Picking the RIGHT paint colors to go with the wood in your home…Color Theory

Picking the Right color paints, fabrics, and carpeting to go with your wood furniture and woodwork

Picking the Right Color paints, fabrics, and carpeting to go with your wood furniture and woodwork

Too often people don’t give a bit of thought about the color of their wood furniture, or woodwork in their home when interior decorating. They pick out paint, fabrics, wallpaper and carpeting, put them in the room they are decorating, and for some reason something is off, but they can’t put their finger on it. The truth is wood is a color too; not the neutral element people think it is.

When picking paint colors, fabrics, carpeting colors, etc, a person has to first figure out if their wood furniture is either yellow based (warm) or blue based (cool), and adjust their color choices from there. img280 The Color Wheel ..All colors are really made by combining just three primary colors; Red, Yellow and Blue. If you have an Epson color printer-scanner like I do, your Red is Magenta and Light Magenta, you have one Yellow, and your Blue is Cyan and Light Cyan. Black is also part of your ink supply to darken the just mentioned colors.

In the scientific world White is considered all colors. White light passing through a prism refracts and makes all colors creating the rainbow. Black, being opposite to white is considered the absence of all color.

The three Primary colors Red, Yellow and Blue, when combined make the Secondary colors. Red plus blue makes Violet (purple). Red and yellow make Orange, and Yellow plus blue make Green. The Tertiary colors are made by combining one primary and one secondary color that is along side of it on the color wheel. The tertiary colors are Yellow-Green, Blue-Green, Blue-Violet, Red-Violet, Red-Orange and Yellow-Orange.

Now look at the color wheel. The Warm Colors, as I said before are made by combining Yellow and another color. The warm yellow based colors on the color wheel are yellow-green, yellow (the first primary color), yellow-orange, orange (yellow+red), red-orange, and red (the second primary color).

Your Cool Colors are all made by adding Blue to a color. The first cool color is red-violet, then violet (blue+red), followed by blue-violet, blue (the third primary color), blue-green, and green (blue+yellow).

On the color wheel, colors that are directly across from each other are called opposites or complementary colors. The primary opposites are yellow and violet (purple), red and green, and orange and blue. Of the three groupings just listed, the first color is the warm color, the second is the cool. All the other colors between the primary and secondary colors have their opposites, which are shown across from each other on the color wheel.

If a person were to mix any of the colors on the color wheel with a color directly opposite it, depending on how much color was added, they would get different degrees of a brown-muddy color.

Looking at Paint Color Strips

Looking at Paint Color Strips

Tints and Shades ..On a paint color strip you see a variety of different tones of the same color. A Shade is the darkest value of a color on that paint color strip, a Tint is the lightest value of a color on that strip. The different tones of colors between the darkest shade and lightest tint are made by adding different amounts of white to the shade color to lighten it.

On the paint color strip samples for this section of the post, notice that the darkest tone (shade) is at the top of each strip, with two lighter tones below it. Then go to the bottom of the strips and notice how the progression of tones works upward, ending with the lightest tint of that color strip in the center. img281 Yellow Based Woods and Paint Colors that go with them ..Golden oak, birch, honey maple, hickory and pine are some of the names of yellow based woods. If you were trying to compare them to the color wheel they would be yellow to yellow-orange in color. Old maple, natural cherry and red oak are examples of woods that are red-orange in color. They are on the darker side of the yellow based woods.

Now look at color sample 1, which shows a sample of wood that is golden beige; it would be close to yellow on the color wheel.

Samples 2 and 3 show wood tones that are close in tone to yellow-orange.

Sample 4 is similar to red-orange on the color wheel.

Wood color samples 5 and 6 both show medium to dark brown wood with strong golden undertones. Color samples 5 and 6 could be shades (darker values) of sample 1, which could be a lighter tint.

To the right of the wood sample colors on this illustration you will see 4 different samples / shades of Pink which would work best matched with yellow based woods. They are all tints of red-orange, which is a yellow based red. Some common names for tints of red-orange are peach, salmon and coral. The number one and biggest mistake most people make is pairing a yellow-orange or red-orange colored wood with a red-violet tone of pink which comes from the blue side of the color wheel. img283 On this, and the next paint color sample board, you are looking at all yellow based paint colors, and a couple of paints that go with yellow based woods.

Starting at the top, you have a few different tones of color that would come from yellow on the color wheel. Next you have a number of paint samples that are part of the yellow-green color family. Some blue samples come next. Blue is the opposite / compliment of orange. Orange is a predominant color in many red-orange, orange and yellow-orange based woods. Blue works well with many of the yellow based colors. Also think about the neutral color of the blue sky, which complements all the different color changes as the 4 season go along. img284 The top two rows of paint color chips on this sample board show colors that would come from yellow-orange, orange or red orange on the color wheel. They all have a lot of yellow in them.

The third and forth row show tans, taupe, browns and even black. If you look at the samples closely you will see they all have a strong golden-yellow undertone, which pulls them to the yellow (warm) side of the color wheel. img282 Blue Based Woods and Colors that go with them .. Blue based woods are classified by either their color or grain. Red mahogany, Brazilian rosewood and cherry-mahogany are some examples of blue based woods. They are all reddish-brown and would be red-violet to violet (purple) on the color wheel. Dark walnut and ebony are both dark brown woods. They are blue based colored woods that have blue-black colored grain.

Now look at color sample 7. It shows different woods with either blue grain or a strong medium blue-brown background color.

Sample 8 shows wood that has a violet (purple) undertone and blue-black graining.

Color sample 9 shows wood with a medium to dark brown background with blue-black grain.

Wood color sample 10 shows wood with a medium dark blue-brown background and dark blue-black grain.

Samples 11 show wood that is approaching an ebony color for darkness.

Color samples 12 and 13 show woods that are dark red-violet to violet on the color wheel. Wood color sample 14 shows darker tones of wood sample 9 and 10.

In the upper right corner of this sample board, you have a variety of different tones of pink and dusty mauve which are blue based colors. Pink and mauve are tints (lighter versions) of red-violet on the color wheel. Pinks and mauves derived from red-violet should never be paired with yellow based woods that are orange-red, orange, yellow or yellow-orange colored. img285 The paint samples on this color board show blue based (cool colors). Black being the absence of color is shown at the bottom center, and its lightest tint, silver-gray is top row left. All the red tones on this board are blue based and are either tints or shades of true red, red-violet or violet (purple) on the color wheel. img286 This board shows tints and shades of blue based colors that would be blue-violet, blue, blue-green and true green on the color wheel.

True Red and True Green have a way of sometimes ending up on both the blue (cool) and yellow (warm) sides of the color world. The intensity of the color tones (tints and shades) can suggest both cool or warm color camps. It’s easy to say green is cool and red is hot, but sometimes true Kelly green has a lot of warmth to it. So, the choice is yours where you put green or red.

Finally, the purpose of this post is to get you looking at wood and paint as either yellow or blue based. My assignment for you now is to look through interior decorating magazines, go to paint and wallpaper stores, furniture stores and places that sell carpeting. Look across what they have to offer. Ask yourself Am I looking at things that come from yellow based (warm) side of the color wheel, or the blue based (cool side). Next look at things in nature. Notice how Spring greens are more yellow based than Summer greens. Look at golden-yellow corn and wheat fields in Autumn and notice how red-orange, yellow-orange, and orange tones of leaves complement them.

With the information presented in this post, and a little bit of practice (thought) you will easily be able to know what you are looking at, and it will open your eyes to a whole new world of color exploration.

Companion Posts
Pick (Use) four colors when Decorating a Room 3-7-2011,
Paint a room a Dark Color, then add Light Accents 3-27-2011,
How to Pick the Perfect GRAY PAINT…A popular Color Choice of the Moment 2-15-2014,
Mixing and Matching Fabric and Wallpaper Patterns 4-13-2012,
Looking at Patterns used in Interior Decorating of Fabric, Drapes, Wallpaper and Carpeting 3-10-2012,

(some other decorating posts)
Arranging furniture TWELVE different ways in the Same Room 9-15-2012,
Arranging Furniture around a Fireplace in the Corner of a Room 9-29-2012,
Arranging Furniture in a 15 foot wide by 25 foot long Bedroom 1-24-2016,
The Right Way to hang Curtains and Drapes 5-3-2011,
The Right height of a Table Lamp for your End Table 5-19-2011


About fredgonsowskigardenhome

Your eyes deserve to view beauty. I hope Fred Gonsowski Garden Home helps to turn your vision, into a reality.
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25 Responses to Picking the RIGHT paint colors to go with the wood in your home…Color Theory

  1. Verna says:

    This may be my favorite post! I have read it several times and have read it again today. Color theory is one of my most studied subjects, and this “fills the bill”. I tried to print the lesson, but my printer could not keep the colors accurate. Have you ever considered self publishing your work??? 🙂

    • ****Hi There Everyone***** eHow used this post as a reference for their article titled Designer Tips for Combining Paint Colors with Knotty Pine, written by Jane Burch, here is the direct link to their website so you can read their piece http://www.ehow.com/list_6308262_designer-knotty-pine-paint-colors.html


      Hi there Verna my Biggest Fan, in a way writing this blog is self publishing. I get tens of thousands of readers a month, who I hope I help with their decorating or gardening projects.

      I too have had problems printing off some of my posts. The writing part will be fine, but the printer wants to skip some of the images. An IT person who i know said it is sometimes a browser issue. Maybe the images can be moved to “my Pictures” then printed from there, or added to a e-mail, but just printed versus being sent. I have not tried any of the just mentioned myself, yet, but when I have a moment I will try.

      I have been busy with the garden, 28 bags of debris have been cleaned up, and are ready to go to the garbage. And, the funny thing is I clean things up really good in the Fall. Things blow from other properties and branches fall from trees.

  2. sandy says:

    Boy, I’m glad I found this blog; you’ve got some good stuff here. Thank you so much for your time and dedication to the blog.

  3. Suzanne says:

    Hello Fred,

    This is a post that speaks to me! I’m afraid we made a costly mistake building our new home. We have white baseboard, doors and trim downstairs, and yellow-based, medium-light wood trim upstairs, with stairs using white risers and wood color steps and rails connecting the floors. We thought we would enjoy the warmth of wood trim upstairs, but the more we live with it, the more we wish the entire house had white wood interior trim. Although we used the same off-white wall paper (it is a solid) both upstairs and down, the upstairs rooms look somewhat sallow and sad against the wood trim! How I wish I had had your post before we finalized our house plans!

    We are now contemplating whether to paint the trim white or install new wood trim down the road, with the latter being terribly expensive. I’ve done quite a bit of painting and wall papering myself in the past, but this is a new house and I am not sure if I can bear to live with repainted trim. My husband is quite the perfectionist and may insist we have a professional do it–which I would find more of an inconvenience that if I did it myself!

    The other choices I see would be to install new trim (including interior doors!), or just try to live with the wood trim and see if we adjust to it. The funny thing is, my husband has always loved real wood and, although he loves our wood floors, he has remarked several times how he wished he had used white trim through out the house. We still love the stair case as it is now — it is just the trim (and doors) that irks us both! I really don’t think installing another wall paper would fix how we feel about this. The wood trim just looks dowdy to us after being surrounded by white on the first floor. I’ve seen some decorating books with the interior doors one color and trim another, however, I’m not sure if that would just remind me more of my mistake!

    Do you seen any other possible way to uplift our rooms/halls upstairs or even a compromise? I welcome any and all ideas! Thanks again for the great blog on so many topics that are dear to my heart!


    • Hi thee Suzanne What I am suggesting you and your husband do is, in one of the upstairs bedrooms, paint the baseboards and all the trim around the doors, closets and the windows frame and the trim around the windows the color of white that matches the white that is downstairs. Keep the natural color of the door for now and closet doors if they are natural colored, they can always be painted white some time down the line, when you are not soo frustrated, and you might eventually like the doors natural, only time will tell. Being on the inside of the room the white woodwork will be compartmentalized. If you like the look of the first bedroom do it in the next space. Trying/Having the woodwork a white in one bedroom, and even if you choose to keep it the natural color in another room, will be no different than having a blue painted room for a boy and a pink painted room for a girl. Even if you paint all the woodwork in the insides of all the upstairs rooms white, you could still keep the hall woodwork wood tone, as it will be moving the natural wood of the staircase upstairs.

      I would say, sand the baseboards and all the other woodwork a bit first to roughen them up, then apply a water-based primer like Kilz, they apply two coats of the finish paint. Run blue painters’ tape around all the woodwork on the floor and up on the wall, it will protect the surfaces around the woodwork and floor and make painting easier.

      When I first moved into my house 24 years ago, it had natural colored doors, a mohagony wall in the living room and a TV room/den all in oak. Getting rid of the natural wood was the first thing I did. My mother has a house with all natural colored wood work in every room; it was a popular thing in the 1970’s. I’ve repainted the rooms at her house a few times and I’ve painted all the woodwork around the windows and the window sashes, so far white. Down the line, when she is ready to get new carpeting, I will prime and paint the remainder of the natural colored wood. The natural colored wood has a way of making a colored line that runs around the room and defines the space. It, in my mind chops up the wall space and being predominate, makes the rooms look smaller. White woodwork seems to recede and is less visually.

      Suzanne I hope my comments/suggestions are a bit helpful, Good Luck with your project.

      • Suzanne says:

        Fred, you have some of the best creative ideas– I love hearing your story of how you changed your house –so much so that I searched your site and found “A look at my Painted Doors” post and was fascinated with your murals. I would love to see you get someone to market them –as mural type wallpapers for those of us who also love beautiful vistas. Seeing what you have done to transform your doors and how you describe your transitioning your own home with its minimalist bone structure– so inspiring! Now I know that I can apply a bit of paint to our baseboards and ceiling trim, one room at a time! As the actual windows are already white, it would be just the sills and trim around them that would need paint–so no work on the panes, themselves. I am so inspired. https://fredgonsowskigardenhome.com/2014/01/23/a-look-at-the-hand-painted-doors-here-in-my-house/ I linked your post from last January so that others might see this impressive array of mural work. Many years ago when I was small, I had a distant aunt, who painted nature murals on her dining room wall! Every so often, she would cover it over and do a new one. Yours even top those and make such a good use of an obvious blank canvas! Your guests must just love to visit you. Thanks again for your inspiration and wonderful blog!


      • Suzanne, all I can say is you are SOO sweet for writing your comment. Thanks a lot!

  4. Michele says:

    I am so happy to have stumbled upon this post! I have recently moved into my home and I’m having fun decorating my new space. This post is so helpful to me as I’m trying to blend different woods and paints. Looking forward to more of your posts!

  5. Bev says:

    About to renovate our kitchen. New cupboards are hickory stained sienna. I am having trouble deciding between 2 colors for flooring. What are your principles with this? Kitchen is 14 by 15 feet with a sliding door and a 32 inch sink window. A large pass through opening to the livingroom about 6 by 3 high. Off the kitchen is a door way into th e living room beside the pass through, a hall way to the 3 bedrooms and also a door way to the top of the basement stairs. Living room is small in todays standards 12 by 16 feet and is well lite by large windows west and south and a front door.(not much wall space)
    OH my appliances are white!
    Resale value in our area is very low, so the reno is strickly for our benefit with moderate income.

    • Hi there Bev, not seeing your house in any way, and not knowing what hickory stained sienna even looks like, I can not give you any suggestions. I do feel, that you should pick some kind of good quality vinyl flooring that is light of color, and possibly has a bit of the color of the cabinets in it to tie the space together. Also try not to have the biggest pattern. A trick here…Go to a few flooring places and see if they all have the same flooring samples you are considering. Take home the flooring samples from all of the stores, and you will be able to place them next to each other and make a larger sample of what you are interested in. I did that when we got flooring for my mother’s house. No one says you have to commit to any store, just because you bring samples home. Just remember which place you got what, so when you return the samples they go back to the right place. (Tape paper sticky notes on the backs of the samples and write on them where you got them from). Bev, Good Luck with your project, sorry to not be of much help.

      • Bev says:

        Thank you for your reply. I have followed your advice and have picked a light beige-ish color. Sienna is orange- red in color and often referred to as Med. in color. Again, your reply was extremely helpful. Presently have stopped shopping for the kitchen until after Christmas. Thanks again. Bev

  6. Catherine says:

    Thank you for this helpful post. Do you have any advice on which woods go well with pinky beige walls (eg. UK dulux shade natural hessian)? It does not look so pink in the link below but it really does on the walls.


    This paint is everywhere in the UK! Including in our rental. So I am wondering if we need to avoid yellow toned wood and have been wondering…does that mean choosing a darker wood or would some kinds of paler wood work? Also, what happens with ‘dark pine’ as retailers call it….does it still retain the yellowness or would it be borderline suitable?

    Thanks in advance for any advice and again for the informative post.

    • Hi there Catherine, I think mahogany and cherry colored woods would work best; but I saw take a large sample of the paint with you when furniture shopping and put it up against the different colors of woods you see, and see what looks best and smiles at you. I would also say do the same with picking fabrics, carpeting, etc, so you will be able to see what works best with the paint color. Good luck with your decorating project ;-}

      • Catherine says:

        Thank you so much, it is a bit of a challenge but I will do my best and take a sample as you suggest.

      • Hi there Catherine, if it is a popular color in your neck of the world, go to a paint store, get many samples (color chips) showing the color, tape the color chips together, to make a larger sample of the color, and take it with you when you go furniture, fabric, decorative accessory and carpeting shopping; that way you will easily be able to pick things that go with your paint color. Good luck with your project.

  7. jkd22008 says:

    Hi Fred, Wow! This post of yours is a goldmine! I wish I had found it sooner. I bought my first captain’s bed — which, being a pragmatist in a small space — I LOVE. It has one major problem: It is made of PINE, and I HATE yellow in all forms. It’s a “dark stained” pine so not as light yellow as one sees so often or pinky like the honey-stained pine, but they yellow-orange tones still come though. Blue and gray are my favorite colors, so obviously I’m more of a “cool” person. Next year I will be selling this bed and replacing it. In the meantime, I have to live with it.

    I have seen some folks use navy blue and white with pine successfully. What are your thoughts on this? Navy is darker than the blues on your sample boards here. Also, do you have a legend identifying the kinds of woods/finishes you used for your samples? I really like the woods in Sample 9, dead center (both upper and lower rows). What kinds of wood are those?

    Thanks again for your incredibly informative work!

  8. Thank you so much. I totally love this post and it has sorted out why I’m having such a hard time redecorating. That and my minuscule budget.

    I’ve come to the conclusion that the person that renovated my condo in the mid 90s was insane. I’m fighting the combination of light cherry trim (a much loved feature including the beautiful Millette French Doors) with yellow/orange toned maple laminate. I know that painting all the trim mid to dark grey is the solution, but it would eliminate the only thing I like about the condo.

    I gleaned from your article that the only colors that would get me out of this dilemma may be true red and true green which funnily enough I had almost concluded myself via a lot of heartache. My picks for highlight decor like cushions and towels are a lovely rich mid red and lime green

    My Mum chose cool white for her room and furniture. I’ve gone to pale grey on the remainder of the walls and I’m planning mid tone grey cottage paint for the kitchen cabinets which I’m doingmyself. I will probably use stick on backsplash in silver, white and clear for the tiny tiled area.

    Sadly I’m still stuck on the ugly flooring which I can’t afford to change. Can you coat, stain or paint laminate? Probably not on such a high traffic and flexible surface. Grrr!

    • Hi there BlueSkyRedEarth, Years ago I helped a couple who had a front entry hall done in 1950’s ceramic tiles, and the husband just hated the floor. Well he thought he hated the floor. I went shopping with the wife for an oriental area rug at the time, and once the “area rug” was laid on the ceramic floor, the eye looked at the carpet, and not so much at the ceramic floor it was placed on. It has been over 15 years now, and the 1950’s ceramic floor is still in place.

      Your problem is that you are looking at all of those yards of laminate floor. My suggestion to you is to go out and buy large area rugs so they cover up most of the floor space, so you only have a couple feet of the floor showing around the edges of the rooms. Any area rug that is patterned will draw your eye to it. If you can, find area rugs that have just a small amount of the color of your floors in them, so rugs and floors work together. Go to a paint store and bring home every paint color strip that you think matches the color of your floors. Place the different strips on the floor and see which one matches closest. Mark that color match, and when shopping for area rugs bring the strip and see which one goes with what you like. Also bring samples of sofa materials, chair cushions, paint or wallpaper colors for walls, etc, so you have many pieces of your decorating puzzle to work with. If you are just into solid colored area rugs, the solid color of the rugs will also cut the color of the flooring that is not at this time to your liking. Also, if a person has hideous wall-to-wall carpeting and can’t afford to eliminate it at this time, throwing an area rug over the wall-to-wall carpeting will help hide what is hated. Hope I helped you in some way, good luck with your project ;-}

  9. Kathy says:

    Kathy says:
    March 3, 2017 at 2:20 PM
    Mr. Gonsowski
    Help! Do you travel to CT? I, need to hire you to help with my 5 room 1952 ranch home. I, had two on line designers and these colors are wrong and I wasted a lot of money. I, have hand made antique replica half mahogany, half tiger maple case pieces throughout the house. Oak floors in most rooms, orange yellow stained. Red oak floor in kitchen with yellow orange cabinets. Each room is a different color as was told to me, for the furniture. But, based on your info blog it feels all wrong, and is. A picture is worth 1000 words. But, in person visual may be a must since two other pros got it wrong? Your, blog makes much more sense. But, I’m now overwhelmed. Can you help?
    Kathy in CT

    • Hi there Kathy, where in Connecticut are you? I’ve helped people in the Capital District-Albany, NY area in the past, but have not ventured out that far. The premise of this blog is to get people thinking, and hopefully they will be able to do something creative themselves. As for the so called professionals, not everyone sees things the same. You know, interior decorating is nothing more than an opinion, and how much someone is willing to believe in the advise of the decorator. I could come up with the most creative solution for a project, but it could be dismissed, but if a famous person like Ralph Lauren, Bunny Williams, or Mario Buatta, etc came up with the same opinion, it would be instantaneously considered genius.

      • Kathy says:

        March 5, 2017 at 2:17 PM
        We are 45 minutes South of Hartford and 20 minutes North of New Haven. If, you can not come even if you told us your fee, to come. Your, blog makes the most sense. Yet, if I do one thing, then, another must be changed. The whole house will need to be re done. How, do I send you pictures? I, will have to organize my thoughts with each issue to you. Where do I begin. I am thinking colors and tones of things that can not be changed, I shall first discuss? Shall we begin with the living room? All rooms can be seen from there?

      • Kathy says:

        Oh, I do understand what you say above. Yet, to me even if Ralph Lauren gave me the top advice and you gave me the top advice and yours felt to me correct. You, would be the genius. The “famous” part matters, not to me. The way it makes me feel to live here does. Your, blog makes the MOST sense. Yet, I get so confused room to room. Since I have tiger maple and mahogany both those need differing colors. Yet, all are visible from one room.

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