Blend red, yellow, and blue (the primary colors) and you get brown. “That’s why every color goes with it,” says New York City interior designer Elaine Griffin, a huge fan of this hardworking neutral. “With dark brown paint, the walls are the star and the objects play second fiddle. With light brown walls, the reverse is true.” At either end of the spectrum and anywhere in between, brown is known to make people feel safe and comfortable, grounded and at ease.
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Light Brown Walls
As calming as a sandy beach, light brown is “the next step up from white or ivory,” says Los Angeles interior designer Kyle Schuneman. “It offers minimal risk but much more impact.” A perfect background for blues and greens (think beach again) or dramatic jewel tones, it also brings refinement to a neutral room when it’s paired with crisp white woodwork.
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Best Light Brown for a Living Room
Flax collection in Cappuccino* "Play it up with a darker brown on the fireplace," says Schuneman.
Womblike, cozy, and luscious, dark brown makes you want to curl up with a book (or drift off to sleep). It’s also woodsy, which lends it a magical, deep-forest quality. Dark browns look fantastic paired with super-saturated bold colors, such as orange (shown right), or as a counterpoint to muted colors, like pale pink. In a sunny room, they can take on very different tones at different times of the day; observe closely when testing out.
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Best Dark Brown for a Dining Room
Aura in Davenport Tan HC-76* “You’re not in here all the time, so you can go with a moody shade,” says Schuneman.
Friendly and inviting, this sunny combination can feel both retro and―with simple, clean-lined furnishings―contemporary. Deep brown goes particularly well with buttercup yellow; you can bring in stronger acid yellows with small objects.
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Stainless-Steel Pillar Holder
A worthy pedestal for a favorite candle, it looks as if it has stories to tell.
To buy: Unfortunately, this item is no longer available, but find similar accessories at anthropologie.com.
A cute, high-gloss surprise in a dark, dramatic bathroom.
To buy: $110, Albrizzi, 212-570-0417.
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Brown With Lavender
Soft, feminine purple brings a masculine gray brown to life. (“These are the colors of a perfect field in Provence,” notes Griffin.) The key is to keep the lavender to a minimum―accent pieces only―so it doesn’t overpower the earthy, neutral shade with its inherent girliness.
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Reflective from head to toe, it brightens a space even when it’s off.
To buy: $273, Kartell, 212-966-6665.
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An organic beauty buffed to conversation-piece perfection.
For the lavender-shy, a tiny taste that would work on any quiet sofa.
To buy: $190, Judy Ross Textiles, 212-842-1705.
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Sleek and sophisticated on the outside, remote controls on the inside.
To buy: $75, $95, $125, Pacific Connections, 415-285-2873.
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Brown With Blue
Even in an eclectic setting, the mix of warm brown and cool blue feels natural―think earth and sky. The gamut of combinations work (navy with camel, turquoise with terra-cotta), but a rich royal blue and a dark chocolate is especially current.
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Papyrus Plastic Chair
The tall back and the curved arms make it as comfortable as it is chic.
To buy: $349, Kartell, 212-966-6665.
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Hang a flock on a dark-colored bathroom wall.
To buy: Unfortunately, this item is no longer available, but find similar pieces at hyggeandwestshop.com.
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Linen Floor Pillow
Imagine this shimmery seat on top of a soft blue rug.