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How to Make Light Wood Tones Work Well at Home

For decades it has seemed like the go-to wood finish for so many contemporary designer homes has been a deep, almost-black espresso stain. Whether in a modern condo or a traditional home, a super-dark floor or furniture set does carry a certain drama and sense of sophistication. However, light wood tones have a power all their own. Here’s how they can work for you

By Yanic Simard, Houzz

1. Help spaces feel light. This one might seem obvious, but using light woods (especially for floors) can make an entire room look and feel lighter. Compare how airy this floor feels versus the weightiness of the dark cabinet and even the table. Lighter wood tones don’t absorb as much light, and don’t usually contrast their surroundings as much, compared to dark-toned floors. Having less weight at the floor avoids pulling the eye down, which usually makes the whole space feel more open and airier.
2. Make furniture feel breezy. Even used for furniture instead of flooring, pale-toned woods help a space feel breezy. These chairs are fairly sizable, but they look light as a feather in this soft wood shade. If the chairs were a dark wood or lacquer, the openings in the back would stand out more, and they would contrast the table and walls dramatically. In this shade they appear subtler and maybe even a bit friendlier.
3. Bring a sense of serenity. Whether light woods contrast their surroundings or not of course depends on what those surroundings are. However, most homes tend to have a lot of lighter to midtone shades — and not many homes have extremely dark wall colors. This lower contrast makes a room feel more peaceful and serene, because the different elements create more visual harmony. And the way the lines blend together can also make a space feel larger.
4. Camouflage. Speaking of blending together, light floors and surfaces can also camouflage elements you don’t want to see, such as dust, pet hair and even deep scratches.Whether hiding dust is a good thing or not depends a bit on preference, but you might appreciate that your floors don’t show every new speck of dust the day after a thorough cleaning.
Darker woods show such debris more readily, and they can also dramatically highlight scratches that run deeper than the surface stain (revealing the lighter tone below). For those with children or pets, or who are accident-prone, this can be a very important consideration.

 

5. Show cool pattern installations. Woods with a heavy espresso stain tend to hide their own grains. Conversely, lighter woods show more grain and also highlight the seams between planks, making them a great choice for interesting installation patterns such as a herringbone, chevron or basket-weave parquet. If you want to trade the popular straight lay for something with a more manor-like flair, a light wood tone will make sure that all that extra installation care is perfectly shown off.

6. Deliver a strong sense of nature. Speaking of grain, lighter wood tones tend to feel “raw” and “organic,” because they generally have a less obvious stain and thus feel more untouched. This helps them bring in a strong sense of nature, which can really create an indoor-outdoor feel, especially when accented with some lively plants or a great view. Dark woods often feel more manicured, while lighter woods feel a bit wilder or more rustic, which gives them the win for natural appeal.

7. Introduce warmth. There’s a strong current trend toward embracing warm hues, whether that means blush pinks, fiery purples, fresh violets, summery peaches or even just warm off-whites. Lighter wood tones carry a warmer demeanor than super-dark espresso tones, which can feel a bit cold. They’re an excellent choice, then, to mix with hot hues or to gently warm up cooler palettes.
8. Refresh your whites. A white kitchen is a highly sought-after look, and a light wood floor is an excellent complement to white cabinets. The combination feels fresh and energetic without being loud, which is perfect for such a busy room.
This room has almost no vivid color, but it still feels lively because the contrast between the crisp white and demure wood is so pleasing.
9. Balance dark accents. Going in the opposite direction, light-toned woods work beautifully with darker wood accents.
This dining room uses pale wood for the biggest surface — the floor — but dark wood for the table. The result is the feeling of lots of rich, deep wood, even though most of it is actually fairly light.
A little can go a long way with dark wood, so sometimes it’s best to take a less-is-more approach and avoid bogging the space down.

It’s worth pointing out that sometimes a light wood itself can be the accent. In this case, the dark floor and table make the pale chairs absolutely pop, and at the same time the chairs help break up the darkness.
If you have a lot of wood in a space and it feels a bit too weighty, the best solution might actually be a little more wood, in a tone that lightens the mood and redirects your focus.
10. Cooperate with color. For those who love vivid color in their spaces, pale wood can be your best friend. When bright hues are teamed with dark tones, the effect can be amplified, making a color that seemed great on its own, or in a store, appear garish. White and off-white tend to visually absorb color instead, so pale wood tones can actually keep their colorful complements from feeling like total overload.
Notice how bright the blue is on this cabinet, as well as the green of the leaves and the pink of the blossoms. These hues are all quite strong, but the pale wood and white walls work together to keep those pieces from feeling out of control.
11. Work with modern gray. Like a cool, architectural approach to a color palette? Light woods will work for you too, which makes sense because they are a midcentury modern staple. Mixing subtly warm woods with serious grays produces a sophisticated balance that brings out the best of both.

12. Mix with other light wood tones. Ultimately, the best thing about using light wood tones might be how easily they can be mixed. You can use several woods, such as oak, maple, ash or hickory, in differing stains, and have them coordinate well without much thought. Tip: Choose just one element in a darker wood finish to be a standout accent, such as this entry door, and keep the other woods more muted. It’s an easy way to keep the mix from feeling like a mishmash.If you liked this article, check out more below!

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