• Lisa for humble house design

Step 2: Identify which finishes will remain.

Unless you are building a new home, it is doubtful that all the finishes within your home are ones you love. When engaging in a home renovation project, whether small or large, it is equally important to choose new finishes along with identifying older finishes that will remain in the space. In some cases, such as historic homes, removal of older finishes may affect the re-sale value of the home. Finding a way to seamlessly blend older finishes with newer ones is the focus of this post.

Identify which finishes will remain.

After identifying which rooms will be renovated, as discussed in the post Step 1: Identify which rooms to renovate, it is important to identify which finishes within those rooms are to remain. Many times, a renovation is as simple as replacing a kitchen backsplash or replacement of a countertop. In both cases it is important to look to the other finishes in the room as a starting place for determining your color palette.


It is helpful to say a few words about undertones here. Most people are familiar with undertones when looking at white paints. Most white paint contains “undertones” of blue, pink, or yellow. Paint companies generally carry one white which is a “true” white with no undertones.

Finishes such as wood, stone, tile, and fabric all contain undertones, some are slight, some are bold. Utilizing paint swatch samples can help you identify undertones in these materials. Holding a paint swatch sample of a “true” white next to a finish material will allow you to see the undertones.

Small paint swatch samples are available at any paint store for free. Benjamin Moore Chantilly Lace is a good true white without undertones. Place a sample swatch of this color next to the finish in question to identify if it looks more yellow, pink, or blue. Compare finishes under natural lighting to get the best color accuracy.

The main point here is that similar undertones should be paired with finishes with the same undertones, if possible. We sort of know this intuitively. Warm, golden oak wood flooring looks out of place when paired with bright white walls with a cool blue undertone. It has been done, but it makes the space look like something is off. Creamy whites relate to the warmth in the golden oak flooring better because of the yellow undertones in both finishes.

Many times, we really love a finish but don’t want to emphasize the undertone. This was the case when I had travertine flooring installed in my renovation. The travertine was light but had a subtle pink undertone. I choose a gray grout, with helpful advice from my installer, to counteract the pink in the stone. Grout can emphasize or de-emphasize an undertone.


When considering finishes, natural flooring is the most limited in its range of color. Stone and wood are natural materials and are available in limited color options. If you are choosing new flooring, start here. If you are replacing flooring in a kitchen and adjacent family room but keeping the kitchen countertop, make sure your new flooring contains the same undertone as the existing countertop, so the two finishes will not compete.

Likewise, if your flooring is remaining in the room you are renovating or can be seen from the room you are renovating, start to build the new finishes around the existing flooring. Don’t let this point discourage you from creating a new look. Although your choices may be narrowed, older flooring can be “updated” in feel just by adding new finishes around it. It is important to coordinate the undertones of each finish, old or new, so they begin to create a cohesive look.

Historic Homes.

Some homes are designated as historic properties. These homes may require additional research on existing finishes to see which ones are true to original construction. Many tile companies manufacture or carry historic tile. The patterns, colors, and sizes match that of older tile installations. These companies are worth checking into.

In some areas of the country homes may be placed formally on the National Register. If you have purchased a home in this category it is important to proceed slowly with your renovation/restoration and determine which finishes are original to the house. This does not mean you cannot add something new but local and federal guidelines must be consulted. I recommend checking online to see if your state regulates renovation or remodeling of a house on the historic register. You will also need to check local zoning bylaws or other ordinances (historic district designations) that may impose design standards.

Even if your older home is not on the National Register, you may want to identify and preserve finishes that are original to the home’s construction. Older wooden floors can be refinished, re-stained or painted to refresh them to look more current. Older tile can be cleaned, and grout repointed.

The main point here is to not to jump to replacement quickly. Consider restoration options that help your home remain unique and keep its resale value.


Time is an important consideration. Many people want to update a home quickly prior to or after moving in. Most of the time renovation happens in stages due to time constraints. If you are going to paint the interior of the home quickly but know that you are going to change out the flooring in two years, it is important to choose the flooring first, determine it’s undertones and then choose a paint color.

Make sure your finishes are not trendy. Trendy finishes may get discontinued after a few years. Pick something timeless so it will be available when you are ready to move forward with that part of your renovation.

Final thoughts.

Updating the look of your home is possible even if you are renovating over time or renovating an older home. Identify which finishes will remain. Identify undertones in the remaining finishes and coordinate your new finishes around them. This will make for a more professional look.