Best Paint Colors to go with Honey Oak or Golden Oak


Paint Color Ideas & Tips: Choosing Wall Paint Colors for Honey Oak Cabinets and Trim

Have you followed along on my ongoing 90s-era series? Then you know that of all the hallmarks of a 90s-style home, oak trim and cabinets are the most common. While oak, in general, can feel outdated, honey oak (also called “golden oak”), in particular tends to feel rooted in the 80’s, 90s and early 2000s. So, how do you deal with it? Whether you’re working within a budget or just aren’t ready to overhaul cabinets or an entire house of trim right now, there’s no need to worry—your honey oak can definitely be enhanced and you can work with what you have! Updating your paint color is one of the first things, and easiest to tackle. It’s also easy on the budget! In this blog post I’m sharing my top tips for choosing paint colors with honey oak cabinets or trim and several actual paint colors for you to sample.

Honey Oak vs. Golden Oak

When talking about homes of the late 80s, 90s and early 2000s, You may have heard references to both “honey oak” and “golden oak.” These terms describe the same type of wood and finish that were immensely popular during that time. The names reflect the rich, warm hues of the wood—tones that can range from a deep amber to a vibrant gold, depending on the light. This wood was a staple in homes for everything from cabinetry and trim to flooring and furniture. 

As honey oak, or golden oak wood ages, it naturally deepens to a richer amber shade due to the stains and polyurethane treatments applied. By selecting paint colors that complement the tones of honey oak, you can enhance the natural beauty of the wood while giving your space a fresh and modern update. 

Honey Oak aka: Golden Oak

Will Honey Oak Come Back in Style?

Honey oak enjoyed its heyday in the 80s and 90s, but unfortunately, it’s unlikely to make a comeback anytime soon. Like many trends from that era, it had its time in the spotlight and has since fallen out of favor with interior designers and homeowners alike opting instead for enameled (painted) cabinetry and cooler wood tones.

So, what paint colors go with honey oak wood trim and cabinets?

A Typical 90s Honey Oak Kitchen with Matching Stools

Cool grays can feel too harsh and ashy next to the orange golden tones of honey oak. Likewise, colors with pink or purple undertones look out of place as they compete with oak’s warmth instead of complementing it. To keep your room feeling harmonious, choose colors that enhance the warm, welcoming vibe of oak. 

First, there are three things you should keep in mind when choosing a paint color to work with your honey oak:

  • The color Undertone
  • LRV (Light Reflective Value)
  • How the color will look in Natural Light and Artificial Light.

What is an Undertone Color?

Paint Undertones: A helpful guide to what they are and why you should care.

So, you’ve narrowed down your paint chips to two or three perfect colors standing there in the paint store. Then, once you get the paint on the walls, you realize it looks entirely different than you anticipated. The paint undertones are to blame! Undertones are the subtle hues that can be found within a paint color. They have a big impact on how that color will look once it’s applied to your walls. To help you out, I’ve put together a quick guide to identifying paint undertones.


Warm Undertones

These include shades of yellow, orange, and red. Colors with warm undertones tend to feel cozy and inviting, making them ideal for living spaces. Warm colors are called such because they make you think of sun and heat. They also make a room appear smaller or closer (just as dark colors do). This is why interior designers often use warm hues in large rooms to make them feel cozier.

Cool Undertones

These include shades of blue, green, silver, and purple. Think of the of a clear sky, waters of the sea or a grassy field. Colors with cool undertones have a calming effect and can make a space feel more modern. However, they can also come across as cold or sterile if overused.

Neutral Undertones

These include shades of brown, gray, and black. As the name implies, colors with neutral undertones are versatile and can be used in any space.

RELATED: Neutral Paint Colors We LOVE and Where to Use Them

What is LRV?

“LRV, or Light Reflectance Value, is a measurement commonly used by design professionals – such as architects and interior designers – that expresses the percentage of light reflected from a surface. LRVs range from 0-100, with 100 being pure white and 0 being absolute black.” – Benjamin Moore

Because LRV affects how a color looks in a space, it is VERY important to consider when choosing a color, even a white color. If you want a color to appear lighter, choose a color with a higher LRV. If you want a color to appear darker, choose a color with a lower LRV.

LRV (Light Reflective Value) from 0% (black) to 100% (white)

How does light affect paint color?

A very important and often overlooked factor that can affect how a paint color looks in a room is the light. Natural light from windows can make a room feel bright and airy, while artificial light from lamps and fixtures can give a room a cozy, intimate feeling.

If you’re painting a room with little natural light, use brighter colors with a high LRV. This helps to reflect the light and will make the space feel more open. For rooms with lots of artificial light, darker colors can help absorb the light and create a warm and inviting space.

Tip #1: See your honey oak as a color.

Understanding wood tones as part of your color palette is key when working with honey oak trim and cabinets. Rather than seeing them as a separate element, integrating these warm, golden hues into your overall color scheme will create a cohesive look. These finishes bring out its warm yellow and orange undertones, which can influence your decor choices.

paint-colors-for-honey oak-palette
In this example color palette, you’ll notice how the rug and other decor elements tie together all the colors seamlessly, including the rich warmth of honey oak wood cabinets, resulting in a balanced space.

RELATED: 10 Modern Kitchen Design Ideas with Honey Oak Cabinets

Tip #2: Keep the wall color cool.

Take a break from the warm tones and consider a wall paint color to pair with your honey oak that has cool undertones. Why? Because cool tones like soft blues and greens, create a beautiful contrast with the warm, golden hues of honey oak. This contrast can add depth and dimension to your space, making the outdated oak stand out in a flattering way. 

A balanced living room in a shade of cool blue paired with oak trim and floors. / Source

Cool colors are found on the opposite side of the color wheel from the warm color tones in oak. They are a great choice for a contrasting color scheme.

color wheel

These hues stand in contrast to the warm tones inherent in honey oak, creating a fresh and updated color scheme. By selecting cool colors, you can create an attractive balance that enhances the natural beauty of oak while giving your space a modern boost! This approach is perfect for those looking to refresh their spaces without losing the inviting quality of oak wood.

Cool Paint Colors That Work With Honey Oak:

Upward by Sherwin Williams (SW 6239) is a soft blue with gray undertones. LRV: 57

Sherwin Williams – Upward SW6239

Sea Salt, by Sherwin Williams is a cool, muted green with blue undertones. LRV: 64

Sherwin Williams – Sea Salt SW6204

Of course, if you’re drawn to warmer hues in general, it isn’t a no-go. You can still go cooler while staying a little on the warm side. Think of gray, for instance. One of the most asked questions we get is “can I use gray paint with oak trim?” Well, there are endless shades of gray paint on the market. But no matter which one you choose, many are inherently cool gray because gray colors can have undertones of green, violet, or blue. BUT, there are some grey shades with warm tones and these are the ones we’re going for. 

Benjamin Moore’s Classic Gray / Source

These warm gray colors can offer a subtle, cozy vibe that complements the oak’s natural warmth without overwhelming it, creating a space that feels both refreshed and welcoming. Such greys often have undertones of beige, yellow, or red, which harmonize beautifully with the golden notes in your oak trim or cabinets. This blend of slightly cool yet warm-toned greys allows you to modernize your space while maintaining a touch of traditional coziness, bridging the gap between contemporary chic and classic warmth. This makes them particularly effective for those looking to update their home in a way that feels both timely and timeless.

Warm Gray Paint Colors That Work With Honey Oak:

Benjamin Moore’s Classic Gray is an ultra-light shade of gray that can also function as an off-white. LRV: 73.67

Benjamin Moore – Classic Gray, OC-23 or 1548

Repose Gray, by Sherwin Williams is a greige color that leans warmer with brighter light conditions. If you have a north-facing space, I don’t recommend Repose Gray it looks a bit cooler and even may show a touch of a purple undertone.

Sherwin Williams – Repose Gray SW7015

Sherwin Williams, Agreeable Gray is a favorite of mine for so many reasons. It’s a lovely warm greige paint color with green undertones. It looks great in rooms with lots of natural or artificial light. LRV: 60

Sherwin Williams – Agreeable Gray, SW7029

RELATED: Paint Colors – Neutral Colors We LOVE and Where to Use Them

So, to evoke the warmth you crave, simply go for a beige or gray paint color with brown undertones or “greige” paint color. Steer clear of beiges or grays with cool pink undertones, these will fight with yellow-toned woods and orange-toned woods. This way, it will be the perfect balance in an oak-filled home.

RELATED: Best Greige Paint Colors for your Home – Favorite Grey-Beige Shades for Your Home

Grab our free guide on How to Choose Paint Colors with Confidence. It’ll give you all the steps you need to select a harmonious color palette for your oak-filled space.

Tip #3: Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark


Think you can’t go for ultra-contemporary paint colors just because you need to “brighten up” your oak-filled home? Think again! Dark colors work like a charm with oak, giving your home a dramatic splash of modern design. Just remember to avoid traditionally 90s-era paint colors that feel too earthy like burgundy, sage, and beige. Opt instead for warm grays like charcoal, dark blues, and greens. They’ll give each room a dose of personality and pizzazz.

Dark and Dramatic Paint Colors That Work With Honey Oak:

Sherwin Williams – Web Gray SW7075

Salamander by Benjamin Moore is a rich dark green color with deep blue and green undertones. LRV: 3.66

Benjamin Moore, Salamander 2050-10
Sherwin Williams – Iron Ore SW7069

Tip #4: Contrast with Complimentary Colors

When choosing the best paint colors for honey oak or other wood tones, contrast is essential. You can opt to go dark with a navy or black or to brighten up your oak with a crisp or creamy white or grey. Just make sure you choose a paint color that stands apart from that warmer wood and stay away form gold, orange or red tones. Light colors work beautifully. This will help to enhance its best features. 

Contrasting color schemes make a room feel balanced and visually interesting.

Contrasting Paint Colors That Work With Honey Oak:

Despite Benjamin Moore’s Hale Navy having primarily gray undertones, it still maintains its true navy-blue color. It does have the slightest hint of green undertones as well. The tiny bit of green in this dark navy keeps it from leaning into a purple undertone. LRV: 8.36

Benjamin Moore – Hale Navy HC-154

If you’re considering white for your walls in your honey oak kitchen, Benjamin Moore’s White Dove is one to try. White Dove is a clean classic off-white with creamy undertones. LRV: 83.16

Benjamin Moore – White Dove OC-17

Pale Oak by Benjamin Moore is another favorite to consider when working with honey oak. It’s a very light greige, looking a bit like a deep cream without yellow undertones. LRV: 69

Benjamin Moore – Pale Oak OC-20

Benjamin Moore’s Mountain Air is a medium grayish green hue, very earthy. If you like an updated look using earth tones, this is one to consider. LRV: 53.58

Benjamin Moore – Mountain Air CC-636
Traditional fireplace in sage greens with oak wood flooring give this space a modern upgrade. Source

October Mist by Benjamin Moore is a soft green-yellow sage color and Benjamin Moore’s Color of the year in 2022. LRV: 46.54

Benjamin Moore – October Mist, 1495

RELATED: What Flooring Goes with Oak Cabinets?

Amazing Paint Colors that go with Oak Wood Trim and Cabinetry

Got the inspiration you need to choose the perfect color for your 1990s home? Ready to tackle it yourself, but not quite sure where to start? Go ahead and pin the image below. It’s our simple no-fuss roundup of our favorite paint colors to complement warm wood tones for a modern look.

Pin this for easy reference:

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Q. What’s the best way to test paint colors with honey oak?

Look no further than SAMPLIZE! Using a peel and stick paint sample is cleaner, easier to use, more affordable, AND a bit more environmentally friendly. Samplize makes it easy to observe paint colors throughout the day as the natural and artificial light changes the way color appears.

Here’s why I recommend SAMPLIZE to my clients:

1. Cost-Effective: They’re more budget-friendly than traditional methods, which often require purchasing sample pots, rollers, and tag boards.

2. Easy to Use: Keep your Samplize samples on their white paper backing and you can effortlessly move them around the room to see how they look in different lighting conditions.

3. Speedy Delivery: Samplize samples arrive at your doorstep in just one day, depending on your location.

Visit the SAMPLIZE website HERE to explore their range of options.

Q. What is the right paint finish for a room with honey oak?

Choosing the right paint sheen is crucial for any room, not just those with honey oak. A matte or eggshell finish is often best, as it minimizes shine and is washable. These finishes also help hide imperfections on the walls.

Q. What paint colors go with honey oak floors?

Only working with a honey oak stained floor, such as in a living room? The same principles apply that I have outlined here in this blog post, however, with the floor being on a horizontal plane it gives you a bit more flexibility with color. Don’t be afraid to be a bit more bold.

Thanks for checking out this article! I hope it’s given you a good jumping-off point for picking out paint colors that may work well with your space. Keep in mind, though, that these suggestions are just a starting point. The best way to know for sure what works in your home is to test out these paint color ideas with samples. Consider how they look with your current countertops, backsplash, adjacent spaces, and so on.

Let me know in the comments what color you chose!


Hi, I’m Carla


I’m glad you’re here! You are in the right place if you are feeling overwhelmed at the thought of embarking on a remodeling or interior design project. Living with an outdated home and don’t know where to start? I’ve helped families like yours update their home and create spaces that reflect what’s important to them for over 25 years.

I’ve been honored to be featured in:

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