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At first glance, it feels like brown is making a comeback from the 90s, but this new brown colour trend is different. Here’s what is new about the brown trend and some of my timeless guidelines for not going overboard with this new trendy neutral.

Last week Vogue wrote an article outlining why brown is taking over interiors in 2022. Some of my followers were alarmed and messaged me on Instagram about this startling new trend. Follow me here for daily tips about colour and decorating, oh and my outfits of the day 😉

I think many of us are still traumatized by the espresso brown from the Tuscan trend. But let’s be clear, the brown that’s trending now is cognac brown and I’ve been talking about it for a few years now. See my posts here and here.

Browns from the Tuscan trends are NOT back

It’s been over 10 years since the Tuscan trend technically ended but builders kept installing espresso cabinets for several years after, which eventually made the look was way overdone and tired.

Before I continue, let me just say that there is NOTHING inherently wrong with espresso brown from the Tuscan era. It simply got overused like every trendy neutral does when it’s having its moment – just like grey.

Espresso and chocolate brown have quietly just slipped back into rotation with all the other colours that we might choose to decorate with – like in this photo below.  The difference is that brown is simply not in the spotlight anymore. 

Nate Berkus & Jeremiah Brent

The new trending brown colour is cognac

Because the brown that’s currently having its moment is warm and toasty – in the range of cinnamon to orange cognac. And for once, this is good, because cognac just so happens to also be a timeless leather sofa colour. And now, since it’s available at every price point, the average person can afford to buy one.

Before this shade became trendy, a cognac leather sofa was closer to $10,000.

Studio McGee

Pottery Barn

The cognac sofa is the gateway to a warmer colour palette

As I mentioned here in my colour trends report at the end of 2021, when a warmer colour like cognac starts trending, people literally start “warming up” to everything ORANGE. 

This means warmer paint colours (see below) as well as wood panelling and hardwood flooring.

It also means if you didn’t get around to replacing your honey oak floors with the espresso colour that was trending in the 2000s or the world of grey in the 2010s you’re pretty happy right about now.

Saying this dates me, I know, but the last time I specified this shade of deep orange beige (see below) for WALLS was 2002, right before the cooler espresso brown trend arrived on the scene.

How do you know if you are working with orange beige? Grab my neutral colour wheel to reference perfect examples of all 9 undertones wherever you go.

Of course, when brown looms large on the scene, beige is always along for the ride. And while pale complex creams are going to be the most versatile way to dip into the warmer trend for most of us, we will also see these deeper beiges reappear too.

Read more: Complex Creams and Why you Need to Understand Them

Image via Vogue 

A happy accident between colour trends

For the consumer, tackling a project when the major neutral trend is shifting can get confusing. 

Last week I received an SOS message from a client who said the siding going up on his commercial building was NOT the siding he had chosen. His contractor had ordered the wrong colour and most of it was installed already. He said, “I have 5 opinions,  none of them professional. And if it has to come down, it’ll cost the contractor $150,000! Will you come take a look?”

Here’s what was installed (above). I’ll show you the entire project when it’s completed, however when I was there, I pointed out that 5 years ago, we wouldn’t even have considered keeping this orange/yellow shade. But right now, it reads cognac, the colour we are busy warming up grey and white with everywhere. So painting out the pink brick that didn’t work with it was a better option than replacing all the siding.

I also mentioned that every commercial building right now is some shade of cognac with black and white or grey, like this one (below). 

What’s new about the brown trend? 

The NEW brown trend is bound to be different than both recent iterations. If you remember, there was the warm, orange to ginger combined with a sage green phase of the 90s. Then in the early 2000s it shifted to the cooler, espresso brown trend. Each colour trend lasted roughly ten years, plus overlap between early and late adopters.

Now, it looks like the new brown and beige trend has more to do with the former colour trend of the 90s, warmer (more orange) overall. And, obviously, sage is here too again to coordinate. 

For many of us, it’s a welcome change from the overly cool and stark spaces of the grey, black and white trends. Which is precisely why it’s here. And like any major shift in the trending neutral colour palette, the most important thing to remember ONE THING:

It’s ok to embrace the new colour trend, but don’t tip into overdoing it (aka, making it the default choice for everything).

Because that’s all too easy to do – you know, let your decision fatigue take over and make every choice brown – because that’s also how it goes bad. I’ve worked in the world of colour and design through enough of these major neutral colour trends to see that it’s ALWAYS the problem. 

Timeless guidelines to embrace any new neutral trend without going overboard

I can tell you with the confidence, built on years of experience, that the safeguards and solutions to overdoing a trendy neutral are also always the same:

  1. Incorporate PLENTY of WHITE and cream to keep your room looking fresh and timeless.
  2. DO NOT CHOOSE EVERYTHING in the same neutral colour range that is everywhere in the stores at the moment, remember to practice restraint and deliberately create balance and contrast.
  3. Certainly, DO NOT REPLACE all the fixed finishes in your house like flooring and tile in the trendy neutral of the moment. Because eventually, you’ll be facing a complete renovation AGAIN in 5 or 10 years.
  4. ADD COLOUR. Choosing decor in your favourite colour, rather than the neutral tone that happens to be saturating the market at any given moment, is always the best bet for longevity.

Over to you my lovelies… Are you embracing the cognac brown colour trend yet? NOT like you must, just asking 🙂 

If you’d like your home to fill you with happiness when you walk in the door check out my eDesign packages here.

Become a True Colour Expert this Spring, see all my Virtual Workshop dates here. (February is SOLD OUT) the next one is April, 23 & 24, 2022.

P.S. Heads up! My brand new ‘made with real paint’ Understanding Undertones™ colour wheel is still available. You can still get one at the introductory price, which is going up MONDAY, Februrary 21 at midnight! Get it here now if you’ve been thinking about it.

Related posts:

5 Design Trends to Ditch Right Now; and What to do Instead

When NOT to Replace Your Floors

Will my Cherry Kitchen work with a Cognac Leather Sofa

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39 Comments

  • Mary Anne says:

    No thank you to even the cognac colors !! I did not change my opinion!!

    3
  • Shelley says:

    I felt this way about gray.

    12
  • Kay says:

    Believe it or not, some of us loathe both orange and brown—not in nature, not wood furniture or floors, but as a color in paint and fabrics. I believe you when you say a cognac sofa is classic, but if I had to look at one in my house, I would feel like throwing up.

    Of course, I disliked a sea of grey as well. So cold and unfriendly.

    To me, trends are of zero interest unless they are classics having a moment, like white kitchens. But those sterile white expanses I used to see were pretty horrible too. You need warmth and color in a white kitchen.

    Your advice to decorate with colors you love is the best. Unless you’re preparing a house for sale, I don’t see the point of following trends.

    15
  • Mary of Pittsburgh says:

    I have always loved versatile, warm, welcoming cognac. Drinking it is delicious, too!

    9
  • Nancy says:

    Thanks Maria
    I’ve always liked the cognac leather ..
    Must be why walnut cabinets are having a hot moment in Kitchens
    I love the walnut kitchens used with a lot of white .
    Much better then the ones I see with black r gray .

    4
  • Judy says:

    I had cognac leather seats in my cream white car in the 70″s and I’ve been waiting a very long time for it to come back. I absolutely hate the gray and black seats in cars that we don’t have a choice in purchasing. I’ve stayed with cream walls in my home with accent colors. Anything but gray.walls or furniture. Some walls may go a gold/brown to blend in with the oak case goods.

    5
  • Liz in Oregon says:

    “ADD COLOUR. Choosing decor in your favourite colour, rather than the neutral tone that happens to be saturating the market at any given moment, is always the best bet for longevity.”

    This is what I do. Trends don’t interest me at all. Of course, we rent, so we don’t have any say in hard finishes, and have to work around them with our furniture. Purple and orange, red and yellow energize me in my old age and make me happy!

    5
  • Holly says:

    I think cognac couches are beautiful, but what it makes me wary of getting one because I don’t have warm orange wood floors. Does cognac work with cooler, more neutral brown wood floors or is this the instance where wooden floors (or LVP) are like a pair of blue jeans, no matter their color, and go with everything?

    • Maria Killam says:

      Yes it works, the floors I would not mix it with, are red, I wrote a post about that here: https://mariakillam.com/will-cherry-kitchen-work-with-cognac-sofa/ Thanks for your comment! Maria

      2
      • Holly says:

        Thanks, Maria! When you say neutral wood floors, my mind goes to more of a cooler wood tone like Minwax walnut or special walnut wood stain. I’d even throw in Early American wood stain, but even that seems to look a bit warmer to me in tone. Don’t know if I’m understanding the realm of neutral in wood flooring. I think you posted about that too somewhere with swatches of wood floor stains that led me to that conclusion.

  • I have a brown leather sofa and would love an orange/ cream carpet as you suggest but where l live the colours are boring grey, cream and brown . For a large lounge it’s an expensive purchase and would like to make the right choice.

    • Maria Killam says:

      It’s definitely hard to find the right home decor items ‘off-the-shelf’ and especially if you live in a more remote area, I recommend finding what you need online and using my shop online course to learn how to create mood boards which will ensure that the right colours will arrive on your doorstep the first time! You can get it here. https://mariakillam.com/shop-online-with-colour-confidence/ Thanks for your comment! Maria

  • Michelle L says:

    No thanks.

    2
  • Lorena says:

    “Some of my followers were alarmed and messaged me on Instagram about this startling new trend”. “They are traumatized”. Really? What a bunch of unnecessary drama!

    I laugh at this article while sitting down on my lovely ESPRESSO brown chair, which I love and is one of the colors of my furniture in my place.
    I cannot believe how people can be so triggered by mere decor .

    It is not the end of the world if you do what you want or stop following trends and nobody can seriously be traumatized by simple decor items.

    And FYI there is such a thing as modern Tuscan decor. Google it.

    3
    • Maria Killam says:

      Hi Lorena, As I said in my post there is absolutely nothing wrong with espresso brown or ANY colour for that matter, it’s the overuse of these colours that leave people worried that it’s coming back. A home with every stick of furniture including case goods AND floors in espresso brown, which happened a lot during that trend is bad and depressing and definitely alarming if you’re suddenly stuck with it because that’s the house that works for your budget, etc. Thanks for your comment! Maria

      2
  • Cheryl says:

    I bought a West Elm cognac sofa 5 years ago and have decorated around it. We built a new home in Dallas, installed 12×24 yellow undertoned tiles in main living areas . Can’t do wood anymore; we’ve been through 2 floods and vowed never to install wood again. I love the cognac with orange, navy, gold and creme accents incorporated in the side chairs and rugs. Happy camper over here.

    4
  • ClaireSN says:

    A true cognac sofa would have been more appealing with that navy rug in the Berkus & Brent room. That dark brown and navy combination has always looked horrible to me, ever since junior high school when earth tones were big. Logically it *should* work since brown = very dark orange—and orange is blue’s complement— but they seem to fight each other like crazy.

    3
    • Maria Killam says:

      I agree, also not a fan of the brown cushion on the brown sofa, I added it to this post because it’s a current dark brown, which is back in rotation as I said. Maria

      1
      • JoDi says:

        It’s always interesting how differently people see things! While I love a cognac sofa (stalked them online for several years and finally ordered one last July that I’m STILL anxiously waiting for!), I think the dark brown and navy combo in this room looks much more luxe. Cognac always feels like a more casual color to me, but to my eye, this room has a luxurious vibe that’s more suited to the dark brown velvet sofa they chose.

        1
    • Holly says:

      I have an espresso sofa with a cream and navy rug because I can’t afford a new sofa right now and I totally agree a cognac sofa would look amazing with my rug and black and white kitchen. I’ve got cream and off white sprinkled throughout to help the current situation, but I don’t love it.

  • Sara Molenda says:

    My parents have a 20 year old cognac leather sofa from Room & Board that is in good condition but looked stale to me 5 years ago. It came back around, and now I don’t think they need to replace it!

    1
  • Norma Fournier says:

    I bought cognac leather sofas about seven years ago. They were great in the gray trend with almost any color decor for pillows etc …. and they’re great now that cognac leather has actually come back for furniture! Love them. And I’m a cool color loving person…but cognac goes with everything. IMHO :))

    2
  • Kristine C. says:

    I have loved the color cognac for decades – in shoes, purses, jackets, sofas and chairs. However, the color is only available (at normal people prices) when it’s trending. This happens with every color and is so frustrating when you want to buy something. I remember years ago I wanted some yellow throw pillows. No store carried them – in person or online (unless at a steep price or custom). By the time a color comes to mainstream mass market, I’m already getting bored with it! lol

    3
  • Barb says:

    Sigh, I am just a jewel tone girl in a cognac, brown, and orange world. These colors as well as gray don’t inspire happiness for me. Pardon me while I close the door to the outside world and do my happy dance surrounded by shades of red, purple, blue with BM Ballet White and BM Simply White trim. This is my happy place. Happiness comes in different forms for different people. I just know what brings me joy! We all need to find our own sources/colors that we love. As Maria implies, don’t dwell on the trending colors so much that it makes you miserable. Your favorite color is out there and there are ways to make it work just right for you. Life is too short not to pursue a welcoming environment.

    7
  • Ellie says:

    I for one am pleased with this development. I never went away from warm, earthy tones with rich jewel coloured accents. Now they’re back in trend it is much easier to find things in the colours that I like.

    3
  • Sue Reed says:

    I have always loved cognac leather all the way back to the days of Frye boots in the 70’s! I bought a cognac sofa in the 90’s that was a rejected special order so I got it for a great price. Kids and dogs wore that one out. 3 years ago bought another for a new house, to us, with oak floors, Mission style wood accent pieces and aqua McCoy pottery. and lots of colorful art. Your decorating should make you happy!

    1
  • Kay says:

    I’m with you Maria! A cognac leather sofa is classic – in any style. The trick is what you do with it.

    And may I be among the first to tell you how pleased I am with your new “painted” color wheel! More reliable I feel, over the “ink” of the previous version. Especially if you want to key in on that specific paint color to begin your color research. Thank you for going this extra step to perfection!

    2
  • Sonja says:

    I’m so happy that colours are warming up. During the gray trend, I was always a griege fan and hated gray flooring. Currently planning a kitchen / family room reno and just bought a blue / cream / brick colour rug as my colour inspiration. So happy that my brick fireplace will look seamless. I love it and will never paint my brick. Looking at white / walnut cabinets right now. Hoping the supply chain issues don’t derail me too much. Looks like colour is swinging my way at the right time.

  • Mita says:

    The pup on the sofa is the perfect color. Any pup on the sofa is the perfect color. Best “element” in the room. ❤️🐾

    2
  • Cindy K says:

    Am I the only one hoping that Maria does another post on how she solved the siding problem? 🙂

    2
  • I never let the warm trend go… And, Maria saved me from making a flooring mistake in our new home. (Almost went with a gray-toned hardwood!). I feel a little bit sorry for people I know who are *still* caught up in the gray trend, i.e., an entire new build, kitchen reno and, well, simply paint b/c I know the gray was chosen with being on-trend, not out of love for the color.

  • Kim says:

    I’ll save brown and orange for those things that occur in nature, but yes that for me can include leather😊. I wouldn’t use it in paint or fabrics. Definitely hardwood floors, as in old pumpkin wide planks, and wood furniture. I do love a little gilded gold for picture frames, accessories, etc.. My favorite color palette will probably always include soft, clear, delicate yellows, grayish blues and many other blues, and greens. I love pure white to go along with it, and a tiny smattering of orange and pink always finds it way in. I’ve never used gray and was perfectly fine without it even while it’s been the hottest trend. So I’ll be good without this brown, orange, and sage green trend. My prediction is it will pass quickly. Always love your posts Maria!

    3
  • D Miko says:

    When I think of cognac leather I think of a traditional Coach Bag or a saddle. Definitely a timeless color. I happen to adore oranges and rusts and spices and corals and use them often in accessories. Fun!

    1
  • Laura says:

    Hi Maria!
    I’ve followed you for while and love the information you provide! Many thanks💕
    On a different note, I found there were so many ads on this post! I completely understand this is how you make a living, but if it could be a bit less/more subtle, that would be great🤗

  • Violet says:

    Seems like every trend later needs to be fixed with the opposite: warmer, cooler, busy, stark, lighter, darker… Ugh! I hate trends. I just go with what looks good with the architecture or the style. Just go with what feels right, colors that look natural and classic, and be sure you love it 🙂

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