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

Celebrating the craftsmanship of natural wood, unpainted kitchen cabinets are a timeless style

kitchens with unpainted kitchen cabinets
(Image credit: Marie Flanigan Interiors/Julie Soefer, deVOL Sebastian Cox kitchen, Nicole Franzen/GRT Architects)

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.'

Headshot of Jill Norman
Jill Norman

With a degree in marketing and a career spent in event planning and commercial production, Jill finally fulfilled a life-long creative itch by taking a leap and going back to school to study interior design and architecture. As her projects inside her own home grew, so did the list of friends-turned-clients who called on Jill for her creative eye and ability to curate a unique space. She loves the juxtaposition of combining old and new, so most weekends you’ll find her treasure hunting at an estate sale in Beverly Hills or a flea market in Pasadena.

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

Modern farmhouse kitchen with wood lower cabinetry and stone countertop

(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.'

Tyson Ness
Tyson Ness

Tyson Ness is the founder and director of Studio Ness, a NYC-based full-service interior design studio. Studio Ness is known for its collaborative approach to residential and select commercial and workspace projects across the US and abroad, crafting spaces that are unique to the client. Tyson has over a decade of experience in the NYC design sector and has worked on a number of projects that have been featured in publications both in print and online.

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

kitchen with light wooden cabinets

(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.'

Jennifer Davis
Jennifer Davis

Jennifer fell in love with design at a young age and has been working in the industry for over 25 years. She has developed an eye for detail and a talent for creating timeless designs. Jennifer offers a balance of creativity and forward-thinking with a structured, organized, and detailed mentality. Jennifer is driven by her deep passion for design while curating an exceptional client journey, ensuring pure delight from the very beginning to the end.

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

Wood kitchen cabinet ideas

(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.'

Kati Curtis
Kati Curtis

Kati Curtis is an interior designer based in New York City specializing in classic design with global twist. Kati founded Kati Curtis Design in 2005 after 12 years of working with international architecture and engineering firms. She is a Certified Interior Designer (CID), and a Leadership in Energy and Efficient Design Accredited Professional (LEED AP).

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.'

Laura Williams
Laura Williams

Laura Williams’ work is informed by all of the personal and professional experiences that led to her founding her own design studio. She can trace her eye for balanced interiors all the way back to her childhood home, where she would frequently rearrange the furniture and reimagine rooms.

3. Contrast with stone countertops

Wood kitchen cabinets with beige wall and marble counters

(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

deVOL modern rustic kitchen with Sebastian Cox wood cabinets, ceiling beams and a brick floor

(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

Wooden kitchen with red tiled island

(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.

Cameron Shepherd, Studio Mesa
Cameron Shepherd

Cameron Shepherd is a designer based in Denver. A child of serial renovators, he’s been obsessed with the potential of old homes for as long as he can remember. A musician-turned-designer, Cam is happiest when he is in the middle of multiple creative projects. 

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

Paint & Color Editor

Emily is H&G's Paint & Color Editor, covering all things color across interior design and home decor. She joined the team in the summer of 2023, having studied Fashion Communication at university before working in various creative roles ahead of making the leap into interiors. She lives in Glasgow where she loves admiring the city's architecture, frequenting her favorite coffee spots, and sourcing vintage furniture for her tenement apartment. Emily's interior style is inspired by the simplicity of midcentury design, mixed with more playful modern pieces that inject small (but bold) doses of color.