Brown interiors are trending – 3 ways to make this tricky colour work

We reveal the top tips for using brown in a room – and share the best brown paint colours to try.

Everything we eat springs from Earth’s soil – brown, rich and fertile. It therefore makes sense that brown interiors should likewise feel wholesome and nourishing to us, and perhaps explains why they’re enjoying a surge in popularity. However, trying to make shades of brown work so that a room feels sophisticated as opposed to sludgy is a balancing act.  

Studio DeanCredit: Studio Dean

Suzy Chiazzari, principal at the Holistic Design & Colour Institute, says: “Brown is an enigmatic hue that we associate with the grounding and warming qualities of the earth. It has many different tonal guises, from dark coffee and cool pecan, to rich cinnamon and creamy caramel.  

“Any of these shades will create a feeling of cocooning and protection from the stresses of the world. However, too much brown in a room can result in a dark and depressing atmosphere, so you need to lighten it up.’ 

Then how do you get it right? Our experts share ideas on how to use this tricky colour in your home. 

1. Texture is all-important

Brown can be the main event in any room – just add a mix of finishes

Farrow and BallCredit: Farrow and Ball

When it comes to brown interiors, there’s no rule as to how much brown you can use in any one space. Some perfectly exquisite rooms are covered top to bottom in brown – others may just have hints of the colour.  

The secret to getting brown interiors right is to contrast flat brown surfaces like painted walls with more highly textured brown surfaces. “If you are unsure how to introduce brown into a room, a good rule is to use it in natural materials like timber, bamboo, or earthenware tiles,” advises Chiazzari. “Also try to incorporate plenty of textural interest. 

“As brown reflects less natural light into a room it is best to offset it with crisp white, light neutrals and bright rich jewel hues to give it that extra sparkle.” 

Take for example this bedroom styled by Farrow and Ball which features light brown paint Jitney No 293 on the walls. 

The light brown paint acts like a flat neutral to contrast with all the brown brick, timber and carpeting in the room. Even the metal bed is sprayed in rich shade of brown. 

By liberally layering brown colours and textures you will create a richer brown palette story. 

The designers further ramped up the contrast by painting the skirting a richer shade of brown than the walls using Tanner’s Brown No. 255. 

2. Know the colours that complement brown

Greens, pinks and blues are relatively safe

Milan’sCredit: Mylands

If you aren’t keen on a fully-brown room, you might be wondering where to start when finding colours that compliment this hue. 

And there are more options than you think, according to Farrow and Ball’s international brand ambassador Patrick O’Donnell. If you are a little nervous about pairing up the hue, he suggests getting to grips with the lighter hues first.  

“Gentle brown shades can be remarkably versatile, think of it as a mid-neutral rather than a colour in its own right, as it will complement a plethora of contrasting colours, from burnt orange and soft pink, to verdant greens and inky blues. Team brown tones with an empathetic white that has notes of brown or green through it, for an effortlessly smart, and ultimately relaxing pairing.” 

Studio DeanCredit: Studio Dean

In this sitting room by Studio Dean inky blue is used as a natural complement to brown – as the sky complements the soil.  

Follow their example. Once you have decided on your brown base – here it’s made up of curtains, flooring, seating, rug and mouldings – you can select a few dark-blue accents to add balance to the scheme. 

Leather is an easy way to incorporate brown

Add brown to your home with this versatile material

Studio DeanCredit: Studio Dean

Using leather is one of the easiest ways of adding a touch of brown to a new or existing space.

The versatility of leather means that you are spoilt for choice when it comes bringing this material into your home. You can opt to pick big pieces like leather beds, sofas or bar stools. On the other end of the spectrum there’s an abundance of small leather accents to try. Go from custom leather walls and floor tiles to readily available leather plant pots, bar stools and trays.

The secret to buying leather for your home is to know that all leather is not created equal. If you are going to buy major furniture pieces made in leather you will want to ensure that the leather used is genuine. It’s also key to know the upholstery grade so that you know the product can handle daily wear and tear.

Once you establish that the leather is genuine, there are no ‘good’ or ‘bad’ leathers, but rather, an appreciation of your lifestyle and how a leather piece will fit into it.

Which leather is best for me?

For example, a full-grain brown leather sofa might look glorious in the showroom but it can also be very delicate. This is because the top layer of the leather is in its natural state, and free of the chemicals that are used on cheaper leathers.

But a cheaper leather may be precisely what you want if your sofa is likely to come into contact with oils, water, dirt and moisture. In which case you may be better off shunning a full-grain leather and choosing a semi-aniline leather instead, which has wax applied on top.

The grains of the leather play a big role in how luxurious your leather product will look in your home. It’s worth knowing that expensive top-grain leather tends to also be the most difficult to maintain.

Paint expert Edward Bulmer’s favourite browns

How to dip into this ‘weighty’ hue

Edward Bulmer, founder of his eponymous brand Edward Bulmer Natural Paint notes that: “Browns are enjoying a well-deserved renaissance of late, from mid tones to the deepest darkest chocolate shades. Whether you are recreating a maximalist 70s interior or just after an elegant backdrop which complements furniture, furnishings and other colours”. 

The paint maker says that colour does not exist in a vacuum – we use it to ally with other great design and to improve the home as much as we can. 

“The recent turn to weighty colours will carry on apace, I’m sure. These work so long as they are tonally considered – this is our speciality and why we only use genuine pigment. 

I see more earth pigment-based warmth gathering favour and would even suggest that more people will find how useful brown is as a wall paint in support of clever colour in artwork and furnishings.” 

Bulmer’s top brown paint picks include: 

Edward BulmerCredit: Edward Bulmer

Etruscan Brown 

“When colours hover between one shade and another they can take on interest and intrigue. 

Our Etruscan Brown is so named to recognise that it owes as much to the cinnabar Red of Etruscan fresco decoration as the earth tones of a classic brown. 

It gives you all the redness you need for a ‘red’ room but in evening light pounds with the soft deep neutral appeal of brown, warm and chic”. 

Credit: Edward Bulmer

London Brown

“Being polychromatic, brown goes with everything but in deeper hues it is particularly good at flattering beautiful, welldrawn patterns. ‘London Brown’ puts everything else in a good light. It is strong and warm but somehow respectful to other colours regardless of weight or shade.

“I love its sophistication and I feel it might just be time for deep brown interiors to enjoy a well-deserved resurgence!

Credit: Edward Bulmer

Mummy 

“This is a modern mid brown with green undertones. This shade is such a versatile colour, as beautiful in an elegant period hallway as a cottage full of character.” 

Credit: Edward Bulmer

Chocolate 

“This is the creamiest most delicious brown, it works well showcasing colours in furnishings and art and offers a soft brown which is easy to pair and create a scheme with.” 

Written by Joy Archer she/her

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