colour & design surgery… how to use brown in my interiors without looking like a ’70’s flashback

Karen Haller 01
Karen Haller

Colour and design surgery - brown and gold luxury bed banner. This opens a new browser window.

This is part of the colour & design surgery series, answering questions from clients and readers.

Question: “I’d like to know how to use brown in my interiors so that it looks all luxurious and rich and dark (like chocolate!) rather than 70’s polyesterish. It seems to be a fine line!”
– reader, Tamsin Fox-Davies.

Answer: Really good question. It’s easy to get caught up in nostalgia and before you know it you’ve created a museum piece! Unless of course you are aiming to create an authentic replica. Given this isn’t what you are after, it’s about taking an idea and making it contemporary, giving it a modern twist.

The trick here is to look at a tonal harmonious colour palette you wish to use, the shapes, textures and the lighting sources. Blending this all together to create a contemporary version on a past trend. By injecting your own personality into it, it can’t help but be unique to you.

I’ve selected a couple of images to illustrate how inspiration is all around us.

Colour and design surgery - brown and nature colour inspiration. This opens a new browser window.

This colour scheme is in tonal harmony based on the warm colours of nature.

Colour and design surgery - brown chocolate food inspiration. This opens a new browser window.

Inspiration - This dessert has a ready made colour palette and rich with textures from the smooth and silky to the nubby.

You mentioned you love chocolate brown which is a rich, warm brown. By the way, brown just happens to be a dark version of orange.  One way to add a touch of luxury to chocolate brown is to pair it with warm gold.  Those two colours will look stunning alongside a warm ivory white as your balancing neutral.

Once you have the colour scheme, look for fabrics and materials that you love. That could be heavily textured fabrics, soft furs, silks and satins.

 Colour and design surgery - brown luxury bed with dog. This opens a new browser window.

Layering - this is a great example of how to use a mix of textures - from the textured wallpaper, the bedhead to the satin pillows to the woollen throw.

Colour and design surgery - brown luxury living room. This opens a new browser window.

A neutral colour palette of browns made interesting with a variety of textures and lighting sources.

I hope that has given you a few new ideas and sources of inspiration.  I think you’ll agree it’s a world away from the 70’s brown polyesterish…

Enjoy getting creative!

Source: glamorousinteriors.blogspot, alenamanuylov.blogspot, blog.lemonpi, brunchatsaks.blogspot and

If you enjoyed this month’s Q&A, why not check out the library of colour & design surgery Q&A’s.

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  1. Felicity Lerouge on November 6, 2011 at 4:59 pm

    Your photos are, as always, gorgeous. It’s great to have the insight of an expert to show us the nuances of how colours work together. And this is beautifully demonstrated by the pairing of brown with pale turquoise on the Decorex Bloggers logo. congratulations on being a runner up.

    • admin on November 9, 2011 at 8:41 am

      Hi Felicity, thank you. My aim is to source images that convey my message. So pleased you found them relevant. I love the combination of warm chocolate brown and turquoise too.

  2. Tamsin Fox-Davies on November 8, 2011 at 8:24 pm

    Thanks for answering my question.

    I can see how it’s all about the palette and the colours that you put with your browns. The pictures are perfect examples of browns used really well.

    I’ll be looking more carefully at brown to bring warmth into my rooms.

    • admin on November 9, 2011 at 8:35 am

      Hi Tamsin, you’re welcome. Don’t forget it’s also about the combination of textures and the lighting. That along with tonal colour combination is the basis to begin with. There are many more things to take into consideration which is why you’d bring in an interior designer.

      Enjoy creating your new look.

  3. Tanya Rennick on November 28, 2011 at 8:58 pm

    I love brown. Anything that reminds me of chocolate… The combination of brown and duck egg is my favourite although I really do think it can work very well with white too. I really enjoy your blogs Keren.

    • admin on November 28, 2011 at 10:11 pm

      Hi Tanya,

      Brown is one of those colours where you can just imagine it oozing like chocolate – decadent and luxurious… I love it combined with blue too.

  4. Laura on December 6, 2011 at 3:07 pm

    wow – beautiful pictures Karen. I love the idea of being able to use chocolate in my home without it looking dated.
    Thanks for the tips!

    • admin on February 7, 2012 at 1:04 pm

      Hi Laura,

      I’d love to hear what you decided on x

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