Looking for Undertones when selecting Wood Flooring

This week, a client asked me what I meant when I'd said to her during a color consultation,

"Make sure you pick a wood flooring material that is neutral."

She will be replacing almost all of the carpet in her home next month and wants to make her investment a wise one.  So my advice, good as it is, needs some clarification....preferably with pictures!

The backstory is that in 2002, I bought a house in Florida with almond colored ceramic tile and off-white wall-to-wall everywhere!  Pulling it all out and replacing it was our first big project....and let me tell you, they used a jackhammer on 700 square feet of that tile.  I can still hear it today!  

Bamboo was newly in style and I thought it was pretty cool, semi-tropical and environmentally friendly.  Of course, this was years before my IACC color training and I didn't know what I should be looking for when I made that choice.  

I think many homeowners hold the common misconception that Wood is a Neutral. And as a neutral, it should go with everything.  Right?  Well, after my beautiful bamboo flooring was installed, and it came time to paint my walls, I realized that the floors were yellow.  

Very yellow!  

Not that there is anything inherently wrong with yellow, but I just wasn't prepared to figure that much yellow into my color equation when decorating my home.  So, in an effort to save my clients and readers from the same surprise, I have pulled a few photos of common flooring materials and their finish colors....so you'll know what to look for when you invest in new wood floors. 

In the top row, notice how the first example looks very reddish, the second leans quite orange and the last one on the right is a bit yellow.  Remember -- what we know about wall colors and sample chips is also true of any other material used on a large surface.  When the surface area grows, so does the intensity of the color.  So, that slightly reddish tone of the Gunstock stain on the left may leave you with a room full of red.  Same goes for the orange. And you already know what happened to me with the yellow!  


The way any material reads will depend on the lighting, what else is in the room, etc. but to be on the safe side, I always recommend choosing a floor color that doesn't suggest any particular color at all.  Notice the examples below and compare them to those above.  There is still a dark, medium, light variation going on, but without nearly as much pronounced color.  Of all three of these last samples, I think I would choose the Rich Oak.  It's not to dark, not too light and my best guess is that it's not holding any surprises!


So, the bottom line is, choose your flooring wisely so that you:

1. Get the most out of your investment

2. Simplify your decorating choices after the floors have been installed, and

3. Ensure more flexibility in paint color by NOT putting too much color on the floors! 

I hope this was helpful and I welcome your questions and comments.  If you have a story to share -- good or bad -- about your own color choices, I'd love to hear from you!