Brown Is the New Black: Here's How to Pull Off the New Neutral

From earthy shades to rich caramel hues, brown is a go-to neutral for decorating in 2023.

As color trends shift away from the cool grays and whites that have dominated the past decade, warmer shades are at home once again—and one cozy color is making a comeback. “From new fabrics, paint colors, and products, brown is emerging as a new and differentiated go-to neutral,” says design and decor expert Benjamin Reynaert

Browns range from dark and saturated to lighter shades like caramel and tan. A common color for more traditional settings, brown can bring drama to modern looks as well. Reynaert points to accents like modern-retro mushroom table lamps and traditional gingham tablecloths as quick and easy ways to incorporate brown. But this is not an accent-only color.

Brown walls add warmth, complement trendy moody decorating styles, and act like any other neutral by letting architecture or decor stand out. “I think a rich chocolate brown on the walls in a study adds depth to a space and allows what's in the room to really sing, from the various spines of books on the shelves to lush upholstery fabrics like velvet,” says Reynaert.

brown living room fireplace

Scott Little

Why Shades of Brown Are Seeing a Resurgence

Brown was a memorable part of both 2000s and 1970s decor, and now similar influences are helping bring the color back. Like the 2000s, the shift toward warmer colors comes, in part, because we’re responding to the prolonged uncertainty of the pandemic by incorporating more comforting colors into our homes.

It’s also a natural shift away from the gray palettes many of us spent so much time surrounded by. Like the 1970s, we’re seeing an environmental consciousness and desire to connect with nature driving brown’s appeal. This is not only bringing more sustainable materials into the home—natural woods rather than fabricated materials, for example—but also more earth-inspired colors and decorating styles like organic modern style. As part of this overarching eco trend, natural textures are also reigning, from jute rugs to rattan wall decor and wood flooring. These elements, and their various shades of brown, are staples in trending designs.

How to Use Brown as a Neutral 

Brown is a versatile neutral that can warm up any room and complement any style. Here are some tips for avoiding a dated look and bringing today’s brown into your home. 

gallery wall with wood dresser

David Land

1. Pair with Modern Colors

Instead of the heavy reds, yellows, and terracottas of the previous eras’ palettes, pair brown with trendy jewel tones and earthy blues and greens. On the walls, brown makes an excellent neutral base; as trim or flooring, it can subtly accent other colors. “If you're the daring type, try a bold green or chartreuse-y green for a sofa or chair to add a natural color to the mix,” says Reynaert. Jewel tones are en vogue, and a rich neutral brown can warm up and elevate those hues. Get inspired with these color pairings featuring brown

living room with multiple windows
Adam Albright

2. Take Cues from Wood

Ditch painted trim in favor of stained wood trim that embraces brown tones. Create a moody look that's modern while accentuating your home’s architecture by retaining wood trim and accents to act as your home’s neutral, then applying rich wall colors through paint or wallpaper. Wood furniture, like sideboards and hutches or chairs with elegant wood frames, can bring brown neutral accents, too. Check out these tips for choosing colors to pair with wood accents and furniture. 

earth tone living room with sectional
Jay Wilde

3. Lounge on Leather

Leather furniture is available in a variety of brown shades. Leather's finish as well as accents like tufting and nailhead trim contribute texture to a room. Avoid the overstuffed furniture look of the 2000s and look for slim-lined contemporary pieces. Try these tips for decorating with a brown sofa

living room with neutral tones artistic decor
Erin Little

4. Confidently Create Contrast

“Brown and white is always a choice combination,” says Reynaert. But avoid the dated look of the 2000s brown walls with shocking crisp white trim. One solution is to incorporate multiple natural browns through wooden furniture or wall decor, or even mix modern black accents, to ease the transition between the two shades.

brown tiled bathroom

Kim Cornelison

5. Mix Textures and Finishes

As with any color, don’t go monotone with your monochrome. Mix in varied textures and finishes for depth when using multiple browns as the dominant color in a space. Wood paneling, rattan, and plisse cabinetry accents add of-the-moment dimension to the natural, neutral hues. Plush and woven textiles are another tactile example, while varying matte and glossy paint finishes can also keep brown from looking flat. Metallics like brass, gold, and copper have brown undertones that literally reflect the neutral color’s warmth. 

rustic brown bedroom

Anthony Masterson 

6. Create Intimate Spaces

Use deep brown walls to create snug and relaxing areas in your home. “Tanner's Brown is a deep, drab brown that creates a wonderful backdrop for a cozy nook or reading space,” says Reynaert. “Lit at night, this color glows and looks especially spectacular in candlelight.”

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