You may remember the red oak that was popular in kitchens, dens, and sunken living rooms of the late 1970s and '80s. While darker oak has its place, many of us found ourselves living in spaces that felt smaller than they needed to feel, given the dark cabinets and paneling. As a result, in the '90s, oak was largely abandoned. Recently, however, we've seen a resurgence, especially in cabinetry, but with a lighter touch.

White oak is one of the most durable of woods, which makes it ideal for families who spend a lot of time in the kitchen, with youngsters who may be a little rough opening and closing cabinet doors. Its color opens the space and is neutral enough to introduce a large variety of color and texture contrasts in the floor, backsplash, and even wall color. We like a nice light peony on the walls, for example, which might seem like a daring choice, but isn't the least bit overwhelming once cabinets, furniture, and artwork are installed.