/ The Editor

Ask the Editor: Blending Wood Finishes

This open rustic kitchen has wooden cabinets, flooring, beams and millwork.

Photo: Ruettgers Photography

This Oregon kitchen mixes rustic cherry hardwood flooring with alder cabinets with a clear finish. Their light tones-similar to wooden beams and millwork-allow the bar top with chocolate stain to be a striking focal element, says designer Kit Tosello.

What Should I Keep in Mind When Choosing Cabinets and Flooring?

Question: "I am planning a remodel of my small, one-wall kitchen. The plan is to extend the new wood kitchen flooring into the dining room and replace the snack bar with an island to make the space feel bigger. I'm looking at a honey-colored maple for the cabinets and some sort of bamboo flooring."

"Do I pick flooring that is in the same family but a few shades darker, or do I go for total contrast and go really dark? If I go really dark, will it affect how big the room feels? Then, what do I do with furniture like shelving or a pre-made island? What do I need to keep in mind when blending wood finishes?" -S. Rice, email


Answer: This is one of those common but challenging questions with more than one answer, so we asked a couple of kitchen designers for their opinion. First up: Kit Tosello of Cocina Designs in Sisters, Oregon. "Here in the Northwest we see high demand for wood cabinetry, often paired with wood flooring and wood ceilings or beams," she says. "I think a homeowner could combine two or three wood species without a designer by following some basic principles."

She recommends homeowners start by choosing the element most important to them. Get a sample of that item-in your case, that might be a honey-colored maple cabinet door-to take with you when selecting other items, such as the flooring and furniture. Cabinets and flooring should be either quite close or quite distinct in color tone, Tosello recommends.

"You could pair a light wood like maple with natural select cherry, oak, or bamboo with some tone variation" for a similar look, she suggests. For a striking difference, contrast the maple with dark or dramatic wood grains or patterns such as rustic hickory, rustic cherry, walnut, mahogany, or bamboo with dark striping.

If the cabinetry and flooring are similar, then the third element-your shelves or your island-can stand out. Conversely, if you choose dramatically different cabinetry and flooring, keep the furniture similar to one of the other two.

"Think in terms of a focal point, so there aren't competing elements," Tosello explains. "If the island wood/finish is going to be different than the rest of the cabinetry, it will likely be attention-getting so you wouldn't want the dining table to compete."

In general, lighter colors and a monochromatic color scheme help to open up a small space, so keep two of your three wood finishes light. Carrying the flooring into the adjoining dining room also helps to make a small kitchen look bigger, according to both Tosello and Florida designer Ann Porter of Kitchen Studio of Naples, Inc. Porter also suggests going with reflective or glossy finishes rather than flat or matte finishes that "suck up the light."

For the island, Porter recommends finding a furniture-look one with legs or feet. "Being able to see more flooring makes a space feel bigger," she explains

Another idea that may not have occurred to you: lighten up your upper cabinets with glass doors or with open shelving. "White, open shelves are very popular right now so I suggest go for it," says Porter.