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  • Writer's pictureHeather Holcombe

White Oak in a Starring Role

White oak is having its moment right now, except that it's not just a trendy material. It's long been - like hundreds of years long - an excellent option for flooring and kitchen cabinets! Let's take a closer look at why you might want to consider white oak for your hardwood floors and kitchen cabinets.

I want to add a quick note here and say that today's white oak isn't the same as the oak of the 1980s, even if the same material. While red oak had its moment in the early to mid-2000s, its time has pretty much come and gone. Homeowners are either painting over it or ripping it out altogether. White oak, a long classic look, is certainly seeing a revival. Read on to learn how and why that is.

Hardwood Floors

In recent years, white oak hardwood floors in a herringbone pattern in a natural finish have surged in popularity. Neither that design nor the material is new. They just happen to be experiencing a resurgence in population.

Natural white oak floors are known for their durability and versatility, although where the wood is harvested can determine how resilient it can be. It's worth asking an installer where the material originated.

However, there are some telltale signs to look for:

  • Tight growth rings, high heart content, and long lengths indicate wood from the center of mature timbers.

  • Shorter, narrower boards are from the tree's upper portion and branches, implying a less resilient and inferior product.

You should want more mature wood for your hardwood floor, especially for high-traffic areas in your home.

Another characteristic of white oak that makes them especially desirable is that they can look great in either a modern or a traditional design. Light-colored floors continue to be popular, especially on white oak. It's a more contemporary look, whether left natural or whitewash, but this too isn't a new look.

Floors during the Swedish Gustavian period of the 1700s typically had light-colored floors, a look borrowed from the French Palace of Versailles. The light colors tend to reflect light and brighten spaces, which the Swedes and other Europeans still appreciate today during long, dark winters. Light-colored hardwoods have remained popular across Europe. The floors tend to show fewer scratches, dirt, and dents than darker floors. It looks good in a modern or traditional home.


There are countless options for kitchen (and bathroom) cabinets. As a kitchen designer, I believe choosing a material that fits your lifestyle and functional needs is the mos

t crucial. As I said earlier, white oak is exceptionally resilient and can be appropriate in either a modern or traditional space. Here's what you should know about white oak for cabinetry:

  • Durability: White oak is considered very durable, making it one of the most popular options for kitchens and bathroom cabinets.

  • Grain: Flat cut was the popular grain pattern once used with white oak. That's changed. Today you'll see a straight grain.

  • Color versatility: As I said earlier, red is out. White is in - at least these days! Think more neutral and natural tones. However, white oak's softer hues are also ideal if you want to add color to your kitchen, making them a versatile option.

  • Design: Another way they're versatile is that they work in modern or traditional. They're easier to match with other materials like backsplash or countertops. The grain of the wood allows them to take stains very well.

If you have any questions about working with white oak, contact me. As a Triangle interior designer certified in kitchen and bath design, I'm happy to answer your questions.


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