While we don’t generally go in for decorative trends at House & Garden, every so often something creeps in to the zeitgeist and its our duty, dear reader, to fill you in. We knew we’d struck on something when we came across the lacquer paint in a room of Sibyl Colefax & John Fowler’s Pimlico road showroom (a deep, glossy shade, almost khaki in certain lights) which symbiotically timed with the image chosen for the cover of our May issue – a rich tobacco dining room in the home of architectural designer Charles Rutherfoord. Away from the mainstream, brown is being used by all the best decorators. But did it ever really go away?
Ochres were one of the first compounds on the earth used by mankind for decoration – drawings found on the walls of prehistoric caves were in rich earthy pigments. Leonardo da Vinci was fond of using warm-toned sepia in his sketches, while the artists that came to promenance in the first flush of the Renaissance, like Caravaggio and Rembrandt, created work steeped in shadows created from a hundred hues of brown.
‘The Victorians loved dark rich colours – the gothic revival was mainly to blame, but it was also practical in a time of industry and coal smoke,’ says House & Garden’s former online features editor Bonnie Robinson. ‘Browns lightened to taupes in the Twenties and Thirties, lingering during WWII, before being rashly swept away in the Fifties when brights and whites signalled a new optimism in post-war interiors. People swayed away from utilitarian and military shades. There were glimmers of brown in the Seventies, thanks to a Victoriana revival, but also in a groovy way (David Hicks vs. Hermès), but then pastels and brights came back in the Eighties, minimalism grabbed hold in the Ninties and the trend for all-white has lingered until now.’
Suddenly though brown feels right again. A fabulous base for other colours that are weaving their way back to prominence – pale pink, yellow, orange – rooms in it look warm and sophisticated. Here’s how to use it.
In the dining room on the ground floor of Charles Rutherford’s London home, the walls are painted in Vicalvi’s rich ‘Havane’ in a matt finish. It costs £65.80 for 2.5 litres of matt emulsion.
The central staircase in a house designed by Maddux Creative was designed in conjunction with Make Architects. The light brown paint on the walls complements the brown finishes on the staircase and hand rail.
Brown lacquer walls specially mixed by Sibyl Colefax & John Fowler for the meeting room in their new Pimlico Road showroom.
A Marianna Kennedy ‘Spring’ lamp in yellow is the perfect foil to rich, dark brown walls in the corridor of Ben Pentreath’s Dorset parsonage.
Interior-design duo Keech Green reworked and redecorated this London flat for their young clients, with the results paying homage to the house’s Arts and Crafts heritage. This chic room is decked out in a Seventies symphony of Hermès orange upholstery and chocolate brown Abbott & Boyd grass-paper wallcovering.
Curiousa and Curiousa pendants hang above the Alvar Aalto table in the dinng room of this Georgian farmhouse in the Chilterns renovated by Maria Speake of Retrouvius.
The drawing room in this Shropshire Victorian country house has a pair of bespoke sofas from Amy Somerville and a hammered brass Sixties coffee table from Odette Welvaars in Amsterdam in between them. The Beatles portraits in the adjacent sitting room are framed by the doorway. The light brown wall covering sets the tone for the brown furnishings and wooden flooring.
Black and white photocopies of botanical prints decorate a dark wood panelled wall in the dining room of Wardington Manor.
Interior designer Charlotte Crosland has used Farrow & Ball’s easy cafe o lait colour ‘Setting Plaster’ on the walls of this central London flat, a warm ground for the The George Smith sofa and the red notes in a Persian painting from Robert Kime.
A mirror-lined hallway with brown painted walls in a client’s flat in Knightsbridge designed by Ashley Hicks.
Ashley Hicks’ own abstract wall painting in his London sitting room.