What You Should Know Before Painting Hardwood Floors

From House Beautiful

Installing new hardwood flooring is a major investment, which makes choosing the right one even more daunting, especially for a wood-floor newbie. Is oak better than walnut? What’s the deal with warm tones? Is a light floor a recipe for disaster? I went straight to the experts to find out what homeowners should know.

Start With the Basics

There are two basic factors that go into what hardwood floors looks like, says Patrick Bewley, vice president of marketing at California-based flooring brand Duchateau. First is the grain, which is determined primarily by the species of wood. Then there’s the finish or stain, which creates the color. “Our advice is to start by selecting the color range that is most attractive to you-the one that speaks to you and the space,” he explains. “Then, you can look at various grain patterns and surface treatments within that range and find the one that you feel works best with the selected color and your other design elements.”

Photo credit: Duchateau
Photo credit: Duchateau

Undertones Matter

Just like with paint colors, it’s crucial to consider the undertone of your flooring. Most designers warn against anything wood finishes that skew very red or orange, which have a tendency to look dated. But that doesn’t mean that you should steer completely clear of warm undertones. In fact, says Bewley, one of the biggest trends in wood flooring right now is a warm take on of-the-moment gray. “These new tones mix the coolness of gray with warmer undertones, creating high livability along with an on-trend look,” he notes.

Of course, trends should always come second to your own decorating style. “To borrow the philosophy of the moment, the color you choose should spark joy,” says Bewley. “Remember that the floor is the base element of a room. Paint colors, textiles, furniture and accessories can all be used to make a room reflect the most up-to-the-minute trends.”

Photo credit: Björn Wallander
Photo credit: Björn Wallander

Think About Upkeep

You might love the look of a certain type of wood flooring now, but think about how it’ll hold up-and how much effort you’re willing to put into keeping it pristine. As a rule of thumb, says Bewley, “harder woods, such as European Oak, are a good choice for high-traffic and kid-centric spaces, whereas softer species, such as walnut, are better suited for lower-traffic areas.”

A word of warning about those Scandi-style light wood floors you see all over Pinterest: “Dirt tends to be more visible-it’s no different than light-colored tile or carpet,” says Bewley. But if you’re willing to put in the time and energy to clean and maintain your floors on a regular basis, he adds, “there is no reason to avoid lighter colors.”

Photo credit: Annie Schlechter
Photo credit: Annie Schlechter

Swatch Before You Stain Your Floors

Thinking about staining your existing floors? Just like with paint colors, you’ll want to apply swatches before you commit to one. What appears to be a light neutral on the chip in your local hardware store might end up looking totally different in your space, depending on everything from light to the wall color-and, of course, the wood itself. “The species and tone can impact the final appearance,” says Behr senior product manager Rick Bautista. “For example, if you’re using a traditional transparent or semi-transparent stain, a clear pine board stained with a chocolate color will appear different than a darker, redwood board stained with the same color.”

What About Painted Floors?

A coat of paint can be a great option for updating wood floors that have seen better days. While often synonymous with a beachy, rustic look, painted floors can also be incredibly elegant (for proof, take a look at this Florida vacation house by Lindsey Coral Harper). Just make sure to use a true floor or deck paint, which is formulated to stand up to the daily wear and tear of being walked on. And while white floors are a perennial favorite, Ann Pyne of McMillen advises caution before taking the plunge: “White painted floors can’t be reversed-the white paint gets between the boards!”

Photo credit: Don Freeman
Photo credit: Don Freeman

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