Kitchen Cabinets and Wood Floors – A Grainy Question

    If you have wood floors in your kitchen and a natural wood finish on your kitchen cabinets, should the floors and cabinets be the same species of wood and the same color or should they contrast? And if they should contrast, which should be the darker color?

    I often discuss this issue with my clients. My feeling is that there needs to be some color distinction between the flooring and the cabinetry so that the cabinets don’t look like the floor is simply wrapping itself up the walls. After all, one is the floor and the other is essentially furniture and they should express themselves differently. I would suggest that there is no rule about which wood is the lighter or the darker.

    But I would also say that you need to consider the grain of both woods. This characteristic of the wood is often overlooked. If your flooring has a busy or strong grain, like oak, hickory, or even an antique pine, a smoother grained wood, like cherry or clear alder would be best for the cabinets. This will keep you from being overwhelmed with too much visual activity in the wood grain. I also think that the flooring is the place for the strong grained wood and not the cabinets.

Mullins Hutch

Kitchen Cabinet with Wood Floor

    In my book, Designing Your Perfect House: Lessons from an Architect, I discuss this very issue. Here’s a photo of a kitchen where I used cumaru teak for the flooring, with a fairly strong grain, and quarter-sawn oak for the cabinetry. Oak is normally a pronounced grain when plain sawn, but when rift or quarter sawn, the grain is smoother and much more refined. The combination worked out very nicely.

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Bill Hirsch

Bill Hirsch

499 Comments

  1. Eunice on December 6, 2008 at 2:52 pm

    I have a question. I read that the floor should be more grainy than the cabinets. My problem is that our cabinets are Hickory and there fore more grainy. How do I find out what plainer floor would go with it.

    With the variation of the grain would you suggest same color vue as cabinets or as you say in this article go lighter or darker. We have a fairly small kitchen but it does have enough light.

    I am not sure this can be answered by you but it sure would be appreciated

  2. Bill Hirsch Bill on December 6, 2008 at 3:19 pm

    Eunice – This is a good question. I would suggest that since you already have cabinets with a strong grain, you should look for wood flooring that has a smoother and straighter grain. Take a drawer of cabinet door with you to a wood flooring showroom and put it alongside of some samples to get a good idea of how things will look in your kitchen. I would suggest looking at cherry, lyptus or santos mahogany. There are others to consider, as well. Just stay away from woods with swirling grains and knots that will compete, visually, with your cabinet wood grain.

    Best of luck with your project.

  3. Eunice on December 19, 2008 at 2:23 am

    Bill, thanks a million. You saved the day. I was thinking along the same lines about the grain but was hung up as to the type of wood. I can’t thank you enough. I really am lost for words to let you know how much I appreciate you taking the time to help me.
    God Bless,
    Eunice

  4. Cora-Lea on February 15, 2009 at 2:51 am

    Bill, much help needed. We just bought a house and want to change flooring that will go from kitchen to dining/living room bathroom hallway and foyer. It is a very open concept floor plan. The kitchen bath both have natural oak cabinets and we are thinking of a darker smoked maple for the floor/ we are trying to modernize the space. Your input would be appreciated.

    • Bill Hirsch Bill on February 15, 2009 at 10:56 am

      Cora-Lea – Maple flooring with oak cabinets could be a good choice. Maple is a very smooth grained wood, so it won’t “fight” with the visually active grain of the oak cabinets. Ordinarily I would suggest lighter colored floors for a more contemporary look, but since you already have the natural, lighter finish on the cabinets, your choice of a darker finish on the maple sounds good because it will give a pleasant contrast. I would caution about getting the floor too dark, though. Dark floors tend to show every speck of dust and light colored debris, such as salt, lint, etc. If you have a pet, dog or cat hair will show very easily. Even if you keep your floors very clean, you’ll find them hard to keep up with if they are too dark. So a medium colored oak might be best. It would also maintain the more contemporary look and not make the house have too much of a country style.

      I hope that helps. Thanks for the question.

  5. Tiffani on March 24, 2009 at 7:03 pm

    We have oak kitchen cabinets and an oak floor – as well as oak spindles and handrail leading up the open foyer. We’re having our floor refinished (currently they are the exact same stain as the cabinets and handrail). We’re considering going natural with the floor. What do you think??? And soon down the road attempt to darken the kitchen cabinets a bit – or at least eliminate some of the yellowing that has occurred on the cabinets.
    Thoughts?

    • Bill Hirsch Bill on March 27, 2009 at 7:44 pm

      Tiffani:

      Finishing the oak floor as a natural color is a nice way to let your other wood finishes show off a bit more. I like the idea of darkening the other wood a little to add contrast. The yellowing you mantion is a residual effect of the oil based polyurethane finish. Some people find this desireable, others don’t. If you want to prevent the yellow, consider using a water based polyurethane. It doesn’t yellow and actual provides a bit harder finish so it’s even a little more durable.

      When you get to the point of darkening the oak cabinets, don’t go too dark. Dark stains contain minute particles that give it the darkness. Oak has all of those streaks of open grain that catch the particles. If the stain is too dark, the particles will make the wood look very streaky as the grain becomes more prominent. If you are not totally refinishing the cabinets (stripping and sanding) you might experiment with lightly sanding and then simply coating them with a polyurethane that contains a bit of stain. That could give you the color you want with a lot less work. Just be sure to experiment in an inconspicuous location since the underlying finish will make the end result difficult to predict.

  6. Lily on April 5, 2009 at 12:25 am

    Hi

    We are building a house and are having trouble finding the perfect wood floor color to match our kitchen cabinets. Our cabinets are made of maple with an orange-red stain. Should we do a darker wood or lighter wood flooring?

    • Bill Hirsch Bill on April 5, 2009 at 9:19 am

      Lily – The idea would be to have some contrast between the color of the cabinet wood and the color of the floor. Since maple is a smooth grained wood, you could use a wood with a strong grain, such as oak or hickory. Those woods look best with a medium to light stain. That would give you the contrast you would want. But light polyurethane finishes often have a yellowish cast. That might “fight” with the orange-red color of the cabinets. So maybe a dark wood, like Santos mahogany, cumaru, or walnut would be good choices. I’d suggest getting samples of the flooring with a finish on it and laying it next to the cabinets to get a good impression of how the two will work together.

      I always advise people to try to select a wood floor that has a natural color they like rather than depend on staining the wood to get the color. If you do use a stain, try to use it sparingly so the true look of the wood shows through. It will give you a richer and better look.

  7. Paul on April 5, 2009 at 12:39 pm

    Bill, I am glad to find this page because I am facing this very issue. We are getting new cabinets in our kitchen, and later on we want to put in wood floors throughout the combined kitchen/dining room/family room space. I want to make sure we have enough contrast between the cabinets and the floor, but I’m wondering which type of contrast is more important: a light vs. dark contrast, or a active vs. smooth grain contrast. Right now our two main choices for cabinet wood are alder and cherry.

    • Bill Hirsch Bill on April 15, 2009 at 10:14 pm

      Paul – I think creating contrast is important in the light versus dark decision. Regarding the active versus smooth grain issue, it’s more a matter of keeping the grains from clashing rather than acheiving a contrast. So putting two smooth grained woods together works nicely as long as there is some color contrast.

  8. Jasmine on April 15, 2009 at 4:03 pm

    Hi Bill,

    Glad I came across your blog. Finalizing cabinets for kitchen. Our wood floor choice is santos mahogany and we are thinking about a honey stain maple cabinet colour. What is your opinion with this combo? Do you think a natural maple would be better suited?

    Any assistance you can provide is greatly appreciated!

    Thx.

    • Bill Hirsch Bill on April 15, 2009 at 10:18 pm

      Jasmine – Since Santos Mahogany has a rich color, I think you could use the honey maple nicely. Sometimes natural maple can even look a little too light and a bit unfinished since the wood is so light in its natural state. Incidentally, Santos Mahogany is one of the few woods that lightens in color from exposure to daylight. Most woods get a bit deeper in color. But even if the mahogany lightens, I think the contrast would still be pleasant with either the honey maple or natural maple cabinets.

  9. Jasmine on April 16, 2009 at 7:14 am

    Thanks Bill!

    I did not like natural maple bc I thought it lacked the warmth. With its warmth, I am still a bit hesitant on the honey maple, bc our kitchen is north facing and it might be too dark with floor. I am going to the cabinet maker to see if I can a stain inbetween natural and honey. I think the best of both world – maybe. I’ll cross my fingers! Thx for you help!

  10. Anita on April 18, 2009 at 6:37 pm

    Hi,

    I was wondering if you could tell me if you’ve often seen kitchens with lighter cabinets on dark hardwood. Nowadays, it seems many are opting for dark (chocolate or espresso stained) cabinets on natural stained hardwood. Another popular trend seems to be white or antique white cabinets on dark hardwood. For some reason, I am drawn to honey colored shaker style cabinets on dark (chocolate stained) hardwood but after looking and looking, I cannot seem to find any pics to give me a better visual idea of what this would be like.

    Thanks!

    Anita 🙂

    • Bill Hirsch Bill on April 19, 2009 at 9:16 am

      Anita – Don’t let the fact that you can not find photos of examples of the combination you like stop you from doing your kitchen the way you prefer. I think the idea of honey colored Shaker cabinets on a very dark floor is simply a matter of stylistic preference. It does not seem to me to be wrong. I think the contrast sounds good and I don’t see a clash of materials or colors. You are correct about the current style trends, but it wasn’t too long ago that dark floors and light cabinets were being done. I know because I had clients choose that combination myself. I’ll bet that after you get you kitchen completed you’ll start seeing similar kitchens appearing in magazine frequently. You can be the trend setter.

    • Patti Gildersleeve on December 13, 2015 at 1:37 pm

      Aloha! We are replacing our kitchen cabinets with a fine grain bamboo and are debating which wood flooring would look best with them. So far we are considering engineered cumaru or reclaimed teak. Both of these types seem to have a wide range of values…we are concerned that the flooring might be too busy. Any suggestions would be appreciated.
      Mahalo!

      • Bill Hirsch William Hirsch on December 18, 2015 at 1:33 pm

        Patti – I think I have to come to Hawaii to see your cabinets in person. Maybe stay a couple of weeks! Just kidding. You said the bamboo is fine grained. That will let you use a flooring with a more “active” grain and the two should live together peacefully. The cumaru or teak should give you a pleasing color difference, too.

  11. Anita on April 19, 2009 at 11:56 am

    Thanks Bill! Your viewpoint is reassuring! I believe I will take your advice (as mentioned above) and not go too dark with the floors though, as we do have 2 cats and I know that dark floors show everything! I really enjoy your blog! Thanks for all the great advice!

    Anita 🙂

  12. James on April 29, 2009 at 10:31 pm

    Hi…..I need your help!

    I have Oak cabinets (Golden oak stain) and ceramic tile currently. I would like to replace the tile with hardwood flooring……the only problem is my living room and dining room have oak flooring already and all of the doors, trim, and stair parts are oak too!

    Do I install the same wood in the kitchen as in the living room and dining room and run the risk of the cabinets and floor being almost identical?

    Or do I go with a different color or species of floor in the kitchen and have 2 different types of floors downstairs?

    • Bill Hirsch Bill on May 27, 2009 at 7:51 pm

      James – This is a tough one. Yes, you run the risk of having too much oak. But depending on the arrangement of things, the oak may not be as overwhelming as it could be. Changing to another species of wood might be an option depending on how the rooms join each other. I’d say that if the rooms are very open to each other you would not want to change floor species. But if they are separated by a doorway where you could insert a threshold board flush with the floor, then you could change species. I had a client several years ago who wanted a pickled wood floor in the dining room but oak elsewhere. At first this sounded like a bad idea, but it really came off nicely. The dining room gained its own charachter and did not look out of place from the rest of the house.

  13. Tara on May 8, 2009 at 1:24 pm

    Bill,
    We are planning lighter wood floors and darker cabinets but want to ensure a contrast so it doesn’t feel like a sauna! The choices are overwhelming and hard to envision. We’ll also be adding recessed & under cab. lighting so although things are dark now (smaller windows, N facing) the room should brighten up a little. We are trying to choose between Amendoim or Cumaru flooring, and a med brown with coffee glaze or espresso cabinets. I worry the brown with glaze won’t be dark enough, but that the espresso will be too dark. Any thoughts?

    • Bill Hirsch Bill on May 27, 2009 at 8:02 pm

      Tara – If your cabinet style has plenty of grooves and edges where the glaze can “hang up” on the surface, the glazing will show up more. If the cabinets style is very smooth, the glazing is almost a wasted effort. Raised panel doors and beaded edge details seem to work best for glazed finishes. I agree that the coffee glaze might end up with not enough contrast to the underlying medium brown cabinet color. But the best way to find out is to have the cabinet company provide you with a full door and drawer-front sample with both finishes. That way you can see the true final look and not have to make a decision simply based on your imagination.

      I would have a little concern that the Amendoim might be too “active” a grain to go well with the glazed cabinets. Cumaru, although far from plain and uniform grained, might provide a better contrast to your detailed cabinets. But here is another place where a physical sample might help you decide. Ask for a reasonably sized sample section of both floor, with finish on the, and then put them with your cabinet samples. this might make the answer obvious. Good luck.

  14. jon on May 14, 2009 at 6:39 pm

    Bill,

    My floors in my loft have sustain some water damage and will be getting repaired, sanded and then stained. I cant decide on what stain to use. I have maple cabinets and am leaning towards a darker stain for the floors. Any thoughts?

    Thanks!

    • Bill Hirsch Bill on May 27, 2009 at 8:04 pm

      Jon – I like to contrast the flooring with the cabinets but you don’t want to make the contrast too harsh. A medium stain might be best.

  15. Lynn on June 1, 2009 at 4:43 pm

    Hi Bill, we are going through a dilema with choosing a floor for our kitchen and great room. We have older med oak cabinets in our kitchen which are in great shape and we can’t afford to change. Our ceiling is wood in this room and stained a dark brown with a fieldstone fireplace covering one wall. We are out in the country. I’m debating between a dark floor and a light. Prefering the dark more. But how dark do you go? We are looking at ash floors by plankflooring.com. The mill is right by our house where they make the flooring.We already have oak flooring in our den which is a separate room off the kitchen with a normal size doorway. I have got so many samples I feel like I’m going crazy.

    • Bill Hirsch Bill on June 18, 2009 at 9:16 pm

      Lynn – I think you can go fairly dark in this situation. But keep in mind that dark floors will show light volored specks, like crumbs and pet hair. So if you feel this would be a problem, you might want to not get too dark. But from a purely aesthetic point of view. The darker the floor (but not black), the more contrast you will have with the cabinets and the better it will all work. One other caution. Ash is a very, very similar grain to oak. You might want to look at some other specieas of flooring with a smoother grain so it won’t start to look much like a visual continuation of the cabinets. Contrast is good, so try to acheive some with your selection.

  16. Betty on June 12, 2009 at 5:21 pm

    My flooring & cupboards are the same color. The cupboards have a saffron stain while the KEMPAS flooring has the same RED coloring! I really don’t like it, do you have any suggestions?

    • Bill Hirsch Bill on June 18, 2009 at 9:22 pm

      Betty – Hopefully you have a spare piece of the kempas or can get some to do some experimentation on. I fear that if you simply start adding darker staind to the kempas you will end up far darker than you might like. This might sound crazy, but a diluted bluish or greenish stain might mute or kill the redness in the kempas without making it too dark. It probably won’t take much color to do the job. So sample lightly and be sure to put the urethane or other finish on top of the samples when they dry so you will be looking at the finished product. If you try this, let me know how it works out. If you send some photos I’ll post them on the blog.

  17. Jose on June 13, 2009 at 11:28 am

    Bill,

    I am planning to install wood floors on my living room and kitchen. Our furniture is dark cherry in color. What would you recommend would be a good wood type for this?

    • Bill Hirsch