This Controversial Early 2000s Hue Is Back, and It’ll Instantly Warm Up Your Home

updated Mar 12, 2021
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If you had asked me how I felt about decorating with brown roughly a year or two ago, my answer would’ve included a trace of indifference and maybe a hint of distaste. Let’s be honest: I get flashbacks of interiors from the ‘70s and early 2000s, where this dominant hue took center stage in a kind of heavy, drab way, particularly in kitchen cabinetry. As is the case with most trends though, they eventually circle back with a contemporary twist that makes many of us forget why we ever cringed about something in the first place. Cue the current revival of chocolate brown.

In 2019, Kelly Wearstler designated chocolate brown as her palette lead when designing the Santa Monica Proper Hotel, which quickly became one of the most Instagrammed spots that summer. Apart from evoking a serious case of wanderlust, this use of brown is what first inspired me to reconsider this somewhat retro hue. Needless to say, Wearstler was certainly not the first or last designer to give the color a new lease on life. I’ve seen it play out across various home tours here on Apartment Therapy as of late and in new product launches from many big brands. Dare I say, this hue is actually growing on me!

It should go without saying that as far as browns go, the spectrum is as diverse as it gets, and there’s a lovely shade for everyone out there. Chocolate brown is in a lane of its own, featuring depth and saturation. When it comes to incorporating this shade in an interior, knowing which hues to pair it with can be the difference between a slightly outdated scheme and a more contemporary one. In light of that thought, try these palette pairings to complement a rich, chocolate brown in your space. Your home will certainly be warmer and cozier if you work any of these design duos into your decorating scheme.

1. Chocolate Brown and Olive: Earthy with a Modern Touch

A pairing that’s as contemporary as it gets, the rich shade of chocolate brown found by way of the Euro shams in this dreamy bedroom offers an effortless complement to the olive-toned bedding. Together, this couple channels a moody, earthy vibe that’s further accentuated by the dark wood bed frame and the cozy layers of neutrals. Don’t pass on chocolate brown for your bedroom; it’s stunning and sophisticated while still offering plenty of softness and warmth.

2. Chocolate Brown and Cobalt Blue: Western Chill

Complementary on the color wheel, blue and browns with orange undertones make for an effortlessly chic pairing and a foolproof one at that. The key to making this one work is to choose darker and more defined versions of these hues; chocolate brown and cobalt blue immediately come to mind. In designer Adnan Anwar’s West Village apartment, this combo teams up in the form of an accent chair and a throw pillow, which makes for a simple yet impactful finish. 

3. Chocolate Brown and Pink: Sophisticated Cool 

Brown and pink may fall in the category of unexpected color pairings, but there’s something about the combination that just works. Together, they evoke a delicate yet statement-worthy finish, courtesy of the colors’ shared saturation. In Kellie Brown’s Los Angeles apartment, even though the two shades are spread out throughout the space — the chocolate brown reserved for the wooden ceiling beams and the blush pink on the velvet sofa — they still manage to collectively set the scene and hang together decoratively, which is echoed by a similar pairing in the area rug pattern. 

Credit: Haarkon

4. Chocolate Brown and Black: A Bold Move  

If you’re looking for intensity, this iconic duo is a surefire way to get there. It’s worth noting that while a light brown could potentially clash when paired with black, a darker version of the shade can have a totally different effect. In fact, one can even feel like a seamless extension of the other, as proven by the palette of this cozy English cottage. Filter in vibrant plants for interest and balance. 

5. Chocolate Brown and Marigold: Eclectic Yet Refined

Brown is a composite color that’s achieved by combining orange and black (or red, yellow, and black), which means that shades of this secondary hue can actually be quite complementary to brown itself. It’s worth adding an extra dose of character to the coupling by switching things up with a saturated marigold or warm tangerine. In this light-filled dining nook, a vase of colorful flowers is all that’s needed to invite an energizing element to the all-white space and the chocolate brown chairs that accent it. 

Credit: Andrew Bui

6. Chocolate Brown and Brown: A Fresh Monochrome

Sure, this duo may be a bit obvious, but who doesn’t love a little monochromatic scheme every now and then? Folasade Adeoso’s Harlem home illustrates an inspired way to take on the palette. While the entirety of the space features a balance of neutrals with wooden accents, it’s the darker chocolate browns, seen via the stools, that invite a sense of depth to the earthy scene. 

7. Chocolate Brown and Green: Down-to-Earth

A combination that’s derived from nature itself is primed to be good indoors and fairly easy to replicate for an interior. Embrace these colors in an organic form — a rubber tree plant immediately comes to mind — or opt for a graphic throw or pattern underfoot to make your decorative point. The beautifully textured rug in this Australian home’s living room is a prime example. The chic, chocolate brown leather sofa takes the setup to the next level. 

8. Chocolate Brown and Dark Mustard: Boho Cool

Interior stylist Tracey Hairston’s bath showcases a playful take on this duo, achieved by a mural that frames her tub. The subtle contrast between the chocolate brown and the darker mustard-beige sets the groundwork for the bright greenery that completes the scene. Trailing plants, woven accents, and a stellar vibe all contribute to the laidback, bohemian mood.  

Credit: Haarkon

9. Chocolate Brown and Turquoise: Vintage with a Twist

Okay, okay, so this one may feel a little reminiscent of the ‘90s, but integrate this pairing into a vintage-inspired setup, and you might just be inspired to reconsider it. Here, a revamped dresser (that doubles as the ultimate plant display) benefits from its tonality and contrast in color to the walls, which allows it to stand out against the dark chocolate backdrop. The vibrant greenery acts as a buffer between the two contrasting hues, bringing them together with a touch of life, literally.

Credit: Daria

10. Chocolate Brown and Off-White: Relaxed Minimalism

The focal point of this Singapore-based bedroom is the chocolate brown vanity that offers a bold contrast against the off-white walls. Together, this coupling creates a sense of minimalism with a defined element, elevated by the fresh palm fronds decorating the corner of the vanity. Although the overall design of the space may skew a bit traditional with mid-century touches, the streamlined mirror offers just the right dose of true modernism.