Oaks, ashes, hickories, and maples can coexist harmoniously in the wild. But can they and other wood species play nice when gathered in the same room? For homeowners who prefer the natural beauty of wood furniture, floors, décor, and trim and don’t want to go against the grain of proper design, it’s an important question to answer.
The good news is that, while experts recommend some do’s and don’ts when it comes to pairing woods in a room, the right choices come down to personal preference.
Indeed, most rules that once existed for matching woods in an interior space “have gone by the wayside,” says Sara Babinski, a design manager with Armstrong Flooring International in Lancaster, Pa. “The trend now is to mix both wood tones and species. A variety of tones and textures add depth and variety to a space. And texture—which is tactile and visually interesting—has become as important as color in a room today.”
Just as it’s often recommended to use three colors in a room for harmony, “the same can hold true for wood finishes,” says Babinski, who recommends using up to three different wood tones in the same room.
Yanic Simard, Houzz contributor and principal designer at the Toronto Interior Design Group in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, agrees.
“By using, for example, a pale tone for your wood floor, a dark tone for major furnishings like cabinets, and a mid-tone for trim and accents, you can keep the space structured,” says Simard.
Dan McMillan, managing director for the New York City-showroom of Carlisle Wide Plank Floors, also likes the three-toned tactic.
“Two contrasting woods and finishes alone in a space may fight each other, but when three or more are used, they take on an elevated, more purposeful look,” he says.
Shoshana Gosselin, the owner of Love Your Room, an interior design firm based in Breinigsville, Pa., and a Houzz contributor, says juxtaposition can create pleasing visual interest.
“Purposely contrasting the floor and furniture can make a nice impact. Pair light wood floors with furniture stained in deep chocolate, for instance,” says Gosselin. “The dark pieces don’t have to match—they should complement each other.”
The rule of three isn’t the only appropriate approach, however.
“Instead, you can use your walls to establish a varied color palette and then pull from within them to ensure that your woods blend together beautifully,” Simard says. “Or you can try a monotone strategy where you stick with one approximate wood tone and use several different species and textures to firmly establish the palette.” Above all, avoid using the same single wood species and identical tone throughout your home.
“Most of the time this results in a close-but-no-cigar look that actually makes everything clash more than if you were to add several mixed woods to your design,” Terry Sweeney, owner/founder of Wooda, a furniture manufacturer and e-retailer in Omro, Wis. “It’s much safer to pair contrasting woods and avoid being matchy.”
Babinski says popular wood trends today include a leaning toward brushed or stained American hardwoods like white oak and hickory, blonde and white-washed lighter woods, and wire brushing texture—which is less aggressive than the hand-scraped look. Low-gloss finishes that celebrate the wood’s natural graining and texture are also hot, while tropical exotics and dark cherry woods are not.
“Board-to-board color variation using staining techniques is also very popular, as consumers no longer want monolithic floors. They want texture and color attributes that are being driven by the reclamation trends we continue to see. This is in part why gray neutral wood tones have become so popular.”
If in doubt about how to mix and match woods, take a cue from home decorating magazines and TV shows, consult social media sites like Pinterest, and enlist an interior designer for customized expertise.