How To Make Red Oak Floors Look Like White Oak
As some of you may have seen on the gram, my husband and I bought a new home last fall! It’s a beautiful colonial that was well-maintained and clearly loved. I vowed to take things slowly when it came time to design and furnishings, knowing that I wanted a carefully curated and collected home. There was one thing I wanted to tackle immediately. So much so that my contractors were there the morning after we closed!
REFINISH THE FLOORS.
The whole house, with the exception of the basement, has original hardwood floors that were in excellent condition. They were stained golden oak (aka orange) which was a product of the time. What I was going for was light, natural hardwoods, somewhat Scandanavian. What I didn’t know for sure was what kind of oak it was; white or red. This makes a huge difference because red oak has pink undertones. I wanted the finish to be a very neutral, light beige so naturally I was hoping for white. Deep down I knew during this time period and this region, it was probably red. Red is also more affordable than white which is why it’s commonly used by builders. There is a way to tell the difference if you look closely at the rays.
(Spoiler alert, it’s not always this easy to detect and when your face is 2” from the floors searching for rays your spouse will think you’re insane)
Via Google Image
Sure enough the contractor confirmed within minutes, red oak, which made my week that much more stressful. I started down the rabbit hole of staining red oak and how to cut the pink tones from my floors.
I went to Lowe’s and Home Depot with a list of 3 stains I was planning to buy based on my extensive research. I ended up buying 7. This is the first piece of advice I would give anyone refinishing their floors, buy tons of stain! Thank goodness I did because the original 3 I had thoroughly researched didn’t look right at all.
For those of you not familiar with the color wheel, in order to reduce the color red you need to add its complementary color, green. So my first choice was Minwax Pickled Oak because it has green undertones. But that stain still looked too orange to me. The whole point of this was to get rid of orange floors! Sidenote: I spoke to other homeowners about their red oak floors and Pickled Oak seemed to work just fine! This is why you need to take the tedious step of testing them out, because each house can look different.
At this point the whole house is sanded and my contractor is waiting for a decision, afterall they’re on a schedule and I don’t want to hold them up. Queue sweaty palms. So we start mixing stains… because why not?!
There were two stains that stood out but they still weren’t perfect.
Minwax Weathered Oak: On its own, it’s too dark and grey. It gave off a modern farmhouse vibe. However, adding grey will tone down a color, reducing the pink.
Minwax Simply White: I liked this milky finish that enhanced details of the wood without making it darker. But it still brought out the pink.
We mixed 1 part Simply White and 1 part Weathered Oak -- no bueno. Still too dark.
We mixed 2 parts Simply White and 1 part Weathered Oak -- WINNER!
In the end, you can come VERY close to making red oak floors look like white oak but they are different species of wood and there’s a reason it’s called red oak! In certain light against certain walls (ahem, the olive green I just painted my office) it will always have a pink undertone in real life. You can’t tell in photos because cameras automatically adjust the lighting but when people come over I usually have to point it out and then they see pink. This sort of detail isn’t noticeable once you’ve got a room full of furniture, artwork, rugs, etc. because there are too many things fighting for your attention.
If you’re considering refinishing your hardwood floors, DO IT. It makes the biggest difference in the world. We were fortunate enough to move in after the work was done, otherwise we would have been sequestered to the basement for about 5 days, but it was well worth the stress and cost!
*Walls are currently painted Sherwin Williams Natural Tan