There are a lot of house renovation decisions that are honestly kind of fun to make (like choosing pillows and rugs or decorative objects), but there are also a lot of choices you have to make that are a bit more agonizing. It’s especially difficult if the decision is expensive or a big undertaking and not so easy to go back on if you decide you actually don’t like it when it’s completed. Choosing a floor stain can totally be one of those nail-biting dilemmas that you really don’t want to get wrong due to the time and expense it takes. Elsie and I both had to choose floor stains for our new houses since we were refinishing the floors, and we know how important it is to take your time and answer a couple of different questions first so you can make sure you get what you want out of your flooring.
Is room contrast or brightness more important?
I am the type of person that loves a beautiful, dark floor just as much as a light colored floor, but I know that both have pros and cons. Especially if you are planning on doing light colored walls, a dark floor can really add contrast to a space and create a dramatic delineation between the walls and flooring. Dark floors (especially wide board floors) can modernize a space and make light colored area rugs really pop. The negative to dark floors is that they do suck up more light in a room rather than reflect the light the way a light colored stain will. Especially if you photograph your house a lot, it’s so much easier to get a light and airy photo in a room with light floors (like Elsie’s above) that naturally bounce the light than darker options that absorb more light.
Do you care if it’s “seller friendly”?
Like any home decision, you can choose to go a “safe” route or a “unique/fun” route instead. Do you do a stain color that’s classic and generally loved by a large audience to make your house most appealing if you sell it in the future, or do you do something different and unique that makes your space stand out from all the others? Elsie’s teal floor is a good example of a decision that gave her an amazingly fun and photogenic living room even though it may not be every potential buyer’s taste if they decide to sell their house someday. The good news is, that if you are choosing a fun or colored technique when staining solid hardwood floors, the next buyer can always refinish it again if they really love the house but would have chosen something different than you did. Go for it!
Do you have pets or kids to consider?
Do you have five white cats or several long-haired black dogs? Shedding pet hair is definitely something to consider when picking a floor stain. Choosing a light floor will hide light colored hairs and vice versa for dark floors. Light floors also hide dust and food crumbs better than dark floors, so if you’re a total clean freak, just know that you’ll be sweeping dark floors more often than you probably would with a lighter option. I definitely had to clean more to keep up with the dark floors in our previous house, but I loved the look so much that we chose a dark stain again because I think it’s worth it (although we did go a little lighter for just that reason).
What color is the wood you are staining?
It’s important to know that the same wood stain can look totally different on different types of floors. If you love the floor stain you saw on a Pinterest photo, it’s good to realize that it may have been applied to a maple floor and it will look different on your red oak floor. Especially with light colored stains, any color that’s in the original wood will come through and mix with the stain. So if you have a really red or orange hue in the wood, your light stain will probably also have a pink or orange hue to it (especially if you are trying to do a whitewash floor). If you really want to minimize a red or orange tint, a cooler, darker stain will help hide those warm hues. You can see the natural color of my wood floors in the before photo above (it didn’t have any stain on it, just polyurethane) before we tinted them darker.
Can you do a sample area?
This is probably the best way to gauge how a stain will look in your space. You can either test the stains on the actual floor once any existing stain has been sanded off (you can sand over your test area again before you stain the floor for real), or you can buy a few boards of wood that are the same wood as your flooring and test on those. Since I had to pick our floor stain before we moved into our house in another state, I asked our floor refinisher what kind of wood it was, bought some boards, and did a bunch of testing in my backyard to determine what I liked on that kind of wood. I kept my top three favorite stain mixes in little jars and then had them tested on the actual floor when we drove down there to close on the house. It made the process so much faster to choose a final color since I had done so much prep work on the similar boards beforehand.
What if you can’t find a stain that you really love?
Your best-case scenario is that you open a jar of stain to test it, wipe it on the wood, wipe off the excess and it looks perfect once it dries. Easy peasy. If you don’t have that experience though (as I did not), then it’s really helpful to know that you can custom mix your own color like you can with paint! I would only mix colors from the same stain line that are all the same base (like all oil or all water based), but you really can have like six jars of stain and just add a little more of this brown, a touch more of that black, until you get the hue you were really looking for. I desperately wanted a dark floor with a grey undertone and couldn’t find a premixed stain to suit the bill. So I just tried different ratios of different browns, blacks, and greys, until I got the color I wanted. Just make sure to use a measuring device of some kind (like a tablespoon you can throw away) and mark on each stain what the ratio was (mine was Minwax 3 parts classic grey, 1 part Jacobean, and 1 part Ebony).
It’s amazing how choosing the right wood color can dramatically update the look of a space. Our new home felt so different after the floors were refinished and going through the process helped me feel confident that I would love the end result. While it can seem like an overwhelming decision at first to choose a floor stain, following these steps can really help clarify a direction that will not only help your home look its best, but suit your unique needs as well! xo. Laura
Credits // Author and Photography: Laura Gummerman. Photos edited with A Beautiful Mess actions.
Hello! What is your #4 on your stain swatch? We are trying to decide on a stain color for our red oak floors and it has been tough!
Great tips to consider. I’ve been trying to decide between a whitewash and ebony – your love point to consider contrast vs brightness was ????. Do you have more photos somewhere… before/after and different angles? I love the combo of stains you used!
I’m moving into a home with golden oak cabinets which I want to keep. The golden oak floor needs refinished. I want a little bit of contrast and don’t know what stain hue to pick – I don’t want dark/black flooring. Any suggestions?
Hi Patty, my husband and I just bought a home with honey oak kitchen cabinets and we are really struggling with choosing a floor color. The home isn’t really big (1425 sq ft), so we don’t want to go dark. We have a lot of light furniture and we’re afraid the lighter color floors won’t create the right “contrast”. I would be very interested in what color you ended up choosing. We need advice desperately.
Nice tips !
Thanks for the stuff
The dark wood floor is awesome. may I know the color and the finish of the floor
Choosing the right floor stain is definitely one of the toughest things when renovating.so thank you for this amazing tips.
Hello. Do you mind sharing the after photo for the before photo you posted? Curious to see how the layout was decorated.
These tips are so helpful! I wouldn’t have thought about a lot of this before reading your post!
It is! You can see how to make it here:
Amazing design and images. I really love this post and thanks for sharing.
What is the source for that great black and white framed print in the first photo?
I love wood floors and these tips were fun to look through AND insightful!
Great tip! I love that teal floor. http://www.hannamarielei.com
I personally like the look of the dark hardwoods against a light and bright wall. But also that teal floor is pretty great. So much to consider. This is super helpful! I’m a real estate agent and I’m totally putting a link to this on my Facebook page!
Personally I’m in favour of very dark wooden floors, it makes everything look rather expensive and classy!
We are having a kitchen table made from reclaimed wood and need to choose a stain. Its hard! My husband and I like very different colors and we don’t want it to look dated.
It always seems as a difficult matter to choose flooring, as you have to live and look at it for a loooong time;-)o
Excellent article! Very good points for consideration. Thanks, Laura!
The dark flooring looks gorgeous! And off subject–is that white table in the last picture a DIY project? That looks exactly like what I’m looking for!