8 ideas for decorating with brown

Whether it’s grey, pink, or even rich black, a lot of colours have been put forward as ‘new neutrals’ in the last couple of years. However one of the most overlooked and undervalued colours in decorating is now coming to the fore, and it can make a great neutral scheme – or be strong enough to make a real statement. Yes brown, not usually considered the sexiest of colour choices, is edging its way into modern interiors. You can see why. Brown’s associations are autumnal and natural, and the colour has an organic feel to it that is guaranteed to bring some welcome warmth into your space. It is also a colour with a huge variety of shades within it. A rich mahogany brown can make a statement, but a soft pale brown, the colour of parcel paper or milky coffee, can create a soft and welcoming backdrop for paintings, furniture and features.

brown wallpaper

Design by Douglas Mackie, image by Simon Upton for House & Garden

A tobacco colour is the ideal wall shade for creating a gentleman’s club effect, perfect for a cosy space like a study or cinema room. Ideal for combining with traditional antique or ‘brown’ furniture and masculine materials like leather and metal.

pale brown walls

Farrow & Ball Dimity, Joa’s White and All White (Image: The Rug Company)

The palest browns can be the colour of milky coffee or parcel string, and make a wonderful, warm but unobtrusive backdrop for a room. Using a darker shade of brown below the dado rail and a lighter shade above is a clever way to add depth without making the room too dark.

brown living room

Image from Marks & Spencer

A deep, plumy brown adds instant drama to any room, while offering greater warmth than black or dark greys. Used above the dado rail it adds a feeling of intimacy to even grand spaces, and also works as a wonderful counterpoint to period features picked out in crisp white or soft cream.

brown bedroom

Image by Lucas Allen for House & Garden

Brown has associations of calmness and stability, making it surprisingly successful for a restful bedroom scheme. Here it adds weight to a sun-filled room otherwise furnished in white, with just a hint of red in the bed upholstery to add a subtle but vibrant note.

brown hallway

Farrow & Ball Mahogany

Deep, dark brown might be a bold choice, but in a historic hallway it looks perfectly at home, creating a dramatic and embracing space from what might otherwise be a transitory space. Softer than black, it is also a perfect pairing with country flagstones, the shades in each echoing the other for a look that could have been there forever.

brown dining room

Design by Charles Rutherfoord, image by Michael Sinclair for House & Garden

Brown was often used for walls in historic houses, and painting a room brown can be a great way to recreate some of that feel. Team with antique furniture, highlight period features and add elements of symmetry to the room (with side tables, paintings or accessories) for a modern way to achieve the timeless look.

brown bathroom

Farrow & Ball Mouse’s Back

Pale browns with a yellow tinge to them have a very practical appeal. There is something both versatile and resilient about the above colour that makes it a great choice for practical spaces like kitchens, bathrooms, boot rooms and utility rooms. Team with bright white to give it a more modern twist.

brown living room wall

Image by Michael Sinclair for House & Garden

On the flip side, a brown with gold tones in it can provide a surprisingly opulent feel to a living or dining room, especially when combined with suitable furniture is glossy finishes. Here a mottled effect to the wall colour not only softens the space but also allows more of a sense of light playing on the surface.

Header image: Farrow & Ball Salon Drab

Ros Anderson


Ros Anderson is an interiors journalist and blogger who has worked for The Guardian, Elle Decoration, Ideal Home and many more. In 2009 she co-founded cult interiors blog My Friend's House with Jill Macnair, as a place to write about design in a more honest, spontaneous and humorous way.

The Chromologist 2019 | Farrow & Ball

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