How to Use Different Tones of Stain

Stained finishes have been making a comeback, with their traditional style and natural feel we’re seeing full kitchens or accents of stained wood being used more and more commonly. Although. white cabinets will always be popular, using stain is a great way to show off the grain personality of the wood.

To put it simply, there are two categories of stains: light and dark.

Light vs. Dark

Light Cabinets

When you use lighter stain colors it can really open up your space and make it feel bigger and brighter. Light stain brings a sense of relaxed informality. It’s great for small or dimly lit areas. Light cabinets are timeless and will look great for years to come no matter how your kitchen evolves over the years. 

Dark Cabinets

When you use darker stain colors it can ground the space with its rich color. It implies a more sophisticated and formal look but is not recommended for small or dimly lit areas unless paired with bright flooring, walls, and accents.

As we all know there’s more to stains than just light and dark options. To expand on that, below are some examples of the various stain tones and how to use them.

Brown Tones

Medium Brown

Medium brown cabinets are safe to use in almost any space. It’s a neutral color that can be paired with both light and dark surfaces which allows for more flexibility in room design, which can extend the life of your cabinetry.


Dark Brown

A traditional classic stain is a dark brown. This tone works the best in bright and light spaces but can be paired with darker surfaces to create more of a moody space as well.

Gray Tones

Light Gray

Great for a modern farmhouse look that adds just enough warmth. Light gray pairs well with a mix of light and dark accents.

 Dark Gray

Using gray cabinetry adds a sense of sophistication and style, similar to white painted cabinets but with more personality. Gray warms up the space and pairs nicely with black accents or lighter grays and beiges.

Natural Tones

​​​​​​​Photo by Watermark Designs

Natural Wood

A more raw or industrial finish uses natural stains. It’s a great alternative to white cabinets as it still opens up space but allows for more personality within the space.


In the end, each tone of stain has its benefits, and when deciding which stain to use it’s all about balance and functionality. Think about the physical space and how you want it to feel. If you want a cozier, comforting space, utilize dark tones. If you prefer light and open concepts, utilize light tones.