How & Why You Should Be Decorating With Dark & Earthy Colours
How & Why You Should Be Decorating With Dark & Earthy Colours

How & Why You Should Be Decorating With Dark & Earthy Colours

From earthy greens to tea-stained neutrals, the paint colours of the moment might be best described as ‘sludgy’. To find out why they’re so popular and how to use them in your home, we asked two of the most knowledgeable colour experts in the paint industry – Cassandra Ellis and Edward Bulmer – to answer our questions.
By Georgina Blaskey


How Would You Describe These Kinds Of Colours?

“I like to think of them as ‘human’ colours. At Atelier Ellis, we intentionally use an umber base with a variety of natural pigments to make our colours, and it creates a much more nuanced and balanced end result. It also means you use a larger variety of pigments to create a ‘dirtier’ hue, which in turn makes them more special.” – Cassandra Ellis, founder of Atelier Ellis 

“The Americans call earth ‘dirt’, and sludge is ultimately wet earth, and from the earth we harvest key pigments that underpin the tones that we tend to associate as sludgy, earthy and dirty – these being red, yellow ochre and black.” – Edward Bulmer, founder of Edward Bulmer Natural Paint 

Why Are They So Popular?

“They’re easier to live with, both visually and emotionally. They look and feel like nature – real living resources rather than manufactured palettes. Colours are often tied to whatever is happening in the world, and when the world is in chaos, we feel a need to balance our own lives with simplicity. It doesn’t have to be white – it just needs to feel real and human.” – Cassandra 

“One reason may be that they can work especially well in smaller, darker rooms. But whatever the size of room or period of the property, every good colour needs a dash of these pigments. Through the ages, people have come to understand this and we’ve actually used these sorts of colours for a very long time – not least because the pigments are cheap and readily available.” – Edward 



Are They More Accessible For People Who Are Nervous About Using Colour?

“They may feel more approachable – and familiar. That’s why you can look at our palette and immediately feel comfortable. Frankly, I can’t imagine choosing colours any other way.” – Cassandra

“Colours such as these are both underpinning and grounding; they reassure you but are also capable of creating modern interiors with more intrigue and drama. The fact that all our paints are made from earth and mineral pigments, as well as plant-based binders, gives the wall colours a superior level of refraction, so the ‘dirty’ colours come alive instead of looking flat or lacklustre.” – Edward

How Would You Advise Using These Colours?

“Try not to brighten spaces devoid of natural light with lighter colours, as they will just end up looking grey and dull. Instead, these warmer, earthier colours will create proper ambience, ooze sophistication, and they’re even capable of dressing a room with some kind of artificial light.”– Edward


According to Cassandra:

Cotta & Cedric

Cotta is this incredibly quiet, dirty but beautifully balanced neutral pink. And Cedric is just a magical shade. I’ve just used them both in a bathroom with Cotta on the walls and ceilings, and Cedric on an enormous cast-iron radiator. Unexpected but joyous.

Tea & Toast & Amrita’s Green

Tea & Toast is a hug – it would be perfect in a kitchen with Amrita’s Green on the kitchen cabinetry. It has a wide variety of earth pigments in it, so it works perfectly in a room where you prepare and enjoy food.

Cass & Aged Black

A classic pairing, Cass is a fantastically elegant neutral to use anywhere you like, and Aged Black is our favourite dark neutral. In our old apartment, we painted our living room in Cass, with Aged Black on the windows. 

Sabi Grey & Kanreki

The Sabi Grey family is our most complex and dirty set of neutrals. Pairing it with Kanreki in a living space would result in an incredibly elegant colour palette.” – Cassandra

According to Edward:

Drab Green & Aquatic

Drab Green is a dirty brown/green shade but it's actually far from drab! It pairs beautifully with Aquatic – a combination that's guaranteed to bring sophistication to your space.

Mummy & Cerullian Blue

Mummy is a unique khaki brown with some serious weight to it. It carries blue/green tones within it that sit naturally alongside some of our earthier blues like Cerullian Blue. Great for adding a bit of drama.

Flaxen Grey & Etruscan Brown

A grey like Flaxen Grey pairs perfectly with other pigment rich shades like Etruscan Brown. This grey and red-brown combination evokes hues of nature in the greys of stone and reds of clay.

Lute & Clay

On the more neutral end, we love Lute – a wonderful and robust colour with a dollop of yellow and a pinch of red. This can be anchored by the earthy tones of Clay, resulting in a pairing that's incredibly versatile, and sophisticated enough for contemporary living or historic homes.

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