Hi, everyone. It’s me, Laurren, here again to talk color. More specifically, brown. A few weeks ago, when we first met and I brought you this post about fun color combos, we didn’t once discuss brown. I’m going to right that wrong today by devoting a whole post to the hue because… IT’S BAAAAAAACK!
Well, maybe it’s not fully back, but its bags are packed and it’s headed this way.
If you’re thinking “But Laurren! Brown has been back for a while as evidenced here and here and here and here…” You’re not wrong! Things have warmed up over the years. We’ve seen a shift from painted furniture and cooler color palettes to spaces that include blonde-toned woods and earthy textiles and paint choices.
But I’m not talking the golden-hued teak credenzas or camel-colored leather sofas of recent years. (That’s all still great though.) I’m talking brown brown…deeper, darker, richer hues, from terra cotta and mahogany to walnut and chocolate and everything in between.
If you never thought this day would come, where we’re taking a deep dive into brown and, dare I say, actually kind of crushing on it all…I didn’t either, despite knowing that in the world of design—both in interiors and fashion—things are constantly cycling, with most trends emerging as a counter-reaction to another. Sure, brown is always around in some capacity. Furniture is, after all, most often made of wood, lol, but shades and tones and the way and quantity in which it’s used certainly fluctuates. I mean, literally everything can come in brown—furniture, floors, walls, upholstery, textiles, cabinetry—and in the ‘70s, everything kinda did.
Things were generally pretty drab before the 1950s. Not devoid of color completely, but it was expensive to dye textiles and plastics had yet to be invented, so things took a VERY colorful turn in the ‘50s and ‘60s as new materials emerged. In the ‘70s, folks were like NO THANK YOU and the motto became “wood panel it all!” The retina-scarring ‘80s ushered in the ‘90s country kitchen shortly followed by the all-Tuscan-everything that shook the early 2000s (SO.MUCH.BEIGE). We’re still recovering from that last one. For a good decade, painted furniture and the all-white kitchen/bathroom/everything have dominated homes and Pinterest boards around the world, so it seems only natural that a big shift is on the horizon.
How do we know it’s happening? We’ve seen some retailers like CB2 beginning to carry darker wood pieces, but fashion is generally the best indicator of what’s on the agenda decor-wise since trends often trickle down from there. And lately, fashion has been all about brown…
As you can see in these images from recent fashion weeks, tone-on-tone is definitely a thing and you’ll never go wrong pairing brown with red, but it’s that brown/teal/red combo at bottom left that really has my heart going pitter patter.
You didn’t come for the fashion, though, so let’s move along. Furniture seems like a logical place to start…
In the above image, mismatched pieces in varying wood tones pair with woven accents to create a rustic-boho space that feels decidedly different from the wood-heavy minimalist vibe currently dominating Instagram. (You know the look: matching light wood furniture, sunset hues, ceramics galore.) Not that we don’t appreciate those spaces—we do—but, there is something about exclusively outfitting a room with pieces in a singular tone, material or style that, no matter how carefully chosen, can feel a little “done-in-a-day,” if ya know what I mean. The dining space above might not garner all the internet “likes,” but its sophisticated, collected-over-time feel will definitely help it hold up in the long haul.
From the walls to the furniture to the textiles, the chic bedroom pictured above, in all its dark, chocolate-y glory, is a glaring style contrast to the more casual dining space discussed at top. It can be hard to get away with SO MUCH of the same hue, but it works here in large part thanks to the visual counter courtesy of that white upholstered headboard. (Imagine, for a moment, if the whole bedframe was iron? Very different story.) The wood finish on that French nightstand is very similar to the grasscloth-clad walls but that sliver of white from the table’s marble top is what keeps the piece from getting lost in the shuffle. It’s the little things in design, you guys.
If you worry about darker wood furnishings—particularly antiques—feeling stuffy or visually heavy, consider repurposing a piece in an unexpected way. Set against glossy tiles and topped with a bubbly vessel sink, the strong and stately console-table-turned-vanity pictured above tones down the playfulness of the room’s chipper pink-and-green palette.
If you’d prefer to dip your toes back into brown rather than dive head first, take a cue from the bathroom above: there are a lot of pretty things happening here (That pendant light! That claw-foot tub!) but, upon first glance, your eyes instantly land on that beautiful mahogany china cabinet, am I right or am I right? That’s thanks to the space’s all-white color palette—it provides the breathing room needed for that beautiful antique to become the strong focal point it was always meant to be. (FYI the wall paint is Montgomery White by Benjamin Moore.) I think it’s also important to note that, though an unconventional choice for a bathroom, that Turkish rug goes a long way toward making this whole thing work. (The cabinet is pretty big and could feel a little jarring as the room’s only flash of warmth.)
It’s not all about wood pieces, though. Here, a not-quite-terra-cotta sofa teams up with cooler shades of gray to warm up this stunningly stark office space designed by Danish studio Norm Architects for Kinfolk magazine. It’s a surprisingly versatile brown—lighter and redder in shade—and would lend itself to a range of design styles. We particularly love how well it plays with the thread of royal blue found in the two (very different) rooms pictured below.
With the popularity of all-white interiors came, perhaps, the most asked and agonized over question in all of design: should you paint original wood-toned trim/moldings/doors? We get why the thought ruffles feathers, but we also get why someone would want to do it. (Sometimes you just don’t want that much contrast between trim and walls okay?!) If that last sentence made you say to yourself “who let this lady in here??!!!” then you’ll be happy to know times may be a changin’, as we’re seeing more and more folks embracing original finishes and sometimes even choosing to install wood-toned trim where it once wasn’t. And we’ve gotta say: it’s pretty darn dreamy.
Here’s an example in a more minimal design scenario. A big part of why this works is that there is no molding where the wall meets the ceiling to detract from the sleek aesthetic and the gray plaster walls balance all the warmth with a hit of cool.
Moving on to the topic of flooring, I don’t know that brown patterned floors are a thing, but this space—well, actually this entire home—is so, so beautiful I couldn’t not include it. So let’s just call it…brown patterned floors…they’re happening…ish.
What makes the room pictured above different from all-wood spaces of years past—outside of the fact that it’s, you know, actual wood—is the shift in pattern between the flooring and wall molding and the fact that the wood doesn’t lean particularly warm or cool in tone. A palette of three very “now” hues—terra cotta, blush, and lilac—help to soften the serious, minimally furnished space and the white ceiling lifts everything.
The kitchen above takes the wood treatment allllllll the way up to the celling—and man is it good. Again, this is in large part thanks to the change up in pattern—it just wouldn’t feel as special or as current without the herringbone design wedged in the middle to break things up. Plus, this is likely real wood (even if just veneer), unlike the faux wood paneling of decades past. Clean, modern finishes in pastel-y hues provide the contrast needed to keep things from going in a more rustic direction.
For your noncommittal folks, the kitchen above is a stunning example of how to tiptoe into the wood wall treatment. (Doesn’t it feel like whatever goes on those shelves just instantly becomes EXTRA special?)
Of course, we’d be remiss to talk color without talking paint. Here, deep brown walls with an almost chalky finish amp up the drama of simple bedding and furnishings.
While the furnishings in the dining space pictured above aren’t something the EHD team typically gravitates toward, the lighter, more cocoa-toned wall color is no doubt very enticing and could definitely translate to a variety of design styles. (The paint is Vicalvi’s Havane in a matte finish, which might be hard to get in the States. Maybe try something like Log Cabin by Benjamin Moore.)
Here in the living room of “The Home,” the Copenhagen show apartment of the Danish Brand Ferm Living, moody blue-gray walls are topped with a is-it-brown-or-is-it-burgundy? celling. It’s a bold, beautiful treatment best suited for larger spaces. (Though it could feel super cozy in a smaller bedroom.) The blue and gray furniture really perfects the room’s color palette.
Shades of brown + green + steely blue-grey with a hint of pink—I guess I’ll have to file this color combo under missed opportunities, as evidenced by the two-toned space pictured above. It’s both cozy and dynamic.
We can’t forget about wallpaper. A busy brown print like the one pictured above might be a little much in a larger space, but in a powder room, it feels just right. We’re on board with the neutral palette used here but also wouldn’t hate to see how a bolder pop of color would pair with the print.
The color of this abstract graphic wallpaper—it’s Graffito by Kelly Wearstler—is called “salmon” but definitely feels like more of a light cocoa in this photo, so let’s just go with that, okay? The use of color, texture and pattern makes the room feel delightfully rich and layered.
Because I don’t know where to fold in a discussion about this brown wood-topped bathtub, I’m just going to leave it here as a parting gift to you. : )
Almost 2,000 words later…whew. We made it. Thanks for hanging in there. Are you convinced yet? A brown convert? I just realized I didn’t really touch on cabinetry, but you gotta stop somewhere.
Tell me your feelings—do you think brown is back? Do you think it never really went away? Do you have horror stories of brown rooms past? Spill it because while tons of these rooms sell brown hard, we know it works in very specific instances, and all of you aren’t currently running out right now to brown up your spaces.