What color is khaki? How to use it in your decor

Is it a light tan or is it a dark green? We discuss the question, what color is khaki?

What color is khaki? Khaki decor, living room with khaki painted walls, pink and khaki bedroom, khaki paneled hallway
(Image credit: David Brittain, Neptune)

What color is khaki? An enduring neutral shade, the color khaki traditionally refers to the earthy tan color of the fabric once used to make military uniforms.

However over time, from fashion to interiors, there have been many changing interpretations over what color khaki is meant to be, from brown to yellow-beige and of course, modern khaki-green – so we discuss the somewhat complex question, what color is khaki?

What color is khaki? We explore how to decorate with khaki

Bedroom space with khaki painted walls, metal four poster bed frame with scalloped, pink patterned bunting and upholstered head and footboard. Pink patterned and white linen and cushions, red patterned curtains, textured natural rug with scalloped edging and red stripe, two matching wooden side tables with matching red lampshades, framed pictures and art on the wall

(Image credit: Future)

The color khaki does not exist on a traditional color wheel, made up of primary, secondary, and tertiary colors, the color is best described as a mix of yellow, brown and white, resulting in a calming, natural neutral shade. 

When working with the color khaki in the home and considering room color ideas, khaki is part of a growing resurgence of decorating with timeless and sophisticated neutral shades, inspired by nature. 

Justyna Korczynska, senior designer at Crown Paints (opens in new tab) states, 'we’ve seen khaki and olive tones being used more and more in the home as part of this year’s ‘new neutrals’ color trend. Pale khaki is a restful color that works particularly well in rooms with good natural light - the sunlight enhances and warms this softer tone and almost makes it glow. Deeper green/gray on the other hand can work in any room, including those with little natural light, where they are great at adding both style and character.'

Using colors in the home that are inspired and have a likeness to the natural world are guaranteed to create an accomplished and long-lasting scheme.

For neutral room ideas, khaki is a truly versatile choice for homes both classic and contemporary. Sue Wadden, director of color marketing at Sherwin-Williams (opens in new tab) states, 'khaki is a light shade of tan in the yellow color family. It’s a desert-inspired, classic neutral hue, ideal for warming up large rooms such as a living room or primary bedroom'. The restful, neutral shade can add a subtle element of color to a room and creates a grounded, warming atmosphere.

What is the true color of khaki?

Tongue and groove style paneled hallway in a neutral shade, stone flooring, wooden bench and coat hooks, traditional wooden front door

(Image credit: Neptune)

Historically, the name and color khaki was brought to prominence in the 19th Century to refer to the color of uniforms used by armies working in desert regions. The uniforms were matched to the color of light brown, sandy terrains to create camouflage.

However today, khaki also refers to clothes and colors that are closer to green. Patrick O’Donnell, brand ambassador at Farrow & Ball (opens in new tab) states, 'the original term khaki referred to a yellowish tan shade used in military dress – the modern interpretation errs more towards a green/brown shade.'

As khaki is a mixed color there are of course many shades available. However, it can be argued that the color now represents and refers to more than just one true shade, there are in-fact two variations to pick from, the traditional, light tan variety or the dark, muddy green, close to olive.

When discussing the types of khaki available for decoration in the home, Sue Wadden states, 'we’ve seen an evolution towards warm neutrals in recent years, with khakis, bone whites and taupes becoming popular for the home. However khaki is also gaining momentum as a neutral that features a green undertone. We have seen a significant increase in green over the last several seasons, so it is intuitive that coordinating neutrals like khaki would re-emerge.'

What colors go with khaki? 

Sitting room with painted khaki walls, wooden floorboards, sofa and armchairs on cream rug, eggshell cabinet and fireplace.

(Image credit: Paul Raeside)

Khaki is an adaptable and functional color to use in the home, with its subtle, neutral properties you can pick from an array of complementary and contrasting colors to create a stand out scheme. 

For a grounded and relaxed look, Justyna Korczynska states when working with khaki, 'keeping to a tonal palette and painting woodwork the same color as the walls helps to give a harmonious and unbroken look – great for visually opening up spaces. Natural materials like wood, wicker and stone blend effortlessly with this palette'. 

Or to balance out this soft neutral with color and vibrancy, 'try a flash of something unexpected like a dusky pink or vivid turquoise – you can use on something as simple as a single chair or oversized vase, khaki pops alongside a lighter green too'. 

For a sophisticated look, use khaki with simple color combinations like black and white and accessorize with warming, metallic touches.

Are there different shades of khaki? 

Neutral bedroom with beige striped wardrobe white velvet armchair striped cushion tall floor lamp wall mounted pictures brown carpet

(Image credit: David Brittain)

In summary, yes, there are different shades of khaki. As discussed there are two main color camps to choose from, light tan or dark green, however both embody the same deep, earthy characteristics that reference the timeless beauty of the natural world. 

Khaki is proving a popular color choice for decoration and paint ideas, a versatile neutral shade that can coordinate with a range of colors and contrasting styles, khaki is perfect for creating a restful and inviting atmosphere in the home.

Whether you're decorating with green in a living room and choose a dark khaki shade, or want to keep things light and bright in a bedroom space with a relaxed tan, working with khaki in interior design will always prove timeless.

Zara Stacey
Content Editor

Zara joined Homes & Gardens in February 2022 as a Content Editor. After studying English Literature at University, she worked as an Ecommerce Website Editor, Content Writer and Buying Intern at multiple independent businesses within the luxury retail and lifestyle sectors. Her role at Homes & Gardens unites her love, experience and passion for the world of design and desire to create inspiring written content. She enjoys nothing more than discovering new trends, brands and products, whether that be in fashion, interior design or lifestyle.