The reno plan: Picking interior finishes

Ready set reno Picking interior finishes
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A renovation journey.

Join us for a continuing series as we bring a relatively untouched, tired-looking 1960s builder’s-box bungalow into the 21st century.

. . . . .

By Jenny Kennedy

One of the most exciting elements of home renovation is selecting decorative finishes that reflect the homeowner’s style. Along with the practical functionality of each selection, there must be a cohesive blend of colour and contrast for balance that achieves your overall aesthetic goals.

There is more to interior finish selection than creating a design board with all your favourite looks and the latest trends. While keeping these things in mind, renovators need to follow a specific order to set the foundation for the following items.

This handy guide will help you simplify the process, save time and hone your choices according to your design goals and the home’s character. The basis of this process is twofold: Cost and longevity.


First on the list should be the cabinetry. While flooring could also be the first selection, your cabinets will likely outlast any other element in your home and have the highest investment.

Whether you choose a wooden or painted look, or a combination of the two, this decision will affect the style, tone and product choices for almost everything that comes afterwards.

For example, stained solid wood cabinets are customizable; however, the wood type vastly affects the stain colour. With hardwood or wood-like flooring, you may want to use a sample to perfect your cabinet finish or the other way around. Painted looks also have undertones that could dictate tile and countertop selection, especially if you want a Carrera marble or white backsplash. You’ll quickly learn that white is never “just white.”


Flooring is another high-ticket item that will likely be around longer than most other decorative finishes in the home, depending on the quality and flooring type. For instance, linoleum is far more likely to be replaced than hardwood.

If you have difficulty “matching” cabinet and flooring samples, aim for slightly lighter or darker flooring than your cabinets in complementary tones. Don’t forget that flooring comes in different thicknesses, styles and installation requirements, all of which play a part in your selection process.

In addition, it is wise to consult with your general contractor whether they intend to install your cabinets over the flooring or if the flooring will instead butt up to the toe kick. It can affect cabinet height and pose challenges when it’s time to replace the flooring.

Countertop and tile

Once your flooring and cabinets are chosen, it’s time to coordinate your countertops and backsplash tile. Since these butt together, it is crucial that they complement each other well. As mentioned before, white is one of the most challenging tones to match, and some samples may have more blue or yellow undertones than you realize.

To begin, bring a cabinet and flooring sample to the showroom and any visual examples of the look you want. As you lay the samples out, ensure you align warm and cool overtones to avoid slightly “off” matches.

Hold the backsplash tile up against the flat countertop piece. Also, try positioning the countertop over the table’s edge and viewing the flooring sample from the floor. The idea is to duplicate the look as if it were installed. Any mismatched colouration should pop out as you soften your gaze while looking down and across your selections. We can stare anything into working, but a relaxed gaze helps to eliminate unwanted undertones.

You will also need to select your tile’s grout colour and metal edging trims, which should coordinate with other metal finishes in the home. You’ll likely need to choose your sinks and other fixtures at this time.

Fixtures, hardware and lighting

Piece by piece, your home’s design is coming together. By now, you may see how one decision quickly leads to another and metal finishes are no different. Along with your metal trim pieces, you want to select your tap and drain packages to match.

Remember that you won’t want more than two metal finishes, one being neutral and the other taking centre stage. So, for example, black or white is always neutral when mixed with brushed nickel, chrome, brass or oil-rubbed bronze.

Your cabinet hardware, doorknobs, hinges and door stops should work cohesively with your light fixtures, taps, drains and tile trim.

Selecting paint colours

Some homeowners unknowingly attempt to pick paint colours first; however, this is backwards. Paint is the first and least expensive element to change, and you don’t want to inadvertently select your permanent interior features around temporary colours.

For example, an elderly couple decided to build an accessible bungalow and loved peach colours. So, they incorporated it in their grout, smoked custom mirrors and their tile. Yet, when it came time to pick new paint colours, they were committed to specific tones because of the permanent peach — unless they wanted to renovate to remove it.

To pick paint colours correctly, you want to have all your samples present and compare samples against everything. Remember, paint is mostly on vertical surfaces, so hold the paint chip up as if on a wall and check it under multiple light sources. Consider fabrics, wallpaper, furniture and area rugs as well.

Tip: Paint will appear lighter when wet in the can and darkens to the exact chip colour. The change in light bulb colour and access to natural light often changes the look of a paint colour once applied to the wall. The existing colour can too, until it is covered completely, so wait until you have dried two solid coats before considering any changes.

The final results

As you make your interior finish selections, remember that items could become discontinued, delayed in shipping, or flat-out too expensive for your budget. Changes are part of a renovation; however, when you understand the selection process, you won’t have to start over from scratch when a problem arises.

In the end, you should have a beautifully cohesive design that accomplishes your goals in line with the home’s structure and your overall vision.

. . . . .

Watch the renovation journey unfold at

In today’s pandemic-era environment, world-wide supply chain issues and construction delays are a reality, so plan your renovation well and be prepared. As things get underway, we’ll be sharing exciting before, during and after content including a video series featuring top experts, and you’ll be able to virtually tour the project at various stages of completion.

Photo by Sidekix Media on Unsplash

Jenny Kennedy of Kennedy Literary Agency provides written copy and content for the design-build industry and is the author of the book, “Launch into Interior Design.”

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Ready Set Reno
Ready Set Reno

A Renovation Journey. Join us for a continuing series as we bring a relatively untouched, tired-looking 1960's builder's-box bungalow into the 21st century.

22 articles