Colors That Complement Brown

Brown is not dull, and it's never forgettable when you pair it with your favorite colors and play with tints and shades.

Don't sell brown short. It will never be as clearly defined as a primary red, yellow or blue, but it's everywhere. It's nature, it's rich and relaxing, and it does have its admirers. Writer Barbara Kingsolver sums up its versatility, "The color brown, I realized, is anything but nondescript. It comes in as many hues as there are colors of earth." And that's why brown goes with everything. Mix up every color of the rainbow, and you'll get mud, nice brown mud. But pair any hue with brown, and you'll get harmony. Because where is the squawking showboat or the raging diva who isn't calmed by a little chocolate?

In Defense of Drama

Shiny walnut plank floors and chocolate souffle walls predispose the room to be dynamic. Lots of whipped cream-white on trim, ceiling and built-in shelves reflects light everywhere. The stage is set for a slash of Mandarin red in a Chinese lacquered chest, a blaze of persimmon in a cream-based oriental fabric on the wing chair, the orange-red spines of a few carefully arranged books. A full-bodied brown is always a match for the dazzle of red with flame in it. Brown and orange can look so last-century, but the right red with the color of roasted coffee beans will steal the show.

Acidic, Acerbic, Ambrosial

The slow brown reaches of the Amazon wind through vivid tropical rain forests with technicolor creatures and plants that appear more brilliant against the rich silt -- brown is a chameleon that highlights what you place next to it. Go for the acid of a chartreuse, a lime green, a citron; a brown suede sofa will pop those neon-bright colors and imbue them with an inner glow. Bitter lemon and dirty lemonade are sharp, sour colors that look contemporary and gallery-ready in a milk chocolate or cocoa-brown room. Those off-colors that look so great on vines and parrots look just as great on your throw pillows, lampshades, area rugs or the leather upholstery of a side chair. Brown tames edgy into lushly exotic and declares your taste to be enviably unpredictable.

Deep-Dyed Opulence

Brown isn't always the most intense shade in the room. It comes in flavors from toasted marshmallow to linen to beige, parchment and taupe. In its lighter guise, brown is a setting for a jewel tone, a foil for fierce dark shades like oxblood and deepest teal. Lacquer a kitchen island base with glossy oxblood beneath a sand marble counter. Pick up the light brown in the limestone paver floor and a deeper medium brown in the weathered overhead beams. Carpet a bedroom wrapped in cafe-au-lait matte painted walls with blue violet wall-to-wall and echo the purple in lilac blue raw silk drapes. Deck the bed with linen sheets and pillow shams in shades from cappuccino foam to parchment to mushroom. The right brown can handle ruby, sapphire and every shade of topaz, so add brown to the royal palette.

The Buzz About Honey

Brown goes with sunflowers, maple syrup, buttercups and honey. Pour it on for a relaxed room with pale yellow walls over the brown parquet floor. A golden Biedermeier dresser is like a rectangular block of raw honey caught between the yellow and brown, with a wood-framed Audubon or Constable print hanging over it and a bright yellow and brown Provencal pitcher holding fresh-cut flowers from the garden. In a sunny living room, a pine cone-colored suede sectional and pecan coffee table are warm and inviting with gold and brown plaid drapes and buttercream yellow walls. Show off the inherited wood dining set in a formal dining room with cream-and-straw-striped fabric upholstered walls and a cream and straw carpet. The color mix is luminous, low-key and harmonious.

About the Author

Benna Crawford has been a journalist and New York-based writer since 1997. Her work has appeared in USA Today, the San Francisco Chronicle, The New York Times, and in professional journals and trade publications. Crawford has a degree in theater, is a certified Prana Yoga instructor, and writes about fitness, performing and decorative arts, culture, sports, business and education .