What are the pros and cons with dark hardwood floors vs light hardwood floors?
Hold up a white index card over half of this to shift from light to dark hardwood floors. There are several other examples throughout this article. Which do you prefer – dark or light wood?
Thankfully, when it comes to hardwood floors, there is no one-size-fits-all. Some people prefer light woods and some people prefer dark woods.
What’s right for your friend may not be right for you or your home. And, if it’s your house, you get to choose.
No floor is perfect. There are trade-offs and only you can decide which factors are most important to you and your family.
Here are some factors to consider when choosing the color of your hardwood floors:
- What do you like, what do you prefer?
- What is the style of your home? What is the style of your decor?
- Do you have a busy household? Do you have pets?
- How often do you clean? How particular are you when it comes to dirt showing?
- What are the sizes of the rooms? How much light do you get? What colors are the walls (and/or will you be changing the paint color)?
- What goes best with your furniture? What color are your cabinets goes best with them?
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Which hardwood floor stain colors are most in style?
Here in Westchester County and the NYC metro area, dark hardwood floors have been trending the last several years and continue to grow in popularity. These are followed by light floors (primarily natural i.e. no stain.). You can read more about hardwood floor stain color trends in this article.
But, just because dark is in, it may not necessarily be the best choice for you. There are pros and cons to both light and dark hardwoods, so read on.
Is it easier to keep dark or light hardwood clean?
Light hardwood floors have a distinct advantage here. They tend to show less dirt than dark hardwood floors. But, if you love love love dark wood, go for a dark color that is slightly lighter (e.g. choose jacobean rather than ebony, or dark walnut over jacobean). Also, choose a satin finish as this shows dirt, scratches, dents and imperfections less, regardless of stain color (it’s also more stylish).
And, of course, there is always the option to clean more and remove your shoes at the door. Both of these actions will also help you preserve your hardwood floors longer, too.
Which shows scratches more – dark or light hardwood?
All hardwood dents and scratches, but dark hardwood tends to show the scratches more. The primary reason for this is that most wood floor species are light and if you scratch through the dark colored stain, it shows more of a contrast with the wood underneath vs. a lighter colored floor.
But here’s a good maintenance solution – Screen and Recoat once every 3 to 4 years. This will give your floors an extra coat of poly and help your floors last longer. You can read more about Screening (or buffing) here.
Plan B – What to do if you have a scratch? This is not a perfect solution, but consider buying a Minwax stain marker. It can help camouflage your scratches, especially if you only have a few. It comes in many colors including ebony, dark walnut, red mahogany, golden oak, provincial and cherry. Some people will even get 2 similar colors (e.g. ebony and dark walnut) as there is color variation in the wood.
Complementary products that will prolong the life of your hardwood floors
Which shades of wood are best if you have dogs?
Because light hardwood floors show scratches less, they are generally better if you have dogs (and/or a busy household). If you are staining your floors dark, you may want to consider adding an extra coat of polyurethane so that they last longer.
Will dark floors make my home look smaller? Will it be too dark?
Dark floors do you make your space a bit smaller and light floors make the space look a bit larger. However, it is really the combo of colors on the floors and walls that give the total impression, and there is more wall space than floor space.
Dark floors tend to work better in larger homes and homes with larger rooms and open floor plans.
If you prefer dark floors and are concerned that your space will look too dark, consider going lighter in the painting and consider adding overhead lighting (or more light). Lighter window treatments and window treatments that show more windows also help as does getting a front door with glass.
If you are going dark, how dark should you go?
This really is a matter of taste. The most popular is currently jacobean (which is the 2nd darkest color).
Generally, the darkest you go is ebony. Sometimes ebony is not a dark as some people expect, so there is an option to do a “water pop” which darkens it a bit further (or aniline dye which gets it even darker). Because dark shows the dirt more, I’m finding that many are opting for a 50/50 blend of ebony and jacobean. It’s a bit darker than jacobean, and a bit warmer than ebony (but still in the cool tone family).
Dark Walnut is slightly lighter than jacobean and if you feel jacobean is still too dark for your tastes, give this a try. Then, just slightly lighter are antique brown and coffee brown. Everyone’s definition of dark is different and for many these colors are dark enough.
Bear in mind that the stain colors will vary a bit based on the species of wood you have (e.g. red oak vs. white oak…white oak is a bit darker) and grade of wood (lower grades have more color variation i.e. more darker boards, so these come out a bit darker). Obviously, the lighting of your home can have an impact on how dark the floors look. Also, over time as wood ages, it gets a bit darker too. The same stain can easily look different in different houses, so it’s best to test it on your floors before committing to the exact stain color. And, there is color variation among the planks. All the more reason to see the stain in a larger area over several planks.
Also, I want to note that if you have other species such as yellow pine or Douglas Fir, the stains and graining will look different than they do on oak. These species start out a different color and absorb stain differently. Oddly enough, for example, I’ve often found that ebony is often not the darkest stain on these woods. So, test test test.
If you’re selecting a pre-finished hardwood floor, you’ll want to pick out the sample that works best for your floor. It’s ideal to see the samples in your own home and lighting as they do look different there vs. the store. (lighting has a huge impact). And, you will want to look at the sample vs. your furniture, cabinets and paint colors.
Finally, I do want to mention that often the pictures online look a bit darker than the wood does in real life. I know I’ve seen this optical illusion and I’ve had some customers ask how they get the floors even darker (as they show me an online picture). Some species are naturally darker and some absorb the darker stains better. If you are refinishing your existing floors, remember that you can’t change the wood you already have (well unless you plan on replacing it).
For more info and pictures of dark hardwood floors, check out this article.
If you are going light, how light should it be?
Again, this is a matter of preference. Most that are going light select natural (as many like the natural color of the wood). Natural tends to hold up better (vs. a stain) and it tends to dry faster. There are options to use a water borne poly to make the floors lighter or even use a white wash. You can read more about light and blonde hardwood floors here.
Which hardwood stain colors are most modern?
Generally very dark (ebony, jacobean, 50/50 blend) or gray or white washed look the most modern. This is followed by light or blonde floors. (mid-toned brown floors look the most traditional)
Which costs more – dark or light hardwood floors?
This depends on whether you are doing pre-finished or refinishing existing floors. If you are installing pre-finished floors, the cost is usually the same for all colors on a board. However, prices can vary based on species as well as brand and sub-line selected.
If you are refinishing existing hardwood floors, generally natural is less expensive than a stain. And, if you are upgrading to white wash or gray stains, the prices will be a bit more (both due to stain/process and type of polyurethane use. We strongly recommend Bona Traffic HD for gray or white washed floors.
Impact of pre-finished vs site finished wood when it comes to stain color?
If you are refinishing existing floors, the world is your oyster. Just choose your desired stain color (and test it). If however, you are installing pre-finished hardwood floors, be careful about the micro-bevel edges.
Site finished floors are smoothed out and the stain penetrates all areas. But, pre-finished wood (or factory finished) have beveled edges and often the edges will show lines where the stain has not penetrated (and you can see the underlying wood color underneath). This is not always apparent on the samples (as some samples only show one piece) and as you are looking at them up close. When they are installed on the floor, and you view them at a standing height, you notice these more. And, you notice them much more on darker floors as there is a large contrast in colors. If you are choosing natural, these are barely noticeable. So check this out carefully.
Which color goes best with your furniture?
Believe it or not, this is much less of an issue than most realize. Most wood floors go with most furniture. The reason is that the wood is neutral. Also, many people have different types of furniture in different rooms and even multiple wood colors and species in most rooms.
In general, most dark wood floors and most light wood floors go with most furniture. The tricky part is generally if you have red toned or mahogany furniture. These generally go better with brown toned floors – and often either very dark or very light. You don’t want to have floors with red tones as they may compete with with your furniture and you want the floors to complement the furniture.
Also, don’t forget that you can add area rugs to help unify areas and make the colors more cohesive.
If you look at the pictures throughout this article, you’ll see that a variety of furniture colors and styles work with the floors.
Which color goes best with your kitchen cabinets
If you have hardwood in the kitchen, you’ll want to consider the color of the cabinets. If you have white cabinets, virtually any hardwood color will go. If you have a wood colored cabinet, you’ll want to select a color with a nice contrast. Generally, darker floors look better with lighter cabinets and lighter floors look better with darker cabinets. And, be sure not to mix and match reds as these usually do not work out right.
If you are having challenges making this combo work consider refacing, replacing or painting cabinets (even if done later) and/or consider the more extreme colors of very dark, very light, white washed or gray hardwood floors.
Dark hardwood generally hides “problems” better
If your floor is old and has a bunch of imperfections (e.g. gaps in floor, water stains, knots), darker stains will cover this up better. Darker stains will camouflages stains better and the shadows of the gaps (which sometimes is due to normal expansion/contraction and other times from the wood drying out a bit after exposure for 80-100 years). Of course, if your flooring is damaged or has holes, new wood can usually be woven in for a repair, especially if it’s a small area.
Which has higher resale value – dark or light floor?
Inherent in this question is which option gives you the higher ROI (return on investment)? Don’t forget, there are 2 parts to the equation – the numerator shows the preference, and the denominator looks at the cost.
The overall trend/preference right now is very dark stains followed by very light (i.e. natural). And, in general reds are less popular – they are polarizing, so if you are looking to sell, I would stay away from them.
However, it’s not quite as simple as that. You really need to look at the style of the home to see what works best (e.g. is your home traditional of contemporary?) and there often is more than one answer. In most of the Tudors, for example, dark hardwood floors tends to look best (and buyers looking at those homes prefer darker floors). In some contemporary homes, either very dark or very light looks best…and this may depend on the style of decor.
Because lighter makes your space look larger, natural can be a great option for smaller homes and condos/co-ops and town houses, especially those with less light. On the other hand, if your floors have a lot of imperfections or stains, a darker stain may make your floors look better.
If you have existing hardwood, then usually it’s less expensive to refinish natural (i.e. light) rather than use a stain. And, it usually dries faster, so it makes the process easier. For these reasons (price, ease and making space look larger), many will opt for natural, unless it looks out of place for the style of the home.
Which do you prefer – light or dark hardwood?
Both dark and light floors work very well, and only you can choose which is best for you and your home. Dark floors tend to be more stylish and hide imperfections while light floors tend to show dirt less and last longer. Your decision may vary based on whether you are staying in your home or planning to sell in the next few years. Importantly, both dark and light hardwood floors are great options.
Do you need a local flooring contractor? Find one here.
Complementary products that will prolong the life of your hardwood floors, whether they are light or dark
You may also find these hardwood flooring articles helpful:
- Can you change the color of your hardwood floors?
- Oil vs. Water based polyurethane – Which is better for refinishing hardwood floors?
- How long does it take to sand and refinish hardwood floors?
- FAQ’s for hardwood floor refinishing
- Hardwood cleaning products and accessories (e.g. felt pads, doggie socks, vent covers)
- How to prevent scratches in your new hardwood floors.
- Which are the best brands of polyurethane?
Dark floors vs Light floors – Pros and Cons