These 5 features make kitchen cabinets look dated, designers warn us

You might not even be noticing

three image split of kitchen cabinetry
(Image credit: Future)

Whether a classic or modern kitchen is your go-to aesthetic, it is easy to let time pass us by, not giving our interiors the care and attention they deserve, only to result in a space that is past its peak.

A key learning from our observed outdated kitchen cabinet trends is simply to avoid fleeting 'trends' altogether. But what if it is something less obvious, or even quite a common design feature, that is tiring your kitchen cabinets? Consequently, having a negative decorative impact on the space as a whole?

Ensuring that your kitchen is representative of your style is, of course, a defining factor for whether it will still feel fresh and like an inspiring place to be in. Start here and be sure to re-evaluate your cooking space often.

What will instantly date kitchen cabinets?

Experts recommend doing this every decade or so. 'After 10 years I usually see clients wanting to go in a different direction as their personal style and preferences have changed,' says Amy Youngblood, founder of Amy Youngblood Interiors.

'For example, we have several clients that want a more modern clean-lined look as they get older.' Note that even traditionally crafted, or even more timeless Shaker-style kitchens might still be at risk of looking dated, according to experts.

Amy Youngblood Interior Designer
Amy Youngblood

Amy Youngblood creates beautiful interiors that envelop your personal taste and lifestyle, through great trust and collaboration. Amy and her design team strive to exceed expectations as you engage their services to improve and enhance your commercial or residential space. Their clients make them who they are. Allowing them into their lives results in beautifully transformed spaces using high end, technical design tools, a proven creative process, and project management; but most importantly, great vision, communication, and service.

Amy Youngblood Interiors has extensive experience in the Cincinnati and Dayton, Ohio markets, as well as Northern Kentucky and beyond. They’ve completed both residential and commercial design projects in Chicago, Illinois, West Palm Beach, Naples, and Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

1. Too short cabinets

Yellow kitchen cabinets with a marble back splash and a wooden dining table

(Image credit: Future)

Especially in a small kitchen space, cleverly using wall space will conjure up the illusion of more height and room. Youngblood explains how going too short with our cabinet height may age our kitchens: 

'The first thing that can date your cabinetry is not having tall enough cabinets that run up to your ceiling. Shorter cabinets look dated and give the perception of a lower ceiling height.'

To avoid this, opt for sleeker and taller cabinets where you can, using the length of the wall. They will add elegance, and the opportunity to style cookware on show for an even more curated display that is in with the times.

2. The soffit gap

Kitchen cabinets in a muted shade with open shelving above and in between floor to ceiling cabinets

(Image credit: Future / Jan Baldwin)

Aka, the dust collector.

'Not to mention the gap between the top of the cabinets and the ceiling is simply a dust collector,' continues Youngblood. It is the 'soffit gap' in particular that will not do the style of kitchens any favors. 

Leah Huisken, interior designer at Forge & Bow explains: 'The soffit gap used to be a commonly found feature in many kitchens, but homeowners have found it to be a dust and trinket collector.

'Sending your cabinets to the ceiling creates a sense of height and continuity, eliminating awkward gaps and can provide a seamless visual appeal.' Stylish ways of filling the awkward soffit gap include adding trim in the same or contrasting colors for visual interest or continuity where your space might need it.

Another solution would be to add taller uppers – it depends on the kitchen design you are working with, but there are ways of making the space more modern and functional. Note, this does not mean adding any manner of decorative objects... 'The days of adding decor on the top of your cabinets are out as well!' Exclaims Youngblood.

Leah Huisken, Interior Designer
Leah Huisken

Leah received her degree in Interior Design in 2021, specializing in kitchen design from an NKBA certified school. With a foundation in designing and selling custom cabinetry, she has honed her skills in the intricacies of kitchen and bathroom design. Her career has evolved to embrace her passion for custom residential design, driven by the belief that deep fulfillment arises from inhabiting a space that reflects the soul. 

3. Colors without longevity

kitchen with dining table

(Image credit: Future/Jan Baldwin)

Color and finish are very impactful, especially in a kitchen space where cabinets are in the eyeline of household members and guests. 'The choice of color and finish you use is important to avoid it feeling dated further down the line,' says Elizabeth Sherwin, creative director, Naked Kitchens. 'Textured, earthy finishes alongside the ‘new neutrals’ and nature-inspired color palettes will continue to be popular as homeowners crave calming spaces to escape to.'

Whites, neutrals, and colors that are close to nature all work well for a timeless kitchen. 'Opting for a white and neutral color scheme creates an open, airy feel that’s easy to live with so will stand the test of time,' continues Sherwin. 'However, be careful when choosing the shade, pure whites can look stark and clinical so consider the undertones and materials used elsewhere in the room to help soften the look.'

Pops of color are, of course, allowed, though Huisken warns us that some kitchen cabinet colors and hues should be avoided for longevity. 'Warm tones are in, but overly orange and golden stains can quickly look outdated. Opt for warmer, grounded colors that complement the overall palette of your kitchen.'

White kitchen enthusiasts should take care to include warmer elements for a cozier finish. 'While neutrals are timeless, avoid overly cool and stark shades. Opt for warmer neutrals to create a grounded and inviting kitchen ambiance.'

Elizabeth Sherwin
Elizabeth Sherwin

Elizabeth Sherwin is the creative director at Naked Kitchens, a company based in Norfolk, England, that specializes in bespoke kitchens that are designed to stand the test of time.

4. Shabby textures

A white glossy kitchen with handleless cabinets and parquet flooring

(Image credit: Future / Richard Powers)

A lived-in look and stressed finish is truly done and dusted Huisken tells us: 'This look was popular on cabinets for a season, but can easily look dirty and dated. Stick to a more tailored approach to cabinet finishes.'

Consider a gloss or even fluted glass for true modern and timeless appeal.

Huisken notes how refinishing or refacing cabinets can bring a new lease of life: 'This can be a budget-friendly option that allows for either a new coat of paint or new door and drawer fronts without the need for an entirely new design.'

Anything dented or damaged simply is not good-looking either, refresh at all costs for a modern look that will last.

5. Dated door styles and hardware

Blue kitchen cabinets with white worktops and marble back splashes

(Image credit: Future / Brent Darby)

Swapping out kitchen cabinet door fronts and hardware is a quick way to refresh kitchen cabinets without painting them, however, you want to make sure you are swapping the right styles in. Avoid overly ornate detail and choose something more streamlined and clean-cut.

'Another thing that can date cabinets is door style and hardware. Detailed door styles are now dated as well as hardware. I always tell my clients that if they don’t want to go modern, at least opt for a door style and hardware that is somewhat simple,' recommends Youngblood.  This could even make kitchen cabinets look more expensive

'As far as the cabinets themselves, door styles that are extremely decorative or glazed are very out.'


What is the most dated kitchen example?

Youngblood  shares a kitchen look that is particularly aging: 'Red-toned wood paired with a busy granite countertop, especially a black granite top, is the most dated look we see in kitchens.' Avoid this at all costs. 

'Issues such as dated, tarnished hardware, a faux wood veneer, and little imperfections such as scratches, dents, and chips all scream “dated” as well.'

How can I quickly update my kitchen cabinets?

Be sure to organize kitchen cabinets for flow and look to small edits that will make a big change,

Paint is a classic way to add appeal to kitchen cabinets, without a complete kitchen overhaul. Huisken recommends some more clever ways to modernize the space: 'A simple swap of cabinet hardware can change the whole look by adding a new metal finish.' Provided they are contemporary in design. Focusing on surrounding finishes can also positively impact cabinets, 'Simply updating surrounding finishes such as countertops and backsplash can bring new life to existing wood cabinets that may have felt dated and dark before.' 

For those that have a little more design energy and flexibility, bigger edits will go far says Youngblood: 'If within your budget, we’ve had a lot of clients use the same footprint of their existing kitchen and simply replace the cabinets with minor improvements such as more functional workflow details that won’t affect moving plumbing or electrical. Also, if your ceiling is a more standard height of eight to nine feet, we recommend running your upper cabinets all the way to the ceiling even if decorative molding is needed.

'If you can’t afford new cabinets, we recommend painting them a classic neutral that works with your existing countertops and replacing the hardware.'

What is on trend in kitchen cabinet styles for 2024?

Huisken believes that European-style cabinets will be particularly on trend next year: 'Frameless cabinetry maximizes space and leaves no reveals between door and drawer fronts.'

We will see more neutrals and grounding earthy colors also, as well as pops of brights for personality. 'Think butler’s pantry or coffee nook - moments of saturation!'

Though there has been some debate around hardware, watch this space for 2024 which might see a mixture of finishes: 'Next year we’ll see designers breaking away from uniformity by incorporating mixed hardware finishes to cabinetry – it adds a touch of eclecticism.' Not just in hardware says Sherwin: 'In 2024 we expect to see more of us continue to experiment with a mix of materials and finishes. A beautiful combination is to combine natural materials on the fronts of your cabinets, such as timber or walnut, with a paint finish – the contrast will add interest creating a truly showstopping look.'

Keeping craftsmanship at the heart of your kitchen design plans, and concealing clutter where possible for an invisible kitchen aesthetic will still be present in our spaces, continues Huisken. 'Accessibility and convenience will continue to be a priority, so we’ll see more creative solutions for concealing appliances within cabinetry to maintain an uncluttered space.'

Plus, we're looking to always say yes to upper cabinets: 'We’ll see the return of upper cabinets in 2024. The lack of functional storage, especially for dishes, made the “no upper cabinets” trend die quickly. The difference will be full height counter to-ceiling cabinets in key locations, maximizing storage, counterspace, and open walls for shelving and windows.'

'Everyone is looking at quality,' notes Sherwin. 'Beauty and sustainability are everything when it comes to a stylish kitchen design.' Carefully selected hardware, colors for longevity, and styles that do not welcome clutter in any sense of the word will keep your kitchen cabinets effortlessly up-to-date.

Camille Dubuis-Welch
Contributing Editor

Camille is the former deputy editor of Real Homes where she covered a broad range of topics, including house tours, small space design, and gardens. She studied English language and Italian at the University of Manchester and during a year abroad studying linguistics and history of art in Bologna, Italy she started documenting her adventures and observations in a blog. Camille is always creating and spends her downtime painting, taking photos, traveling, and writing short stories.