How to Mix Different Wood Types & Tones
Variation in color, pattern, texture, and style are essential to decorating, especially when mixing different wood types and tones — it keeps things interesting and gives the space that “professionally decorated” appearance.
Wood is a timeless material, but lately it seems to be more popular than ever. There’s a species for every purpose and style. Need something durable? Want something rustic? Or exotic? How about cheap? There’s a wood for that. But having all those choices also makes many homeowners wonder, when is it too much? When all of the wood surfaces in a single space share the same tone or look too “matchey – matchey”, nothing stands out and the room falls flat. Allowing various wood finishes to coexist can result in a more eclectic, layered look that lends the right amount of texture and depth. The overall feel is more organic, as if individual pieces have been collected over time.
There is no magic formula when it comes to mixing wood furniture finishes, but here are a few guidelines & tips that will help you find your footing.
The Rule of Three
In general, it’s safest to stick to a maximum of just three wood tones in a space. This allows each to be distinct. By using a pale tone for the floor, a dark tone for major furnishings, such as cabinets, and a midtone for accents, you can keep the space structured.
That being said, you can rearrange these three tones, or even break the rule completely, as was done in the home shown here. Notice that this space still includes distinct dark, mid and light and tones, with the lightest tone matching throughout for a sense of consistency. The clear divisions between woods make it obvious that the contrast is intentional, that the woods are not mismatched.
While wood finishes don’t need to match, they should complement each other. Look at the color bias of each wood to see if it is warm or cool (see how to do so here: Decor 101 – Warm Versus Cool Colors), then make sure their undertones match, regardless of finish. For example, the wood fireplace backsplash has taupey-gray undertones that pull from the wall color, charcoal black undertones that pull from the hardwood floors and occasional chairs, and light beige undertones that pull from the sofas and rug. This gives the room a beautiful harmonious, and cohesive color scheme.
Placing a wood table directly on top of a different wood floor draws attention to their dissimilarity. Adding something in between, like a rug or carpet, lets them breathe a little bit and smooths the transition. Also, it adds a great contrast of texture, which gives the room more visual interest. Here, the espresso colored table is separated from the similarly colored hardwood floor by a gray area rug.
Furnishings can get lost against the backdrop of a similarly toned wood floor. Break up the monotony by pairing light furniture with flooring that has a darker stain, or vice versa.
Another approach to coordinating different wood is to stick to one approximate tone and enjoy the beauty of the subtle differences between them. Just make sure to use different varieties (and follow the next tip) to firmly establish the monochromatic/ monotone color palette.
An important consideration when combining woods is the texture of each surface. Contrasting rough and smooth finishes or wide and small planks will help disparate woods work together. Here, the ceiling treatment and island are a similar tone, but the totally different installations give them their own identities so they don’t match or clash.
The textural quality of a live-edge wood surface, such as on the table and bench here, creates a beautiful contrast against a more “perfect” wood, such as a sleek, glossy floor. Use this to help add dimension to a wood-heavy space, and to enjoy the unique beauty of a one-of-a-kind piece.
The designer of this kitchen used variety and obvious contrast by playing with the laying of the wood planks. The chevron layout in the backsplash area creates a subtle feature while still allowing the wall to feel harmonious. The fact that the wood wall is multitonal also helps it connect to the floor and stools, so the palette is harmonious across all the surfaces.
In this room, quite a few wood tones are present, but they’re all pale or painted and broken up by fabrics; for example, the rug separates the wood chairs from the floor. Sticking to these beachy tones mixed with classic blue is a safe bet, and you can always add a rug if it feels as though the wood is taking over.
The natural texture of whitewashed wood will still show through a coat of paint, making this treatment another great option for casual, traditional interior design styles, such as the cottage-inspired look of the living room in the above picture.
Rather than a solid white paint job, giving wood furnishings a worn finish preserves the raw character of the wood while still breaking up the look with some new tones. Try pale grays for a timeless historical-home look that can suit traditional, cottage, or modern interior design styles.