How to Coordinate and Match Wood Stains- Oak, Maple, Cherry and More
What makes one wood finish clash with another? What makes one stain look fabulous and another look fugly? And how do you coordinated existing wood stains with NEW ones? It all comes down to undertone.
Now, this can get tricky as wood undertones are not always obvious at first glance, so I’ve got some tips to help you get going…
PS. For those of you looking for pretty pictures, you’ll find this post amazingly underwhelming – it’s more a ‘learn how to’ rather than a ‘pretty picture’ post. This post was updated in Dec 2019.
First Things First: Figure out the undertone of your wood
Whether you’re picking a new wood product or trying to coordinate with an existing one, you need to figure out which undertone you’re working with. Undertone is the ‘color’ of the wood, as in, ‘yellow/orange/red/purple/green’. The undertone will directly affect your choice of paint color, other wood finishes, furnishings, your sanity, and more.
In the above images, which flooring would YOU pick with those kitchen cabinets?
- TOP RIGHT: Kind of okay, but too rich and red
- BOTTOM LEFT: Again, too red
- BOTTOM RIGHT: Right idea, but too yellow and washed-out
- TOP LEFT: Winner winner, chicken dinner – just LOOK at those undertones!
1. Compare. Comparing different woods to each other can make the undertones easier to see. If you are choosing new wood flooring or cabinets, lay a few ‘similar’ samples next to each other. You should see a shift from one color to another and can eliminate the undertones you want to avoid. And it’s VITAL that you do this in your own home, not in the store, as store lighting always skews things – as does a glass of wine, so have a drink after you’ve picked your fave.
2. Ask a professional. Whether it’s a flooring store or the paint dept (or me!) a professional should be able to let you know the ‘basic underlying color’ in your wood stain. If you can’t bring a sample of your existing wood finish to them (ie: a cabinet drawer), take a quality photograph and they should be able to give you the general idea.
Note the consistency in wood finish between the mantel/coffee table/flooring – and they’re all different species!
Now here’s where I blow your mind. Okay, maybe not, but at least you’ll be slightly entertained as you may have never known your wood has pink, purple or even green tones in it (will wonders never cease!)
Common woods and their ‘usual’ undertones
Oak and its common stain colors
While it’s definitely becoming more popular for cabinets these days, it’s taken a good 20 years to come around. Personally, I find oak to be timeless – DEPENDING on the stain and style of furniture it’s on. And while some of these are a blend, I’ve tried to capitalize on the main color…
This next photo shows orange-toned cabinets that clash with a yellow-toned floor…
Maple and its common stain colors & finishes
Maple is definitely one of the most popular and versatile woods, but clearly, all maple stains were not created equal! Again, some of these are a blend, so I’ve tried to capitalize on the main color…
Cherry and its common stain colors & finishes
Cherry is definitely one of my faves when it’s sealed naturally and allowed to age. And once more, some of these are a blend, so I’ve tried to capitalize on the main color…
Look at that top middle one. If you compare it to the MIDDLE sample, it looks much more yellow, but compare it to the one on the RIGHT and you’ll see that wink o’ pink!
How to mix different wood TYPES and stains together
If you’re reading this blog post, you’re probably looking to match something new up with something you already have in your home. See if you can find a sample below that’s CLOSE to what you already have and see what combination options there are within different wood species. You can easily mix different wood stains/types together as long as they share a similar undertone.
While these ones can flex between yellow-orange, to yellow-pink and even to yellow-green, you’ll want to make sure that the look is generally consistent.
The top right is ALMOST a wink too orange for the top left, but they still connect.
Random Tip: If you’re mixing two different types of woods together with similar undertones, make sure only ONE has a dominant grain (or neither). Both can’t have strong grains or they could compete
Orange tones are WELL known for picking up a wink of yellow or a touch of red. I’ve done my best to find some interesting blends that work together…
Another set of coordinating wood stains inspired by orange, but slightly branching into pink…
Red-toned woods can often flex red-purple or red-pink (pink being the lighter version of red). A few of these are cutting it close, but the general idea is there.
Purple, pink or taupe-toned woods
Again, totally different woods but very consistent undertones…
Some gorgeous, more purple-inspired stain colors…
Espresso or walnut look woods
Espresso is one of the easiest stain colors to coordinate with as the undertone tends to be the most neutral and often leans toward the purple end of things.
Is there any wiggle-room? YES!
There are always exceptions, and sometimes, as long as it’s not BLATANTLY different, you can get away with a subtle shift in undertone and have a better chance of it working if neither wood is drastically lighter/darker than the other.
For example, in this next photo, although the cabinets have a wee tiny bit more orange in them than the floor, because there is some yellow in the cabinets, they coordinate quite nicely.
In this next example, although the cabinet has a slightly more washed-out neutral look, it does have some of the floor color in its pattern, and that’s the tie that binds!
Use area rugs to divide slightly different woods
If your woods aren’t quite connecting, you can use an area rug under your furniture (assuming one of the woods is a dining table or coffee table). The area rug acts as a barrier between the two kinds of wood so that the difference isn’t quite as noticeable.