Just like mixing metal finishes, mixing wood finishes can be a brain scratcher for many homeowners. Whether you’re starting from scratch with a new build and can choose everything fresh or have purchased an existing home with floors & cabinetry in place, chances are exceptionally good that you’ll hit this stumbling block at some point during your Forever Home journey.
Because we all like “formulae,” I’ve come up with 5 sequential steps for how to coordinate your wood finishes for a “no-fail mix” — whether you’re starting with a blank slate or inheriting a someone else’s selections.
And, as with every design “rule,” my wood finish mix formula can be broken & solved successfully. I’ll show you how in step #5. This is solution will be especially helpful if you’ve inherited a wood-finish-mix-mess or accidentally created one yourself.
No judgement here! We all make mistakes. 🙂
So let’s get started!
Preface: 2 Different Levels of Mixing Wood Finishes
I’ve been thinking about doing this blog post for a while. A recent consultation client had bought a home with maple floors and reddish cheery cabinetry & doors. She & her husband personally preferred the look of walnut & white oak and were wondering if they could implement those wood species along with the fixed element finishes that already existed in the home. And, in another instance, a Home Glow Method Spring 2021 student was trying to coordinate the various finishes of her furniture.
So — in your wood finish mix, you have 2 areas to consider:
- Your fixed elements, and
- Your mix of wood finish furnishings.
The wood finishes of your furnishings — tables, case goods, legs & arms of wood frame seating — have some flexibility. You can have an outlier that doesn’t easily gel with the rest of your design without *too* much disconnect.
And we can connect the “mistakes” pretty easily, as you’ll see in step #5.
However, fixed elements are another matter entirely. They have far less coordination flexibility than moveable furnishings. (See step #2.)
If you’ve inherited fixed elements that clash, it may be worth your budget to fix the problem rather than try to “put a bandaid” on it with decor.
So, without further ado, let’s get into our 5 Steps (and our “fix”!).
5 Steps to Mix & Match Woods Finishes
1. Take stock of your “fixed” wood elements.
Your biggest wood elements in your home are likely to be one (or more) of the following:
- Major cabinetry (kitchen or other built-ins)
- Ceilings (see this post)
- Wood stained trim/doors
These items are “fixed” — meaning that they’re attached to the house and can’t be moved or changed without a significant expense. As such, they will dominate your wood finish “mix.”
If you are moving into new construction, or are planning a gut renovation, you can choose these finishes according to your tastes. However, I highly advise anyone who is working with an existing home and who has a strict budget to work WITH your home’s current wood finishes rather than re-finish according to the current trend. You’ll need your budget elsewhere.
Work WITH your home’s current wood finishes (rather than against them), and the result will STILL be harmonious!
However, if, on the other hand, you have enough budget to create your heart’s desire, then go for it!
2. Determine the “temperature” of your fixed wood elements.
Just as with paint colors, your wood finish elements have a warm or cool temperature.
Warm finishes will have a yellowish (or sometime red) undertone.
Cool wood finishes have white or gray pigments.
Cool undertones are largely due to pigments in the stain, rather than the natural tone of the wood. I’ve yet to encounter a “cool” wood in it’s natural, unstained state. So “cool finishes” are largely about trends.
What about “neutral” wood finishes?
I don’t know that there are any “neutral” stains, per se. EVERYTHING has an undertone! However, the “brownier-brown” stains, as well as wood species like walnut or white oak in their natural state, have more middle-ground undertones. These browns can coordinate with — as well as serve as a bridge between — most any cool or warm wood finish.
******Choose no more than 2 coordinating finishes for the fixed wood elements in a room.******
3. Accent your fixed elements with wood furnishings in the same temperature but different “values.”
In the above dining room, Heidi Callier mixes various values (lightness & darkness) of warm wood tones, in harmony with the warm, medium-toned floors.
The dark “brown” table works with the warmer wood finishes.
The lighter, white oak floors in this bedroom by Marie Flanigan have some gray in them. For the bed, she uses a darker wood finish, but it still has some gray in it, nonetheless.
4. Keep Your Sheen (Formality/Informality) Consistent
Sheen will play into the formality or informality of a space.
- Shinier = more formal
- Matte = more casual
Keeping sheen consistent between your various wood furnishings ensures they’ll play together well.
In my formal dining room, all the furnishings have a bit of a shine, regardless of wood stain value (medium & dark) & temperature (warm).
In the dining room above by Steven Gambrell, the cool wood finishes all have a matte sheen (walls, table), rendering the overall feel less formal, despite the fairly heavy wood paneling.
Can you have matte (or even rough!) & glossier sheens in the same room???
Absolutely. I’m just giving your the surest way to success in mixing your wood finishes. If you want to mix matte & glossy in the same room … see step #5 below!
5. Repeat each wood temperature/value/sheen more than once.
Repetition makes everything look intentional. If you’ve accidentally inserted a clashing finish, just repeat it somewhere and it will work better.
And it doesn’t even need to be in another wood item!!!
This bedroom, below, was one of the first rooms I ever decorated. Most of the furniture is vintage and either of cherry or maple in a warm stain.
This was 9 years ago — before I really looked into learning design as a professional decorator and only had the usual Big Box retailers from which to source. I was having trouble finding nightstands that fit my space, and finally resorted to the French-style ones in the image below from Restoration Hardware.
You can see the nightstands have a gray finish with cool undertone — very different from the warm, cherry 4-poster bed. So why does this mix work???
Because I repeated the greige “color” of the wood — in the trees on the wallpaper, in the driftwood mirror, even in the beige linen drapes.
Bunny Williams used repetition to solve a warm/cool wood finish clash in the library of the 2015 Southern Living Idea House.
Do you spot the cool perpetrator amid all the warm tones? It’s the sideboard!
So, how did she make it look intentional?
The same “color” of the sideboard is repeated in the brick of the fireplace.
Where is the warm/cool wood tone clash in the below dining room by Andrew Howard?
The warm & reddish tone of the wood chair legs are repeated in sideboard and the darker table. But the cool, light colored floors don’t find repetition in any other wood element. However, the fabric on the chairs closely mimics the floor color, making it all tie together.
Last example: in the 2019 Idea House by Yankee Barn Homes and Cottages & Bungalows Magazine, the fixed elements provided a temperature challenge — warm, pumpkin pine beams, cooler floors, greige stone fireplace.
The wood finishes of the furnishings work well with the floors & the fireplace, and the art by Peter Batchelder repeats the warm tone of the pumpkin beams.
Mixing Wood Finishes: Art or Science?
As usual, a “formula” only goes so far in interior design. A considerable amount of getting “the mix” is art. But I believe that even the least artistic of you have the ability to mix & match your wood finishes well with these few tips!
A pin to remember this post by!
More Design Tips This Week!
Exciting happenings this week! I’ll be hosting 2 sessions of a new Masterclass: “NEED-TO-KNOW Secrets to Create the Timeless Home You Crave!
Sign up below!
Also, The Home Glow Method is open for enrollment for the Fall 2021 session for 1 week only!
If you ever wanted to learn to design your home in a way that will be both unique AND stand the test of time, check out the info page for all the details, FAQs, testimonials, etc.! And if you want to learn a little about how I went from being a confused Forever Homeowner to a professional designer, you can check out this post.
Shoot me an email if you have any questions! About wood finishes, the FREE masterclass, or The Home Glow Method!
See you next Saturday!