Even seasoned amateur decorators can find themselves stumped (pun intended) by the task of mixing woods in a space.
First of all, yes, you can mix woods! In fact, you probably should. But it’s understandably challenging — wood tones can be subtle, unlike colors and patterns that have defined relationships (think back to that color wheel from elementary school art class). Done correctly, mixing up the woods in your space can add depth and warmth to a room. Here’s how we do it:
Take Inventory of Your Existing Wood, Furniture & Fabric Tones
First, note any wood types that may already be built into your space. The obvious start is wooden floors: barring a renovation, those have to stay in the space. If you have built-ins or woodwork in your room, consider those too.
Remember to take rugs & curtains into account! They can make a big difference in the dominance of your permanent woods. Take stock of the color and tone: if you have super dark flooring, you may want to bring lighter tones into the space (and vice versa). If your wood floors have a bold grain, think about incorporating pieces with smaller, more subtle patterns. If your floors are shiny and lacquered, make sure to switch up the finishes in your smaller side tables, stools, benches and other accent furniture.
There is no perfect, one-size-fits-all recipe here, but the idea is to create a harmonious blend of woods without one finish totally overpowering the space.
1. Warm walnut meshes well with other warmer woods. / 2. Cooler wood tones at our Stay Floyd in Leelanau, MI.
Focus on the Undertones
The second priority is to choose woods that have the same undertone. Remember those magazine tests that help you decide whether you look best in gold or silver jewelry? This is basically the same thing.
In general, woods with a warm tone don’t have a stain that changes their natural color — think natural birch, walnut, oak, maple, cherry, or even mahogany. Woods with a stain, particularly those finished in grey or black washes, tend to have cool undertones.
A helpful rule of thumb is to keep warm woods with warm woods and cool woods with cool woods. Obviously, rules are meant to be broken, but if you are looking to find a balanced mixture of woods in a room it is helpful to pick one group of undertones and stick with it.
Explore Different Ways to Balance Furniture Scale and Weight
The final challenge is to sprinkle your chosen wood tones throughout your room in a balanced way. Scale and weight are very important! If you have a huge antique dresser in a dark wood, try to move other dark wood pieces away from it. This helps to spread the visual weight evenly throughout the space, drawing the eye around your home rather than bringing it to a dead stop at your giant wall full of mahogany furniture. Instead, pair that dark, heavy dresser with something brighter and of more slender proportions, such as a light-wood bookshelf.
If you’re stuck, try adding smaller items, like frames or decorative objects that aren’t as much of a commitment as a full-size piece. Don’t get hung up on getting the balance perfect the first time around, either! Good designers constantly tinker with their space to walk that harmonious line. Trial and error is your friend here.
Design Your Space to Be Uniquely Yours
The common element of the most beautiful homes is a sense of curation — the feeling that the space was created over time, not slapped together all at once with a set of matching furniture.
By adding in several different wood tones, you can foster that feeling in your own space. It doesn’t matter if your room is super-modern or more eclectic! Give it a try and see how it looks. And don’t forget to send us a picture.