Use these tips to find the best paint colors and finishes to complement the wood furniture around your home.

By BH&G Editors
Updated August 25, 2020
Advertisement

Wood tones appear on many elements around our homes, including furniture, flooring, cabinetry, and trim. Stains and finishes can range from light blonde to rich mahogany, and these neutral hues play an important role in a room's overall color scheme. The paint colors and other accessories in the space, such as upholstered furniture and wall decor, should work together to highlight and enhance the wood's beauty, not clash with it. Refer to our guide to help you choose the best colors for wood tones and create a palette that showcases wood's natural good looks.

Credit: David Tsay

1. Consider the Wood's Color Tones

Each type of wood has a characteristic color and grain pattern, and the color also can be altered with stain. Furniture makers have used stains and varnishes for centuries, both to enhance the appearance of the grain and to change the color of the wood. The stains sold at home improvement centers are generally named for the types of wood they simulate, such as maple, cherry, walnut, mahogany, ebony, oak, and fruitwood. Over time, wood furnishings might also acquire a rich patina that gives the surface depth and complexity. Newer woods and veneers often lack this capability, but they still have an overall color tone that can be yellow, orange, red-brown, bluish brown, or dark brown.

To choose wall colors or fabrics that will enhance your wood pieces, consider the dominant hues in the finish to help guide your selections. You should also consider whether you prefer the drama of a high-contrast color scheme or the richness of low-contrast pairings. And don't worry about all the wood pieces in a room matching; the gathered-over-time look of mixed woods is perfect for spaces with a casual, comforting vibe.

Credit: John Bessler

2. Use Contrast to Call Attention

A stark difference in the colors and wood tones in a room can make your wood furnishings or floors look even more distinct. Dark finishes, such as mahogany, walnut, or cherry, stand out in sharp relief against light colors, such as a pale green or blue or a hue from the sunny side of the color wheel. In the same way, light wood shows up boldly against dark or strong color on the walls.

The contrast calls more attention to the furniture, a plus if you have a fine piece you want to focus on. If you have a lot of dark furniture in a light-colored room, however, the space might feel busier than it would if the furniture blended in. To pull off the look of dark wood against light walls (or light furniture against dark walls), keep furniture arrangements orderly and streamlined to offset the impression of crowding. To achieve high contrast with medium-tone finishes, keep the wall color soft and light, creating as much difference as possible between the values of the wood color and the wall.

You can also use the colors in the furniture finish as a cue for wall colors. If the dominant color in the wood appears to be red, for example, then a green background will enhance and intensify the wood's hue. Golden-yellow woods look handsome against warm red as well as earthy greens, teal, or eggplant. Brown woods with yellow undertones relate to buttery walls yet stand out boldly for high-contrast drama. Antique woods, which have a patina that offers depth and complexity, often combine several tones, which means they can look good against a variety of light or dark colors.

Credit: David Tsay

3. Make a Subtle Statement

Pairing hues of equal intensity or value creates low contrast. This doesn't necessarily mean the furniture fades into the background, however. When you put a dark mahogany chest or ebony table against a deep red or blue-green wall, for instance, you create a dynamic balance between two hues of equal strength. The value of the wood color equals that of the wall. The same principle works with medium brown woods and muted or medium-tone colors; the effect is more restrained because the tones are subdued.

Warm neutral colors, such as taupe, mushroom, or khaki, bring out the rich, toasty notes in medium brown woods. The furniture shows up handsomely, but the effect is quiet and low-key, producing a different kind of drama from that created by high contrast.

Credit: Marty Baldwin

4. Choose Complementary Colors

Color preferences are entirely personal, but when you're choosing background colors for furniture, you might find that some do a better job than others of bringing out the natural beauty of wood. Consider these wood and color combinations that beautifully complement each other:

  • Pine wood + green: The warmth of honey-toned pine shows up well against a medium green. This shade can bring out the yellow tones in the wood and balance them with cool contrast. A pale gray-green is another attractive, low-key choice to pair with light wood tones.
  • Orange-toned wood + blue: As these colors are directly opposite each other on the color wheel, bright, intense blue will highlight orange tones in the wood. This high-contrast look is great for those who love bold color, but it could be too intense for areas such as bedrooms when you want to encourage relaxation.
  • Natural wood + yellow: Sunny shades of yellow bring out the warm tones in wood, creating a casual, inviting look. This color won't actively enhance the wood with contrast, but the subtle variations in tone work to achieve a pleasing balance.

Comments (5)

Anonymous
March 24, 2020
Hi. I've got several kinds of antique wood cabinets in my open concept livingroom/dinningroom, as well as a maple floor. The walls and ceiling are white. So I've refinished a black walnut double drip leaf round table as my dinni groom table. It's beautiful, brownish red top with darker brown legs. What color chairs should I be looking for to compliment this 120 year old table?
Anonymous
October 2, 2019
How do I find out the paint colors for the first picture?
Anonymous
October 2, 2019
How can I find out what paint colors were used in the top photo? Thank you
Anonymous
February 16, 2019
I enjoyed your article. I have a quality well made round dark oak table (traditional style table). We have a great room that is open tot he kitchen so we use this table for breakfast, lunch and non-company dinners. I would like to keep this table but need some advice on chairs to put with it. I'm trying to mix modern in with rustic farmhouse. Any suggestions on chair style and wood color. I want to avoid matching the oak of the table. The kitchen has a mix of antique vanilla cabinets and Black cabinets. Our sofa is mid-century cognac leather.
Anonymous
October 4, 2018
This article is very well written and interesting--the details are tightly drawn. What about mahogany bedroom furniture with indigo walls--would white furniture be a better match? Thanks.