Guide to Furniture Wood Stain Colors

Because even the most beautiful solid woods sometimes like to get dressed up.

QSWO door chest

As lovers of solid wood it’s hard to imagine needing to apply a furniture stain color to make it look more beautiful. But, in many cases, these wood stains not only provide a tinted hue to enhance the intricacies of the natural grain pattern, they also serve to pull together the decor and color tones of the room while preserving the wood to keep it looking gorgeous and timeless.

If you are looking for guidance on what stain colors work best with each type of wood or what the most popular furniture stain colors are, follow this guide as we answer your questions and help you make a choice that works best for you!

What is wood furniture stain?

Wood stain is a semi-transparent coating that penetrates the wood to change or enhance its natural color. Stain colors often emphasize wood grain patterns and offer character. 

Maybe you’d like a new wood to look older, a common wood to look like a rarer species, or prefer a specific design style, like modern farmhouse, that can be accomplished by creating a distressed look.

Does wood staining matter? 

In many cases it does. Here’s why:

  • It affects the design aesthetics of your home.
    • When trying to get woods to match the color tones of the room, what stain you choose (or leave natural) will have an overall effect on how well things match or complement each other.
  • It helps preserve the natural look of your wood.
    • The wood stain color you choose should complement the natural grain pattern of the wood.
  • It may help with wear and tear of furniture over time.
    • Wood stain can act like a sealant as an extra layer of protection against spills, sunlight and anything else that might meet its surface.
    • While damage to the wood’s surface may still occur, it’ll be easier to manage and fix.

Wood stains aren't always necessary. Some woods look just as good in their natural state. There is also the option to do a painted finish. We typically only recommend this for maple as it can be sanded smoothly and takes paint evenly. 

Is staining the same as finishing?

No, staining and finishing are two different processes. Finishing happens just before the piece leaves the shop for delivery.

Whether stained or unstained, all wood furniture sold at Modern Bungalow is finished with a post-catalyzed conversion varnish to protect against heat and scratches. This adds no color and will not yellow over time.

What types of woods should I stain?

While it comes down to individual preference, certain furniture stain colors work better than others depending on the type of wood used. 

Here’s a useful chart of the most common types of furniture woods we sell and which stain color (or no stain at all) is best.

Type of Wood

Stain Recommendation(s)

Quarter Sawn White Oak

  • Takes stains well
  • Michael’s is the most popular choice for Craftsman decor and is often the default choice for this wood (aka QSWO)

Red Oak

  • Takes stains well
  • Painted finish not recommended because of the beautiful prominent grain pattern
  • Translucent washed/distressed finish give a modern farmhouse look


  • With lots of color variations, dark stains are recommended to help even out the wood
  • Can be smoothly sanded and takes painted finishes well


  • Can be stained, but looks great natural
  • Color of wood darkens a bit over time because of oxidation and UV light


  • Stain not recommended because of its natural interest and beauty
  • Weathers to a beautiful natural warm tone

How to choose the right stain for my decor

Before you make any decisions about stain color choices, ask yourself the following questions:

  1. What tones already exist in the room (consider floors, walls, lighting, etc)
  2. Should the furniture be the focal point or blend in?
  3. Are you going for a formal or relaxed look?

Once you have some idea of what type of aesthetic you’re looking for, you’ll have a better idea of what stain ‘family’ to gravitate towards.

** A quick note about stains across different makers - while large furniture companies will have their own finishes with their own names, many Amish makers use a convention called “Ohio Certified Stains” or OCS for short. This is a way to ensure that pieces from different makers will have the same finish. However, if you are trying to match a new piece of furniture you are ordering with an existing piece, it’s best to have stain matching done to ensure a good match.

Warm Stains

These are made with reds, yellows and oranges and show off brown and red undertones. Once applied to a piece of furniture, they give the illusion of making the piece look larger or closer. If you have a larger space, this can help the room feel cozy. If you don’t have as much space, you can still use warm stains! Just have fewer pieces in the same room.

Popular warm stain choices that go well with craftsman decor include:

Michaels stainMichael’s and Michael’s Cherry - the most popular stain at Modern Bungalow across the board
  • If Michael’s is a stain option, you know you’re getting an Amish made piece
  • Non-Amish made pieces will use a name like Mission Cherry

AsburyBourbon or Asbury (Ohio Certified Stain catalog name)

SeelyAmber Glow or Seely (OCS catalog name)

  • A shade lighter but still warm

Cool Stains

Cool stains are made with the blue and gray undertones that calm and soothe. When cool stains are applied to a piece of furniture, it may look visually lighter. Cool stains are great for furniture placed in smaller rooms or spaces that you want to appear larger.

Popular cool stain choices that go well with decor consisting of blues and grays include:

Cappuccino stainHazelnut or Cappuccino (OCS catalog name)

cocoa stainCharcoal or Cocoa (OCS catalog name)


Light and Dark Stains

When trying to decide between the lighter or darker variation stains, here are some key points to keep in mind.

Light Stains

aspen sofa table

Dark Stains

Garrett nightstand

Brighten a room

Add a little drama and formality

Tend to hide dirt/dust better (good for children and pets)

Emphasize coziness/warm up a larger space

Relaxed and clean

Imperfections (knots, inconsistent grain patterns) in wood are less visible

Wear and tear less visible

Works well in contrast - light decor or walls

Order a wood sample or come into our store to learn more!

We hope this guide has been helpful in answering your questions about wood stain colors for furniture. However, we know the options are plentiful and encourage you to order one (or many) of our Simply Amish Wood or Ohio Certified Stain samples to help match your current aesthetic before committing.

You can also stop into the store where we’re happy to help you decide on a stain that will complement your current decor!

Back to blog

Need inspiration?

Find your next treasure. Explore our curated inspirations for your home.

1 of 4