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Advice for DesignersHardwood FloorsTrue Colour ExpertUnderstanding Undertones

Should You Install Gray Wood Floors?

By 08/18/2014January 23rd, 201731 Comments

Should you Install Gray Wood Flooring?

The first day of my Specify Colour with Confidence™ Training is my favourite. It’s when all the participants of my courses have their biggest transformation about understanding colour and undertones.

But before they experience this transformation, I set up the entire three days of training with a conversation about magic, about selling the right colour, about selling classic and timeless and about creating a look and a feel.

About what they need to know (and are going to learn) to be the kind of designer who can confidently help their clients. Like I do.

I was in a client’s home last year who was right in the middle of a kitchen renovation. She had hired trades and they were already working on her house. She had come to a standstill because she didn’t know what to do, which cabinets to choose, and how far she should go inside her kitchen renovation. So she called me for help.

She had just been referred to my blog from a friend and hadn’t spent any time reading my many posts, so she didn’t know my position on white kitchen cabinets. We had to spend a little longer on the subject so I could explain why she should choose white for her cabinets.

She patiently listened to what I said and then said, “Maria, I just can’t visualize white cabinets in my kitchen. All the inspiration photos that I’m drawn to have brown cabinets.”

So then I said, “Look, I have given you my best pitch for a white kitchen and if you still feel that dark wood is the way to go then you should do that. It’s your house after all.”


whitekitchengrayfloor_550wvia {Pinterest}

I left and less than a week later, she emailed me and said, “I’m doing a white kitchen.”

And when her renovation was all done she emailed me photos and said, “I’m so glad I hired you to help me! I absolutely LOVE my new white kitchen.”

Was she happy because I talked her into a white kitchen? Maybe. But I think she was really happy because I could help her see how the finishes she was admiring online would look in her home, with her unique set of considerations.

The other day I was looking at a photo of an interior and immediately said to Irene, “That was installed in the mid-90’s.” As soon as the words came out of my mouth, I scrolled down and read that it had been installed in  1995. Irene said, “How do you know this stuff?! How can you look at almost any room and know when it was decorated or renovated?”

And the answer is because I’ve literally been in thousands of homes over the last 15 years.

And because I’ve been in so many homes over the past 15 years and seen the fall-out from bad design decisions, I have come to believe that, as a designer, your job is to create a look and a feel that your client will love.

That’s why they are hiring you. Your client will often choose all the trendiest finishes on their own. They will try and combine patterns in hard finishes as well as the old with the new and it’s your job to educate them on the finished result and help them visualize what it will look like.

When I read articles where designers give this advice: “It’s important to choose what you like,” I’m clear they haven’t formed an opinion yet on how to create a look and a feel, so they think their job is simply to install what their client likes.

I’ll go one step further and tell you that, if you’re a designer, you will best be able to help your clients if you know what your look and feel is like, so you can help them create a look they will love. One of the biggest mistakes I see designers and decorators make is not understanding that your work and the help you give your clients is better when you have a look that people want to hire you for.

Learning what your “look” is, takes time. It took me 10 years before I realized what my look was. It took even more time before I got that, as a professional, it’s my job is to educate my client on exactly which finishes will be perfect for their home. NOT just ask them what they like.

Just this week I was working with a couple on choosing all their interior finishes for a new house they were building.

They had done some homework before our consultation and sourced a bunch of engineered hardwood samples in their price range so that I could choose the right colour for them.

I immediately eliminated three of the dark gray wood flooring samples they had selected.

Should you Install Gray Wood Flooring? | Maria Killam

via {Hooked on Houses}

Later, after we had chosen all the colours for all their hard finishes including colours for walls she confided that without me, she would definitely have chosen one of the dark gray hardwoods.

The dining room (above) with gray floors is from Coastal Living.  When Julia from Hooked on Houses posted this interior on her blog she said, “The rooms lack a little oomph for me–I’d have to add a little more color if I lived here“. Notice how the cool gray floors contribute to that feeling.

Should you Install Gray Wood Flooring? | Maria Killam

via {Pinterest}

Gray is cool and should be a backdrop to colour as well as provide a balance of cool among warm wood tones. Like this example (above).

Should you Install Gray Wood Flooring? | Maria Killam

via {Better Homes & Gardens}

This is why, when I get emails from readers in despair asking which colours work with homes that are filled with dated 70s, 80s and 90s wood trim, I often say, “Green-grays.” Not only is this undertones of gray completely current, nothing warms up the new trend of grays faster than the old trend of yellow and orange wood tones.

Should you Install Gray Wood Flooring? | Maria Killam

via {Houzz}

And I have one more hot tip for you since we are talking about wood trim.

What if your house is entirely filled with dated honey oak trim and floors and you’re thinking about re-staining your floors a different colour to update them? Or you want to rip out your current floors and introduce a totally different wood floor that does not relate to your honey oak trim?

You can’t. Unless you change everything it will look like, “New floors, old and dated oak trim.” A new gray floor is definitely NOT an option here to create a look you love.

As a designer, when you learn how to sell classic and timeless first before you even start discussing finishes, your job becomes a lot easier, and you can do that at a True Colour Expert™ training this year! Register here.

Have a great week everyone! xo Maria

Related posts:

First Rule of Design: Boring Now Equals Timeless Later

Which Hardwood Floor is the Most Timeless?

Do you Give your Clients Exactly What they Want?

186 pins


  • Kathy says:

    I agree about the grey floors. I love them now, but chose not to use them in my beach house because I wanted timeless. I chose a medium walnut, they are beautiful, and a pain with sand, but a least I won’t be sick of them when the grey fad is over, and when I sell my house it won’t scream 2010’s to the buyer!
    (They look great with the white cabinets too).
    I saw a new house here with the coolest looking funky grey floors, but they will look dated and not very appealing in a few short years. That’s what we have to sell the client, and why I love Maria’s blog. So glad I had your blog while I was choosing my floors and hard finishes.

  • Jane says:

    What color of tile floors and carpet do you recommend with the gray paints?

  • Leslye says:

    Maria, Your advise has been awesome. Completely remodedel my house with white kitchen and new colors. Floors are a mix of dark walnut and chestnut brown. Have cedar deck you see from all my rooms…can’t figure out what color to stain it. Black wrought iron furniture there seems to be too much on dark floors. Have used lots of blues and apple greens inside. All colors have a yellow undertone, ancient ivory BM, and Swiss coffee white (BM), Was hoping for a neutral brown, but they are all either red or yellow toned on my deck? Siding is a warm grey to go with terra cotta brick shades and grey grout on parts of house. What do you advise? Thank you.

    • teresa says:

      Why not let the cedar weather to its natuaral gray tone? It’s completely classic and should look lovely with your siding, as well as the terra cotta brick. Plus, cedar is already pest resistant so the only reason to seal is to change (or keep) the colour. That just creates more maintenance once you do it.

  • Mary-Illinios says:

    Hi Maria,
    I have Hickory floors in my whole house except for my sewing room. It’s carpeted & needs replacing.
    My thought was to pick something that was the same color/tone as the wood floors. I thought it would create better flow. As opposed to a color that contrasts with the wood flooring. Am I on the right track?

  • Really looking forward to True Colour Expert™ training this Fall Maria! Can’t wait.

  • Kay says:

    Dear Maria,
    I’ve always loved gray, but those gray floors are depressing. Your client should be sending you hugs and kisses in gratitude. Your advice on medium brown for a timeless wood floor helped me to choose a color for our hardwood floors that is beautiful and classic. When I visited a Shaker village near Lexington, Kentucky, last year, the old floors in the main building were almost exactly the color of ours!

    • megeranski says:

      Have been there hundreds of times, to Shakertown (grew up in Lex.)

      There is a REASON the Shaker look is one of the most timeless looks out there 🙂

  • Hi Maria

    While I completely understand what you are saying about designers having their own ‘look’ which may likely be the main reason clients hire us, I have found this: The way in which you brand yourself and your business can be just as powerful.

    Feedback from my clients prove that although having fabulous photographs of my work that clients can relate to is key, they chose to hire me based largely on my client testimonials and my ‘down to earth’ approach/feel.

    How I decorate my own home is a very different design style to what I do for clients, but the basic principals of scale, balance and undertones are always the constant fundamentals to consider. So for me, the strength of my business is built more in the WAY that I communicate and build a relationship with clients rather than selling an actual design style or aesthetic.

    Just my two cents! Great post, as usual.

  • Arlene says:

    I have had white kitchen cabinets for at least 25 years. 10 years ago we purchased a new townhouse. I choose white cabinets. After seeing other kitchens I thought I should have put wood cabinets in. 3 years after I realized white is best. After 10 years I can honestly say “I love my white cabinets even after the ‘espresso era’. Maria you are so right white is timeless.

  • karen savage says:

    how beautiful Marie! thank you for summing up our purpose—I am now motivated to help change the world one room at a time!!!! xoxo

  • KA says:

    I was in Macy’s buying sheets and saw brown, gold and earth tones on their towels last night. In Pottery Barn, they had similar colors as well unless you were in the PBTeen store, and I looked in both. One of my tile vendors said 2 months ago she was already sick of the gray trend. I’m tired of the Tuscan browns that looked like they were back at Macy’s towel section.

  • karrie says:

    How about a brown floor with a gray white wash looks brown and gray

  • June says:


    I’m such an amateur at color [colour, eh!] So sorry if this question is lame…but here goes:

    You say in this post that “gray is cool.” So even if the gray has a purple undertone, it is still cool? I think of purple as having lots of red, but maybe because of the blue that’s in purple, purple is actually cool??? So that’s why all grays would be cool?

    (Thanks for your patience!)


    • Maria Killam says:

      Well yes a greyed purple is technically warmer than a green or blue grey but it’s still cool in comparison to raspberry, kelly green and turquoise, etc.

  • sandyc says:

    No! No grey wood floors and no medium brown wood floors either – no “wood” floors at all. Why not? If you’re watching the news as I am in my Sun City West, Arizona home, seeing the devastation that can be caused by fast and heavy rain in the Arizona desert, you can understand why tile is the way to go. The 1″ of rain that we got very quickly this morning seems to have deposited most of itself in my screened patio/catio – most of the carpeted cat furniture is wet and I mopped up for a good half hour. And then there’s the fun of walking in wet and sticky thongs back into the tiled kitchen and then onto the 30-year-old carpet to go anywhere else. Yuck! I’m so eager to get new floors. I love the warmth of the BHG picture. The tiled dining room with a significant area rug and (though wood trim is not an issue for me) the green grey walls are very welcoming to me. Thanks for another great lesson, Maria.

  • I was with a client this morning talking about kitchen remodeling, explaining about not having a busy look. Afterwards, she told me she liked a clean, minimalist look, but she still insisted she had to have accent tile in her backsplash! I do my song and dance, influenced by you, but some clients can’t get past what they see in magazines or HGTV. They think they have to have stuff going on or it’s boring.

  • Stacy says:

    Do you and Terreeia still enjoy the look of the light maple laminate you had installed in your home? Would that flooring fit with the timeless look?

    • Maria Killam says:

      Yes we love it ! In fact the wood flooring I chose for my client was light as well because the home was very modern and her kitchen island was teak in addition to the millwork in the great room which would not have looked as good with medium brown wood.

      It’s grey floors that I’m talking about here.

  • There is an alternative for updating oak trim that has been stained and varnished. Use Cottage Paint, it comes in 58 colours, goes right over the oak, no sanding, no stripping, water-based, & low voc’s. Lots of nice greys such as asphalt, Old Country Manor, etc. And it is made in Canada. Finish with an acrylic varnish or wax. Paint Kitchen cupboards, or update bathroom cabinets, and antique pieces.

  • ann says:

    We built our home about two years ago ( time flies! ). At the time my husband and I had a huge difference of opinion on the wood floors we were picking. I really wanted the grey washed “beachy” looking ones, and he wanted the medium tone brown ones. At the time I think I was just so sick of the brown trend that I was going overkill to avoid it. He let me pick every other finish in the house with no protest. I thought to myself, if its that important to him, I should compromise on this decision. I also took photos of our design picks ( carpet, paint, tile, cabinets ) together from the design center the builder had . I had to admit the ones with the brown floors did look better. Two years later…I’m so, so glad I picked the brown floors! I know I would have regretted the grey wood floors. ( My neighbor has them, and I no longer like them at ALL! ) . I really like the timeless style of my wood floors. It really warms up my space and makes a nice backdrop for my decor. I do have to say that I do like the grey tile floor in the picture with the honey wood, nice modern space! Great advice again Maria!

  • dimi says:

    I love your lifesaving advice! And now I love you more than ever for posting a pic with my all time favorite chandelier! (the last one). I’ve been drooling over Ingo Maurer’s light installations for too many years. The guy – and his whole design team – are geniuses. Perfect proof of what you say: every designer should have a signature look. The more unique and powerful, the better. Hugs from Greece.

  • Shelley says:

    Hi Maria,
    I just finished a renovation on a 2 storey home that was built in the mid 90’s. Original carpet in the living room, stairway, ceramic in foyer and kitchen.
    I also designed a new white kitchen replacing the original honey oak..
    I replaced the flooring in the living room, kitchen & dining with a maple pewter hardwood. My client is over the top thrilled with the completed look.
    I will however, say that the new wall color and natural light in her home lends itself to the dark grey floor. Not to mention the beautiful new white kitchen.

  • megeranski says:

    I did a light gray floor (with, as it turned out, pink undertones) and loved it so much!
    BUT, it was a smaller room, off the main living area.

    Think if it had been main area, would not feel the same. The change of pace, going to the back area of the house, was terrific. the light grey floor just ‘elevated’ the entire area, and felt so special and yummy. Am contemplating same for bathroom (another small space off the main drag)

    Would NOT have done a huge area of it. Same for that pickled floor and whitewashed trend we went through. My cousin put that in her house, and even though i was much younger then, knew instantly she’d regret it in a year or so.

  • Ann says:

    I’m so glad I came across your website. I have been dreaming of grey/white hardwood floors for so long and had my heart set on them. I went and got samples today and then I thought about it. This is a fad, and in a few years time, I may regret the choice. Hardwood floors, especially stairs are so expensive. Now I’m thinking of a medium brown with some grey tones. Do you think grey is a fad that might be regrettable?


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