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Should wood floors be lighter or darker than cabinets?

When designing a home, one of the most important design considerations is choosing floor and cabinet colors that coordinate well. Specifically, homeowners often wonder if their wood floors should be lighter or darker than their kitchen and bathroom cabinets. There are pros and cons to both options, and the right choice depends on personal style, the size of the space, and the overall color scheme.

The Tradition: Lighter Floors with Darker Cabinets

Traditionally, many homeowners opt to pair lighter hardwood floors with darker kitchen and bathroom cabinetry. There are several reasons this color scheme remains popular:

  • It creates contrast – The dark cabinets stand out boldly against the lighter floors.
  • It feels cozy – Darker cabinetry feels warm, cozy and traditional.
  • It highlights floors – The light floors feel airier and more open.
  • It’s versatile – Lighter floors match almost any cabinet color.

For example, oak or maple hardwood floors have a light brown or golden natural tone. Paired with deep brown or espresso cabinets, this creates appealing visual contrast. It’s a timeless, classic color combination that works especially well in traditional home styles.

The Trend: Darker Floors with Lighter Cabinets

While lighter floors with darker cabinets remain popular, many contemporary homes feature the opposite scheme: dark wood flooring with light painted cabinets. Reasons for this dramatic look include:

  • It feels bold and modern – The trend feels sleek and contemporary.
  • It camouflages dirt – Dark floors hide dirt better than light floors.
  • It adds coziness – Dark floors feel warm and inviting, offsetting the crisp cabinets.
  • It allows colorful cabinets – Light cabinets can feature bold, colorful paints.

For example, dark walnut hardwood floors paired with white or light gray cabinets creates visual punch. Other options include pairing medium-toned cabinets with even darker ebony floors. This trend allows more versatility for cabinet colors.

Factors to Consider

When deciding whether wood floors should be lighter or darker than cabinets, here are some factors to take into account:

  • Personal style – Consider the overall aesthetic you want. Traditional, modern, minimalist?
  • Wood type – Some floors look better light (oak, maple) while others suit darker staining (walnut, cherry).
  • Cabinet color – Will cabinets be stained wood, painted white/gray, or a bold color?
  • Space size – Darker floors and cabinets can feel too heavy and dark in small rooms.
  • Natural light – Well-lit rooms can more easily pull off dramatic dark floors.
  • Furnishings – Make sure floor and cabinet colors coordinate with furnishings and textiles.

Ask yourself what overall mood you want to create, from airy and light to cozy and dramatic. Envision how the space will be used and furnished. Get color samples to view in the room.

Darker Floors with Lighter Cabinets

Here are some benefits to choosing darker hardwood floors with lighter colored cabinets:

  • Creates an eye-catching, bold contrast
  • Feels modern and sleek
  • Disguises dirt and wear better than light floors
  • Warms up the look of crisp white cabinets
  • Allows you to use light grays, blues or greens on cabinets
  • Visually expands smaller rooms by reflecting more light

However, potential downsides to consider include:

  • Can feel too dark and heavy in some rooms
  • Requires more careful floor maintenance to keep dark floors looking clean
  • Light cabinets show dirt more easily
  • Not as traditional; more trendy

Lighter Floors with Darker Cabinets

Benefits of combining lighter hardwood floors with darker stained or painted cabinets include:

  • Classic, timeless color combination
  • Draws attention to beautiful wood grain in floors
  • Warmer and more inviting ambiance
  • Easier to keep light floors clean looking
  • Goes with any cabinet color; very versatile

Possible cons to keep in mind are:

  • Less dramatic visual contrast
  • Could look dated over time rather than current
  • Light floors show dirt and wear more easily
  • Dark cabinets can close off smaller spaces

Best Floor and Cabinet Combinations

Here are some of the most popular and aesthetically pleasing floor and cabinet color combinations:

Flooring Cabinet Colors
Golden oak hardwood Dark cherry, espresso, navy, black, dark green
Maple hardwood Dark walnut, chestnut, taupe, black, charcoal
Ash hardwood Dark mahogany, espresso, black, steel gray
Hickory hardwood Black, dark brown, navy, olive green
Walnut hardwood Light gray, soft white, baby blue, sage green
Cherry hardwood Cream, light gray, seafoam, robin’s egg blue

Of course, creative pairings outside the norm can also look amazing. View color samples in the space and see which combination most appeals to your personal taste.

Tips for Choosing Floor and Cabinet Colors

When selecting wood flooring and cabinetry colors, keep these tips in mind:

  • Select flooring first – It’s usually easiest to choose the flooring first, then coordinate cabinets.
  • View in the room – Always look at large floor and cabinet samples in the actual room before finalizing colors.
  • Consider lighting – Floor and cabinet colors look different in natural vs. artificial light.
  • Think about adjoining rooms – Try to coordinate all hardwood flooring for a cohesive flow from room to room.
  • Factor in countertops – Sample cabinet colors next to countertop options to ensure everything complements.
  • Assess wear over time – Consider how wear and tear over years may affect lighter vs. darker floors.
  • Collect inspiration images – Save photos of color schemes that appeal to you to help guide your design.


At the end of the day, whether you opt for lighter floors with darker cabinets or vice versa comes down to personal preference. While darker floors with lighter cabinets are trending in contemporary design, the traditional scheme of lighter floors with darker cabinets remains a popular and timeless choice. Carefully view flooring and cabinetry samples in your actual space, and select the combination that aligns best with your personal style, furniture, and the room’s size and lighting. Thoughtfully coordinated wood floor and cabinet colors can beautifully anchor your home’s decor for years to come.