What Stain Color Should I Pick for My Floating Shelves?

Ordering wooden shelves online for your kitchen or bathroom can seem a little tricky – especially when trying to nail down what stain color will look best in your space.

At J Thomas Home, we want to make your decision as painless as possible! Let’s take a look at the tips and tricks we offer our customers for how to best select stain for the open shelving projects around their homes.


What you’ll find in this article:

“Matching” vs. “Complementing” Wood Stains Already in Your Home

J Thomas Home Finish Options for Floating Shelves

Comparison Image of J Thomas Home Stains on All of Our Different Wood Types

J Thomas Home Shelving Reviews

“Matching” vs. “Complementing” Wood Stains Already in Your Home

Take a look around your room for a moment.

Your cabinets and flooring are both the same type of wood, and a very similar (nearly matching) color. So, of course, the floating shelves you plan to install in the same room need to be the same wood type and stain color, too – right?

Maybe. But, likely not. There can be too much of a good thing.

wooden cabinetry, shelves, and flooring, all in the same color and style

While it’s really great to be able to exactly match sometimes, and monochrome is also really having a moment right now, more than anything, the room should feel balanced.

For example, if most all of your kitchen is bright white cabinetry, tile, sink, and appliances, it may be nice to warm up the space with a medium or darker accent color. Complementing your color scheme helps visually guide guests through the space, adding interest and movement.

Complementing wood tones also prevents the dreaded, “close, but not quite,” when trying to exactly match a piece of furniture already in the room. 2021 has been full of design trends on mixing and matching wood types and stain colors to create a cohesive, complementary spaces. So don’t be afraid to break away from bland and blend together a few different woods for balance.




J Thomas Home Finish Options for Floating Shelves

So what stain color is best for your space?

We offer a few standard finishes for our floating wooden shelves, and have descriptions with a few example images below. From our lightest stain to the darkest:

  • Unstained – with or without clear coat
  • Puritan Pine
  • Early American
  • Special Walnut
  • Pecan
  • Willowbend
  • Espresso
  • Gray Wash
  • Carbon
  • Shabby White (paint)

Our stain swatches comparison image shows the same finish option across all of our wood types so you can see how the color varies on different types of wood, too.


The lightest finish option we offer for our floating wooden shelves is “unstained.” Unstained can come in two forms – one of which is, “unfinished” – without our clear, Satin top coat. Customers order the raw, unfinished wood so they can use stain they previously purchased and have on hand from other projects around their home, so that the pieces will match.

Another option for unstained is to seal the raw wood with our clear, Satin top coat. This brings out the beauty of the natural wood color. The top coat is a water-based polycrylic and will not “yellow” the color of the wood over time (like polyurethane may).

Unstained pine, poplar, or maple will have a white or pale yellow unfinished appearance, while alder, red oak, and cherry may have a light tan, and somewhat “pink” hue.

White Oak and Walnut are two wood types we regularly send unstained, with clear coat, only, to highlight their gorgeous natural wood tone.


Puritan Pine

Puritan Pine is a light yellow golden tone.


Early American

In the past, our Early American was similar to Minwax Early American – a warm light brown made up of reds, oranges, and amber tones. However, with an updated formula, our Early American is more of a golden light brown. Early American is a great way to add a little warmth to a white kitchen or bathroom.

Special Walnut

Special Walnut seems to be the “just right” light brown color folks love. It’s actually quite similar to Early American – a light, golden brown as well, but tends to have a slightly warmer undertone, and just a tad darker brown, too. The special walnut finish adapts nicely to nearly any wall color – looks great against blues and grays, greens, tans, and especially light white tones.



If you are looking for floating shelves in a nice, medium brown shade, Pecan is perfect! Pecan is a rich shade that brings out the grain and character of the wood. It’s a safe bet, too, as it blends well with most any wall color – I’d probably not recommend it for light yellows, but that would be about it.


Our most popular photo on Pinterest is a towel bar shelf set stained our dark brown Willowbend. Willowbend is not a warm brown color like Espresso (below) – it mostly has subtle gray undertones and looks a-mazing against light blue or gray walls.



Espresso is our warmer brown, whereas Willowbend is more neutral gray brown. Espresso is super, super dark, and by warm, I mean has a subtle hint of red running through it. A lot of furniture pieces are that dark (almost black) Espresso brown color, and this will pair perfectly with those!

Gray Wash

The key to our gray wash is to note the “wash.” Our Gray Wash stain is a weathered wash over the wood – so you will still see wood and wood grain underneath. We did our very best to select an even-tone gray that isn’t too brown or green or blue or purple. If anything, I’d say our gray wash leans slightly into the cool / blue range.



Carbon is our dark smoky charcoal gray black stain color. It’s still a semi-transparent stain, though, so you will be able to see wood through the stain. If you are interested in an actual full-on black stain, message us about using “True Black” instead and we can get you a quote.

Shabby White – Paint

Shabby White is our only paint finish (other than the clear Satin top coat that is painted on all of our stained shelving). We do use a paint called Ultra White, so while our Shabby White is not an off-white or antique white color, what’s unique about it is our process. We actually paint the shelving gray first. Then we apply the ultra white paint. From there, sanding the shelf allows in some places for the wood to show through, and others the gray to peek through the mostly white finish along the grain lines. The layered paint creates interest, depth, and movement, and every shelf is different for a one-of-a-kind finish. Not too shabby at all 😉

Comparison Image of J Thomas Home Stains on All of Our Different Wood Types

Each of these finish options will look different based on the type of wood you’ve selected for your shelves. Check out this comparison shot of all of the stains listed above applied to all of our different wood type options.


Josh’s Giant Photo comparing them all


Notes about stain colors:

Here are few final thoughts about selecting your stain color.

  • Allow for variances
  • Colors and computer screens
  • Premium Woods to Leave Unstained

Allow for variances

Every piece of wood is unique. Each length of wood will have naturally varying grain patterns, knots, knot holes, coloring, and characteristics. Pecan on one piece of pine wood may very to the next, simply because of the grain lines making one shelf lighter or darker than the other. Expect variances from the images on our sample images, knowing that the shelves we provide are solid, real wooden shelves that will be unique.

Color and computer screens

Do you have two computer screens at your office? Open any photo on your right screen. Now slide it over to the left. Does the image vary in color some? Keep that in mind as you select your stain color for your shelving. Your screen settings may impact how light or dark you are seeing the image. If you are reviewing customer review images, please remember there could be differences in lighting from one photo to the next (and possibly photo editing?) before the images are uploaded.

Instead of trying to exactly match a wooden piece in your home, you may wish to select a complementary stain so you don’t end up with, “close, but not quite.”

Premium Woods to Leave Unstained

There are a few types of wood that we can, but generally do not stain, simply because of how absolutely gorgeous they are in their natural, raw form. White Oak, and Walnut woods are a few that come to mind.

I’ll also note that while Maple absolutely can be stained, it is a closed-grain wood that tends to be uneven, which sounds bad, but actually results in a very cool, nearly “weathered” lighter faded stain look. But it is something to keep in mind when selecting stain colors on Maple wood.

Customer Reviews of J Thomas Home Shelving

Since we started in our garage in 2016, we have handmade and shipped over 1 million shelves, which blows my mind, but means that we’re getting pretty good at this shelving thing 😉

Because each shelf is handmade upon order, these shelves will be made just for you. That means it’s in everyone’s best interest if they are exactly what you envision, and need not be returned.

A couple of ways we can hedge our bets here include: making and shipping a sample, or having you send us photos of your space.


Having a sample in hand can help you see the color in your home, under your lights, next to your other furniture colors. Please note: every piece of wood is unique, so even a sample may slightly vary from the full shelf that you receive.

Sends Us Photos of Your Space

Snap and send me pictures of your kitchen, bathroom, basement, or pantry – wherever you want these shelves to go. I’ll review the elements of the room and provide my recommendation for a complementary wood type and color. Don’t worry about cleaning anything first – we have two kids at home, too – I’m right there with you!

Customer Review Images

Please feel free to review our customer review images online, too! There are tons of photos on our J Thomas Home portfolio page, or you can read over 6,000 reviews on Google and Etsy, or check out tagged images of us on our social media accounts, like Instagram and Pinterest.



Contact us today! We’re happy to help answer questions you may have about what wood types work best for your space, or what stain color will complement best.


More About J Thomas Home

Husband-and-wife duo Josh and Emily lead an awesome team in their woodshop just outside Kansas City, that daily cuts, sands, stains, and ships shelving across the United States. With features in local publications like Kansas City Magazine, IN Kansas City, and more, the J Thomas Home crew is taking Olathe (and beyond!) by storm with outstanding craftmanship, top-tier quality, and award-winning customer service for wooden floating shelves, custom furniture, and cabinetry.



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