How to Mix Wood Tones Like a Pro

June 16, 2020

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We recently received this email from a reader:


I have a design problem I was hoping might inspire a future post from team CLJ. I am moving into a new house and have a lot of clear stained pine furniture and a heirloom cedar chest I would like to keep. I want to add some new furniture pieces to our home and would love to also try mixing wood tones. I think pine should be easy to match with other things but the cedar chest is pretty distinctive and the new house also has wood trim on windows and doors to consider. 
I have no design/art background and I’m having a hard time understanding
1. How to know what is in the same wood tone family
2. How to identify a piece of furniture that might go well with our existing furniture – I’m envisioning I could make a wood “swatch” that matches what I have and take it around to stores but for online shopping I’m guessing it may come down to buying a bunch of things and returning them
Thanks for considering this! 

Our previous Dining Room/Kitchen

I thought, “Have we really never posted about mixing wood tones?!” And then I remembered my sister asking a similar question to Nisha’s when she moved into her very modern Seattle apartment: “All of the wood is blonde,” she said. “Do I really have to stick to this?”

No! You can and should mix wood tones. My advice? Keep your pine furniture and your cedar chest. With a few easy “rules,” you can have it all.

Our Entry

Let me start by saying — Using the same wood tone in a space can make everything look flat. Instead, go for a layered, lived-in look, with wood tones that both compliment and contrast. As you decorate your home over time, you pick up pieces along the way. These pieces won’t match — and that’s the best part.

The Fullmer Kitchen

First, find your dominant wood tone. This could be the floors or the largest piece of wood furniture or a wall of cabinets (especially if a rug is covering much of the hardwood floors). Next, introduce some contrast. Contrast is okay! It’s kind of what you’re going for. Mixing a light wood with a dark wood will look intentional. For an easy formula: Choose a light, medium, and dark tone.

Source | Brian Paquette Interiors

Next, match the undertones. Most wood is warm. But take note at the chart below! Walnut is versatile because it’s so neutral, in which case the undertone could swing either way depending on the stain and the woods you pair it with. If your dominate wood tone is warm, stick with warm woods. If your big piece is cool in tone — embrace it, and look for other pieces with blue/gray undertones. There’s no need to carry a wood swatch around. Just ask yourself, “Is this piece warm or cool?”

I love this little cheat sheet from Room & Board:

Source | Kindred Homestead

You can get away with using all light wood tones, if that’s your thing. This has a beautiful and peaceful affect. But you’re going to have a harder time making sure your wood tones don’t clash when the difference between your values is small. (Remember: The value is how light or dark something is; Tone is how warm or cool it is.)

Source | Mikel Welch

Part of what makes a room feel cohesive is repetition. When mixing wood tones, each tone needs to be represented at least twice in the room. When pairing wood tones, you could choose a piece as small as a bowl or a frame. Balance the wood tones around the room. Just like you would in a gallery wall, avoid “clustering” all of the wood tones in one area. And speaking of gallery walls, this is a great place to tie in a wood tone that needs duplication. If a chair or an end table is the only piece in its tone, look for a frame in the same tone.

Source | Patrick Printy

Think of reclaimed wood and raw edges as accents. Like a rug or an upholstered piece of furniture, they can help marry the wood tones.

Source | Camino Alonso

A really visible grain is your friend. Large wood grains make a space feel rustic and casual, while small wood grains make the room feel formal and polished. Feel free to sprinkle in a little bit of both (the way you would pair pieces that are modern with those that are traditional), or read the room. Maybe the large wood grain is the casual vibe you’re going for. And here’s a cheat: If you’re struggling to tie the wood tones together, try for similar grains in the woods.

Source | Studio McGee

The rug doesn’t have to match the wood tones. In fact, if you can introduce contrast here — a cool rug under warm woods — it might help pull your undertones into focus, showing how all of your wood pieces “go together.”

Source | Brad Krefman

The warmth of wood is making a big comeback so there are more wood tones, cabinets, and accessories to choose from now than ever before. If you ever feel like things have gotten “out of hand” — too many wood tones, too many finishes — pull back. Swap out a piece or two. Try sanding a few different wood pieces down and applying the same stain. Introduce some contrast (I love pairing black –even stained black!). Look to that dominant wood tone, and start over if you have to. You got this. 

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What do you think?

  1. Melissa Dietrich says:

    Beautiful and SO helpful. For your entry way- what is the wall color and the color for the molding? I love it. We have all of the warm all in one room and they are competing for attention. I’m trying to figure out how to calm that down before we move into this new house. Light oak floors, orange toned wood framed windows and dark crown molding. It’s all a bit too much. I may take the molding away because there’s a lot of windows=a lot of wood

    • Chris Loves Julia says:

      We painted the entry with Sherwin-Williams’ White Flour in Eggshell and the trim in a Satin finish.

  2. Sheila M Tolston says:

    Loved, loved, loved this article

  3. Rebecca says:

    I had no idea! I thought all of my wood colors needed to be identical. This has saved me haha. Thank you!

  4. Jennifer Mellor says:

    Thank you so much for this article and everyone’s responses – my spirits have lifted tremendously reading your advice. I’m refurbishing with a mix of inherited (dark tones) and newer furniture and you’ve given me such good ideas to follow such as warm with warm tones and especially what I’ll now think of as the rule of (at least) two of each shade. So helpful – thank you again.

  5. Wanda Matthews says:

    I love all of your post. Your Instagram page is so inspiring and your suggestions are so helpful. I look forward to clicking on instagram and seeing all the new stuff you guys have posted. You guys are awesome and your house is stunning.

  6. I agree with this, contrast is great to compliment your floor with your wall accent.

  7. Melanie says:

    Super helpful post! Thank you – I feel way more confident in my kitchen/dining room decisions now.

  8. Alma Torres says:

    Thank you for this post! Is super helpful!

  9. Paola says:

    My floor has cool wood tones (Ash with bark stains), but my furniture has warmer tones (walnut). Should I put a beige rug or will it better in gray tones?

  10. Jamie says:

    This is very helpful! One thing I notice with your example pictures is that almost all of them have metal, wicker or painted furniture/cabinets mixed in with the different wood tones. It seems that adding some different materials and textures can help balance out the wood.

  11. Alicia says:

    Thank you for posting this! So so helpful

  12. Heather Tucker says:

    Thank you SO much for this!! We live in a 1920s rock house in Alabama with orignal wood flooring, wood stained window frames and door frames, and French doors galore while also having butcher block countertops in a lighter stain.. Trying to add tables, chairs, and decor has been the biggest struggle to find the right flow with all the different types and stains of wood.
    Still praying for a day when yall will design a person’s room/house online ????????
    Love yall so much! Keep doing what you’re doing!

  13. Nisha says:

    Ahhh! I’m the Nisha from the email and it’s is so fun to see this topic get published! I’m in the middle of picking out wood floors now so this topic is still very relevant. I’m excited to put these tips into practice!

  14. Sharyn James says:

    I love your aesthetic. I rarely comment on a post , but this is a breath of perfection. It speaks to me

  15. penny elmslie says:

    Hi from Melbourne, can you do a post on gallery ‘picture walls’ & different coloured frames. I have 4 matching black frames + a mix of wood frames/sizes that I would like to hang together (& ideally avoid re-framing the black ones $$). Do I keep the 4 black matching frames grouped together – at one end? or mix them up with the random timber frames / sizes. The frames will sit above a long mantle piece so I have the area dimensions worked out, just not the “different frame” dilemma.

  16. Summer says:

    I am so glad you addressed this – not because I am dealing with that problem, but because I have been looking for guidance in mixing/pairing leather furniture from different sources. Your advice regarding wood tones would apply to leathers, as well – I hope!

    I love your style! I sent the video of your former house to my sister and told her, “This is my dream!” Now I am enjoying the process of watching your new house as it evolves and you create another amazing home!

  17. Wenndy P. says:

    Thank you for writing this. I needed some direction. What about a red mahogan? Warm? That’s the only piece that stands out in my living room. And I don’t like it much to add a second piece.

  18. Lita says:

    Loved this post! Xo

  19. Sarah says:

    I legitimately was *just* looking up how to do this well! I’ve got a wood piece that I am completely obsessed with and is really the anchor of my living room but I need bookshelves to go on either side of it. This gives me hope that I can find pieces that will work and I won’t have to resort to metal shelves.

  20. Jae says:

    Thank you so much for this! We just bought a new home and we chose a cool greyish floor (months ago) but I’m kind of regretting it now and wish we chose something lighter and warmer like a beige-toned floor cause it’s super in now. Wondering how I can warm it up with warmer wood furniture to try to tone it down from being too grey.

  21. Megan says:

    Thank you for this post! Super helpful, especially as I am in the designing stage of our next new build.

  22. Nicole says:

    I have a open concept home, literally the kitchen is the corner of a large rectangular room also featuring our dining and living room. Our kitchen cabinets are very dark coffee colored with red undertones and painting them is just not an option right now.. I absolutely love wood pieces, especially middle of the road wood colors but I struggle to find woods that seem to go well with the cabinets. Its hard to find inspiration photos since super dark cabinets don’t seem to be the trendy thing anymore. If anyone has tips on how to best work with dark cabinets I’m all ears!

    • Becky says:

      My advise is to find a few very
      small wood pieces (basket/wooden bowl/small lamp/small frame/small side table/etc.) that are at least nearly the same wood color as the cabinets. Place them in the dining and living room areas to balance and unify the whole room.
      Then strongly consider adding wood pieces that are a neutral medium color and a neutral light color. The neural wood tones can bring a gentle calm to the whole room.
      You might choose to instead add a warm light color and/or a warm medium wood color in the space, although I don’t recommend that.
      Avoid adding any cool toned wood to that area though.

      • Nicole says:

        Becky, thank you so much for responding!! I will definitely take this advice and see what I can play around with.

  23. Karen says:

    The penny just dropped, I feel like you wrote this post a written specifically for me! I love warm wood tones in the home, and it’s just not the “norm” when looking for inspiration on IG and Pinterest. The warm/cool tone graphic from Room & Board clarifies so much.

    I’m redoing my en suite bathroom and have fallen in love with a white washed oak tile for the floors. A slightly darker warm tone (but not dark) Wood vanity should keep things cozy, and bamboo blinds could bring the warm, wood tone to the other side of the room. I feel like wood will keep my bathroom with only northern light from feeling cold with white Calcutta marble.

    • Heather VMS says:

      This is so helpful, especially living in a century home with wood floors. We have lots of old pieces of wood and sometimes I dont know if they work well. This clears up a lot of my questions! Thank you!

  24. Julie says:

    This post speaks volumes! Thank you, Julia (and Nisha!) for the great content. I’ve been fighting with laminate floors that scream orange and am not in a position to replace. I’m learning that layering warm and rich vs neutral/cool is actually complimenting the flooring. Perhaps I’ll even appreciate them one day soon, especially using these tips. Thank you, always, for your valuable guidance!

    • Sandy says:

      Terrific post – so there’s hope for those of us who are stuck with a kitchen full of wood cabinets with red undertones?- I for one have painted walls a light color – changed all pottery to light creams inside cabinets with see through glass doors – added polished nickel pendants – but was stumped by what to replace the small eat in table & chairs – I will refer to your cheat sheet- (taking a deep breath) wish me luck!

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We’re a couple of homebodies, working to uncover the home our home wants to be. And we’re so happy to have you here. 

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