We love using unstained solid wood in our furniture like American walnut, white oak, cherry and maple. The grain patterns and colors are so gorgeous we prefer a simple clear finish to highlight the natural beauty and protect the surface.
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 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.
Fresh-cut maple is light and bright and then takes on a deep honey color over time. Here’s an example of a brand new maple office cabinet (below) next to a drawer from a much older cabinet (above).
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?
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. You can see the difference between a new table (left) and a four-year-old table (right).
White oak experiences very little color change over time—its golden tones only grow slightly richer. Here’s an example of a one-year-old Callan chair in white oak sitting on a decades-old white oak floor at our Washington DC store.
Color changes tend to be the most dramatic in the first year—even within 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, we put a lamp on this walnut end table a few years ago and then never moved it. Lesson learned. If this happens to you, don’t panic—because the color keeps changing, the contrast will even out with time.
Photos by Room & Board
Nice post on cleaning the furniture items and make it healthy.
Thanks for writing such a nice post.
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?
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!
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.
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!
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.
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?
Correct, Nancy! Maple will develop a rich honey color as it ages, becoming less white and more golden.
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!
Great website! I am Wonder if you could tel me why the inside of the drawers of an old desk have turned a pinkish red hue? Its a mystery to me… thanks!
Hi Rebecca, I’m guessing it’s the natural color change of whatever wood the drawer is made of. Sounds pretty!
We have natural hickory which I have loved for many years. It is now extremely golden. What can I do to restore them?
It’s hard to fight the natural color change unless you’d decide to refinish the pieces – sanding them down could reveal a lighter color underneath, but eventually it would return to golden. Another option is to refinish them with a stain. A local cabinet/wood/carpentry shop can be a good resource for that kind of work – or just bask in the golden years of these pieces:)
We have large artful pieces of redwood that we have had for years. Three months ago we began raising the humidity in our home for health reasons. It appears that the redwood is darkening. Could this be? We are in Az. and quite dry.
Hi Roger, they sound gorgeous! Humidity certainly plays a roll – wood that is dry is lighter, wood that is hydrated is darker.
Is Room & Board walnut furniture stained with a dark color, or a clear stain? I just got my walnut dresser, but they gave me a satin wax that looks dark and pigmented.
Hi Christina, Some of our pieces, including your dresser, are finished with oil and wax, which is not tinted when it’s applied right after the piece is built. If your dresser starts to look a little dry or lighter in color you can reapply the Satin Wax for Walnut to restore the darker color and moisturize the wood. However, if you like how the walnut lightens over time and don’t want to bring back the darker color, you can get our regular Satin Wax that doesn’t have this tint to it. Up to you and what you like!
Speaking of Satin Wax…we love our Linear bedroom set (in natural cherry) that we’ve had for 20 years, but after recently reading the ingredients and warnings on the bottle of Satin Wax, I’m hesitant to use it!
Is there a more natural product that will keep our lovely cherry furniture well hydrated? Thanks.
Love that you’ve had your Linear pieces for 20 years! Just what we hope for – made to last. Satin Wax does have a splash of mineral spirits in it – this helps it dry faster and go on a little easier. If you’d prefer, I believe our Customer Care team can send you an alternative – it takes a little longer to dry but no mineral spirits smell while it’s drying. You can get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org or 800.301.9720 – or chat with them online when you have a minute. Enjoy those cherry beauties!
I was wondering if there is anything I can put on my natural walnut floor so that they stay the natural color and not go golden?
Aside from staining them, I don’t know that there is anything you can apply that would keep this natural color progression from happening. A local wood flooring company may have ideas to offer.
I have a table made of Chinese elm. When I bought it figured it was probably 100 years old. It has a lot of dark blotches on it, not just the knot holes. I know nothing about elm other than it usually a very light color. I bought from a man who imported a lot of old Chinese furniture. How old is this piece likely to be.
James, I don’t think I can say confidently how old it might be. I local antique store might be a better resource – they might be able to identify age not just from the wood but also the design and construction details of the piece. Sounds like you have quite a treasure on your hands!
Hello, I have a question concerning the maple above. What type of maple? Hard Maple or Soft? and what type of finish did you put on it? The aged look is what I’m looking for for some furniture.
It’s hard maple.
Hi, Lyndsay –
We have a walnut entertainment center which will slowly lighten, I’m sure. Since it is on a wall perpendicular to the window wall, one end panel will certainly lighten more obviously over time than the opposite end panel. Is there anything we can do to keep it balanced in color as it ages? Does leaving a floor lamp on near that side do anything at all, or what do you suggest?
The best thing you can do is pull the blinds or curtains to keep the sun off of it when you don’t need the light. This will help minimize fading.
I recently bought a piece of furniture that turns out to be made of Rubberwood. I had not heard of this kind of wood prior. It is quite pale in colour. My question is will it darken over time in much the same manner as say oak or pine, Or will I need to apply a stain to achieve a darker tone? Thanks in advance.
Hi Clare, I don’t have experience with rubberwood, but some color change over time is likely with any wood.
How would red birch age over time? I’m looking to get red birch cabinets with a natural finish, and want to know what to expect. I know the yellow birch yellows more, but couldn’t find information on the red birch.
I’m not sure about red birch – perhaps your cabinet builder or source would know based on their experience.
How long did it take for that walnut table to even out after changing color (the one you put the light on)? I’m having the same problem 🙁
Several months. While it evens out over time, there may always be a slight difference.
Why does exterior wood (like decks and fences) just turn gray? The obvious difference would be water, but even a deck with a clear sealer turns gray.
Thank you for such a great article! I recently had to use some mildew killer on the wood in our bathroom and it lightened the wood quite a bit. If I use some light stain (honey color) on the bleached sections of wood so that it matches the rest of the wood, will it then uniformly darken in time or will the stained sections stand out in time?
It will likely stand out a bit, even with stain. But if the alternative is refinishing your entire floor, it’s worth a try!
If you stain maple wood, does the tone still go orange?
Stain helps disguise it, but yes, the tone of the maple will change over time.
Hi, I just bought a new R & B walnut table with two leaves (I LOVE it!). My question is: how long must I keep the leaves in the table so that they will change color with the table top? Right now – with the two leaves – it is large and I really want it the smallest size for everyday life. I’m hoping to story the leaves in the closet and only take them out for big family dinners. Thoughts?
The most dramatic color change will be in the first year, and then it seems to slow a bit after that. You could always try putting the leaves away for for a couple weeks and then get them back out to see how they’re looking against the rest of the table. Maybe you’ll find that a little color variance doesn’t bother you if you’d rather have the table its smallest size for daily use. Cheers to many happy meals around your new table, and thank you for choosing us!
Is there any way I can speed up the natural lightening of walnut panels to match other older panels? A UV light?? I can’t wait years for a result 🙂
The most dramatic change typically happens in the first year, and then it’s more gradual. Air and sunlight do it best! A UV light might give you uneven results.
Thanks Lyndsay for the quick reply. Sunlight it is.
On our wood walls we have very definite lines where we had pictures. The wood underneath is much lighter. Anything we can do to fix this problem?
Hi Carla, I see that missed this comment ages ago, my apologies! This is tricky – has time and light lessened the color difference? If not, painting or refinishing the wood on the walls are the options from my point of view.
Thank you for taking the time to write this well informed post. I have a question.
I have a pre-civil war two piece solid cherry hutch that was dipped in tung oil decades ago. As your post states, it’s turned dark, very dark—almost purple. I want to have it refinished and stained as light as possible with a lighter tung oil from Milk Paint. Is this even possible or is the wood too old? Thank you.
Hi Brandon, the piece sounds amazing. To be safe, I would consult with a local wood refinishing professional given the age of the piece and the unique finish. I wouldn’t want to lead you astray and cause any damage – however, if it’s solid wood (most likely given its age) it should be possible to refinish it.
Hello, I have a maple veneer media cabinet and side bookshelves from Room and Board that are about 10 years old. We just bought a new sectional with a gray fabric and I’m not loving the yellowed cabinets very much. Is there anything we can do with the cabinets?
Hi Christine, unfortunately there isn’t a quick fix since this is maple’s natural tendency to turn more yellow/golden over time. However, it’s a good quality thick veneer so you potentially could paint it or refinish it. Painting? Easy to do yourself. If you want to refinish it, I would talk to local wood/cabinet shop to see if a professional can help so you don’t damage anything. Love that you’d had your pieces for 10 years and I hope you get another 10+ from them!
I bought a condo that has 20 year old maple kitchen cabinets. I replaced the white appliances and took out the white trash compactor and had a cabinet maker put in a trash drawer cabinet to fill the space. The difference in the maple is definitely noticeable. He tells me to place it in the sunlight to have it change color. I am not living in the condo yet – we move there in 3 1/2 months (cross country move). How long do you think it will take to change color? I have a property manager to ask to place the drawer in front of the window that gets alot of sunlight. Will it change color dramatically so that she should check it every few weeks to make sure it doesn’t change the color to something really weird? I know it will never match exactly but close is good enough for me. If it doesn’t get close, then I guess I paint the cabinets. Thanks for any guidance!
He’s right – sunlight will help! The most dramatic color change will be in the first year, so I’d give it that time before you consider painting. No need to check on it every few weeks as it won’t be that quick. Good luck with your move!
I am curious about how the ash with shell stain ages over time. Does the ash get darker and more brown? I looked at two samples in your store yesterday and one was very brown, the other much more gray.
Hi Miriam, a light wood like ash will tend do get darker and richer over time, while dark woods like walnut tend to get lighter. The difference in samples could be due to age or the wood grain. We have Ash with Shell stain and Maple with Shell stain in our offer, so I wonder if the lighter one you saw was maple perhaps. If you’d like you can order samples from us for a refundable $25, free shipping both ways, to look at another ash example. Thank you for shopping with us – we love when customers get into wood details with us! It’s our favorite material.
Hi, I’m a wood furniture novice. Is there any type of sealant that can prevent wood furniture from the natural color change? Does stain arrest the process?
Hi Laura, it helps disguise it, but the color will still evolve over time. Thanks for reading!
I purchased a small antique end table with the idea of refinishing it. It had some red paint over a layer of white. I believe it is made of pine. After sanding it down to the wood, some of the wood is literally green. I’ve sanded again and tried using paint remover, to no avail. I’ve never seen this before. Have you any idea what this is and how to remove it?
Hi Dale, I’ve not heard of that before! I’d connect with a local wood shop/refinisher if you have one in your area for some on-the-ground help.
It also has metal hinges outside and a large metal handle to open it
Hi Carole, I’m intrigued! I’m going to email you directly – perhaps you could send us a photo? We love a wood mystery!