Lighter wood tones work best with medium or dark colors that are complementary to their undertone.

How to Match Wood Tones to Wall Colors

by Anya Deason

Wall color is instrumental to the appearance of wood furniture. Like other decor elements, wood tones interact with surrounding colors to form an overall impression in the room. The first step in selecting a successful wall color involves determining the wood's undertone -- the underlying hue of the wood. Woods have three basic undertones: red, orange and yellow. You can create maximum contrast when you paint the walls in the wood undertone's complement, which falls opposite on the color wheel. For a subtler contrast, consider an analogous wall color -- one that's a closer color to your wood's undertone. A grayed version of the wood's undertone provides the softest visual transition.

1. Red Undertones

Green is the direct complement for wood with red undertones. However, since green-blue is a near complement, a wide range of greens and blues work to provide maximum contrast. Reddish furniture includes multiple types of stained and inherently red wood types, including mahogany, cherry, rosewood and antique-black. A mahogany coffee table coordinates with green-gray walls in all shades, while lighter-toned cherry works better with light green-gray. Mint green or robin's egg blue walls provide a striking backdrop for an antique-black dresser, frames and a pendant light. Bright accent items in these colors complete the look.

2. Orange Undertones

Orange's complement is blue, but green is a near complement. Woods with an orange undertone, such as oak, maple and walnut, coordinate easily with blue, blue-gray, green and green-gray walls. The warm orange undertone on a Mission-style oak sofa contrasts well with sage green, peacock blue or light slate-gray walls. Orange undertones in wood flooring and oak furniture combine to provide a vivid complementary interplay with blue-gray. Accent pillows and vases in bright blue, orange and terra cotta intensify the color scheme, and gold-toned frames and light fixtures often work with this decor.

3. Yellow Undertones

Purple is yellow's complement, though you might not choose to paint your walls in plain purple. Furniture with a yellow undertone is uncommon, but blonde-maple and blonde-oak furniture has yellow undertones. A sophisticated juxtaposition of these complements includes blonde-maple furniture against medium purple-gray walls. From yellow ocher pillows to plum lampshades, accent items in varying shades can increase the range of this complementary pair. Depending on the formality of your furniture, yellow-gold, blonde-maple or blonde-oak frames relate to the wood tone, while antique-black frames relate to purple-gray walls.

4. Analogous Wall Colors

For wood with red undertones, analogous wall color choices include yellows, peaches and earth tones, such as tan and ocher. Bedroom walls in beige or a light yellow-green harmonize well with a mahogany poster bed. Because warm gray has a red undertone, it provides a subtle backdrop for a cherry dining room set. Tan has a similar unifying effect on a walnut bed and dresser thanks to their common orange undertone, which sets a stage for bright accents in contrasting hues. Light red walls blend subtly with orange-toned woods, while yellowish woods pair well with walls in reds, umbers and golden ochers.

About the Author

Based in Franklin, Tenn., Anya Deason has more than 15 years of decor-related experience, assisting leading interior designers and owning a custom frame shop. While working at Lyzon Gallery in 1999, she wrote descriptions of artwork for Sotheby's online auctions. Deason holds a Bachelor of Science from Tennessee Technological University.

Photo Credits

  • John Foxx/Stockbyte/Getty Images