The color of comfort—earthy, warmth and nature—brown is a stabilizing hue that grounds a design palette. Considered an unexciting hue by some, brown has come into its own the past few years and is now a trending force in both fashion and interiors. In the right context, brown adds elegance and warmth to palettes, highlighting nature’s influence.
How Is Brown Created?
Brown is not on the traditional painter’s color wheel as it is a composite color, meaning it’s created using a mix of primary and secondary colors on the wheel. Consider brown as a deeper orange tone for purposes of color use in design when referring to the color wheel. On modern color wheels, it is shown as a darker shade of orange and is considered a warm hue along with reds, oranges and yellows.
OESTE BY CLAIRE THOMAS. Dining Room: WARM HEARTH (DE6110)
The Diversity of Browns
The range of browns is surprisingly diverse for use in design. There are darker chocolate hues for a sleek, luxurious aesthetic and punchier reddish-browns, creating a base of desert-inspired palettes. Here’s an overview of the ranges in tonality:
- Umber: Known as raw umber and burnt umber, these are naturally sourced clay pigments and two of the oldest pigments used in color application.
- Sienna: Raw sienna and burnt sienna, like umber, are also naturally sourced clay pigments but these are high in iron oxide. The name comes from Siena, Italy, where the clay was mined during the Renaissance.
- Green- and yellow-based browns: This range is most closely associated with nature, and colors such as olive are ever-present in both fashion and interiors.
- Tawny: This shade of brown comes from an old French word tanné, which means tanning, based on the process of tanning leather. Tawny is described as a pale brown with less orange, and in the proximity of tans, butterscotch, buff and beige.
- Tints of brown, such as white- or yellow-based hues: Hazelnut, café au lait, light taupe and camel are considered lighter tints of brown. This range is elegant and fresh, continually on fashion runways.
- Copper: The metallic version of brown is trending forward as a subset of the warm colors and is well-considered in a variety of design aesthetics.
How to Design With Brown Paint Color
Considered a neutral, brown has far-reaching possibilities in design and can be used as a lead color or as a backdrop to other prominent colors within a palette. Here are six ways to design with brown paint colors on exteriors and interiors, including our recently announced 2022 Color of the Year, Art and Craft (DET682):
- Traditional Cottage Color Scheme
For a traditional cottage, balance the warmth of a brown shade and highlight with a crisp white on the trim. Cap off accents using wood and stone for a comfortable retreat.
Body: ART AND CRAFT (DET682); Trim: WHITE PICKET FENCE (DET648); Accents: wood and stone
- Monochromatic Muse
Layered shades of a single hue add sophistication to a dining room. Pair a darker shade of brown with walnut woods, velvet fabrics and crystal. Finish the scene with an oil painting passed down through generations.
Walls: ART AND CRAFT (DET682)
- Highlighting Craft
Accentuate built-ins and trim detail in a Craftsman bungalow by painting the walls a chocolaty dark brown and the trim a brighter warm white to show off the historic character and charm of these prized homes.
Walls: WILD MUSTANG (DEA161); Trim: VANILLA SHAKE (DEW325)
Create a cozy, elegant space by layering a reddish-brown hue as a backdrop for black-lacquered and exotic wood furnishings, silk fabrics—and a gilt mirror with a vase of flowers as the final touch.
Walls: WEATHERED LEATHER (DE6105); Trim: WHITE HEAT (DEW338)
- Accentuate the Positive
Interior doors are often forgotten, so add a touch of nuanced warmth on these doors against white walls for a soothing design aesthetic.
Walls: COCONUT GROVE (DEHW03); Door: FLINTSTONE (DE6221). Photo Credit: BETHANY NAUERT
- Modern Muse
Add a light, warm neutral to a modern space to allow the natural light to flow through the room.