Building & Renovating

Here's Your Handy Wood Stain Guide

So you will never confuse Walnut with Wenge, ever again!

Original Article: Paula de Guzman & Tala Singson Photography: Michael Angelo Chua & Jiwen Bai (Main Photos)

Wood stains are an important finish in our homes. A wood stain—whether sprayed on or painted on with a brush—serves as a protective layer, as well as a color enhancer for your wood surfaces or wooden furniture. But with all the wood stains out there, how will you choose the right one?

So we’ve come up with a handy wood stain guide, a cheat sheet of the most popular stains on the market (these standard colors are readily available at any hardware store) that you can show your designer, contractor, or painter. And read on for tips on how to match the right color of stain to the style of your home.


Wood stains on the lighter shades of the wood spectrum go well with Scandinavian, modern, modern-tropical, and contemporary-Pinoy styles of homes.

Both maple and oak have a yellowish tinge to their base colors. Oak could apply both to the stain color, and to the wood type itself (as seen below in the light oakwood floor in this modern home in Singapore).

Another option for these two stains are a natural or clear finish—wherein the true color of the wood will come out. If you have a very light-colored wood, this would be perfect for Scandinavian-style homes.


Darker, heavier-looking stains go quite well with rich, ornate décor, oriental-style, and classical or traditional homes. Mahogany finish, which has a deep, reddish-brown tinge, is a perfect match for these types of homes.

On the other hand, Wenge finish—which was inspired by the African Wenge wood, with its black-brown color and sharp, zebra-like wood grains—looks just right in Zen-Asian interiors. This finish was most popular in the late 1990s and early ‘aughts because of the Zen-Asian trend, but it still is relevant today, and looks sophisticated as a stark contrast to all-white walls in minimalist-modern homes (see below).

RL TIP: Don’t try to mix a diverse variety of stains in one room. For a cohesive, uncluttered look, best to stick to the same light or dark family, if you insist on using different stains. 

This snippet is from "Real Living's Ultimate Swatch Guide," which originally appeared in the April 2013 issue of Real Living magazine.


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