As a professional in the field of interior design I can say, hands down, one of the most common questions I get asked in consultations is “What paint color will work best for a living room with a brown sofa? ” So.. in today’s post, I have decided to answer this question once and for all by sharing exactly how to do brown furniture not only successfully, but stylishly .
I realize that brown furniture has gotten a really bad rap over the years, but let’s just face it…
Not only is brown furniture forgiving of stains and spills, it is one of the most practical furniture choices for parents and pet owners alike. Trust me, I have learned this the hard way!
Back in my 1980’s ranch home, my aesthetic was, well, very much “anti-brown”.
In fact, before I knew how messy raising young boys could be, my living room was comprised of not only a white sofa, but white freakin’ arm chairs to match (talk about a panic attack waiting to happen).
But as I came to my senses and made peace with the messy (and sometimes downright disgusting) realties of being a boy mom, when it came time to decorate the living room of my new lake cottage, I decided to go the low maintenance route with a dark brown leather sofa…
When my family and I first moved in, the walls were painted in Shoji White by Sherwin Williams (pictured above). And while this warm, tan-based white paint worked fine with the brown furniture in the room, I ultimately decided that white was just feeling a little lackluster in this particular space.
Not to fear though, if you are set on white walls, further on in this post, I am going to show you some examples where white painted walls work beautifully with brown furniture, so be sure to keep scrolling.
So while Shoji White was not a bad or “wrong” color choice for my living room, I was simply craving more of a wow-factor. That is when I decided to go balls to the walls and paint my living room a charcoal grey meets milky black. (pictured below)
The Best Colors to Pair with Brown Furniture:
With that being said, this is the perfect segue to introduce to you my list of the best neutral paint colors to pair with brown furniture…
For the ultimate in cozy vibes, I painted the walls of my living room in Iron Ore by Sherwin Williams. This charcoal grey/almost black color works well with my chocolate leather sofa as it creates an elevated, almost “lodge-like” aesthetic. To offset all of the masculine elements, I incorporated feminine textiles like velvet and fur into the mix .To contrast all of the dark colors, I utilized lighter colored throw pillows, window treatments and decor.
Tip: Wanting to keep the room relatively minimalistic and allow the bold wall color to speak for itself, I chose a muted color palette of creams, tans, blacks, whites, and pinkish beige hues.
If Sherwin Williams Iron Ore (pictured above) is a little too black for your taste, Kendall Charcoal by Benjamin Moore is a slightly lighter charcoal paint color that works well with brown furniture.
There is a common misconception that you cannot pair a classic white paint color with brown furniture. On the contrary, Kate Marker totally dispels such a flawed notion with this breathtaking space. Using a soft, off-white on the walls (Benjamin Moore White Dove) is the key to pulling this look off successfully.
And while these white walls are certainly luminous, if you research the undertones of White Dove, you will see that there is a hint of warmth and softness to its hue.
Tip: When looking for a white paint to pair with your brown furniture, steer clear of stark whites with cool undertones as this will appear too jolting of a contrast. Also, lighter and mid-toned browns like caramel, tan and camel work best if you are trying to replicate this specific aesthetic. Furthermore, light oaks and bleached stains are ideal for the wood finishes.
Pairing a white sofa and curtains with the brown leather chairs and furniture keeps this space feeling relatively feminine and light while the layered Turkish rug consisting of navy and rust tones adds a slight pop of color to an otherwise serene and neutral palette.
Cream and Ivory-
Shea McGee does an impeccable job of grounding this large, open-concept living room by incorporating variations of warm, brown pieces into the mix. With the creamy walls painted in Benjamin Moore’s Swiss Coffee (at 75 percent strength), it is clear you can have the best of both worlds- the brightness AND the cozy factor.
Tip: By using repeated variations of brown (dark leather ottomans, cane-backed accent chairs and a velvet camel sofa) throughout the space, an aesthetically pleasing balance is established in the room. As you can see from Shea’s textile selections, cooler tones of blues and grey contrast beautifully with all of the warmth of the brown furniture .
Black with Earthy Undertones-
While pure, stark black walls could come off as a little too harsh when paired with rustic walnut and leather furniture, a black paint that is softened with some earthy bluish-green is the perfect backdrop to showcase brown finishes. In this dramatic and oh-so-classy room, Studio McGee painted the walls and ceiling with Sherwin Williams Green Black.
Tip: Blending variations of differing brown wood tones (from the coffee table, to the cabinets, desk and leather chair) keep the space from falling flat and provide visual interest and dimension . Notice once again how blue textiles are the perfect contrasting color against all of the warmth of the various browns.
Speaking of blue, navy blue plays beautifully off of wood furniture and a dark brown leather sofa as demonstrated by Marie Flanigan Interiors use of color with these fabulous built-ins. Without some contrast and reprieve from all of the brown here, this space could easily start to feel repetitive and drab. Using paint in such a thoughtful way just goes to show that brown definitely doesn’t have to be boring.
Tip: If you don’t have enough space for colorful built-ins, you could always incorporate interest with an accent wall comprised of navy grass-cloth wallpaper or paint.
Being an avid lover of the outdoors myself, I am convinced that you simply can’t go wrong when you take a cue from mother nature by replicating her color palette. Proving my point, Mandi of Vintage Revivals makes a bold statement in what she refers to as a “minimal(ish)” manner by pairing this light-brown midcentury modern leather couch with a backdrop of green/gray monotone, amazingness – with the walls, trim and ceiling all painted in Sherwin Williams Evergreen Fog.
Tip: Further demonstrating how well earth tones work with brown furniture, this southwestern rug- complete with terracotta tones- is the perfect pop of pattern and complimentary color. When in doubt, earth tones and brown furniture are typically always a winning combo.
These matching dark leather arm chairs look so cozy and (more importantly) classy against a neutral backdrop of green/gray walls (Hazy Skies by Benjamin Moore) . I love the interesting juxtaposition that Chris Loves Julia created here by pairing a light and reflective grey wall color with darker wood and leather furniture.
Tip: If you want to inject a little boldness onto your walls but have an open concept floor plan to contend with, experiment with a darker shade by adding an accent wall into the space and elevating the design statement with a special wood treatment of shiplap or molding. This way the dark color doesn’t have to feel overwhelming or intimidating to execute. Eluding back to my point about charcoal colors working well with brown furniture, charcoal in small doses like the shiplap wall pictured above works just as well.
I don’t know if you have noticed a trend by now, but brown and tan furniture work incredibly well with various tones of green wall colors. As you can see in Ashley’s thoughtfully curated, living room, you can make a bold, all the while serene, statement through the use of deeper earth tones and carefully curated art. While the paint color used on the walls was a special formula, Ashley says it is simply a darker variation of Fig Tree by Behr.
Tip: If coastal blue or other cool accent tones are not your vibe, earth tones like rust, terracotta and mustard are great accent colors for both green walls and brown furniture. Feeling sassy? Take a cue from this space, and add an extra dose of color with pops of orange.
Whether you are aiming for a light and airy aesthetic, cozy, moody vibes, or somewhere entirely in between, I hope these examples have proven to you just how versatile (not to mention practical) brown furniture can truly be.
I know we often think of a room with brown furniture as predominantly masculine, but you can also lean the space more on the feminine side by using the color in only small doses or balancing the masculine color out with more feminine accessories.
At the end of the day, your final outcome will greatly depend on the undertones at play in your wall color and the accent colors you choose to incorporate into the mix.
As a general rule of thumb, whites with warm undertones, charcoals, navy blues, greys with green undertones and most all greens will play well with brown pieces. When in doubt, you really cannot go wrong with earth tones.
Thank you so much for stopping by this week! If you found this post helpful, it would mean the world to me if you could share it with a friend or on social media…
Now get out there and design some good vibes along with a fabulous life!
Thursday 9th of March 2023
This makes me want to ditch my two white sofas and get tan leather ones in my Florida home. Loved all these pics, even your first choice with white walls. I have beautiful blue-jean blue couches in my lake home and my wheels are turning as to a tan or brown accent wall. I have natural hickory floors and lots of light coming in (window wall) so hopefully this won’t be too difficult. Saving this for future reference. Thanks for fixing your web page!
Friday 10th of March 2023
I'm sure the white sofas are beautiful in your Florida home, Nancy. I still looove the look of white furniture, but I have found life to be much easier with the darker furniture. :)