Image courtesy of Canyon Creek Cabinet Co.
Image courtesy of Canyon Creek Cabinet Co.

Often found in a honey spiced hue in households across the country, oak was a mainstay of kitchen and bathroom cabinetry from the 1970s until the early 1990s. That is, until it started to lose popularity to “newer” design options – particularly the rise of maple, cherry and engineered wood alternatives.

But, oak’s story isn’t over. Unique finishing techniques and trending style approaches are helping oak – particularly red oak – make a comeback.

A Unique Finish:
Offering a warm tone, Red Oak brings character and charm to a variety of applications, which is why it’s one of the most popular hardwoods in the United States.

The wood stains and finishes well, so is easy to incorporate in any design approach. But, perhaps one of the primary differentiating characteristics of this hardwood is its straight grain and coarse, uneven texture. This feature makes Red Oak a perfect platform for an up-and-coming finishing technique: cerusing.

A centuries old method for finishing wood, cerusing highlights the detail and character of a wood’s grain. It’s named for the white, lead-based pigment used in the 16th century as a European cosmetic, although today, this “limed finish” wood look is achieved with liming wax. A blend of clear wax and white liming paste, along with paint or an oil and plant-based blend, liming wax creates a weathered, rustic finish to the wood.

Woods – like Red Oak – with heavy grain and open pores that absorb more stain, are preferred for cerusing as the results are both beautiful and dramatic.

On-Trend Style:
Cerused, stained or painted, oak isn’t the same golden-toned style from decades ago. Instead, it’s a versatile hardwood that can be used in any design style, including:

  • Victorian: A style accented with details like carvings, corbels and decorative posts, typically featuring organic shapes and spiral flowing designs, as well as glass and mirrored doors
  • Traditional: A style dominated by neutral stain or paint colors, as well as thick moldings, few ornamental details, and raised panel doors and drawers.
  • Industrial: A style characterized by practicality – functionality reigns over elaborate decoration.
  • Transitional: A style that blends traditional with clean, modern designs, oftentimes taking simple styles and upping the game with ornate or sleek hardware.
  • Contemporary: A style focused on simple, with hard edges, as well as colors and textures that speak for themselves.
  • Arts & Crafts: A simple, yet intricate style that often utilizes reddish undertone stains.
Image courtesy of Bentwood Luxury Kitchens
Image courtesy of Bentwood Luxury Kitchens

From furniture and flooring to cabinetry and architectural millwork, applications for oak vary depending upon the grade of the wood. That’s why Northwest Hardwoods, the largest manufacturer of hardwood lumber in North America, developed proprietary grades that meet exact specifications demanded in various market segments.

Although it may have lost some popularity with the rise of other woods, oak is quickly making a comeback to “new style” thanks to trending finishing techniques and popular design styles. For more information about oak and other hardwoods, visit