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We love using natural, unstained solid wood in our furniture, and for good reason. The grain patterns and colors of our American walnut, cherry and maple are so gorgeous that we hate to cover them up with anything other than a clear finish to protect the surface.

Parsons table and Soren chair

Even after wood is harvested and turned into furniture, it continues to be a living, breathing material that responds to its environment just like a tree would in the forest. It expands and contracts with changes in humidity, and wood also changes color over time as it’s exposed to air and sunlight. Today we’re sharing examples of how dramatic—and beautiful—these color changes can be.

Maple

Fresh-cut maple is light and bright and then takes on a deep honey color. Here’s an example of a brand new maple office cabinet (below) next to a drawer from a much older cabinet (above).

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Cherry

Like maple, cherry gets darker over time. Here’s an example of a fresh-off-the-truck cherry bookcase (left) next to a cherry cabinet we’ve had at our headquarters since the 90s. A little shocking, no?

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Walnut

New walnut has a consistent dark brown color but as it gets older it does two things. 1) Unlike maple and cherry, it gets lighter and 2) a rich honey color starts to come through the grain.  These beauties are our new Davis table (left) and a Corbett table (right), which is about four years old.

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Pro tip

Color changes tend to be the most dramatic in the first year, even in the first few months. Here’s a tip from our (unfortunate) experience: move items around on your new wood furniture so you don’t get spots that are darker or lighter. For example, here’s a walnut end table in our office that we put a lamp on a few years ago and then never moved. Lesson learned. If this happens to you, don’t panic—because the color keeps changing, the contrast will even out with time.

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 Photos by Room & Board

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9 Comments

  1. Nice post on cleaning the furniture items and make it healthy.
    Thanks for writing such a nice post.

  2. G tray says:

    I have a 43 year old solid mahogany dresser. I want to refinish the top only. What would I need to do to match the original color?

    • Lyndsay LeClair says:

      I don’t have as much experience with mahogany, but as a general rule, when you sand down the top you’ll expose a lighter color wood underneath. If the dresser is important to you, I would recommend working with a local woodworker or furniture repair professional to safely remove the old finish and perhaps stain the surface so it matches the rest of the dresser after refinishing. Good luck!

  3. Sam says:

    We recently had our 20 year old oak dining set refinished and it came out darker than we expected (yes a small test section was done on the underside of a leaf – but while we stood there, so one coat and no dry time). My question is….will the finish naturally lighten over time? It is in a bright kitchen. No direct sunlight but near south facing sliding door…so very bright room.

  4. Lyndsay LeClair says:

    Hi Sam, Oak darkens over time into a deeper amber color, and I don’t think the sunlight exposure would offset that natural process much. It does not darken as dramatically as cherry, but it will probably darken a little. Sorry to tell you that when you are hoping for the opposite!

  5. Dan says:

    Wow this is really helpful. I have only recent discovered the joys of woodworking.and started building some stuff for my backyard with yard with teak. But it turns gray. J wanted something that would keep its color more. To put in my front yard. Now with this site I have a better idea of what to with work better to keep its color. I’m thinking Cherry now.

  6. Nancy says:

    We recently installed a maple tongue & grove V-joint ceiling. The product was not stained but did receive a nicely done clear coat finish. Although the product is absolutely lovely, it is very light in comparison to the original sample piece we received…almost completely whitewashed. Needless to say, we were a bit concerned. So, thank you for the informative blog. The write-up, as well as the photographs, are quite helpful. It is comforting to know the natural wood coloring will eventually come through, providing a more enhanced wood tone appearance…correct?

    • Lyndsay LeClair says:

      Correct, Nancy! Maple will develop a rich honey color as it ages, becoming less white and more golden.

  7. Andrea says:

    This article is incredibly helpful! Over a decade ago when I started buying high quality solid wood furniture for my home I was not educated on how wood changes color. I bought several natural cherry pieces which looked close to the bookcase example but now look like the cabinet example. The wood is beautiful but the red/orange tone of it now clashes with the rest of my home. I’m now constantly pondering what to do about it, feeling bad about wasting so much money to replace it. This article would have saved me all that money and anxiety about how to remedy the issue. I now make my friends and family buying wood furniture to read this article and their reaction is always shock and happiness they are now informed. Thank you so much for posting this!

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