There was a time not that long ago when designers were tearing out anything terracotta-colored, whether it was tile, painted walls or upholstered furniture. A darling hue of the ’80s, the brownish orange — evocative of terracotta earthenware — was considered dowdy and done.
But like so many examples of decor’s fickle temperament, terracotta’s come roaring back for another turn in the spotlight.
And this isn’t the muddy, old-fashioned color you might be remembering.
New takes on the hue bring in light to deep pinks, or the ocher tones of a sunset. Pair those with today’s trending palette of graphite, blues and creams, and you’ve got something fresh yet friendly.
Benjamin Moore’s color specialist Nivara Xaykao says the popularity of pink over the past few years has paved the way for stronger iterations of the palette. But there’s also something more happening, she says.
“Because terracotta is literally drawn from the earth, it evokes that connection with nature and craft and working with the hands. It’s a warm, rich color, so it has energy to it,” she says.
Taking the edge off that intensity are terracotta’s brown tones, making it comforting, something welcome in today’s stressful world.
If you’re thinking of paint, look at Benjamin Moore’s Warmed Cognac, Audubon Russet or Saddle Soap. From Behr, there’s Glazed Pot and Balcony Sunset. From Farrow & Ball, try Red Earth or Terre d’Egypt.
At the design site Modsy, Vice President of Style Alessandra Wood loves the new earthy neutrals.
“They’re warmer and more inviting than some of the cooler color trends of the past few years,” she says.
To avoid that ’80s/early ’90s, overly Southwest feel, she advises: “Opt for sculptural pieces, chic textures like velvet and minimal styling.”
On the furniture front, many pieces now are trim, tailored. Upholstered seating, matte-finished metal side tables, nubby textured fabrics; this is furniture with a modern vibe, so the color looks sophisticated. As for accessories and other elements, look for ceramics, glassware and hints of the hue in textile prints or wallcoverings.
Wood mentions the curvy Rory side chair from Harper, available at Chairish. Its mahogany frame is covered in a soft rust velvet. “It makes it feel super contemporary,” she says. “And if you really want to lean into the earthy trend, the Terracotta Sperduti print bed from The Inside is an amazingly beautiful print that blends warm earthy tones with a terrazzo vibe.”
Hem’s Kumo modular sofa system from Norwegian design team Anderssen & Voll is offered in a fiery, rust-hued wool they call Canyon.
Joss & Main’s Charlie sofa comes in a sumptuous rust velvet, and there are some lovely patterned rugs here too.
Target has several well-priced side chairs in versions of terracotta, from Ashley, Handy Living and Christopher Knight Home. Also here, Saffron’s slipper accent chair, in a simple burnt orange/cream lattice pattern that would fit into many décor styles.
Big Chill, maker of popular retro-style appliances, offers a slim fridge in an earthy hue called “red beige.” Kate Marker, a designer in Barrington, Illinois, put one in the kitchen of a rehab project; the fridge’s toffee-like pop of color is a great foil for a mix of homey vintage furnishings, salvaged wood pieces and creamy white surfaces.
For smaller accessories, West Elm’s terracotta floor vases bring in the handcrafted vibe. A hand-painted pattern of graphite, cream and terracotta makes the Sway Low bowls as much art pieces as serveware. Material Kitchen has a sandy-hued cutting board made of recycled plastic and renewable sugar cane.
Blueprint Lighting’s Ludo wall sconce features a wine-glass-inspired aluminum fixture enameled in a rich, deep hue, clasped in an articulating brass arm — perfect for bedside, or to illuminate a cozy nook.
Xaykao says the key to using terracotta successfully is restraint.
“It’s great on an accent wall to show off artwork, textiles, open shelving or a beautiful headboard in the master bedroom. It can also be used to evoke materials like wood or leather, so I’d take a cue from the fixtures around you,” she says. “For example, terracotta could look lovely in a kitchen with gold hardware. A little bit of the color can go a long way, so it’s all about balance. I wouldn’t do a whole room in the color, especially if it’s a large room — the color needs space to breathe, so mix in some whites, neutrals and paler colors.”