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BrownColour lessonDecorating Advice

Is Cognac Leather Furniture as Neutral as Denim? Yay or Nay

By 02/09/2014February 23rd, 201779 Comments

I’m so happy that camel coats and cognac leather furniture are on trend. Although last week I bought a camel coat from Nordstrom and when it arrived it looked like a sack on me so back it went. Sigh. I guess it was a little too late in the season to have any kind of selection.

Louis Vuitton Bag


{Click on images for source}

Here’s what I’ve noticed. Cognac or caramel or toffee coloured leather is kinda as neutral as a pair of jeans. Now I’m talking leather mind you, if you get the same colour made up in a sofa, it just looks, well orange.

It’s the same with bags. If you had this bag (above) couldn’t you wear it with everything? Well that’s what I’m saying.

Cognac and Turquoise


Check it out with Peacock Blue.

Cognac & Navy


And of course it’s stunning with Navy blue, the new grey.



Red + Coganc Leather


And here it is with a red ottoman and turquoise in the background. These chairs looked like they were just plunked down to enjoy the heat of the fireplace, but they look right as rain.


Cognac + Purple


Here’s a cognac, tufted sofa with red, pink and purple.

Sunflower yellow & Cognac

When I saw this outfit on Pinterest, I pulled out the long and stunning yellow cashmere scarf Terreeia brought back for me from Italy last year and put together this exact outfit.

cognac & turquoise

Here’s a sectional with velvet in cognac. Not quite as fabulous is it?

Okay, so over to you? What do you think? Yay or Nay? Your comments are so much fun, thanks so much everyone!

Related posts:

The 3 Best Colours for your Leather Sofa

When to Buy Leather Furniture

The Hottest Trend Colours from Palm Springs

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  • Loribeth says:

    I think cognac leather is a neutral as blue jeans, but I don’t think I’ll ever have another leather sofa. I’d be okay with in on a chair though. Leather just isn’t something I want to curl up on under a blanket.

    Love that outfit with the yellow scarf… Well, except for the ripped knees. I’m just too old for ripped jeans to look good!!!

  • Susan @ Susan Silverman Designs says:

    I think you may be on to something. I’m loving it, but only in leather. I also have a camel coat and it’s just not doing it for me either. It just sits in my closet, poor thing.


  • Kristen says:

    Definitely only in leather- and then sparingly!

    • Denise says:

      I agree, Kristen.
      I don’t think cognac, as a color by itself, is neutral. However leather in a “lighter” color like cognac, as opposed to dark brown or black, allows the natural variations of the material and tanning process to come through (as you can see in the two chairs by the fireplace above), so you’re not getting a purely saturated, monochromatic hit of orange. Most of the cognac leathers featured above also have a bit of sheen and reflectivity to them… they’re not absorbing all the light like a cloth-upholstered piece would. So I think it’s the material that allows the color to more readily “ease into” or complement many palettes. That said, cognac in any material still resides on the yellow-orange side of the color wheel so I would use it carefully in any considered palette.

  • Sarah says:

    Cognac leather is so versatile in decorating – a great quality piece and work in almost any room. Cognac accessories are also fabulous – I think one would never be in want of a well put together outfit with only cognac and black shoes and bags. Camel wool is so classic – but of course the quality of the fabric and the cut of the garment make or break the piece.

  • Chris Warltier says:

    I had my antique barley-twist dining room chairs re-done in cognac leather. I love them “long term”!

  • Elizabeth Minish says:

    Cognac leather, definitely! It is extremely versatile. Camel-hair on the other hand is hard to wear for many people. In my experience, it only really looks great on blondes and some red-heads. And then, like most light colours, it must be extremely well cut to look fabulous because there is nowhere to hide.

  • Vicky says:

    I think it’s disgraceful you would advocate a product that involves such cruelty and suffering–especially when there are now so many man made substitutes that look as good or better than leather. The fact that you could promote something that causes such hideous terror and agony to animals really changes my opinion of you, Maria. I hope you rethink your position and let your readers know so I can go back to thinking of you as the sweet person you look like.

    • Carrie says:

      Vicky, Maria doesn’t post on her blog to suit your individual preferences nor do your preferences dictate the trend of her blogs. While you’re open to share your opinions, they do not represent those of all of Maria’s readers.

    • June says:

      I can appreciate your not wanting animals to suffer. Neither do, and I’m sure Maria is in the same camp. But if animals are humanely killed for our food, then using all of them, in the Indian tradition–which includes their hides–honors them.

    • Renee says:

      Vicky, Since the renowned Dr. Temple Grandin’s study and recommendations, the government set guidelines for slaughtering animals which involves the use of a stun gun to render them brain dead in seconds, therefore no cruelty and no suffering. I quote Dr. Grandin “I think using animals for food is an ethical thing to do, but we’ve got to do it right. We’ve got to give those animals a decent life, and we’ve got to give them a painless death. We owe the animal respect.”
      I agree with June, all of the animal should be used including their hide.

    • Annie who puts most of her extra dollars to animal activist causes says:

      Vicky. Chill.

  • Suzan says:

    Nay. It’s orange. Orange is not neutral.

    It looks good in those rooms because a semi-shiny orange/toffee color works with the other colors in the room. Shiny natural wood in that color would work in those rooms, too. Or a piece of glazed pottery.

    I like my neutrals truly neutral. Not orange. Orange is not the new black.

  • ML says:

    I enjoy a good leather bar, but, not on my furniture in any color!

  • Brenda says:

    I am loving the cognac leather with tufting. It seems to add so much dimension to the color. Had a long cognac leather coat in high school, late 1970’s (yikes!). Amazing coat, wore it with
    a LOT of denim, a natural neutral match 🙂 !

  • A-L says:

    I’m tempted to also join the non-neutral camp. The reason? I’d thought about getting a leather couch and wanted something neutral, and considered the cognac. It did not go with the pale yellow, raspberry, and green colors here (sort of a combo of BM Philadelphia Cream, BM Mardi Gras 1342, and BM Georgian Green-ish). It was an addition of a 4th color, rather than a neutral, and it just clashed.

  • Bonnie says:

    I love the cognac leather. And leather ages so beautifully.

  • Tamara says:

    I have a cognac leather ottoman in my living room and it works beautifully with my Persian carpet and my navy blue sectional. Everyone who comes in says it looks like a Ralph Lauren ad.

    Previously, the ottoman looked sensational next to an olive green velvet sofa, so I think it is pretty classic.

  • Pam Dieckman says:

    Do you consider the cognac a dirty color?

  • Camel is a classic neutral – the velvet sectional looked camel on my screen. Caramel/Cognac is a classic accent that can be pushed back into a supporting role in a color story. It read like a neutral in your outfit because the mimosa scarf was so bold. It reads as a neutral in the rooms because they all have “louder” accent colors in addition – red/pink/purple, peacock blue, brick red. (I WANT that ottoman!) The exception is the navy one. Here, navy is the neutral and it let the orange in the cognac ring true because it’s a complement.
    Beautiful pictures, Maria. Thank You!

    • Farha Syed says:

      Caramel/Cognac is a classic accent that can be pushed back into a supporting role in a color story.

      I love how you put it. and I agree with you on that point.

      lovely examples of how to use the cognac leather, Maria. I also love that ottoman and want it.

  • Kate says:

    Yes! We bought two matching cognac leather chairs and in a room of soft blues, teal, gold and white – they work! My only concern is the sun…leather fades but I refuse to block out the light:)

  • Amy says:

    I think it works in a really rich, grand or eccentric setting…the kind found in magazines, estates and Great Gatsby movie sets.

    I think it is a little trickier in homes where real people live. I think it could look like a fish out of water if you don’t have the total package to go with it.

    If you do…wow, what a beautiful statement it makes.

  • Kathi says:

    My friend just bought a gorgeous cognac high end leather sofa,I tried to talk her out of the matching chair and ottoman,but she bought them anyways and admits it is too much of a good thing in the room-wishes she would have bought a colorful fabric chair instead now!This is where paying a designer even for just 2 hours (friends opinions don’t count apparently) would have saved her thousands of dollars-so maybe using cognac sparingly keeps it somewhat neutral in a room! I think I am have to say Nay!

    • Kathi says:

      darn auto text, I think I am going to have to say Nay! It can clash too easily with too many other colors!

  • I think it can be lovely, but on something large like a chair or sofa I wouldn’t consider it neutral. Reads orange. Looks great with navy and warm colors. Not so great with cool colors and pastels.

  • I don’t see it as a neutral, but rather a lovely rich colour when used in small doses. I just bought my husband an iPad cover in cognac leather and he loves it!

  • Kelly says:

    I guess I’m a dissenter on this one. 😉 While I think it’s a gorgeous color, I can’t convince myself it’s a neutral. I guess in my mind it’s like that beautiful linen sofa that has a definite pink beige tin to it. You might want to believe it’s neutral but it’s definitely going to boss you around when it comes to choosing things to work with it (although I’ll admit there are still a lot of options). If it were me, I’d hunt for a truly neutral linen sofa and use that as my “works with basically everything” piece in a room. It gives more options for color combos in my opinion. But hey, you gotta love what you choose so maybe it’ll be a good option for those who would tend towards the dirtier color combos?

  • Susijo says:

    I LOVE a brandy or caramel color for a leather sofa and have been looking for one for months now. Unfortunately, except for the ultra-expensive custom choices, it seems that dark browns are what’s ‘in.’ I hope the fact that you’re talking about it is a sign, Maria!

  • Beth L says:

    I’ve had a leather jacket for years the same color as the pictured one. Recently I ripped the sleeve on something, and I am still in mourning.

    • mrsben says:

      @Beth: If you do not sew, take it to a seamstress or a tailor (there are many kiosks in Malls) and have it converted into a vest. On chilly days, pair it with an long-sleeved knitted sweater. It will look fab!☺ -Brenda-

  • A-L says:

    I was rereading some of Maria’s old posts (particularly and had a question:

    Is it possible to have a “neutral” leather sofa, if neutral means that it goes with all other colors (any color, whether clean or dirty)? Referring back to Maria’s sofa post, it seems as though the only possibilities would be white, black, blue, or green, as all other traditional “neutrals” (various beiges or greys) only work with some colors, but not all.

  • mrsben says:

    IMHO, cognac in leather definitely a ‘yay’ both in home décor and in fashion but only used sparingly.

    As for a camel (coloured) coat; only if 100% camel hair or blended with a quality wool like mohair ☺. (Regardless of price tag, some boast 100% Camel Hair but are not. Buyer beware!) -Brenda-
    Camel Hair — inner down wool of a Camel
    Mohair — sheared hair from an Angora Goat
    Briefly, both are spun into yarn and woven for the use in textiles.

  • I would have to agree, not on a sofa. It’s a neutral, but not my favorite color. Too orangy for me.

  • sandyc says:

    I’d have to say Nay to cognac as a neutral. But as an accent piece, it can be classic and beautiful. Here in Arizona, part of the Old West, when I walk into a leather store and see the piles of hides in all the colors of the rainbow (and of the best quality), it’s the cognac hide that grabs me because of that variation of the material that Denise mentions above (maybe it’s because there are so many naturally “cognac” cows out there). The wing chairs flanking the ottoman, in cognac with the nailhead trim, are one of the most classic looks around and I think one could make that vignette work in many settings. In that case, cognac IS like a favorite pair of jeans. But the other settings, except for the navy room, seem kind of stark and staged and not really inviting to me. NEVERTHELESS, far better than the dark brown leather (and dark brown everything else) that is STILL the choice of new buyers in Sun City West when they remodel their homes. Even though we’re heading toward the end of the grey trend, it never made it to Arizona.

  • Joanne says:

    I have to vote no to being the new neutral. Instead of blending or even complimenting these other very bright statement colours, it stands out. To me it’s in your face.If you buy expensive furniture and are not rich enough to change out often, then stick to true neutrals – cream, white or taupe. It’s a fad, folks.
    The jacket looks wonderful on the model but certainly would not suit everyone’s colouring. The purse, on the other hand, is a classic. I’ll take one, please!

  • Jena says:

    Though it’s gorgeous, I’m with those that would use it only sparingly. I don’t think it’s a neutral, but I also am weird: I’m the only one in the world that doesn’t think denim is a neutral. I can’t put a teal top with my jeans, or purple, or green, unless you’re throwing a whole bunch of colors together and the tone in the jeans is one of them. I’ll wear navy if the jeans have true navy fibers, or orange because it compliments it, and certainly the right yellow, but never a competing blue.

    Love love love the cognac (and you’re right: IN LEATHER) as an accent, but not as the neutral.

  • Kay says:

    Nay for me as well. I like cognac leather in someone else’s room, but it would look very peculiar with the jewel tones or whites and pale neutrals I like (and wear). The old Color Me Beautiful system is still very helpful, in which cognac would be an autumn color. The golds and browns and rusty reds of autumn pair beautifully with cognac, and it works very well with dark navy and black (or denim), but I didn’t care for it with pink and purple–it seemed forced. And the model with the Vuitton bag in the first pic is wearing orange. Put the same bag next to magenta, and the effect would not be the same.

  • Sat Hari K says:

    My husband and I have two cognac chairs sitting in our newly painted living room waiting for our blue green sofa to arrive. Your post gives us hope because although I could see that they might work, I now see that they probably will. Thanks for posting! Your blogs are a tremendous help! If it’s not too much trouble I would love to send some pics once the room is done. 🙂

  • Lisa says:

    I agree! I just bought a cognac leather coach for our renovated barn. It jot only looks beautiful now, but I believe it will always be a timeless classic!

  • Ginny says:

    Not loving it with the red/purple, it seems to get lost. But yay to cognac in leather, especially with blue. Loving blue with orange! Your scarf looks gorgeous too 🙂

  • Kendra says:

    I prefer a little bit of a lighter version of the cognac but think that it’s a classic neutral. For my personal aesthetic I would pair it with whites and greys and hits of aqua. I have a purse in cognac that I use all year round and it goes with EVERYTHING!!!! So stylish, versatile and timeless.

  • Judy Jensen says:

    I can’t wait for the auto industry to put that color “neutral” back into the upholstery for cars. I am soooo tired of the black and gray interiors.
    I want a cream exterior with cognac leather interior.
    So classy!!!

  • Love the color, hate the leather, love the last top view of the sectional.
    Wasn’t it just awhile ago that all you saw on Craigs List sales were brown leather sofas. I’m just over leather, my opinion, just mine.

  • I don’t think it’s neutral. Since it reads orange to me, I think it would look best with warmer colors, not bluish ones. I don’t like the contrast.

  • Lauren Tyson says:

    To answer the question of whether cognac is a neutral, I took a peek at my favorite go-to book, “Showing Your Colors” by Jeanne Allen. The closest color to cognac in her book is “Brown-Gold” She says this color goes better with brights than with predictable neutrals (could be why the cognac sectional you picture looks blah). In essence, she’s saying it’s not a neutral. She goes on to say that it is more an accent color for shoes, gloves, or a handbag.

  • Mary says:

    When I was shopping for a leather chair for my husband I thought about a cognac color. But it would never look good with my Hickory floors or the pink beige tile around the fireplace. Brown worked better.

  • Colleen says:

    This is so timely for me. I am assisting clients who have two cognac leather sofas with two orange beige suede chairs and golden oak shaker occasional tables. They just moved into their new home with white shaker style wainscoting, high ceilings and a traditional fireplace and all white traditional kitchen. Open space. I was thinking about bringing the turquoise accents from their art work and mask collection. But the golden oak have to go!

  • Randy says:

    It would indeed be a good thing if all would please consider alternatives to leather. You can still have a gorgeous home 🙂

  • Susan Telfer says:

    Have you seen the Miles Redd townhouse in the new House Beautiful? The living room, with a navy sofa, grasscloth walls, and navy and turquoise ikat curtains looks beautiful with the owner’s two already there cognac leather chairs. They sure look neutral to me in that gorgeous room, and if Miles Redd left them, they must be chic.

  • Renee says:

    To me, cognac is a classic but not a neutral. I had a cognac leather love seat until 2 years ago and found the colour to not be as flexible for accessorizing as a neutral is. Mine was a tan cognac as opposed to orange.

    As to camel….my mother had a camel hair coat when I was a teenager and she looked fabulous wearing it because she was a blonde with a light rosy complexion. She had a quality camel suit made for me but I looked like death in it because of my yellow skin and brown hair. Everybody wore camel at that time because it was in vogue. That was before “Colour Me Beautiful” came along; women wore whatever colour was stylish without heeding to their complexion. We know better now.
    In my opinion Maria, you would look great in camel hair with a contrasting print scarf, but it’s very important to get a quality camel hair. Cheap camel looks horrible on everybody.

  • debby says:

    I agree with Rene that cognac is a beautiful timeless classic, but not a true neutral color.

  • Nay. Cognac leather in cars, sure, maybe even clothes, but if it’s in an interior it would affect what colours I’d use around it. Cognac is within the orange spectrum so it looks good with some of the colours your images show, but I wouldn’t treat it as a neutral. The only oranges I ignore are the fir planks in old homes and orange/gold hardwood.

  • mairi says:

    Our home has a cognac sofa and love seat, bought at a time when- in a sea of black and expresso sofas- it was the only of this colour in the store. Best investment ever as we’ve never tired of it. It is still fresh looking and that’s with two dogs who like to nap on them. Accents are chartreuse and eggplant which tie together with a vintage persian rug in these hues. Because the floors are the old fir planks as mentioned above, cognac just seems at home here.
    Like old leather suitcases, remember the similarly coloured shearling coats of the 70’s? They’re still sought after and the more worn they are the better the patina, like the furniture in the fireplace picture. Very European.

    • linda says:

      That sounds like a marvellous room to be in. I’m really picturing that vintage fir planking. Lovely.

  • Stacy says:

    So many naysayers regarding leather, but I do have to say that over time, leather does not harbor odors that can occur from pets, cooking, sweaty or smelly visitors. It wipes down easily. Fabric doesn’t hold up over time as well as genuine leather. There’s also a reason leather shoes are more beneficial to own as opposed to vinyl or canvas. It’s more durable. Love the cognac.

  • Mary says:

    We have a leather strap on in this color which is kinky to say the least. However, in furniture or clothing, no way.

  • linda says:

    Can navy really be the new grey?????? I love navy and cognac together, but its sure not as peaceful to live with as grey and white.
    So ps : should I buy the ikea kitchen in ADEL/Off white or in Lindingo GREY? YOu have no idea how I agonize over this.

    • Maria Killam says:

      HI Linda, Here’s how you’ll know the right answer. Just like you are not considering an espresso kitchen because that trend is over, that’s how much you’ll love the grey kitchen when that trend is over. Hope this helps, Maria

  • Erica says:

    For me, Cognac is one of the natural, classic brown leathers. Much like denim, sometimes the light versions will trend or the medium or darks. Occasionally a colored denim or leather might trend or appear in some décor, but the blue denims and the brown leathers have always remained classic. It’s not so much their color that keeps them classic and beautiful, it’s their texture – what they’re made of. And when they stick to their most natural state, they will always add that natural element and remain classic. Great article, Maria – really got people talking.

  • Janine Arietta says:

    LOVE, love, love this color combination. It is very smart and sophisticated looking. I’ve got to believe anyone who wears this combo possesses a very strong color sense! With regard to the last image, yes, it’s very “flat” looking; however, by introducing and mixing different materials, this should help create visual interest and variety. How about covering a few of the pillows with leather fringe or sequins for sparkle (in the same hue) and adding some chrome and brass accents. These small enhancements should help invigorate this living area. Thoughts?

  • Kay Perret says:

    This post is just missing a pic of you in YOUR outfit! 🙂

    Love cognac, but I never left the brown trend. Brown has always been my favorite color and I can’t give it up. So in my house it’s a neutral!

  • Mary says:

    The walls in our bondage room is covered in cognac leather also. Creates quite the mood, especially in candle light.

  • EAC says:

    This conversation cracks me up. I am, in fact, coveting a tufted bench in a cognac tone. A little hint, but not overkill. As far as it being a neutral- and this is why I’m laughing- this blog demonstrates time and time again that the definition of neutral is not “Goes With Everything”. Cue the Battles of the Beiges posts, where rooms with beiges of conflicting pink and green undertones make us shudder. Just as a neutral beige does not go with everything, neither will a cognac leather.

  • chris says:

    So, what neutral wall color would you use with navy and cognac furniture? I get that navy goes with cognac, cognac looks good with hardwood, but cognac or tobacco color is kind of yellow.

    • Maria Killam says:

      There are lots of neutrals that would work, blue greys, green greys, yellow beige, green beige, it would depend on what else is happening in the space. Maria

  • megeranski says:

    1) All Camels are not created equal. There are tons of undertones in this color. Do not make the mistake of thinking it is a one-size-fits-all color. You’ll regret it LOL (some camels look stunning on me and some make me age and look ragged (I am blonde with green eyes).

    2) All Congnacs are not created equal. There are tons of undertones in this color. blah blah, same same.

    Some camels are more classic than others.
    Some congnacs are more classic than others.

    some are ‘dirtier’ than others.

    Nuttin’ much to this.

    the right camel is forever
    the right cognac is forever.

    get the wrong undertone, and Ouch.

    same with blue jeans, btw. 🙂

  • Fran says:

    NO, NO, NO! Reminds me of by daughter’s poop after eating carrots baby food.

  • Kimberly says:

    LOVE this but curious on something… Is there a difference between tobacco and cognac?

  • Donna says:

    Love cognac have always loved it with navy but black and white work for me too. Thank you for this post we have recently sold our house and are currently moving to a new one, where I will need a new sofa . cognac was the exact colour I had in mind, the problem I have is that the flooring currently in the house is of a similar colour. And it’s not going to be something that we are able to change at this time. I’m guessing an area rug would help and also I’d like to change the current wall colour. The house was built in 1945 so the walls have been painted a soft yellow. Not really my choice any suggestions would be appreciated thank you.

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