Mixing old with the new: 4 lessons in combining wood tones
I was always a bit afraid to mix wood tones.
Maybe because we all grew up in 1980s houses that had dark dining sets and dining room buffets sitting on oak flooring, or fully wooden bedroom sets on even more oak flooring – and then again, maybe that was just my own parents’ transitional period going from the 1980s to now (their house is much better, I might add).
Either way, it always scared me a bit and I never fully had to deal with it, since I lived with my parents to save up for a place after university. But I started getting more and more interested in design as they were seeking to modernize their home – which made me come out of my fears and get more inspired by Pinterest.
I used to get my creative kicks out by painting, making films, and writing – but I noticed that more and more, I was craving to get my energy out in design. So on began the master Pinterest board of when I would eventually move out.
When I did move out, decorating felt like more of an instinct than an effort. I couldn’t figure out why a person like me, who hadn’t ever paid much attention to design, felt so comfortable knowing exactly what needed to be placed where, and with what.
That is until I realized just how much I had subliminally soaked in from pinning inspiration for four years. Little did I know, I was giving myself some sort of informal education – by curating the looks I loved most. I had seen images of a certain style for so long that it became second-nature to pull from the rolodex of design-spiration in my head.
The biggest piece that I realized I’d subliminally soaked in was how to mix wood tones. Almost all of my furniture is handed down from grandparents, parents, or from an antique mall. So they’re all different tones for sure.
So here are my main wood-mixing lessons that I’ve learned:
1. Know your tones.
This is where Pinterest comes in. Get inspiration. Start pinning. Get a sense of if you like a darker, heartier space, or if you like crisp and light, or if you jive with retro jams. Once you know your tones, you can understand which pieces to bring in (or even how you want to do your floor).
I knew my living room would be moody + light, my kitchen would be vibrant + traditional, and my bedroom would be soft + warm.
2. Contrast is your friend.
The trick to mixing wood is making sure you have contrast between them. Mix some light and dark! They’ll play off of each others’ warmth and feel like natural pairs. When you use wood that’s too similar in too small a space, it begins to look muddy and unintentional.
3. Always tie it in.
The one thing that ties all the random-era-d furniture together in my place is the wood floor. I went light, with dark variations (because yes, it’s damn beautiful, but also it has every tone imaginable). My favourite piece, the black walnut coffee table from a tree in my grandparents’ backyard, needed something to relate to – otherwise it would have looked out of place. Which is why doing my stairs in such a dark tone worked. It doesn’t mean to need to replace your floor to make things work – but it does mean: if you have something dark, find another piece that has a bit of dark and place it somewhere else in the room. Everything should be grounded in something else that complements it in order to feel complete.
4. Less is more.
Some looks don’t abide by this rule, and that’s totally fine. A super hippie-boho-vibes place that’s chock-full with plants and vintage furniture has its own charm (and I admit, I’m a total closet-hippie). But for a lot of other design styles, less is more. Keep things simple. Know which pieces are your hero pieces, and let them shine. When there’s space to breathe, you’ll find that the pieces you’ve chosen really speak to the character of a room, and become more dramatic statements than when they are crowded with things.
Have other tips for mixing wood tones? Pop them in the comments below!