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 ‘colour’ of the wood, as in, ‘yellow/orange/red/purple/green’. The undertone will directly affect your choice of paint colour, 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 colour 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 colour’ 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 colours
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 colour…
This next photo shows orange-toned cabinets that clash with a yellow-toned floor…
Maple and its common stain colours & 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 colour…
Cherry and its common stain colours & 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 colour…
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 colours…
Espresso or walnut look woods
Espresso is one of the easiest stain colours 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 colour 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.
The Best Paint Colours to Coordinate with Wood
The Best Paint Colours for Dark Wood Trim
Hi, I need you help! In my kitchen I have hickory cabinets (lots of them). My husband refuses to paint. I am okay with that for now. Our walls are painted a warm stone. The flooring is linoleum. Yuck! We are looking at Pergo flooring but I am not sure if I should go with a wood or tile look. Any suggestions would be awesome! Thanks so much!!
The architect who built a house for his own family, and sold it to us when he needed to move, said that he would never put faux wood beside real wood, or faux tile next to actual tile, and so on. I think that is a good strategy. So for the Pergo flooring in this kitchen, the Pergo in a tile look would be best.
That is one SMART architect 😉
Thank you! This is a timely article for me because we are currently getting ready to lay hardwood in 3 rooms of our house. We have oak trim…I am having a hard time telling if it has an orange or pink undertone. However, I am wondering if you think floor stain should match trim or contrast it? We also have wooden blinds in those rooms (which do match the trim), so maybe matching the floor is all too much wood? Would love to know your thoughts on matching or contrasting trim and floors…
could u email me back so I can send pics of my kitchen cabinets. To see what u we’d suggest for flooring colors
Hi Jacki, thank you for contacting me! If you haven’t already, check out my Online Consulting where you’ll find the what/when/how of my Consulting services. Hope to hear from you! https://www.kylieminteriors.ca/online-decorating-and-e-design-services/
Is there a general rule that stair risers should always be white or are there times when stained risers ( the same as the floor and treads) work better? We have solid hardwood throughout the main floor with white dove trim. Can’t decide!
Well hellooooo Mary Anne!
Nope, there is no rule at all – it’s personal preference! Now it’s usually easier to have painted risers than stained ones if you’re renovating…you know what, I’m going to do a blog post on this – you’re a genius!
Anyway, the gist is it more depends on the look you are wanting.
Wood tread/rise: Can be slightly more formal looking
Wood tread/painting rise: can be slightly more country looking
I also find that the painted riser can give some visual relief when there is A LOT of wood in a home….
Thanks for asking my friend!
This is a fantastic, useful post. So often I have questions about decorating, and go to the internet hoping, but not expecting, to find some useful information. Not only did your post answer my question, but it gives excellent, excellent information. Thanks so much.
Now this is a SUPER delayed reply, but I just had to THANK you for your comment! I get a lot of questions in the comment section, which I don’t always have time to answer, and it is just so nice to see a comment like yours – I pour my heart n’ soul into this wee little blog and I’m so glad it’s helped you 🙂
I need your help!
I have cherry plank flooring and light grey walls.
I don’t want white cabinets for kitchen due to maintenance issues. What other colors wud look great with cherry floor and grey walls. I’ll select the counter top granite once cabinet colors are decided.
Any suggestions would help.
Hi Shubha, it depends on what type of gray is on your walls, but you could do a gray that is contrasting from your walls, so either lighter or darker by a few tones, or maybe a blue/green/gray blend?
I would like some help! I have maple cabinets with a pink undertone. I am refinishing my red oak hardwood floors and would like to do a gray stain. Will the floors take on a pink tone? Is there a stain color we could mix with the gray to offset the pink tone? Any advice would be appreciated.
Hi Staci! I’ve found the red oak often does well with restaining, but I have seen some flash slightly pink. Just keep in mind that you may NEED that weee wink of pink otherwise your new wood tone colour clash with your cabinets as the undertones would be different…
I have a honey oak spiral staircase (yellow tones according to your very helpful chart). For the front foyer, I’m considering an ivory porcelain tile (Edgecomb Grey walls) but I would like to replace the old tired broadloom between the stairs and the tile with Preverco Wheat or Preverco Santa Fe Nuance oak flooring. The Wheat looks more yellow online than it does in the store and is a lighter brown than the Santa Fe. Any thoughts? The oak will be continued into the family room (BM Jack Pine) while the tile could be extended throughout the foyer and down a short hall into the laundry and powder room (BM Muslin / Ballet White). I am definitely struggling with the three types of flooring in this front foyer area.
Your talented input will certainly be appreciated!
What a helpful post! Suddenly I’m quite clear that I prefer undertones in the pink/red family. Question: can you recommend a stain color like the lower right image in your second-to-last grid? My husband and I are refinishing a nightstand made of two different woods, the darker of which is probably either walnut or mahogany, and a stain like that on the darker areas would be just the ticket.
Again, loved this! It has already been helpful even if you’re way past responding to comments on this piece. Thank you!
Don’t know if you noticed but you are claiming the “Top Right” photo on your very first example is both good and bad. I think you meant top left and put top right again. Basically you said the top right wasn’t a good fit and gave your reason then at the end claimed it was the best one. Top Left was never mentioned at all.
Thank you Brian, I didn’t notice that! Yes, I had them written backwards – THANK you :).
Hi, I am struggling with a dark wood floor I already have in the salon (dinning/living room) because I want to use a white wood floor for the rest of the house and I am not sure if it will match nicely or totally crash
Any advice? I will certainly appreciate your comments
Welllll, if it were me, I’d be pretty hesitant as I worry about it creating a patchwork look. It’s easy to change to tile/carpet/etc… but going from one wood to another usually doesn’t work :(. I mean, at the very least they’d need the same undertones/sheen level, but I still get a bit twitchy – I’m sorry!
I do not think this posting could be any more perfect or timely for me right now! As another poster said – you come to the internet “hoping” to find something that will help you make decisions in a renovation and often, it is sadly disappointing. I live in a California Ranch home (in Michigan!), which is known for it’s wide open floor plan, so my rooms and their color need to have some harmony and flow. I have red oak hardwood floors and natural cedar planked lounge in groove on all of my ceilings, so LOTS of wood! We are remodeling our kitchen and I want to combine wood look tile with my wood floors, which will be refinished. This post really gives me some great ideas and strategies on how to work the colors together, although I am not going to rule out doing a consultation, because I really want to get this part right. I know how I want this to look, but I want it to look right and complimentary. Thanks Much