Sweet on sage? Rage for beige? Besotted by terracotta? Lately, neutrals are getting a nudge from designers, and it’s easy to see why. Soothing and subdued, the pacifying powers of earth tones can’t be denied — even if they don’t always get the best of raps. (Sad beige, anyone?) If you’re inspired by nature’s palette but aren’t quite sure neutral territory is for you yet, read on. We’ve rounded up a stunning collection of rooms full of earthly delights. 

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Earth Tone living room with wood room divider folding screen
Design by Sean Anderson Design / Photo by Rett Peek

Material to Work: Sisal 

In an earth-tone room, laying down a sisal rug is the floor-level equivalent of painting your walls taupe. With its uniform, golden-wheat tone, a sisal rug is a great neutralizer, perfect for playing opposite a wide range of earth tones. Sisal rugs also bring texture to the table. Traditionally crafted from agave plant fibers, sisal rugs have a woven appearance, similar to wicker or rope. Unlike wool or silk rugs which can feel a bit fussy, sisal rugs evoke a laidback air that suits the earth-tone ethos effortlessly. Sisal isn’t your only option if you’re shopping for a natural fiber rug, of course. Jute (crafted from the same material as burlap), seagrass, and hemp are all options. They vary in terms of shedding, durability, and absorbency, though, so it’s worth taking a little time to research to figure out the best fit for you. 

Earth Tone primary bedroom with white fabric sculptural pendant
Design by Still Johnson Interiors / Photo by C.W. Newell

Material to Work: Linen 

Made from flax plants, linen has a light, airy appearance that echoes earthly elements like clouds. It can also take on a rippled appearance (you might hear naysayers referring to linen as “easy to wrinkle”), which recalls water. If all that wasn’t enough to prove its earth-tone compatibility, linen tends to be produced almost exclusively in earthy tones. Be it salt, slate, or rust, linen’s subtle weft is best put on display by au natural hues. With all of this in mind, don’t hesitate to go heavy with linen in a neutral room. Using linen in surplus can whip up dreamy results, especially if you stick to a single, monochromatic hue. Go with all-white to evoke the transcendence of living in a cloud, or opt for a foggy gray to summon the feeling of floating in a coastal mist. 

Earth Tone bedroom with white platform bed and cut wood headbaord
Photo courtesy of Sarah West & Associates LLC

Material to Work: Wood  

As one of the most abundant naturally-occurring elements, it’s no surprise that wood is a complement to earth tones. Avoiding overly processed wood is key, however. Ultra-polished wood that bears little resemblance to wood in its natural state won’t jive with earth tones so much as untreated, rustic wood will. Think, mahogany Federal china cabinets: out. Knotty pine trestle tables: in. One exception to the processed wood rule? Burl wood. Although burl wood has a glamorous, almost laminated look, its organic pattern lends it to earthy designs more than you might think. Keep an eye out for undulating or amoebic forms (like free-form burl wood coffee tables), but don’t rule out a burl wood Biedermeier secretary desk, either. Matched with a sisal rug and linen slipcovered sofa, one can read surprisingly earthy. 

Earth Tone Grand scaled family room with leather wingback chair, sectional sofa, and natural jute rug
Design by Sarah Walker Design Studio / Photo by Sam Frost

Material to Work: Leather

Think leather is too luxe to liaison with earth tones? Not so. Banish visions of imposing black leather chairs and Italian Postmodernist sofas. The leather you’re after here is burnished leather Chesterfields or rustic leather wingback chairs. Brown leather is a befitting partner for earth-tone spaces, but gray, white, or black can work, too. Keep an eye out for leather furniture with organic modern shapes, as well. Danish Modern chairs such as the Egg chair or Papa Bear chair look emphatically earthy when cloaked in artfully-worn leather.

Photo by Brad R. Knipstein

Material to Work: Stone    

Ah, stone. Nature’s eye candy. Be it marble, travertine, slate, or river rock, stone makes a visually stunning statement. Depending on what stone you select, it can also act as a counteractant to earth tones’ usual subtlety. In general, you’ll want to avoid some of the more antiquated stone pieces, such as consoles that partner marble tops with gold gilt-encrusted corbels. Instead, stick to more modern pieces such as stone Mid-Century Modern pedestal tables, Italian Modern plinth coffee tables, and Postmodern block side tables will all integrate seamlessly.  

Photo by Brad R. Knipstein

Color to Work: Gold

Being a metallic, gold doesn’t often make the short list of earth tones. Yet gold is a naturally-occurring element, and as a color, it’s a brilliant accent to neutral spaces. While you don’t want to add a surplus of gold to an earth-tone space, a dash of brass can create compelling depth in a room full of warm woods. Gold decor also plays beautifully off rough-hewn metals. Consider partnering a smooth brass element with a molten-looking metal Brutalist piece to conjure the sort of Yin and Yang so often found in nature.

Earth tone California den with lots of burl wood
Design by Haus of Meeshie / Photo by Aaron Snyder

Color to Work: Black

From the night sky to volcanic rock, shades of black are common in the natural world. That said, black isn’t often thought of as an earth tone. While a predominantly black room probably won’t read as earthy, black is a great accent to work in with shades like beige and ecru. Try using it to add dimension to beiges and taupes, or contrast it with star-like elements (think: atomic chandeliers), for a playful take on the celestial skies above.

Earth Tone Lake Tahoe den with rivrstone fireplace and light blue Postmodern 1980s sectional
Design by Jen Samson Design / Photo by Mellon Studio. 

Color to Work: Blue

Overlooked as it is, by definition, blue is an earth tone too. Given that it’s the color of the sky and water, blue partners organically with virtually any earth tone, from beige to gray. If you’re worried about a blue textile or furniture piece looking too out of place, try coupling it with a naturally-occurring blue element such as slate or river rock.

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Lead photo design by Jen Samson Design / Photo by Mellon Studio. 


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July 29, 2023

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