Wood furniture, cabinetry and trim bring the complex beauty of nature inside the home. But that complexity can confound homeowners looking for a paint color that looks on good on walls that abut wood-trimmed windows and doors, or that are a backdrop for large pieces of furniture. Maybe that’s what drives some people to commit the sin of painting beautiful wood. Rather than join those doomed souls, follow these guidelines to find a paint color that complements your wood.
Take a Good Look at the Wood
It’s easy to see the dominant color of the wood’s finish, which is almost always some version of brown. The wood’s value — whether it’s light or dark — is also obvious.
Detecting the woods undertones is more subtle. Think of undertone as the adjective you use before “brown” when describing your wood. Is it yellowish-brown, or maybe reddish-brown? Perhaps orange-y? Pinpointing the undertone is a big step in the search for a complementary wall color.
Play Wood Up or Tone It Down
You know your wood; now know your style. Do you want your wood to leap into the foreground dramatically, or do you want it to recede, creating a harmonious overall picture?
Playing up the wood. Emphasizing wood elements can make a room seem smaller — whether that’s cozy smaller or crowded smaller depends on the room’s size and the amount of wood in it. To accentuate wood, choose a wall color far away on the color wheel. Or choose a contrasting value — put your light pine armoire against a darker wall, for example.
Toning down the wood. Blending wood and wall has a calming effect and can make a small room seem larger, but risks appearing bland. You can downplay wood with a color nearby on the color wheel, or by choosing any color with a value — light or dark — similar to the wood’s.
Working with Undertone
Although the principle is simple — choose a color close to the undertone color to downplay the wood and choose a color further from the undertone to accentuate it — the gradations of colors around the color wheel make the color choice more complex.
To get started, head to the paint department and pick up some paint color cards in colors you like. See how the most intense color on the card looks next to the wood — it makes the relationship between the wood undertone and the color most obvious.
Once you’ve narrowed your paint choices to a workable few, paint large swatches of those colors on the wall near the wood and then live with them for at least a week. Examine them throughout the day to test the look of the paint and wood combinations in different kinds of light. When you’ve narrowed your choices still further, paint a large poster board, or even a section of the wall, and live with the paint for a while. If you still love the selection, it’s time to paint.