Decorating with brown – 10 ways to use this warm versatile color

Decorating with brown is back say the experts – we share tips on how to use this grounding shade

Decorating with brown
(Image credit: Edward Bulmer)

Decorating with brown is not always an obvious choice, and in the past it has had a reputation for being outdated. However, in recent years brown has become increasingly popular with those looking for a grounding, earthy neutral to bring warmth to interiors. 

With a spectrum stretching from cappuccino and taupe shades, to rich chestnut and dark chocolate, brown offers huge scope for creating all sorts of looks, from sophisticated and tailored to calm and nurturing.

'Whilst brown may have connotations of 70’s kitschy interiors – it can be achingly chic when used in the right environment. Browns run through many scales – from earthy mid-neutrals to the deepest and richest aubergine-tinged darks,' says Patrick O’Donnell, brand ambassador at Farrow & Ball.

If you're thinking about decorating with brown then you're in the right place, as we've rounded up an array of brown room ideas to help get you inspired, along with a wealth of advice from interior design and color experts. 

Decorating with brown 

Decorating with brown should not be underrated say the experts, who are noticing more and more people discovering the beauty and benefits of the shade. While it can sometimes be difficult to use, brown can make for truly stunning interiors, and, being a warm and neutral shade, makes a particularly good living room color scheme

'I see more earth pigment based warmth gathering favour and would even suggest that more people will find how useful brown is as a wall paint in support of clever color in artwork and furnishings,' says Edward Bulmer, interior designer and founder of Edward Bulmer Natural Paints.

'It is strong and warm but somehow respectful to other colors regardless of weight or shade. I love its sophistication and I feel it might just be time for deep browns to enjoy a well-deserved resurgence!' 

Home office in Edward Bulmer's London Brown

(Image credit: Edward Bulmer's London Brown)

1. Bring wow-factor with an all-brown scheme

Suffolk Kitchen by Neptune with walls, ceiling and cabinets painted in walnut

(Image credit: Neptune)

Painting all surfaces of a room in a deep brown color is a bold move, but it can be a stunning kitchen color idea when balanced with bright elements and plenty of texture, as proven in this Neptune Suffolk kitchen. 

'Brown is an earthy, well-grounded color that compliments many colors. We have used our deep, rich Walnut paint extensively in this kitchen to create a moody, sophisticated ambiance,' says Simon Temprell, interior design manager at Neptune

'It has a beautiful vintage feel created by painting the walls and cabinetry in the same color, breaking it with the clean white marble countertops and bistro table. The reclaimed plank floor really helps to bring an important element of texture to contrast the flat matte finish.'

2. Use brown as a backdrop for decorating with antiques

Living room in London Clay

(Image credit: Sibyl Colefax and John Fowler / Simon Brown)

Warm, mid-browns are a wonderful way to bring an inviting feel to a brown living room, plus can be a brilliant backdrop for decorating with art and antiques. 

‘I’ve used Farrow & Ball’s London Clay in my drawing room. I love it as a background for the paintings and the furniture.’ Its magenta pigment gives it a soft, earthy look,' says Emma Burns, managing director of Sibyl Colefax & John Fowler.

'Red-based browns such as London Clay, one of our stalwart browns, make for an ideal living room or drawing room choice. Due to the red through it, it is perfect for light-starved spaces to deliver warm and cozy comfort in equal measure,' adds Patrick O’Donnell brand ambassador at Farrow & Ball

'Use an empathetic white on your ceiling and trim, something that shares a red undertone such as Dimity or Joa’s White for a perfect Bedfellow.'

3. Try a deep brown for a north-facing room

Living room in a deep brown 46-29T by Papers & Paints

(Image credit: Interior by Studio Indigo / photograph, Luke White)

Before deciding on a brown paint color, it's important to consider the brightness of the room and to test the shades to see how they perform in different lights. While many gravitate towards using lighter colors in north-facing rooms, dark colors can be wonderfully effective says Mike Fisher, creative director and founder, Studio Indigo.

‘We believe north-facing rooms should be painted a dark or strong color, like brown, to make it more cocooning and those on the south side in lighter colors. The thinking is where you have darkness, you should bring color, warmth and joy.’

4. Use chocolate brown for an enveloping feel

Pantry cabinet painted in brown

(Image credit: Little Greene)

When used across all surfaces brown can be a fantastic shade for bringing an intimate feel to a living spaces. Generally the darker the shade, the more it brings a room in, so if you're trying to make a large kitchen feel more cocooning and cozy, a dark brown might do the trick.

'Chocolate brown shades are perfect for creating restful living spaces that bring comfort and warmth to the home, when used across all elements they can really envelop a space,' says Ruth Mottershead, creative director of Little Greene

5. Pair brown with pattern and texture

Living room in Edward Bulmer Natural Paint London Brown furnished with pieces from Lorfords Antiques

(Image credit: Edward Bulmer London Brown with furniture from Lorfords Antiques)

If you are looking to decorate with colored furniture and beautiful patterned fabrics then decorating with brown can make a beautiful foundation for showing them off, as demonstrated in this living room painted in Edward Bulmer's London Brown.

'Being polychromatic, brown goes with everything but in deeper hues it is particularly good at flattering beautiful, well drawn patterns. Our ‘London Brown’ puts everything else in a good light,' says Edward Bulmer.

In this brown living room a pastel pink sofa and contemporary white armchairs lighten up the look, while delicately patterned curtains and a jute carpet bring texture.

6. Pair brown with warm colors

Hallway with a cabinet painted in Neptune's Walnut

(Image credit: Neptune)

'When decorating with brown take care choosing accent color ideas,' says Simon Temprell of Neptune.

'Dark brown will work in any room, north or south facing, but be careful with your complimentary colors as they will have to be modified depending on the quality of light in the room. Avoid bright white, and opt, instead for warm, creamy whites with brown or yellow undertones.'

'This cabinet interior is painted in Chestnut, a deep terracotta shade that glows with welcome warmth and picks up the tan leather of our St. James saddle door pulls.'

7. Warm up brown with terracotta shades

Brown hallway with a console table covered in ikat fabric

(Image credit: Future)

'Brown sits very well amongst other soft neutral tones such as terracotta and beige,' says Justyna Korczynska, senior designer at Crown, an idea which is beautifully demonstrated in this hallway idea.

Here, the mid-brown velvety walls bring a sophisticated and inviting feel to the space, but also make a beautiful base for a patterned Ikat with rich terracotta and an array of beautiful dishes and artefacts from across the globe. 

8. Bring the outside in with a nature-inspired wallpaper

Dining room wallpapered in Dado Atelier's Bamboo wallpaper in Taupe

(Image credit: Dado Atelier)

Dining rooms used for entertaining can be brilliant spaces for showcasing  decorative wallpapers.

Opting for a nature-inspired print in an earthy brown shade is perfect for creating a relaxed yet eye-catching look. Featuring a repeat bamboo design on taupe, this dining room wallpaper from Dado Atelier brings subtle pattern without being over-powering.

9. Introduce brown by decorating with wood

Bathroom with a reclaimed iroko wood bath surround

(Image credit: Anna Stathaki)

Introducing wood through surfaces and furnishings is a good way to embrace decorating with brown. Whether your taste is for rustic weathered finishes, or highly varnished antique pieces, wooden furniture is guaranteed to bring beautiful texture to any room and can even be embraced in bathrooms.

In this scheme by Anthi Graspa, the cool grey marble tiles and blue zellige bathroom wall tiles are tempered with a bath surround in rich reclaimed iroko wood.

10. Use brown to create a restful feel

Bathroom in Farrow & Ball Mouse's Back

(Image credit: Farrow & Ball Mouse's Back)

Mid to light taupe-browns are a lovely bathroom color idea for creating a warm and tranquil feel in rooms which can run the risk of feeling cold and clinical. With its green undertones, Mouse's Back by Farrow & Ball will help inject the calming tones of nature. 

'Earth browns such as Mouse’s Back offer effortless decorating opportunities, from a relaxing bedroom scheme wall color to an option for woodwork. Mouse’s Back gives a nurturing warmth and allows you to team with a broad spectrum of complementary colors, from subtle pinks to smoky greens and elegant regency blues,' says Patrick O’Donnell.

How do you decorate with brown?

Brown is a warm and versatile shade that can be used in any room as well as to create all sorts of interior looks, but it is particularly suited to living room paint ideas say the experts.

'Beige and brown both work well in shared areas such as the living room and the dining room, they are inviting colors that remind us of the outdoors and nature and so encourage us to relax,' says Justyna Korczynska, senior designer at Crown.

When it comes to what materials and tones to use alongside brown, Ruth Mottershead, creative director at Little Greene explains how, 'deep rich browns are beautifully complemented with textural elements such as muted linens, tactile wools and natural wood finishes, to create an intimate and inviting scheme.'

'They partner beautifully with neutral hues and natural tones such as ‘Clay’ and ‘Lute’ to create a tonal scheme or can be used in a color drenching scheme for a truly impactful, cozy finish.'

What color goes well with brown?

Being a polychromatic color, brown can pair well with many other shades on the color wheel, which makes a beautifully versatile option for decorating with say the experts.

'Brown is a rich color and sits well against white or blue. Brown paired with white combines the qualities of a natural earthiness with a strong contemporary style. Natural wood and materials like rattan and linens really work well here. If white is too mainstream for you brown pairs well with a navy blue,' says Justyna Korczynska, senior designer at Crown. 

'Dark chocolate brown will sit beautifully with warm, muted plaster-pink, such as our Old Rose, or you could bring some balance to this warm shade by contrasting it with a cooler shade such as Flax Blue or Cactus,' adds Simon Temprell from Neptune.

Pippa Blenkinsop

Pippa is a contributor to Homes & Gardens. A graduate of Art History and formerly Style Editor at Period Living, she is passionate about architecture, creating decorating content, interior styling and writing about craft and historic homes. She enjoys searching out beautiful images and the latest trends to share with the Homes & Gardens audience. A keen gardener, when she’s not writing you’ll find her growing flowers on her village allotment for styling projects.