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Picking Paint Colors that Work with Brown Furniture

By The Inside

Brown furniture tends to get a bad rap for being boring, but when put in the right setting, it can actually be extraordinarily stylish. The secret to elevating your favorite (and even your not-so-favorite!) pieces of brown furniture is to choose the ideal wall colors. Whether you’ve inherited your grandmother’s mahogany dining room table or fallen hard for a sleek chocolate-brown sofa, follow these interior design tips for choosing paint colors to set them in the very best light.


Brown is a versatile choice for living room or dining room furniture, as it can take on many different moods. Depending on what it is paired with, a room anchored by brown upholstery or wood can be warm and enveloping, earthy and natural, elegant and sophisticated, or full-on glam. Your first step in choosing walls to enhance your brown furniture is to determine what overall mood you’re looking to create. Read on to help you determine your brown-furniture personality…

For the Nester: The Soothing Sanctuary

This is the top choice for those of us for whom the activity “Netflix and Chill” was invented. If fuzzy socks, a roaring fire, and intimate gatherings are your jam, you’ll likely be happiest rooms that gives you a sense of cozy intimacy.

If you have a dark brown sofa or other furniture, the best way to complement them is with mid-tone walls. Think warm golden yellow, soft medium blues, restful grayish-greens, creamy tans or soothing greys. Our creative director Danielle suggests looking through Benjamin Moore’s Historical Colors palate for inspiration and ideas. The key is to think “soft” – you don’t want your walls to pop so much as envelope you.

For those with a mid-brown sofa or medium wood furniture, up the cozy factor by choosing wall colors a few shades deeper. For instance, Benjamin Moore’s Hale Navy or Knoxville Gray create a gorgeous balance against a camel-colored sofa or a walnut coffee table. Again, your aim is to keep things soft and warm, so avoid vivid or stark colors.

For the Naturalist: The Organic Oasis

If you’re more inclined to hit a hiking trail than a shopping mall, you will enjoy living in a space inspired by nature. Luckily, this is easy to create with brown furniture…Mother Nature herself used a savvy decorating eye when she chose brown as the grounding color of the soil and the trees! Here you can really lean into earth tones to create an inviting color scheme. Think burnt umber and warm peach for a southwestern palate, rich terra cotta and mustard yellow to invoke a sun-baked Tuscan landscape, green for a verdant jungle vibe, a jumble of grays and ivories to mimic the natural mosaic of river rocks, sky blue for a brilliant contrast to bark brown. If you’re not sure where to start, just look outside your window for inspiration.

For the nature-inspired room, texture is key. Grasscloth wallpaper can provide terrific earthiness, as do natural fiber rugs like sisal, jute, and seagrass. Every surface in your living room is a chance to vary your textures. Think: nubby boucle throw pillows, a stone-topped coffee table, a hide rug, clay pots as accessories.

For the Sophisticate: The Elegant Enclave

No one made brown fabulous more than the late decorator Billy Baldwin. His elegant rooms featured lots of rich, glossy brown, proving that when done right, brown can be as iconic and chic as classic black and white.

Every shade of brown, from pale sand to deep chocolate, becomes ultra-sophisticated when paired with creamy ivory walls. The high contrast with the brown color provides a rich, upscale feeling that is timeless. For accent colors, consider adding in a sophisticated cornflower blue for contrast, or stick with a tonal palate of neutral colors like ivory, sand, camel, toffee and cocoa.

While all shades of ivory walls complement brown beautifully, the harshness of pure white takes away from its warmth, so be sure to stick with softer, mellower tones. You want a tonal contrast, not a stark one. A few of our favorite ivory colors include Benjamin Moore’s Swiss Coffee and Navajo White.

For the Dazzle Devotee: The Glam Pad

If bold and bodacious is your calling, a punch of color to accentuate your brown furniture is in order! Thanks to the iconic brand Hermes, nothing says upscale chic more than deep brown and orange. Plus, orange walls add a big dose of happy to any space. Choose an orange that is as close to an actual orange as possible; even tangerine is great when combined with brown. Add in an ivory rug or other pieces of furniture, some twinkling brass accents, and you’ve got a fabulous 70s-inspired glam pad worthy of Charlie’s Angels.

You don’t necessarily need to paint the entire room orange, by the way, to get the oomph you are looking for. You can always choose one wall as an accent wall and you’ll still get a good dose of visual punch.

If orange isn’t your thing but you still crave glam, consider painting your walls a deep, glossy brown. It may seem counterintuitive to go brown-on-brown, but this can actually create a sensational and rich continuity. The key to keeping your room from feeling like a cave is to choose a high-gloss paint for the walls to help reflect light.

Really, any color when done in high gloss on your walls makes brown furniture feel extra-special. Be sure to use a good professional painter, however, as walls need to be really well prepped for high-gloss paint to ensure you get a smooth, even finish.


You already know to stay away from stark white walls with brown furniture, but here are a few other colors that are wise to consider carefully:

  • Red. Any shade of red, from cherry to maroon, will bring out the red undertones in dark brown furniture and make it look muddy. It doesn’t do mid-brown furniture any favors, either, as the combination tends to read dull.
  • Fuchsia. The combination of brown and pink had a big moment back in the 90s, but the problem with trends is that they quickly become dated. Pale pink with brown is fine if you’re decorating a little girl’s room, but for grown-up rooms, pass on the pink and opt for more sophisticated shades that carry a punch like orange, lime green, or brilliant sky blue.


All of the above suggestions for wall colors work equally well in a bedroom with brown furniture. A lot of people put all their decorating energy (and budget) into their living rooms, but as your bedroom is where you begin and end each day, so it deserves some love, too! Whether you sleep in a modern pine platform bed or a bed upholstered in brown velvet, follow the guidelines laid out here to make your brown bedroom furniture the stuff that dreams are made of.


By: Debra Goldstein, Staff Writer at The Inside

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