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  • Writer's pictureElisha Rickward

How to: Mix Different Wood Types & Tones

Mixing different wood tones and types in your home is often unavoidable – particularly if you have big ticket wooden items like floorboards, window frames and doors or a vast run of timber cabinetry. And that’s even before we think about introducing additional timber furniture items like dining, coffee tables or cupboards to the space – I get it: it can be tricky. So lets explore how to best accommodate different wood types in your home in case you have this dilemma too.

Given the vast array of different timbers, tones (think light ash through deep mahogany and everything in between) and grains (the lines that naturally appear in timber from fine through to super knotty) it’s not all that surprising that many people are hesitant and not sure where or how to start in mixing and matching timber tones in their home.

A little bit of wood in your decorating scheme (and in particular the warmth it brings to a space) goes along way – especially in new builds that can tend to be a little on the sterile style – you know all big glossy tiles and vast expanses of unadorned walls.

But let’s be clear we are not talking ski chalet decorating style (unless you are lucky enough to have a home in the alps its probably best to stay away from too much wood on wood) – it’s hard to get right and falls into the camp of ‘too much is (likely)…just too much’.

So where to start? The goal in any decorating story is to create continuity and harmony in your space. So how does this apply to wood? Well by paying attention to the timbers natural undertones (just as you would in selecting your make up or your paint colour), its finish (highly polished or lightly sanded) and considering its natural grain it is possible to become more confident to know where to start in the mixing process.

Step One: Identify your dominant timber tone

If you have wooden floorboards or parquetry your work here is done – that is your dominant tone as it takes up a large proportion of your space. If however you have carpet or tiles on your floor then consider what is the next largest wooden item in a room – do you have wooden ceilings or door frames or perhaps a large dining table or kitchen cabinet in wood perhaps? Then that becomes the dominant tone you will need to decide to work with in your scheme.

In these images the floor space quickly becomes the dominant tone. Image 1 - Oak floorboards by and walnut stained timber parquetry by

Step 2: Look for the undertones in the wood

Having identified your dominant wood – now pay attention to whether the dominant tone is warm (think yellow, orange or red based), cool (think blue or grey based) or neutral. If you stay within the same tonal family, the woods will blend easily and create a feeling of cohesiveness.

That said sometimes this very cohesiveness can look well just a little bit too cohesive (read staid, and generally just a bit blah – again my opinion so please disregard if you happen to love the sauna look).

Whilst these timbers work tonally I think this image is a case of too much is too much and the bathroom cabinet would look more effective in a darker timber stain or painted finish.

Step 3: Consider whether you want to compliment or contrast your timbers?

Now that you have a better idea of your dominant wood and its undertone it is time to think more about what you want to achieve.

You can play it safe and work within colour ‘families’ – you will achieve a streamlined and co-ordinated look – no question – but you also run the risk of having competing visual pull as there is not enough contrast and the eye doesn’t know where to settle.

Of course a logical work around in this case is to introduce other decorative elements to break up the similarity. For example, a beautiful rug under a coffee table that is similar in tone to the floor or introducing contrasting chairs to a wooden dining table (consider upholstered, moulded plastic, painted timber or metal).

In this image by Studio-McGee the rug on the floor provides a perfect foil for the timber coffee table against the timber floor. Image Credit:

Alternatively you can think about choosing a contrasting wood tones to break away from the same-same feeling and create interest & dimension. For example this beautiful light oak desk placed on the deep dark walnut stained timber floor is a bolder and more interesting resolution than tone on tone wood.

Step 4: Remember to give consideration to the grain of your timbers

If you have a large furniture item (or floor!) with a heavy & pronounced grain to the timber keep the rest of the scheme simple and pared back so there is not too much competition for the eye. Balance is key here.

Step 5: Consider the finish & polish of the timber

With multiple timber sources in a room think about varying the finishes & stains so they look less “just added a whole furniture set into your online shopping basket” and more curated by mixing different substrates - rough vs smooth, highly polished vs more rustic to add interest and variety.

This bench top looks to have a more polished finish than the matt floor boards and helps to differentiate the look and feel of the timbers. Image Credit: Pinterest (source unknown)

Also think about how you can add additional softness to the room through the inclusion of soft furnishings in natural linens or interesting patterns to create variety. Other natural textures such as the stone facing on the fireplace, woven baskets and leather chairs all support the 'organic' feel of the timber in this image below.

Image Credit:

Step 6: Explore stains (or paint colours) to soften the intensity of the wood

If the wood tones in your space still seem overwhelming you can always try to balance them out by applying a wood wash in a light breezy white, a soft grey or even a dark stain like “Black Japan” to both neutralise & modernise them. Stains are the most suitable treatment for preserving and showcasing the natural grain of timber – so you preserve the patina.

This is a great example of how Black Japan stain enhances the look and feel of this kitchen.

Image Credit:

However if you are wanting to move even further away from the wooden feel you could consider using paint or lacquer for a softer or possibly more dramatic and colourful finish.

This timber scene is softened by the addition of sage painted timber v-groove panels.

Image Credit:

In conclusion, ultimately the mixing of woods will come down to personal taste (and your eye). If you are not confident then it is probably best to try and avoid introducing too much timber and choose items made from completely contrasting substrates like painted finishes, stone, glass or moulded plastic.

Hope this helps.

Elisha x


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