A.It depends. We found experts who said no, you can’t mix species of wood, and experts who said yes, you can. If you’re going to mix it up, the key is to be careful with the balance of color and character.
"You want it to look as if it were done deliberately-that it wasn’t a wretched twist of fate but an aesthetic decision," says Chuck Crispin, president of Birger Juell (131 Merchandise Mart, 312-464-9663; birgerjuell.com). He says you can change the grain texture but that you shouldn’t go too far off in color. Once you install the new floors, Crispin recommends that you strip and stain all the floors, new and old, so the color is consistent.
Some woods take stains differently, so take that into consideration when choosing your combination. White and red oak take stain in a similar way and are often seen together in older homes, according to Joseph Chapetta, general manager at Chicago Hardwood Flooring Specialties (734 S. Vermont St., Palatine, 847-991-9663; chicagohardwoodflooring.com). "The trend now is toward darker colors. If you put a medium to dark stain on white and red oak, you may not notice the difference," he says. Maple might not be a good idea for your hallways because it doesn’t take stain well. Another compatible pair is Santos mahogany and Brazilian cherry, Chapetta says.
You can also play around with design. Crispin suggests parquet of, say, oak and walnut, for the hallway with plank material on the borders that would match the oak in the bedrooms. He warns that you have to be careful to match the floor heights; you might have to alter the subfloor to compensate for different wood thickness.
The main objection to mixing woods in a floor is that it can end up looking messy, inconsistent, and ultimately distracting. Interior designer Frank Perry, of Frank Perry Residential Interiors (159 E. Walton St., 312-280-0850), says he would not recommend mixing woods but he would offer options that might ameliorate the effect, such as refinishing so the color matches. He also suggests installing marble thresholds to ease the transition from one room to the next. Bruce Fox, design director for Heather G. Wells (333 W. Hubbard St., 312-464-0077; hgwltd.com), likes a floor to be consistent. "To go from one wood to another without a good reason seems chaotic" and stops the eye, he says. He also recommends refinishing all the floors at the same time with the same stain.
The message we take away from all this is that it’s pretty much a matter of taste. But if you have to use different wood because of budget concerns or availability, do your best to make it look as if it was a design decision, not an accident.