How to Mix Different Wood Tones and Finishes / by Margaret Chambers

As a Dallas interior designer, one of the questions I sometimes hear from homeowners is, "How do I mix and match different sets of wood furniture?" Gone are the days when everyone bought complete sets of wood furniture in the same finish, sometimes even matching their hardwood floors. Today, it is more common - and economical - for people to layer different furnishings they have collected over the years. If you're a Dallas homeowner who finds the idea of mixing different woods daunting, here are some suggestions to get you started.

First of all, if you do have one of those "all-matching" sets, there's no need to throw it all out. Consider painting one or two of the pieces to create variety. You should also distribute the pieces throughout the room instead of putting them together on the same side. Imagine a room with a set of light-colored wood on one side and a dark set on the other. The room will surely feel "unbalanced" to anyone who enters. To combine two different kinds of wood, you will need to break things up.

One of the ways interior designers balance different woods in a space is by creating visual buffers. For example, if you have a large table in one wood, and floors in a different wood, the contrast between the two can be jarring. Place a rug under the table to make a softer transition. White paint and exposed wood are a classic combination: spacing out your wood furniture between white areas can either break up a matching set, or create calm between contrasting woods. If you suspect that you might actually have too much wood in one room, introduce more hard surfaces like metal, glass, and acrylic.

What if you want to actually highlight the differences between your wood furniture? A key point to remember is that some contrasts are more 'acceptable' to the eye than others. Interior designers usually contrast light versus dark, or smooth versus rough, but not 'warm' versus 'cool.'

A warm-colored wood will have undertones of orange, red or yellow. Meanwhile, a cool colored wood will usually have a grayish cast. If you have trouble identifying a piece's color, find the lightest tone in the grain, or try looking at the piece from a distance. Generally warm colored woods, like yellow pine or dark red cherry, will go together better than they would with gray woods, regardless of finish. 

This master bedroom has a very harmonious color scheme, but on closer inspection, there is a good deal of contrast introduced in the different wood finishes and colors.

This master bedroom has a very harmonious color scheme, but on closer inspection, there is a good deal of contrast introduced in the different wood finishes and colors.

If you have a wood furnishing that you want to highlight, like a coffee table, armoire or buffet, you can surround it with a different kind of wood to turn it into an impact piece. Besides color, texture is an opportunity to create contrasts between woods: smooth versus rough, painted versus unpainted, or fine grain versus large grain. The shape of wood furniture pieces can also create cohesion or contrast. Smooth lines contrast against curves, while simplicity contrasts with carved details.

The checkered wood floor provides a striking geometric contrast to the ornate curved furniture over it in this French Country home. 

The checkered wood floor provides a striking geometric contrast to the ornate curved furniture over it in this French Country home. 

If you're building or remodeling your Dallas home and haven't chosen your hardwood floors yet, here are some things to keep in mind. Generally, a lighter wood will make for neutral flooring, as long as it isn't too red or yellow. The advantage of neutral flooring is you can introduce medium or dark-toned woods without worrying if they will clash too much. Similarly, dark toned woods without a strong color can help to ground a space.

As a rule of thumb, you should not use more than three kinds of wood per room. The "80/20" rule we interior designers use can be useful here. 80% of the wood in your room should be of a similar color or finish, while 20% can be a contrasting accent wood.

Hopefully you can now look at your wood furniture with a more exacting eye, and see combinations - or potential contrasts - that you couldn't see before. Otherwise, an interior designer can always help you bring out the fullest potential of your wood collections.