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Brown Is The New Black

Whether it’s covering walls or adorning accent pillows, the colour is popping up everywhere.

By Tracy Kaler
Thu, May 12, 2022Grey Clock 4 min

Brown can range from a soft beige to rich amber to deep cocoa. The colour might lean purple, grey, or green; it may be subtle, inviting or intense. No matter the shade, brown can be comforting, sophisticated, chic and fit into any décor style. These days, designers are incorporating the classic colour more and more, sometimes even replacing black with brown.

“A chocolate brown has much more depth than black; it is a colour versus a shade,” said Cindy Rinfret, a designer based in Greenwich, Connecticut. “While black can help create contrast in a space, using a chocolate brown can give you the same effect but in a much richer and layered way.”

We asked a group of design pros about the relevance of brown in interior design and how to use this classic colour successfully. Here’s what they recommend.


Go for Contrast

“Brown is coming back into favour, we are seeing shades of browns with other tones that can read aubergine or grey, and they are handsome colours.

“I like to use very dark shades of brown, and those are often juxtaposed to a shade of white to give it a pop. My personal favourites are chocolate browns and the more purple tones of brown. Pinks, purples and some shades of orange and yellow work well with browns. A Hermes orange shade against a chocolate brown looks incredible. It’s all about contrast and introducing a splash of colour against it. Brown is a backdrop but put a magenta pillow against it, or a perfect shade of yellow, and it can come alive.”

— Christopher Peacock, founder and CEO of Christopher Peacock Cabinetry in New York City


Vary Tone and Texture

“Brown is a great way to make a space more dynamic as layering intensity of colour allows the whole design to pop. Brown is very versatile and can be used with a myriad of other colours. It is a timeless classic.

“Choosing the right brown can be tricky. You should identify your goal first and then go from there. For example, is it being used as piping to highlight a pillow fabric, or are the walls lacquered in chocolate brown to create a sexy space? Either way, if you are planning on using a lot of browns, make sure to vary the tone and texture of its use throughout.”

— Designer Cindy Rinfret in Greenwich, Connecticut


Hang Abstract Art on Brown Walls

“Brown gives all the richness and depth without the harshness given with black. It is also easier to mix brown with other colours than black.

“I prefer cooler browns with hints of green and gray. ‘Salon Drab’ by Farrow & Ball is my preferred shade. In some light, it can almost look olive. I also love a palette of cognac and tobacco for a room with a masculine feel.

“When using brown on the walls, I don’t like to use white as a contrasting colour––it is too harsh. Instead, use olive green or French gray. Brown walls look great when you hang vibrant abstract art on them. Or add wall-to-wall carpet in beige or orange.”

— Designer Alexander Doherty in New York


Use Pattern to Bring Brown to Life

“Browns should be a little complex, in my opinion, and not like the brown crayon in the crayon packet. They should lean in a direction that has depth and mystery. I prefer browns that do not have red undertones but are more like a mink or a seal––it’s like they are on the verge of becoming something else.Our favourite browns are:

‘Tanner’sBrown’ by Farrow & Ball, ‘Rural Brown”’ by Benjamin Mooreand Sherwin Williams’s ‘Sealskin.’

“To make brown feel fresh and alive, I rely on pattern, unexpected colours and contrast. For example, for a space with light floors and a brown wall, add a touch of red or even lilac to add interest and excitement. Lavenders and lilacs are really pretty when paired with brown. We just did a Florida house in deep brown, light greys and lavender. We used white plaster accents, a touch of black, and lots of rattan and sisal. It felt fresh and comfortable, not so seaside-obvious.

“Nina Campbell has the greatest wallpaper with a brown ground and grey, stone and white accents. It’s dramatic yet somehow understated and really highlights the staying power of brown.”

— Designer Liz Caan in Newton, Massachusetts


Reprinted by permission of Mansion Global. Copyright 2021 Dow Jones & Company. Inc. All Rights Reserved Worldwide. Original date of publication:  May 11, 2022


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