Designing With Brown

By Jane Dagmi

There's a skill to decorating with brown, and these interior designers have it. Whether it's in the kitchen, dining room or bedroom, in their trained hands brown feels rich but not heavy, fresh but not trendy, warm yet not overbearing. It goes with the flow and feels natural and familiar. Here’s how they spin their brown magic throughout the house.



Angela Harris, founder and creative director at the Denver-based interior design and visual merchandising firm TRIO Environments, works frequently with home builders and designs a ton of model homes in Colorado. While the state’s crunchy reputation might predict an abundance of rustic-flavored earth tones, Angela doesn’t do predictable. Depending on the project, she elevates the hue with fresh precision, crafting interiors that are relevant and upscale. “The shade of brown used in the kitchen above provides a sense of foundation, a visual anchor for the space. A good balance of light and dark is always critical to a successful design outcome; this creates the Yin/Yang that we were seeking. From coast to coast, Harris' clients want more clean and dramatic design schemes.


Of the smoked brown finish she used in this kitchen for CalAtlantic Homes, Harris says, "This shade of brown provides a moodiness and playfulness that cannot be found in a more traditional or saturated brown. Leaning more towards a Colorado contemporary style, pairing this tinged brown cabinetry with lighter flooring, white countertops and a simple mirror detail helps make a monochromatic space more interesting.”



Caryn Cramer is an accomplished interior and textile designer with a talent for designing extraordinary spaces with all-out color. She is based in Washington D.C. where one might expect the regional taste skews toward traditional; Cramer excels at pushing the envelope. In this rather formal tailored kitchen defined by antiqued cabinetry and slender brass hardware, she introduces a sense of happy into the space by choosing a shade of green accent inspired by old Provencal fabrics and using it liberally enough for positive impact but not to detract from the kitchen’s elegant vibe.


Cramer treated the cabinets to an antique finish, a sort of wash that goes over normal stain. “I love how the wash allows the cabinets to appear older; it gathers and pools slightly differently in the crevices and adds character. As for the green, I will admit, when the woodworker first brought the kitchen island I thought, ‘Uh oh ... too much?’ But then the stone guys placed the marble on top and it was just perfect.”




“The vision was to make it feel like a Southern smoking room, elegant with ease,” says interior designer Morgan Martin of a dining room dominated by a massive modern walnut table. Traditional by material but contemporary in design, Martin offset the table’s wooden mass by surrounding it with light painted paneling and linen curtains, and pairing it with a colorful, relaxed vintage rug, mid-century Eames chairs, and a custom antler chandelier.


The random orange chair connotes playfulness which is important to Martin and her family. “Having an odd man at the table is one of my favorite parts of the dining room,” she says.

“Paul built the table in a friend's wood workshop. Walnut is timeless and elegant and having a table made from it made sense. We based the simple design -- a streamlined farm table -- on the size and shape of the room, as we wanted it to be noticed but not to distract from the other elements.”




"I think antiques and brown furniture are having a resurgence. Using brown furniture adds a storied, historical touch to the room," says Steve McKenzie, product designer, artist, retailer, and principal creative at McKenzie Design, whose interiors feel layered and personal. Whether he's working with brown paint, textiles, and/or furnishings, he makes sure to provide enough contrast so the space feels visually balanced. Whether that means allowing plenty of air or white space, or inserting a pure jolt of color, McKenzie's rooms delight the eye. (Photos: Anthony-Masterson Photography)


To find out more about these designers:


Caryn Cramer  

Edward Shae

McKenzie Design


Jane Dagmi