Brown: The New Power Color

Recently when hosting an Emily Morrow Home design panel discussion, I overheard the buzz that “brown wood is coming back.” You’re most likely thinking, “isn’t all wood brown?” However, the statement in the context of the design world was startling and has massive implications.

For more than a decade, the wood color palette has been dominated by shades of gray. A majority of homeowners had pitched out or refinished their brown wood furnishings and demonstrated a preference for anything but brown. When the foundation of our color palettes change, it creates major undercurrents of changes in other areas. With a shift toward brown, there are going to be longterm implications for what designers, consumers, and individuals begin bringing into interiors.

With the reemergence of browns, many are asking if grey will disappear. I believe that this is not the case, since grey is still so easily paired with warm colors. That said, the shift toward brown is still incredibly noteworthy.

Many also ask why we are seeing the big change. I feel it is a direct result of many major factors, the least of which can be attributed to COVID-19, but also our political and economic uncertainties this past year, leading into a major election year.

If you were paying close attention, you may have noticed the road leading us toward brown was laid by the warming of the metallics. As you may recall, gold made its gilded return five years or so ago. Today’s metallics now are void entirely of “pewter” except when used as contrast to golds.

So, just why is brown gaining appeal? For starters, brown is “earthy,” so it can create drama or visual gravity just as black does, and works well with metallic gold, bronze, brass, and copper. Brown, in its best context, is elegant, classy, and when you consider the major movement toward “holistic living,” and how many people have begun gardening and clean eating, we can’t avoid the sprouting shoots of greens and browns.

Brown is now making an appearance in areas such as runway fashion, social media, and within magazines and catalogs. There is a prevalence of dark browns like black coffee, dark chocolate, brown leather, or a chestnut thoroughbred horse.

This new brown is best exemplified in furniture in walnut. Although walnut is really too soft for most peoples’ floors, walnut furnishings can be very appealing. Some recent sales data of which hardwood floors are trending upward includes colors in uber-matte white oak.

One of my personal joys as an interior designer is watching and seeing what my friends and family are choosing for their homes and offices. Sometimes I’m lucky enough to help them in their decorating. They don’t always believe me when I say it, but they do teach me so much about the next generation of consumers. Currently both of my adult children are making changes in their living arrangements which require decisions on paint, furniture, rugs, and accessories. What I’m seeing fascinates me as they are right on target to where the trends are moving.

They’re drawn to lighter palettes and are seeking to bring “order” to their homes as they pare down, arrange, and organize their personal effects. Walls have been painted matte “off white,” hardwood floors are being layered with jute and natural hide rugs with color pops coming in from adjacent spaces where berry, rose, and pink are the accents. Brown leather works with each of these changes. Even deer mounts are not only considered okay, they are downright “in.”

Not to be too redundant as it pertains to holistic living, but it is important to make one more mention of the important role that has played in the emergence of brown. As we are seeking to bring order and simplicity to our lives, we are adding nutrition and nature into our daily routines. What’s more natural than brown eggs or natural earth? The soil itself is where we plant and grow the very food we require to live. Brown equals earth, which equals nature, which equals health. And, those are things many of us are very aware of as we look ahead to 2021.

Emily Morrow Finkell is an interior designer and CEO of EF Floors & Design LLC in Dalton, Georgia, a provider of hardwood floors and home furnishings, and an NWFA design contributor. She can be reached at

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