In Need of an Update?

Check out these tips for making that Yellows Oak New Again

By Annie Nye, Interior Decorator at Ponderay Design Center


→WHO’S WITH ME WHEN I SAY I am tired of seeing the yellowed oak look from the 90s?

I get asked a lot about how to update that look. And typically, if there’s one area of oak in a house, there’s more… trim, doors, cabinetry, flooring, bookshelves, and of course furniture. Oak was used quite often because not only is it a plentiful wood species, it is a solid hardwood, and not as expensive as some other species.

Because oak is such a durable wood, even if it’s 20-plus years old, it’s probably still in great shape, so you may not need to purge everything. Oak holds up well, so it is a wood species that lasts. What doesn’t last is the polyurethane finish that yellows over time, making it look dated. This yellow tone does not follow current color trends, so when asked about how to get rid of it, I can offer a few suggestions. Instead of replacing everything, you can choose which areas are a priority, commit to what you want to change about it, and develop a plan on how to make it happen.

There’s not really a product out there that allows you to cover up that aged yellow tone without also hiding the wood grain. Therefore, you can either paint it or refinish it. If you choose to refinish, it means sanding the old polyurethane off completely, which will still allow the wood grain to show off that solid wood product when you’re done.

So, how do you update one area without updating all?

If it’s the flooring that you want to change, it may just be in need of refinishing. If you have a narrow plank floor and it’s more than 10 to 15 years old, chances are it is solid wood, not like the engineered pre-finished options now available. This type of flooring can be sanded down and refinished. You’ll need to hire a wood floor company to sand off the old polyurethane, and once they’re down to the raw wood, they can apply a new stain color and re-apply top coat finish. This allows you to get rid of the yellowed look without having to replace the flooring.

Cabinets are also a tough thing to update if you don’t have the money to replace them. The doors can be removed, sanded down and stained, but you will also need to do the faceframes, toekick, and finished end panels, which will need to be done in place. Refinishing your cabinets is a process – it takes quite a bit of time and if done correctly can look nice. However, I have been to customers’ houses that have chosen to refinish floors and then applied their budgeted money towards new cabinets and haven’t been sorry.

Trim is another common area where we find lots of oak. Where most people get hung up on painting trim is knowing where to stop. If you start by painting the baseboards, that usually runs into the door trim, which is part of the door jambs, and then you’ll need to paint the window trim to match. Just know when you start this process, it is a commitment and most of the time means your whole house, not just one or two rooms. If you choose to refinish trim, it’s hard work to sand the old finish off if there’s any kind of decorative profile. The easy part is re-applying stain or clear coat finishing it. Unless you plan on doing this yourself, it may be cheaper to purchase new trim to stain and finish with top coat. The other option is to paint over it.

Quite a few people mix and match wood tones with paint. It’s perfectly acceptable to paint the doors and leave the trim wood tone or paint the trim and leave the doors wood tone. There are a lot of remodeled homes that have both paint and stain. And actually, there are quite a few new homes as well being built with both paint and stain trim/door/cabinet combinations.

Using both paint and wood tones provides flexibility for future changes. Finding that good balance of color can be accomplished without sacrificing what you have and being smart about the commitment you’re undertaking.

Originally seen in Sandpoint Living Local Magazine. Click here to read more.