Can My Kitchen Have Wooden Cabinets and a Wood Floor?

Notice how the wood of the cabinetry in this Peter Pennoyer kitchen is markedly different from that of the floor. The contrast is mitigated by fields and moldings in cool whites.

Dear Daniel,

I need a new kitchen floor! I have wooden cabinets-am I allowed to do a wood floor too? Sincerely, Woodsey

Dear Woodsey,

You don't have to look very hard to find beautiful rooms filled with lots of different species of wood. Arts and Crafts houses of the early 1920s are especially packed. Go visit the Gamble House by Greene and Greene in Pasadena, California. It will leave your head spinning with ideas of how to combine woods.

By no means do I claim to be an expert in the hundreds of woods available, and you might consider talking to a specialty cabinet maker or furniture builder before zeroing in on your selections. From a purely aesthetic standpoint, I think about the combination of woods as I think about getting dressed in the morning. Either I'm wearing a suit with matching jacket and pants, or the pants and jacket are so evidently different as to cause no question about their ability to look good with one another. I would not suggest combining woods that are very near in grain and color, as this will just leave you asking the question, “why don't these match?”

Right now, I am working on a large house on Mercer Island in Washington, where the walls will be clad in walnut paneling (a warm brown with soft yellow undertones and a fairly consistent grain), while the baseboards, door casings, and banister will all be out of bird's eye maple (which has lots of interesting movement and is of much lighter color). Had I specified everything in walnut, the overall experience would have been very heavy and dark, but having the casing and banister in a lighter color with a more sensational pattern will help them stand out against the darker walls, adding dimension to the room.

As you choose your woods, you should also know that a species can look very different depending on how it has been cut. If you think you hate oak, don't write it off completely-it might just be plain sawn oak that you dislike because it was everywhere in the late 1980s and 1990s. Rift sawn oak has a much smaller, linear looking grain that lends itself to contemporary rooms, while quarter sawn oak has shows the wood's medullary rays which gives its surface a sort of marbled appearance. The later two types are also more resistant to cupping than plane sawn. You should be aware that whenever something becomes really, really popular in one decade, it is almost universally hated during the next. Quarter sawn white oak has been really, really popular for a while now.

I'll leave with this: I grew up in a colonial revival house built in 1917. Its library had a dark reddish stained pine on the walls with a much lighter, very soft pine species called Savannah River Bottom on the floor. This room abutted another room with wide plank quarter sawn oak floors. No one ever made note of the variation. Don't feel that you need to limit yourself to one species of wood in your kitchen. With study, you will be able to make it handle so much more.

Sincerely, Daniel

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