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Mixing Wood Finishes…RELAX !

Growing up, I remember when we all thought it was “the thing to do” to buy furniture in matched sets.  We felt safe with the notion that a home was properly decorated when appointed with one wood finish per room.  We chose  “Cherry”, or “Walnut”, or “Pecan”, and our choice was then neatly coordinated with one main upholstery color and one accent color for toss pillows,
chairs, etc.  The adventurous would dare to adorn the windows with draperies of a floral pattern.

The fashion world of the time was equally rigid and simplistic.  A well-dressed lady wore matching shoes and purse.  I have a dim memory of the prerequisite matching hat, and the ever-present white gloves that completed the look. 

Proper.  REQUIRED.

How we have grown in sophistication since those days!  Just look around at stores and magazines to see that many different elements pulled deftly together make for a much more relaxed and exciting environment.  But even now it is not uncommon to encounter people stressing out over the (still imagined) necessity of having to match all wood finishes, fearful that if they don’t, the room will be “wrong”.

There are no set rules dictating that wood finishes should match, or not.  This is your home, and here YOU rule.  But this is not your grandmother’s, nor your mother’s livingroom (diningroom, bedroom, you name it), to quote a familiar ad campaign.  I would like to put an end to the outdated notion that wood finish colors must all match.  It’s time to relax those old concepts, to celebrate the beauty of wood as a color in the room, an exquisite gift from nature.  Wood tones can be mixed and enjoyed for the richness that they bring to the over-all beauty of the room.

Where did this notion come from, anyway?  My theory is that it began after the Industrial Revolution, when it was suddenly possible to purchase “brand new sets” of furniture.  People were coming to this country in droves, all yearning to participate in the “American Dream”.  We all worked hard to be able to afford these new and wonderful furnishings.  Those who had the means were able to demonstrate their financial achievements by owning the newest mass-produced furniture, all in matched sets.  This then, became the new standard in desirability.  “Eclectic” hinted of “make-do”, and “making do” was something Americans wanted to banish from their lives once and for all.

Only the most wealthy (think Vanderbilt and Morgan) felt secure with their priceless and very eclectic antique heirlooms.

The newly wealthy American family could now boast of beautiful, matched sets of furniture in every room of the house.

This concept remains with many of us today, a leftover of days and economies gone by.  However, just as fashion has become more creative, so has our home décor.

The analogy I draw for my clients is that of color as musical notes.  One note does not make music.  But two or three well-chosen notes (or furniture finishes) can strike a heavenly chord. It’s not a random decision.  Just as your ear will discern a lovely chord, your eye will inform you if your wood finishes are working well together or not.

Here are some hints that might help when choosing wood finishes for your room:

  • Many assume that furniture must match the floor finish.  Your floor can run the color gamut from classic golden oak to the deepest rosewood, or even deeper espresso.  Most furniture finishes will work beautifully with all of the above.  Look at magazines for good examples of how various furniture finishes look against floors, and how they integrate fabrics and colors.  You will find by observing, that there is a wide range of possibilities, hence no need for you to be overly anxious about what will work.  Most wood finishes just love each other, and work very well together within a room.
  • To take the guess-work out of adding new wood furnishings to an already established room, always shop with a drawer, or a table leaf from the room you are working on.  If there are no removable or portable parts, the second-best solution is to stop at the paint store and pick up several wood-stain color charts.  Bring them home and check off the one which most closely matches the stain color of your furniture.  Now you have a reliable color reference in hand.  When you go to furniture stores, also bring with you a photo of your furniture, enabling you to communicate more clearly with the salesperson or design professional.  Once he or she understands what you are looking for, it will be much easier to find the right item for you.
  • Be receptive to the idea of deliberately not matching your existing finish.  Firstly, the probability of hitting a dead-on match is slim-to-none, and secondly, even if the match was available, a tone just slightly “off” can add much more beauty and energy to your room.  It’s that musical thing again.
  • If you feel unsure of your ability to judge when mixing various finishes, remind yourself that in the days before mass-produced furniture came into existence, there were no “standard” finishes.  People collected beautiful, “one-of-a-kind” pieces, and mixed them into their existing belongings.  The result was usually gorgeous.  Note: These same priceless examples of those days-gone-by compile the huge body of exquisite antiques that are available to us today.  This is a high-end market where matching finishes is considered absurd.  If this notion does not comfort you, consult an interior designer whom you trust to help you in choosing. 


All this being said, there is nothing inherently wrong with purchasing a dining ensemble or a bedroom suite in one finish.  Just be aware that the room may be enlivened by the introduction of one “odd” piece: a black lacquered buffet or secretary, for instance, or a set of rosewood chairs around a tiger maple dining table, or a chest of eucalyptus green placed among a honey-toned spruce bedroom suite.  Choosing an un-matched piece adds depth and interest to a space.

As a case in point, most of the fashion-forward furniture emporiums today offer collections peppered with deliberately mis-matched pieces in order to encourage the consumer to feel confident in experimenting with a more creative approach to putting together their rooms.

Are you searching for new diningroom chairs?  Perhaps what you need are some that are painted lacquer red or yellow, with seats covered in a tiny faux-leopard pattern.  That’s “not you”, you say?  Good!  Now you can begin to consider what is you, and leave behind all of Grandma’s old preconceptions.


Go for it !!


-Karen Saloomey
© 2010 SHOPSICLE ® All RIghts Reserved


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