Dark Brown Is Back for 2024 — Designers Reveal How to Use This Controversial Color

published Feb 22, 2024
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Brown living room with large windows and colorful accents
Credit: Design: WOOLF Interiors; Photo: Ingrid Rasmussen

Certain colors tend to fade in and out of popularity, but some stay timeless. This year, shades of whiskey, cognac, caramel, coffee, hickory, and hazelnut are taking the spotlight in decor and design. In fact, as part of Apartment Therapy’s 2024 Home Design Survey, chocolate brown stood out as a popular color for the year according to designers, alongside burgundy, camel, and forest green.

Brown has a wide spectrum of hues, ranging in undertones of yellow (bronze and sepia), to red (burgundy, umber, and cherry oak), to purple (mahogany and chocolate), and gray (camel, beige, taupe, sable). Either way, the color draws inspiration from the natural world, making it a comforting choice that keeps in line with the rise of biophilic design. It also lends a sense of old-world warmth and richness to any home.

“So many of us are getting away from white and brightly colored kitchens, moving towards the opulence of the rich tones inspired by nature and natural wood finishes,” says interior designer DuVäl Reynolds. “The resurgence of brown is evoking a sense of sophistication and coziness.”

If you shudder at the prospect of working with dark colors, don’t worry; I asked designers for approachable ways to incorporate the deep brown tone into your space, both big and small.

Contrast Dark & Light

You don’t have to go all-in on the color brown. Try mixing and matching with light and dark shades to keep a room feeling bright and inviting. “We’re balancing these [dark browns] with lighter tones to prevent an overly dark atmosphere,” says Reynolds. “Natural light against these hues creates an inviting palette that serves as a foundation for creative design endeavors.”

Credit: Design: Megan Evans Interiors; Photo: Laura Steffan

Pair with Pinks

“When incorporating dark shades of brown on the walls, I tend to go a little bit softer with the color palette for the furnishings,” says designer Megan Evans. “Doing so strikes a nice balance, and helps the room feel more youthful. Blush tones can help the space feel fresh when paired with brown tones.” 

Additionally, Evans suggests using various wood and gold accents to create a “collected” space that feels pulled together. Verity Woolf of WOOLF Interior agrees: “Deep brown looks amazing with some contrast tones, so we look to mix in some really light tones that help to articulate the space … it’s helpful to have some metals that are shiny, as opposed to matte metal, in darker moody spaces because it gives a little bit of resonance.”

Credit: Design: WOOLF Interiors; Photo: Ingrid Rasmussen

Get the Light Right

Deep brown evokes a moody, museum-like quality in a room that can accent artwork nicely. “If you think about some of the top art institutions, like the National Gallery or Portrait Gallery or Tate galleries, they display most works on very muted, dark-toned walls,” Woolf notes. Soft, ambient lighting is key here, too. “A deep-colored room usually needs evenly positioned floor lamps and table lamps, wall lights, or multi-bulb pendant lights — they will add to the moodiness but keep the room looking open.” (Read: Avoid harsh overhead lights.)

Credit: Design: Jenami Design; Photo: Heather Talbert

Incorporate It into Wallpaper

For something more dynamic than brown walls, try infusing the hue into a patterned wallpaper that speaks to your style. This gives the color a sense of playfulness and personality you wouldn’t otherwise have gotten from a single paint color. Jennifer Kole of Jenami Designs used a panther wallpaper to add tons of interest to this sitting room. “We’ve been waiting for this [color resurgence] for a few years,” she says. “Whether it’s a deep rich chocolate, or a serene lighter latte, beautiful brown hues create warmth in any space.”

Credit: Erin Derby

Create a Cozy Bedroom

“Without a doubt, the rich depth of brown is turning up and warming up interiors this year,” says Ashley Macuga of Collected Interiors. “There is a grounding nature of the color that makes it perfect in a primary bedroom.” She suggests leaning into this hue via wall coverings, an accent chair, or window treatments — like “a velvet cognac drape adorned with contrasting trim to elongate the impression of walls,” she adds. Certain fabrics like bouclé can also carry the dark color well, if you’re interested in re-upholstering an existing piece.

Credit: Design: Maria Zoe Designs; Photo: Megan Lawrence

Put It Somewhere Unexpected

It might seem logical to test out a dark brown duvet or to go dark in a library, but Maria Vassiliou of Maria Zoe Designs says to “go for the unexpected.” Add the rich color somewhere that feels like a surprise, such as a small bathroom, porch, or laundry room. “Rich, chocolate-y hues in your bathroom can add a sense of luxury and sophistication,” she adds.