all the trim.

    Stairs: Have a professional paint only the railings white, leaving the handrails, newel posts, etc. in oak. This one step will greatly reduce the amount of oak you're looking at. Beverley shows how that looks upthread and also has some rugs that work with your floors and possibly with your furniture.

    Paint the kitchen island either the white of your current walls or a new wall paint color you decide on or a blue. Get different stools in either blue or gray to work with your furniture. The money you save on all the painting could go towards a larger island in a contrast color or white.

    Cabinetry Product Photos · More Info

    2nd St Loft · More Info

    Make sure to get an oversized rug that has a bit of the warm oak color but mainly the blues and grays of your furniture. Get complementary runners for the stairs.

    Katharina, Machine Made Area Rug, Blue, 5"x7'5" · More Info

    Safavieh Aria ARA121A 2'x8' Cream, Teal Rug · More Info

  • lizbeth-gardener

    Isn't there an issue with the grain being hard to cover up when painting over oak?

  • PRO
    Beth H. :

    lizbeth, if it's 80's (or 90's) oak, no. It's normally very smooth so primer and paint covers it. as for oak cabinets, some people like the grain to show through. (I happen to like it) but there is a wood grain filler than can be used to fill in deep graining before priming.

  • lizbeth-gardener

    Thanks, Beth. Good to know.

  • junco East Georgia zone 8a

    Re: Beverly's comments on CLASSIC red oak floors. I am posting a picture of my red oak floors installed when the house was built in 1956. I had them refinished 20 years ago when I bought the house. The man who did the work added no stain. They have been beautiful ever since and they blend beautifully with various types of wood furniture along with blue, green and red furnishings. In my opinion, this is classic:

    I'm sorry I can't get it to post upright, but hopefully you can see the colors.

    I can't imagine doing any amount of painting with 3 small children. Move in , add a colorful rug, get new island stools, and possibly have the stair spindles painted. Good luck and enjoy your new home!

  • PRO
    Maraya Interior Design

    Forget the painting, and paint colors over oak. Here's what we did for our client's honey oak from hell-

    we 'cerused' the oak cabinetry. It is a whitish gel stain that stays in the cracks of the oak. There is no stripping, priming, etc, necessary. A little light sanding to make the stain grip. Oak has a distinct texture that will take this stain. However, I would restain the oak floors dark. No problem with carpet upstairs. No need to paint walls, or window trims, use the white/greyish gel stain. check out cerused oak stain.

  • PRO
    Beth H. :

    Maraya Interior,,i've done many ceruse projects. you just can't 'wipe it on' previously finished cabinets.

    What you are showing are custom white oak cabinets. OP has 30 year old cheaper quality red oak that have been previously stained and clear coated. Apples and Oranges. The two types of wood don't even compare.

    There is no stripping, priming, etc, necessary. Uh, no. If you're starting with oak cabinets made from raw wood (no finishes on it) correct. But to tell OP this, based on her cabinetry (or trim work) is erroneous info. Proper ceruse technique is used on wood that has no clear coat on it (like OP's has). And the raw wood (or stained wood) surface needs to have a 50/50 shellac coating on it or else the entire wood surface would take the white stain (or wax). the shellac basically blocks the surface from taking the stain, but leaves the deeper grooves open so that the white stays in that. It also works best on more of an open grain type of wood (wood should be sanded to no more than 150 grit when prepping). I'm guessing you didn't actually do the cerusing or otherwise you'd know how much work it entails.

    I've seen 90's oak cabinets w/an ebony ceruse and it looks cool (black stained oak w/white graining) it can be done with liming wax (which is the original process dating back hundreds of years).

    now, if OP wants to completely strip her oak, down to bare wood, she could do it. This is the ONLY way she can get her cabs to look like this:

    (but if she has that 80-90's oak that is more of a veneer or that plastic type of wood, then none of this work. it has to be a solid oak or solid oak veneer)
    However, if she doesn't have enough time to paint her trim, stripping her cabs are probably off the list

  • suezbell

    If you truly hate "honey oak", why did you buy/build a house with that much of it?

    You might consider taking one door of one cabinet or one drawer to a local cabinet maker and and finding out what the cabinet maker considers your best options.

  • tqtqtbw

    The bones of this house are great. It looks like spacious and bright family home. Oak trim and cabinets are not a reason skip buying it.

  • housegal200

    White Oak Stairs · More Info

    Case Design/Remodeling, Inc. · More Info

    Custom Home Annapolis · More Info

Need help with an existing Houzz order? Call 1-800-368-4268