The Colour Brown

Brown is a tertiary colour, composed mostly of darkened yellow, sometimes red hues, mixed with some green. Many colours – once combined – result in a brown tone. That´s why the colour brown covers a good part of the visible spectrum.

Dried Coffee Cherries
Dried Coffee Cherries | photo: (cc-by-sa) Frank Fox


Brown is down-home, persistent and solid, but also warm and cuddly. We often associate brown with tasty, aromatic coffee or sweet chocolate.

Recycled Paper Bag from Vietnam Coffee Republic
Recycled Paper Bag – Vintage Style | photo: (cc-by-sa) Frank Fox

But there are also negative associations, like stupidity, a slow mind, dirt or humiliation. Often it just depends on the exact hue, since brown nuances cover a very wide spectrum and each tone can awaken different feelings.

Roasting Coffee Beans From Khe Sanh
Roasting Coffee Beans From Khe Sanh | photo: (cc-by-sa) Frank Fox

Brown as colour for designs

Brown is in a quite bad position in the list of favourite colours. I remember when I was in kindergarten, I picked brown as my favourite colour because I did not have to “share” it with others.

Cows in Danang
Cows in Danang | photo: (cc-by-sa) Frank Fox

Yet, if you manage to pick the right nuance and combination, you can express all the positive aspects. Aromatic, spicy, cuddly, fertility – woody (no dreadful tin sort of things).

Brown also can be used to turn sterile, cold white into a pleasing creamy white hue.

Pine Forest Langbiang
Pine Forest Langbiang | photo: (cc-by-sa) Frank Fox

  • The colour brown is steadfast, aromatic, spicy and sweet
  • It refers to dirt and the fertile soil
  • Coffee, chocolate, crispy bread
  • Wood and woody colours make the home a warm and cosy place
  • Often brown refers to poverty, because dyes were quite expensive in medieval times. Cowls of the Franciscan monks for example.
  • Brown is ranking quite low on the list of favourite colours
  • Yet brown covers pretty much of the spectrum, for most warm colours turn brown when darkened or mixed
  • Brown is the classic camouflage colour in the animal kingdom