Shades of Brown – Decorating Possibilities

by Donna on July 28, 2012

Decorating with brown

Raise your hand if brown is your favorite color? When you were a kid did you reach right away for the brown crayon in the Crayola box? Well, for that first question I can’t see if you raised your hand, but based on studies of color preferences I can guess that not too many of you are in the ‘favorite’ column for brown. For the second question, kids prefer of course, well, colorful colors. Not quite a fair question since our color preferences tend to change as adults. At any age, brown is just not colorful. Shades of brown fall into the category of neutrals that do not contain a recognizable hue.

In spite of its lack of ‘favorite color’ status, brown, as a neutral, has its place in the arsenal of colors for interior decor. Like gray, it can play a subordinate roll as a backdrop for colorful art, or colorful furnishings and accents. Brown can work to create elegant and sophisticated spaces — and a variety decorating possibilities as you’ll see in the room examples below. You’ll notice that brown wall colors can range from medium to very dark in value. Also, brown colors have nuances in terms of undertones: from warm orange casts to cool and gray — subtle choices for mood and feel as well as for harmonizing with accent colors.

Great for dramatic entries

Chocolate brown entry foyer with a bright pink settee
Designer Ned Marshall used Benjamin Moore‘s Bittersweet Chocolate (2114-10) for this dramatic entry with a hot pink settee. Brown has worked to striking effect in this example, as it has in the next foyer. (From House Beautiful. Photo: Kerri McCaffety.)
Entry with brown stripe wallpaper
The brown stripe wallpaper in this entry hall plays its part in the luxurious effect. Designer Jean-Louis Deniot employed a Hervé Van der Straeten sunburst mirror and a marble-top console for a dramatic tableau. (From Architectural Digest. Photo: Miguel Flores-Vianna.)
Earthy brown display wall of an entry landing with large painting
An accent wall, in the Bay Area home of hotel designer Roger Thomas, is painted a custom earthy brown. The deep, rich tone complements the contemporary space. (From Elle Decor. Photo: Grey Crawford.)

A chic choice for home office and library

Home office with brown grass cloth walls
In this den and adjacent study by Vicente Wolf, the brown-toned walls appear to be covered in grasscloth wallpaper. The neutral brown creates a calm and relaxing spaces, tied together visually by the Arne Jacobsen Swan chairs. (From Elle Decor. Photo: Vicente Wolf.)
Phillip jeffries grasscloth wallpaper in sable color
From Phillip Jeffries, makers of natural textured wall coverings, the Arrowroot style in Sable could get the look seen in the den and study above.
Home library with brown walls and gray sofa
Stephen Elrod, vice president and creative director of Lee Jofa fabrics, loves the color brown. Working with color all day, he decided he’d like to come home to neutral tones. The library is painted in what he describes as “almost a devil’s-food-cake brown that has more red and gray in it.” The rich red of the painting, and the deep red of the lamp, play well against the brown wall, adding a splash of rich color in the otherwise completely neutral room. Elrod worked with designer Eric Cohler to create a space that’s chic and sophisticated. (From Traditional Home. Photo: Bruce Buck.
Home office with shades of brown and black
Designer Muriel Brandolini used two Jean-Michecl Frank armchairs in a cocoa toned leather for this study in a New York home. The chair color contrasts with the wall of black shelving, and picks up the soft cocoa color in the vintage Edward Fields rug from Liz O’Brien. (From Elle Decor. Photo: William Waldron.)

A backdrop for color

Brown walls are the backdrop for color in this living room.
Deep chocolate brown walls are the backdrop for colorful accents in this New Jersey living room designed by Susan Heidenberg. (From Luxe Interiors and Design. Photo: Stacy Bass.)
Bedroom with brown walls that are a backdrop for accents of color
Accents of bright coral pop against chocolate brown walls in this eclectic bedroom by Robert Brown. The blue of the ottoman adds a nice cool contrast. (At Traditional Home courtesy of Robert Brown Interior Design.)
Taupe-brown is the background for white fireplace, blue porcelain, and antique mirror
Taupy-brown is the background for a white fireplace surround, a 1940’s Italian mirror from Venfield in New York, and light-blue porcelain vases. The rich wall color creates mood and enhances the eclectic mix in this library sitting area. (From Luxe. Photo: Stacy Bass.)

Look of luxury

Sitting area combines brown, black and golden yellow
Brown walls set the stage for a classically glamorous mix of golden-yellow, and black-and-white patterns, in a living room by Mary McDonald.
Dining room with brown walls and curtains
Silky reddish-brown curtains, and a vintage crystal chandelier, add a touch of glamour against taupy-brown walls in this dining room with neoclassic-style table and chairs by James McInroe. (From Luxe. Photo: Paul Bardagly.)
Eclectic sitting area with brown curtains
In a room with an eclectic mix of traditional styles that includes a gilt trumeau mirror, silky brown curtains add to the room’s quirky sense of luxury. The brown tone is a down-to-earth note; the red ceiling adds a note of whimsy and playfulness. (Room design: decorative painting and faux finishers Josephine Aiken and Sissy Ballenger. From Southern Living at MyHomeIdeas. Photo: Laurey W. Glenn.)

Browns and tans

NY apartment in a brown and tan scheme
Designer Robert Passai used a scheme of brown and tan in his small New York apartment. The neutral toned walls are populated with framed art, breaking up the monotony. The neutral tones are also a background for little pops of color and intriguing furniture pieces. (From Luxe. Photo: Joshua McHugh.)
Dining room in natural tones with brown textured carpet
The black and the tan in the rug in this pretty dining space combine visually as brown; the deep color supplies a solid grounding in this pretty dining area dominated by neutral tones. Texture and pattern add liveliness to the space. The painted chest adds a touch of color. The rug is from Ballard Designs, as is the end chair fabric. The lighting pendants are from Fifi B Laughlin Design. (From Southern Living at MyHomeIdeas. Photo: Laurey W. Glenn.)

Brown and White

Brown and white is a surprisingly pleasing combination, particularly when brown and white, or black and white patterns are in the mix. Adding black to the scheme adds drama. Adding a splash of color will liven up the scheme.
Sitting area using brown and white scheme with black accents and a pop of orange
Brown walls, and white trim and sofa, are the background for black and white accents and a pop of orange accent pillows. The space is sophisticated yet casual. (From Martyn Lawrence-Bullard.)
Home office has brown patterns and white wall
Brown patterned fabrics in the club chairs and the ottoman (both from SeaCloth) are set against an all white background including a wall of white shelving. The Spider’s Nest tables are from Tucker Robbins. Lynn Morgan is the designer of this library in a Connecticut home. (From Elle Decor. Photo: Pieter Estersohn.)
Bedroom with headboard in a brown retro pattern
Designed by Marshall Watson Interiors in East Hampton, New York, this ‘retro’ bedroom has a mix of brown and white patterns against a white background. Pale green provides an accent color. (From Luxe. Photo: Tria Giovan.)
Bedroom with brown walls and accent pattern
Bedroom has brown walls and a mix of patterns
In this light-filled room, dark brown walls create a calm mood. The mix of brown and white patterns provide interest. The sparkling chandelier adds sparkle; crisp white elements add punch. The wall color is Benjamin Moore’s Sierra Spruce (2108-20). (From Traditional Home. Photo: Werner Staube.)
Sitting room with brown toile wallpaper
When it comes to toile wallpaper, I’m particularly fond of the patterns in brown. In this sitting room by Marshall Watson, the walls are upholstered in Cowtan & Tout’s Botanique Spectaculaire. The palette of neutrals is tightly coordinated; the outcome exudes charm. (From House Beautiful. Photo: Nathan Schroder.)

Bedrooms: calmly elegant or casually contemporary

Master bedroom in calm cocoa and soft gray
This bedroom by Jean-Louis Deniot is restful and serene. Luxurious fabrics in muted cocoa, soft gray and chocolate brown, along with coordinating wall colors, create the mood. The vintage chandelier adds personality. (From Architectural Digest. The photographer: Miguel Flores-Vianna.)
Tom Scheerer - bedroom with brown wall
A bedroom by designer Tom Scheerer, in a Brooklyn townhouse, juxtaposes color and pattern for an edgy and unexpected mix. The deep brown wall color is the dramatic component. (Photo: Pieter Estersohn.)

Pretty and fun

Perhaps surprisingly, brown can be the background for pretty florals, or the backdrop for a fun look.
Home office has brown walls and floral fabric for balloon shade
Another view of home office with brown walls and floral fabrics
In an Upper East Side apartment in New York, designer Lauren Geddes Duff has decorated the library with brown walls and floral fabrics. Floral fabrics and botanical prints give the room a touch of femininity; brown walls keep things down-to-earth. (From Elle Decor. Photos: Timothy Kolk.)
Casual and fun dining area with brown walls has fun and colorful elements
Brown walls, light blue chairs, and accents of pink add up to a fun color scheme in this casual dining area by designer Jonathan Berger. The playful frame – white against brown – adds tons of personality. (From House Beautiful. Photo: Francesco Lagnese.)

Brown – the comforting color

Brown is nurturing and comforting. Its a color that connotes stability and security. Brown walls can envelope spaces with calmness; and they can be neutral backgrounds for creating sophisticated, elegant, or fun interiors. A variety of decorating possibilities.
Donna's signature

Publication sources:

Architectural Digest. Elle Decor. House Beautiful. Luxe Interiors and Design. MyHomeIdeas. Traditional Home.

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