During client consultations at my interior design firm in Austin, Texas, I typically ask folks what colors they are drawn to. Responses include bright turquoise, blush pink, sage green, and cheery yellow. Brown hardly ever makes the list even when people have an inclination for neutrals. The color brown is an unsung design element often getting shucked to the side for being “boring” or “drab.” However, brown is an undeniable force, encompassing a range of rich and grounded hues like mahogany, rust, and amber. I’m sharing why we should use the color brown in interior design more often and why it’s actually one of my favorites.
The Unsung Design Elements We Should Be Paying Attention To
In the Unsung to Undeniable series, Interior Designer Amity Worrel examines underrated design elements that have the power to make or break your interior. Pay attention because these underdogs have an undeniable force soon-to-be recognized!
Why Does Brown Get a Bad Rap?
Brown gets a bad rap in the interior design world. Early in my interior design career, I worked for Tom Scheerer at his New York City firm. He’s a design guru, and I learned so much from him. When his clients would say, “I don’t like brown,” he’d help them realize they appreciated the color more than they thought. Brown is a natural, grounding color associated with many of our favorite things we take for granted — trees, mountains, gardens, antique furniture, labrador retrievers, and coffee. I mean, chocolate is brown for goodness sake, and who doesn’t like that? Tom knew that we, as designers, had a job to help our clients rekindle their love of brown. He designed one of the most recognized brown interiors: The Lyford Cay Club House — a space enveloped in a brown palm-print wallpaper grounded with sisal rugs and accented with rich mahogany tables. This room is a beautiful example of what brown can be.
It’s time to reassess your feelings about brown.
My Favorite Color is Brown
No one says their favorite color is brown, well, except me. People always respond with something like pink, blue, or purple. And people who like purple really like purple! Brown tends to be a color we overlook or, worse, mock. (Please spare us the bathroom humor.) Using the color brown in interior design is a beautiful thing. Picture the refined wood-paneled study, the antique armoire, or even the collection of amber glassware. Brown is the less showy cousin to the color black. It provides a surprisingly warm, peaceful feel and a neutral backdrop for your “favorite” colors to shine through. The benefits of brown don’t stop there.
The Benefits of Using the Color Brown in Interior Design
Feels Earthy & Grounding
I’m writing this piece during fall, watching the leaves change colors (as much as they do in Austin) and thinking about the onset of cooler weather. Brown is an earthy color that becomes more prominent in the fall season as the spring and summer blooms retreat. It’s brown’s ties to nature that make it such a centering and soothing color. Interior design affects our mood, and the color psychology behind brown is associated with feelings of security, comfort, and peace. Brown keeps us grounded and creates welcoming interior retreats perfect for winter nights in.
Adapts to Any Style or Palette
Brown is adaptable. It’s the humble color of recycled-paper grocery bags, soil, and sawdust. Alternatively, it’s the decadent color of chocolate mousse, lacquered mahogany, and fresh espresso. Because brown exhibits a wide range of hues and associations, designers can easily incorporate it into any style or palette. It’s a dynamic neutral, setting up the perfect background for vibrant additions. Brown pairs perfectly with some of my other favorite colors, including pink, white, black, and green.
Defines the “New” Neutral
In the previous decade, we saw the rise of stark minimalism and bare-bones modern — condemning us to years of cold white and gray interiors. Now, we’re seeing shifts to warmer interiors and the “new” neutral. White and gray give way to warmer, earthy hues and shades of brown. Unlike stark white and gray which can read as cold, brown hues have warmer undertones. Whether embracing light natural wood or dark amber velvets, brown is the best way to create a cozy neutral space.
Provides a Sense of Comfort & Relaxation
It’s crazy to think good design and comfort can’t coexist in the same room. In my opinion, comfort is the latest interior design trend. While some colors put us on edge, brown comes in many tones that evoke a needed sense of comfort in a home. Brown is relaxing, and brown interiors have been proven to improve our mood, sleep schedule, and connections.
Ways to Use Brown in Your Home
Use Natural Wood Stains
Bringing brown into your interior design plan doesn’t necessarily mean buying a can of brown paint. (Although I am not opposed to the idea!) One of the easiest ways to incorporate brown into your decor is to highlight the natural wood elements you have in your space. For example, opt for a rich, dark wood stain rather than painting paneling white. Select wood floors and stained cabinetry. Highlight exposed beams with a natural finish.
Mix Brown Toned Furniture
Brown comes in many hues, and they all coordinate together. So, don’t be afraid to mix wood tones in your furnishings. There’s no reason why you can’t have a blonde wood stain on your floors and choose a dark mahogany credenza to sit on top of them. Incorporate other brown tones in textiles and upholstered pieces, like a caramel leather sofa or a brown-velvet accent chair.
Incorporate Vintage Pieces
Antique and vintage wood furniture pieces add romance to interiors and a unique personal touch. Consider including the vintage armoire with hand-carved details or the antique veneered dining room table with stunning inlays. You won’t even want to consider modern, painted furniture after perusing the goods in an antique store!
Go Moody with Paint and Wallpaper
It can be scary for many clients, but don’t be afraid to go dark! Be brave. Embrace warm, dark earth tones on your walls with deep brown paint colors and wallpapers. When done properly, dark wall colors will make your space feel larger and more inviting.
Brown is Trending in Interior Design Again and You Should Embrace It
I told you these unsung design elements have an undeniable force that can’t be ignored! I am thrilled to say brown is once again trending in interior design (although I don’t think it ever really went out of style). Brown harks back to more traditional interiors and cozier vibes. In a post-pandemic world, many homeowners seek a retreat that offers protection and security. With its warm feel and intrinsic tie to nature, brown is the perfect color for the job.
Get ready to fall in love with your new favorite color.
Amity Worrel is an award-winning interior designer based in Austin, Texas. She has worked on high-end interior design projects for celebrities and tastemakers in NYC, LA, and the Bahamas. In 2008, Amity decided to bring her passion for diverse design back to her hometown of Austin. Her spaces pull from timeless design concepts ranging from coastal contemporary to cozy cottage to Austin eclectic. Emotional connections, functional flow, and a touch of humor remain central to every interior design scheme. Her work has been published in national and local publications, including The Wall Street Journal, House Beautiful, HGTV Magazine, Better Homes and Gardens, and Austin Home. In her free time, she loves perusing estate sales and diving into design history. Learn more about Amity.