Mixing Wood Tones

By Kate Riley August 22, 2013

Wood has made a comeback, have you noticed? Well what’s true is that wood never went out of style (are you kidding, how could it?) it’s just that our tastes have changed.

We’re so over the heavily shellacked yellowish and reddish stains from past decades, remember those? What we crave today is more natural and more organic. Think less shiny, more exposed, the real and the raw. Letting the wood itself be the star, after all, it took nature decades to create that beauty so why not show it off. 

mixed gray patina and wood tones

tine k home

A reader wrote to me recently inquiring how to mix wood tones. Truth is, there are no hard and fast rules, the key is to mix them so that the wood finishes complement each other and don’t clash. There’s no secret formula, however these guidelines may help:

First, Avoid the Matchy Matchy. The “everything in the same wood tone” bedrooms and dining sets are a thing of the past. This bedroom set would work if the bed frame and armoire were a classic black or white and the dresser and end table were wood, but all of it together is just too much of the same thing.

matching wood tones in bedroom

If you happen to have one of these sets, no worries. Consider painting a piece or two in a classic shade (black, white, gray) to break up the set or replace one piece, say the bed frame for a softer upholstered version and you’ll achieve a less “matchy matchy” look.

White Makes It Alright. Wood is earthy, neutral by nature, and unpredictable in its grain, that’s what makes it cool. You can go crazy mixing the wood tones when you’ve got plenty of white to interrupt your medley and ultimately balance it all. I have a Pinterest board dedicated to this very idea, check it out here.

mixed wood tones with white

mixed wood tones with white

wood floor white walls

mixed wood tones in entry

lantliv / house beautiful / greige / light locations/ roger davies


Pale Floors Are Neutral.  Lightly stained floors act as a neutral as long as their undertone isn’t too yellow, orange, or red. Mix them with confidence with medium tone furniture or dramatic darker stained wood pieces.

dark wood cabinet light wood floor

dark wood table light floors


mixed dark and light wood tones

better homes & gardens

wood door and floor


The same is true for dark stained floors, when they’re underfoot they ground a space and you can mix a different stain wood above.

dark wood floors bhg

better homes & gardens

Less Means More. I’ve noticed the following: when you avoid the heavily varnished or shiny woods and stick to the raw, whitewashed, or graywash stains, you can mix wood finishes more freely. Less shellac means more freedom to layer varied woods with your architecture and furniture choices. 

mixed rustic wood tones


layers of wood country living

country living

mixed rustic woods

made in persbo


Think in Layers.  Layered interiors look curated over time. It’s fine to mix a dark stain with a graywash or a blonde wood with a walnut stain. Most importantly avoid mixing intense yellow undertones with red undertones, and instead opt for a common brown undertone to unite.

mixed wood tones in bathroom

If you choose pieces with more than two wood stains, bounce them around the room and repeat one more than once so they communicate a master plan at work.

mulitiple wood tones lonny



When it comes to decorating, don’t take it too seriously. Varied wood tones are balanced when there is more going on in a space then just the wood itself.

multiple wood tones

milk magazine

mixed wood tones elle decor

elle decor

patchwork dresser west elm

west elm

Inject your personality, collections, something living, something treasured and everything will be fine. How do you relate or mix varied wood tones in your home?




  1. LOVE all of these examples!! except that first one from roomstore or wherever…. my skin crawled on that one! ;)

  2. My boyfriend and I disagree about decorating all the time, and he would totally have chosen a matchy matchy bedroom set like that first one! I’ll have to show him this post!

  3. Awesome post! I’ve thought a lot about this topic, mostly because I have a huge yellow-shellacked monstrosity residing in my bedroom. Living with it for now but it’s nice to be reminded to surround myself with things I like (rather than the things that serve a purpose but upset me to look at everyday).

  4. Thanks for this post. I do love the light, raw exposed wood furniture pieces as well as painted pieces. I think is gives a home a collected feel that reflects the homeowners taste. Loved all the images.

  5. My Dad builds beautiful furniture as a hobby – we are so lucky, I know! Everything he has made for us is with different woods, different stains, etc. Mixing and matching wood is the way to go to keep things fresh and not get tired of any one type too quickly!

  6. Very helpful tips! Mixing anything (color, pattern, finishes) always makes me so nervous that I will “screw it up” somehow. Your advice is so practical and it’s helpful to see so many variations of how wood tones can play together nicely.

  7. Great post, thanks for the tips! Love those pics of white rooms with natural wood pieces, I’m going to have to start following that Pinterest board of yours.

  8. I spend tons of time in thrift stores and see lots of great wooden pieces that definitely deserve a second (or third) life. Thanks for all the inspirational photos and ideas for ways to mix wood in whatever your design aesthetic.

  9. While I personally like nonmatching, I have a husband who likes matching, especially when spending a lot of money on furniture. . Hopefully it will come back in style and we aren’t the only ones left with matching Dining sets and bedroom set! Anyone else out there? :)

  10. I love this post, Kate. I think it’s a great approach to mix textures in a space, especially by juxtaposing rustic, bare wood with painted surfaces and softer, tactile materials. All of these images are so inspiring – thank you for the round up!

  11. Speaking of wood and white, we are planning to finish a basement and I HATE those drop in ceiling tiles. I was thinking of doing white planked walls and a wood ceiling. But we need access to plumbing, duct work, etc. Do you know if it is possible to do a planked wood ceiling in the basement, and if so, how do you allow for access? Maybe you could refer me to the info if you don’t want to get into it all here. I guess this might be slightly off-topic.

  12. I am so glad I came upon this post!!!!!!!! I recently scored an awesome light wood, no shellac/poly dresser that I am going to put in our nursery. (I am due in January – eek!) I totally wasn’t thinking about the crib when I got the dresser and then it hit me once I got the dresser home – the crib I really want is a dark stain with no shellac/poly. I went back and forth on changing the color of the crib. Since I haven’t bought the crib yet I could easily just find another one, but then I wondered if it would be okay to do different wood tones. I decided a few weeks ago that I was going to give it a try, but being able to see different wood tones together before having to take the risk myself definitely helped. Thank you! I am so sticking to my original plan and I think it will look great! =]

  13. This is so helpful! How about a post also on mixing painted finishes? I’ve recently tried to research it, but couldn’t find much that helped.

  14. You always have fabulous ideas! I love the look of the mixed woods but my style is more of the “classic” (old fashioned) look. We have a 1920 craftsman style house and we are trying to bring it back to it’s original splendor. But I don’t like matchy matchy either…. You have great style!

  15. I like to think of wood as just another color, if you can keep that in mind it will definitely help shape the various rooms in your house.

  16. This post is so on point. I find myself trying to explain this to friends who ask for my inexpert advice, and still want to buy fulling matching bedroom sets (Nooo!) and I could have never said it as eloquently as you. I’m also facing this same problem in a room that we just turned into our “dressing room”. There are 7, count ’em 7! different wood tones in this tiny room between our two dressers, an Ikea expedit we use for clothes, an old wooden mirror, bookcases, and if course the floor is a completely different yellow orange from the closet doors (thanks landlords). We are still renting so we are stuck with certain aspects, but I need to paint a few of these more inexpensive pieces white to gather some balance in the room.

    Thank you so much for this post!

  17. Lovely pictures!
    I think I’m the odd man out. I was raised that one never matchey-machey-ed. It was … not done. I’m currently stripping stain out of things to get to the raw wood. Some oak I’ve graywashed with brown over it, dark hard wood floors, old pecan, some lovely old pine, etc. I love the texture mixing woods gives.

    Really nice collection! I appreciate the work it is to put this all together.
    Thank you.

  18. Kate I am so happy as an interior designer that you take the time to post such great advice. You are spot on with your advice for mixing woods. Especially the matchy matchy set, a lot of homeowners have that set, and just painting a couple of pieces would make a world of difference. Your the best!

  19. I am right now contemplating covering my ceiling with wood painted white, like several of the pictures show. Can you refer me to any resources or articles on the subject? I will be retrofitting it over an existing ceiling, so I anticipate there are some considerations to plan around.

  20. Great post. But, how do you (try to) convince a husband to make a change if your house is Matchy Matchy? I.E all the master bedroom furniture is matching Oak, 90% of the furniture in the living room is Oak, our kitchen cupboards (which is part of our great room) are Oak and our bathroom vanities are Oak (all the same color as your photo)? I have to admit I am tired of Oak, but if I try to mention changing any of it I get a ‘no’.

    • Ah the old husband/wife debate! Yep, it’s hard when your significant other digs their heels in, I think we all have different ways of convincing our husbands to change. I do love this saying though: it’s easier to ask for forgiveness than permission. *wink*

  21. Found you on a random search about mixing wood, and I can now breath a sigh of relief. My husband and I are Closing on a condo this week, but bought furniture this past black Friday weekend to take advantage of some super savings! His attitude was “I like this, let’s buy it” and mine was let’s wait until we bring in color swatches to matchy-matchy. He put his purchase foot down, and I came home exasperated. After reading your blog and all the comments, I’m going to think forward and positive. May even mix wood tones more than I originally planned on! THANKS!!

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