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Dark vs. Light Hardwood Floors

Current hardwood flooring trends are a little contradictory. Think: an angel on each shoulder, one encouraging you to go for the lightest, airiest-toned floor and on the other a smooth-talking devil whispering sweet nothings about how your floors should be dark as night. Even in Nashville, a place that likes to think of itself as independent-thinking, this tug of war between light and dark are trending. Neither one is right or wrong, but both have their advantages and drawbacks. Let’s take a look at them individually so that you can better understand the pros and cons before you commit.

Photo: Southern Oaks Flooring, Nashville, TN


The light-absorbing qualities of these dark, rich floors make colors pop and add depth and contrast to rooms. These qualities make rooms with dark hardwoods extremely photogenic, which is one of the reasons they are so popular. They also hide imperfections– gaps between boards, water stains, knots– better than light wood flooring. Dark wood floors look fantastic with light wood cabinetry, too. But before you go all in, let’s talk about some of the drawbacks of going dark on your flooring.

Photo: Southern Oaks Flooring, Nashville, TN

Dark hardwood floors show scratches, animal hair, and dirt more, so unless you’re pet-free or have a housekeeper, prepare for a lot of time spent cleaning up if you want to keep your floors looking flawless. A robotic sweeper could also help keep your underfoot from looking unkempt. Dark hardwoods will fare better with an extra layer of poly or sealant, so they may cost a bit more initially. Next, darker floors can make a room look smaller, especially if you have a lot of furniture, low-lit rooms, or heavily-hued walls. In fact, before you insist on pitch-black stain on your hardwoods, take ceiling height, room color, and natural lighting into consideration. If any of these are sub-optimal, be honest with yourself about the fact that dark wood floors might create a cave effect.


Wood flooring erring on the lighter side has the natural advantage of concealing dirt, scratches, and dents better than its darker counterpart. I want to be emphatic here, so listen closely: if you have kids or pets, a lighter floor is going to be more forgiving than a dark one. I just want to make sure you heard that. Light wood floors will last longer, as they won’t need to be screened and recoated as frequently as darker floors– deep scratches in dark wood reveal the lighter wood color beneath the stain.

Photo: Southern Oaks Flooring, Nashville, TN

Of course, light hardwood floors are not without their disadvantages. In the kitchen, light wood floors don’t do light wood cabinets any favors. If you have your heart set on light hardwood flooring but your cabinets are light wood, consider painting or staining them to create contrast. Floors with imperfections look worse with light finishes, as gaps, water stains, and knots may stand out more. Very light floors in rooms with many large windows or skylights can actually create a glaring, overexposed brightness– where you feel like you need to wear sunglasses inside. While it sounds like a nice problem to have, it’s really not.


Regardless of what side of the ying-yang your preferences fall on, there are some critical factors that can ensure you are happy with your decision. Using satin finishes is always going to give a classy, modern look and feel that is more visually forgiving than other finishes. For dark finishes, bear in mind that different types of wood will take stains differently. Do a number of tests to make sure you can achieve the level of darkness you are going for before jumping in. For lighter floors, there are a ton of options that are popular right now, including gray-toned hardwoods and whitewashed wood floors. Again, testing is the key to getting what you really want. Dark wood floors are sexy, modern, and stylish, but are really only ideal for childless, petless neat-freaks who don’t mind leaving their shoes at the door or cleaning constantly. Light wood floors can open up smaller rooms and let the light shine in–for better or worse. At the end of the day, the hardwood flooring for you will come down to personal preference. The good news is, no matter what choice you make, hardwoods can always be refinished down the line if you have a change of heart or want a change of pace. If you want to talk to some seasoned pros about creating the light or dark hardwood flooring of your dreams and you live in Nashville, give us a call at 615-416-9039 and let us lead you into the shadows or the light.

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