The Problem with Your Orange/Yellow Floors

The Problem with Your Orange/Yellow Floors | Maria Killam

I get this question so much, it’s time to focus on it for a moment. A lot of people have this problem. Or should I say “problem”?

The Problem with Your Orange/Yellow Floors | Maria Killam

{Yellow/orange floors. Anything wrong here?}

So here’s the question from a reader:

“Have you ever had to decorate around a maple floor? Yes, I have just moved into what was an elegant maple floors + maple wall-to-wall counters + dark granite countertop 1990s extravaganza. Since I don’t think I’m going to be able to stain maple darker [you can’t!], do you have any blogs that deal with flooring color – and what can and can’t be done when paired with this 1980s/90s yellowy wood obsession?”

Here’s my best advice: start decorating and shopping. You don’t need to match the floor unless you want to install a yellow/gold rug to blend in, and I probably wouldn’t recommend that, anyway. Having said that, you could still get away with a natural fiber rug in the same tones. Almost any colour will work on the walls.

Your floors are like denim. If you want to introduce greys, that’s fine. Nothing brings grey to life faster than yellow or orange.

And that’s it. Really. Replace yellow and orange maple floors with honey oak floors, and my answer is still the same.

If you have just moved into a new house and need to buy furniture, your flooring will not give you enough clues to help you.

I’m serious. Let me say it again so you’ll remember.

Your flooring is not your starting point.

It’s not friendly or chatty. It’s just hanging out and neutral for the most part. It will not help you choose your outfit for the day, never mind the colour of your sofa. ; ) ; )

No, it doesn’t feel current, and that’s because it’s not, but it doesn’t narrow down your options into a tiny box, either.

It’s a classic mistake to think your flooring will give you cues for colour. I did that as a new colour consultant. If you haven’t read that story, it’s at the bottom of this post I wrote ages ago.

Here are some lovely interiors with orange/yellow maple, honey oak, or fir floors.

The Problem with Your Orange/Yellow Floors | Maria Killam{Lots of different colours here. Nothing clashes with the orange floors.}

The Problem with Your Orange/Yellow Floors | Maria Killam {Notice the cool blue-grey walls. The floors warm up this kitchen nicely.}

The Problem with Your Orange/Yellow Floors | Maria Killam{Almost white/greige walls}

The Problem with Your Orange/Yellow Floors | Maria Killam{Williams & Sonoma}

Are the floors yellow or orange here? The focus is on the area rug and the beautifully decorated room. Here, the flooring colour doesn’t matter at all, and it certainly wasn’t used as the inspiration for this colour scheme.

And that’s the point. It’s why wood flooring is mostly like jeans. No one is looking to the wood flooring for a relationship to fabrics or paint colours.

The Problem with Your Orange/Yellow Floors | Maria Killam{via Pinterest}

The Problem with Your Orange/Yellow Floors | Maria Killam{Yellow walls with orange floors. Still looks great.}

The Problem with Your Orange/Yellow Floors | Maria Killam{Pink-beige sofa, colourful cushions, and green-grey walls. Yellow floors are still neutral.}

So stop worrying about your floors and focus on finding SOMETHING ELSE that inspires you, like a piece of art, a throw pillow, or an area rug to help you create a colour scheme.

I find throw pillows are the best place to start. If you’d like some inspiration, check out my consultations board on Pinterest. If you scroll down, you’ll see all the combinations of pillows I’ve helped my clients coordinate!

Are you loving your yellow/orange floors now? Good. There’s nothing wrong with them.

Related posts:

The New Timeless Hardwood Floor

How NOT to choose Paint Colours But Everybody Does it

Are you Waiting for your Paint Colours to Propose?

4 Ways to Work with Colour over Neutrals

If you would like to transform the way you see colour, become a True Colour Expert.

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  1. I personally like the warmer floors and think they are much more versatile than the grey washed or hand scraped trend

    • I don’t love the orange floors, but I agree that grey washed floors are the worst! That’s when it does become a color statement.

  2. i love my honey oak floors. Dark and medium dark wood floors seem trendy to me. Thank you for this post and all the lovely photos, they are going up on my Pinterest board!

  3. Maria,
    I was hoping you’d focus on the part of the question that related to the 90s cabinets and dark granite countertops. The previous home owners put in extremely expensive maple-stained custom cabinetry in the kitchen with the dark green granite. I’ve never liked the colors, but I’ve hesitated having the cabinetry painted because it is extremely high quality work and I couldn’t afford to tear it all out and install white cabinetry of the same quality. I’ve always wanted a white kitchen, but should I just learn to live with it? Or say to heck with it and just paint it white/off white? Thanks.

    • Start painting. You’ll never love it otherwise if it’s not your taste. Just make sure you get the doors sprayed in a spray box by your cabinet maker so they last. Maria

    • Jennifer – There’s no need to replace the cabinets just to get a color you want but I can’t reinforce Maria’s comment enough – have them professionally sprayed.

      I would go further and say not just the doors. It sounds like you have beautiful high end cabinetry. Unfortunately, over the past 6 years or so, environmental regulations have required paint manufacturers to severely limit the VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds) used in paint formulations (both oil and water based forumlations). VOCs are photoreactive compounds that evaporate readily (i.e., they’re volatile) and contribute to ground level ozone (i.e., smog) formation. Unfortunately, these new formulations make getting a smooth, beautiful finish, especially with a brush, virtually impossible. They simply dry too fast and the formulations don’t allow the paint to flow and level. Benjamin Moore’s Advance which is a water based alkyd (formulated with water soluble oils) and Fine Paints of Europe ECO line come close but they still can’t hold a candle to the old oil based formulations like Benjamin Moore’s Impervo.

      And you definitely don’t want to use a roller of any type to apply paint to your cabinets. You’ll end up with a roller stipple texture all over your cabinets and they’ll look like a terrible DIY job. Even foam rollers leave behind stipple. So if you value and appreciate a high end finish, don’t pick up a roller of any kind for painting trim, furniture, cabinets or other case goods.

      You may recall a post Maria made awhile back about when she had her interior doors painted. Her painter sprayed on a high build (i.e., goes on thicker) primer to cover the roller stipple left behind by a previous owner who had painted the doors with a roller. Her painter then went on to spray apply the finish coats. Now that’s a painter who values quality workmanship and knows how to do it right.

      • If you can’t afford to have kitchen cupboards professionally painted as many if us can’t, I highly recommend BM Advance with a foam roller. Slow going as it is 16 hours drying time between coats (goes on thin so need min. 2 coats) but the ripples disappear when dry and hard pressed to see the difference. We have both for comparison. If you have the honey oak cabinets with grain though you will need a finishing putty put on and sanded first. Definitely a slow process but saves a lot of money. Used Advance on all our trim too.

        • Jennifer – Mariann and I can agree to disagree. Depending upon how discerning you are about your finishes, even a foam roller will still leave behind a texture unless you back brush. It may be fine for a Craiglist’s furniture find but in my opinion, not for high end cabinetry. Others may be perfectly happy with it and I’m sure they are. I’m not one of them.

          Foam rollers also have a tendency to create micro-bubbles which may or may not “heal” as the paint drys. Advance on its own is prone to micro-bubble formation depending upon environmental conditions and susceptibility varies from batch to batch.

          I have lots of experience with Advance. In the past two years I’ve applied about 80 gallons of it (and it’s exterior cousin BM’s Grand Entrance) in various colors. Prior to BM’s introduction of Advance, Fine Paints of Europe ECO was my go to paint for trim and case goods.

          But don’t take my word (or anyone’s word) for it. Buy a quart and try it out on some properly primed scrap wood (or an inexpensive, Craigslist furniture find) using different application techniques. Only you can be the judge of what’s an acceptable finish to you.

          There’s one other thing you should be aware of. Over time any and all oil based paints (traditional or the new water based oils like Advance) will yellow in the absence of sunlight (UV light). The water based oils are less prone to yellowing but nevertheless they will. And of course, it’s more noticeable with bright, pure whites. Latex and 100% acrylic paint formulations do not yellow.

          None of this is meant to discourage you. I’m just a firm believer in giving someone a complete and comprehensive picture so they can make informed decisions, proceed with their eyes wide open, and avoid regret and disappointment.

  4. Count me as another person with “the wrong color”/old floors — white oak down and heart pine up. I’ve lived in my 85 year old house for 28 years and am so, so grateful that somehow I had the sense to not have any dark stains applied when we refinished the floors. Natural wood floors are classic; stains and other altering finishes come and go. I’m glad you are saying there’s nothing wrong with them Maria; I wish you’d go further and declare them as timeless as white subway tiles on kitchen walls!

    • Agreed! Our house is 175 years old and the original heart pine floors are a gorgeous honey with a reddish tinge that only age and patina can allow. They’re simply beautiful but even so, they act as a neutral backdrop for any color we use in the house. Like Bfish said, the color is a classic as any historic house can tell you, and it’s a look that has already stood the test of time:)

  5. Love this post! I am going to start thinking positively about my floors from now on. Or rather …move on and get decorating.

  6. are you including teak parquet in the neutral category? it is a strong burnt sienna ….they are strong… i found that they play best with strong color and lots of white. New issue is upstairs…. finding wood that will play nice with the teak downstairs and the red oak ( with light nutmeg stain to cancel the pink) stairs ….( that coordinate with the teak..) looking for a plank that looks like it belongs. not easy.

  7. Maria, would applying a liming finish tone down the colour if the wood was very yellow/orange due to the floor finish aging? Just a thought as we have some pine in our home that was limewashed and it’s not as yellow as the varnished pine of the same age.

  8. When are wood floors “bossy?” We live in a vintage, historic home that we are renovating. The floors are wide board, medium brown due to age, with lots of character. They tend to be the first thing people notice. We painted one room a lovely ivory that you recommended, Seashell, and it works well. I painted another room a pale silver, tying in with the blue and white color scheme there, but the floors now have nothing in common. Is this what you mean by “bossy floors?”

  9. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! About 20 years ago, we had red oak flooring installed throughout our first floor in our new Victorian and nothing but polyurethane was put on them. I thought they were beautiful! But now… they are even more orangey-yellow than ever and showing their age! Kind of like your examples! They need refinishing, and I’m wondering just what I should do. Keep them natural or stain them to a current color?

    Btw, we’ve embarked on a kitchen/family room/new butler’s pantry/laundry room/pool bath remodeling venture the past few years, all due to a consultation I had with you! We didn’t do exactly what you said, but you pointed me in the right direction and got me to thinking correctly. Almost done and I’m so pleased with everything! I will send you pictures when everything is complete!

  10. Lol-thanks for the laugh-“1990’s extravaganza”-your readers have such a sense of humour! Great post Maria. My floor refinishing person used to say that all wood develops a darker patina (ie oxidizes to yellow) over time due to properties in the wood itself, especially the softwoods.

    For small projects such as toning down orange wood furniture I have had good luck with the all-in-one Polyshades by Minwax. You can still see the woodgrain afterward and one coat is enough.

    What an artful and unique stair railing in the third picture from the bottom. You find the nicest pics!

  11. I LOVE my orangey red oak floors from the 1940’s. I have found that they look nice with any color I have ever used to decorate with. I love the warmth of the color!

  12. I love this post because I have always thought the same thing about red oak floors. I’ve always just thought they faded to the background, in a good way. I think they can’t go out of ‘style’ because they are not a ‘style’. I also like that they are pretty cheap!

  13. Would your reader have preferred dark floors?
    Dark floors are a nightmare. You’re cleaning them all the time when you’d rather be out shopping & decorating.

    • I agree with you Mary, which is why I chose maple flooring over cherry. I had cherry wood floors in my last house and hated them!

    • I’ve had light floors all my life, and for this house, I put in dark hardwoods. I find they’re no harder to keep clean than light woods. With my light wood floors, dust along the walls was obvious when the sun shined in the room due to the smoothness/shininess of the floor. My floor now is more matte, and I see less dust here. So I personally do not think it’s the color of the floor so much as how much sheen it has that shows dust. And no matter what, get a good vacuum for hardwoods, and do a quick 10 minute clean every day, and you won’t have to do deep cleaning as often.

  14. I don’t have a lot of sunlight in my house so the yellowy natural oak floors provide a warm patina. I love them. I had the chance to put much darker floors in – so glad I did not when I hear my friends say how often they have to vacuum dark floors. And if you have dark wood floors and direct sunlight – well you might as well wear swiffers for slippers!

  15. I am launching the remodeling of a house that had some bad flooring installed previously. Yellow oak floors (acres of it) butting up against black granite tile in the kitchen/foyer/hallways. It does appear that the flooring is the “boss” of the whole house right now. I was thinking I needed to restain the wood to a dark color so it wouldn’t contrast so highly with the granite. I got your book on whites and I was hoping for clues, lol.
    then I thought – well maybe I should ignore all of it. I can’t easily jackhammer up the 2000 sq ft of granite.

    It is amazing the stupid things that people do to houses, without even once considering they need to get a professional opinion. 🙁

  16. Nancy of Lake Stevens

    Marie, why can we basically ignore floor color (if I read you correctly) and not carpet color?

    Just finished reading your new book on white. It helped clarify so many things for me. And, glory be, I felt your permission to go ahead and paint the trim in one room at a time. Thank you.

    • Wood floors are simply neutral because they have a grain (different from wood cabinets or trim or millwork, then you definitley can’t ignore them because they are now vertical), once you put a carpet down, the focus is not on the relationship to colour with wood it’s the carpet, furniture, etc.

      Carpet is a solid or patterned colour again and cannot be ignored for the most part. Maria

  17. Maria-
    I loved this post. As someone who is working in Florida- the 80’s-90’s orangey maple floors here are rampant! I agree that they are considered a neutral and you can go any way you want with the color. I do tend to stick to grey as my “Go To” color as it is current and as you know all to well, even grey has a multitude of undertones that can take it warm or cool. I would tend to stay away from oranges and yellows as I think it does not do the floor any favors, it would not be my first option. The photos you posted show it best- grey wins! It actually highlights the beauty in the natural wood tones. Great post!

  18. Maria – I love this post, your comments and the photos! I personally believe there are many choices for a room with maple floors and the suggestions you made are great but even better with the photos you added!

  19. We replaced walnut grained laminate with natural red oak hardwood in our smaller dark house in the woods, and I am so pleased. The light floors reflect the light and it feels so much bigger, bright and cheerful. As a bonus, grandkids, dogs, cats and messy husbands not withstanding, they show much less drips and spots than darker floors. Neutral warm walls, grey lower cabinets, off white uppers and I am so so happy!

  20. Whew!!! Maria, you had me scared when I read the title of your post. I thought, “Holy cow! Maria’s going to tell me the golden oak tiles I’ve chosen for my new floor are all wrong and I’m going to have to empty my folder of inspirational pics filed under “right color choice”. What a relief. I’m going with the wood-look porcelain tile when my boat comes in, a la Centsational Girl’s floors in her Nevada house. However, as lovely as they are, they have a greyish/pinkish tone to me in some of the pics and the actual sample I saw had way too much pink to suit me. The floors are lovely in Kate’s house because her color palette is white and fresh. My color palette is cream and every sample tile I tested toward the grey side (even grey with brown) felt somewhat drab, somewhat cold and just off. The color I chose is more toward golden. I ordered two boxes to form little vignettes throughout the house and it makes me happy, particularly in the LR/D’office which is the first room you see when you step through the door and where the colors are predominantly warm green-citron-yellow with that 8′ wide window onto the greenbelt. This actually turned out to be a great confirmational post and I thank you. Also, thanks for more neat pics to add to my folder.

  21. When it is time to screen and recoat, but not strip and change the color, a slightly lower sheen (like the gray kitchen picture) seems to help diminish the impact. That’s what we have done.

  22. Thanks for the reminder that floors are neutral like denim! It’s easy to forget that this is the case when I spend so much time trying to match finishes and coordinate undertones.

    Whenever I hear “honey orange-y wood” it always takes me back to a paint color consultation I did a few years back in an enormous home. The clients had just purchased it, and wanted a new look. The floors were super orangey, which would have been fine, except that all the trim, woodwork, built-ins, baseboards, and doors throughout the house were the same color/stain! I tried to convince them to paint it all white, but because there was so much of it, budget didn’t allow. I always think back to that and how much more timeless and classic the overall look could have been if we wouldn’t have had all that orange trim everywhere. 🙂

    • You are spot on! Who cares about the floor color when you have those awful matching baseboards and window trim? Totally right–paint that trim work immediately, and the whole place would look classic. The only time I would say don’t do it is if it’s a really old house with gorgeous wood work, but that’s more likely to be a dark stain on the trim with light floors, which doesn’t bother me like orange trim work does!

  23. Years ago I designed my living room based on the orangish color of our oak floors. This resulted in an overall palette of beige, terracotta, brick and green – rather than other colors that we enjoy. I’ve learned that it would have been better to go with the palette one likes on the furniture, fabrics, accessories and ignore the floor – except to give a little bit of that floor color somewhere, perhaps in a painting, basket, legs of a piece of furniture, if you want everything to relate. It’s interesting that in most of the photos above, that was done.

  24. Hi Maria. Thank you for this post! I have a 2000 sft, two story home. It has honey oak floors throughout the first floor. I need to replace the upstairs carpet (it is worn out). Would love to put hardwood up there, but having a hard time justifying it, due to the expense. I think a lot of us have this dilemma – we know hardwoods are best, but we have a large,builder grade, mid-priced 2-story house and wont’ see a return on investment if we put hardwoods upstairs.

    I thought your idea to put laminate throughout your home was a good one, but I don’t want to put laminate over my wood floors downstairs.

    Do you have any suggestions for me if I end up having to replace the upstairs carpet with more carpet, such as style and color? Would you consider writing a post about wall to wall carpet in the bedrooms for people who choose not to do hardwood? I was wondering if, say a berber in a medium oatmeal color would work for most decors. Or is your advice to bite the bullet and budget for hardwoods throughout the house as the only good option?

    Thanks!

    • Very informative post, Maria. (Thank you!) Like Katherine I too would appreciate any guideline that you might have regarding carpeting for bedrooms but also how does one choose a colour for a runner that would be applied on a staircase that is open and leads to more than one space. -Brenda-
      (Footnote: I have two six foot wide (side-by-side) staircases that I have to contend with. Both are open to the kitchen area that will have ‘E’gineered ‘H’ardwood ‘F’looring, but one
      leads to a lower (EHF) family room while the other leads to a fair size upper (EHF) landing with bedrooms etc. off of it.)

    • Katherine – From your post it sounds like you feel that the upstairs floors and downstairs floors must match – hence your comment ” . . . I don’t want to put laminate over my wood floors downstairs.” Don’t do it. Laminate is a significantly inferior flooring product when compared to hardwood.

      Have you considered putting hardwood in just a portion of the upstairs – say just the master bedroom or perhaps just the hallway? You could replace the carpet in the other areas and have a happy compromise. In the future, if you decide to stay in the house you have the option to continue installing hardwood in additional upstairs rooms.

      Finally, since you have hardwood throughout the downstairs, in my opinion, installing laminate on the second level would definitely detract from the value of your home.

  25. I have taken this particular post to heart more than any other, Maria, and I love so many! I’ve been in paralysis over my honey-orange floors in my 2 story open plan townhouse, OBSESSING over the floor color so much that I couldn’t move past them to begin choosing paint colors, fabrics for reupholstery, and a new rug. You have granted me the freedom to plunge ahead and ignore my floors forever! Thanks for a great post (and many others!)