When it comes to selecting the perfect palette for your space, opposites really do attract. But while black and white is the go-to power pairing, discerning design enthusiasts might be eager to stray away from the norm. (One false move and that black and white combo can appear sterile.) In its place, might we recommend trying navy blue and tan?
As iterations of blue and orange, respectively, navy and tan are complementary colors: Deep navy deftly undercuts lightweight tan, offering the best of both worlds. (Light and dark? Warm and cool? An innovative alternative to the overplayed black and white combination? Check, check, and check.)
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"Blue and tan are two colors that we use most often in our design projects," explain Janelle Hughes and Kim Williams of KJ Design and Mortar Styling, LLC. "They both serve as a great way to neutralize any space, and they pair so well with a broad range of colors."
Since navy and tan excel in versatility, both on their own and paired together, an accent color is a surefire way to add a dash of personality. The good news is there are plenty of ways to add a pigment pop, be it in the form of painted trim, a plush headboard, or room decor. All you need to do is select the right shade. While there are many factors to consider before selecting a tertiary hue — lighting, layout, and existing furniture to name a few — it all depends on the overall look and feel of your space. While lighter blues might give your home a coastal flair, layered neutrals will offer a pared-back approach.
To help you get started, a handful of interior design experts are sharing their favorite navy and tan color palettes. From preppy spaces to modern masterpieces, there's a pigmented trifecta below for everyone.
Offset navy's moody vibe with a light, breezy neutral. Richard T. Anuszkiewicz, a Nashville-based interior designer and member of Cosentino's Design Alliance Program, says cream's warm tones will act as an extension of your tan notes. "Playing with monochromatic design by layering different shades and textures can allow you to explore color without overwhelming your space," he shares. "For example, a [culinary space] could be designed with navy or tan [kitchen cabinets] and a cream countertop." In this sleek kitchen, Zoe Feldman offset the navy cabinetry and tan woven detailing with a fresh coat of cream-colored wall paint.
If you're looking for a neutral with undertones that are neither too cool nor too warm, you can't go wrong with white. "The contrast between the three colors is balanced yet sparks energy," designer Amy Youngblood explains. "Navy, which has such deep hues, needs the juxtaposition of white to come to life! When you add the calming neutral characteristics of tan to the mix, it balances the two stark colors and creates a harmonious trio."
Why choose navy and tan or black and white when you can incorporate all four shades at once? Mary Patton firmly believes that these color pairings shine when under the same roof. "White will brighten the space and black gives the room dimension," says the Houston designer, who added high-contrast black and white curtains to this predominately navy living room.
Make navy the star of your palette by incorporating some varying shades of blue. Design West's Morgan Bratcher is a big fan of adding a hue that's downright regal. "When pairing navy and tan together, we like to layer in royal blue [in order] to break up the contrast in color," she shares. "Whether that be [through] pillows, an extra armchair, or accessories, it completes the room. Combining these colors creates a monochromatic look that ties the whole room together."
Flip the switch on your blue color scheme by making navy the supporting character. Joy Yascone of Frankfort Avenue Coachhouse says paint colors like Benjamin Moore's Templeton Grey and Farrow & Ball's Oval Room Blue create a softer ambiance and balance out dark blue to perfection. "Navy creates a grounding experience while the lighter hue creates an airy sand and coastal feel," she explains. For an unexpected way to make a statement, consider painting your ceiling a light gray-blue — just as Three Birds Renovation did here. One navy pillow and a couple of dark-colored blankets are enough to ground the room.
For a color scheme that's equal parts eclectic and preppy, look toward the warmer, brighter end of the shade spectrum. "Coral is a great pop of color to complement a navy and tan palette," shares Amy Forshew of Proximity Interior Design, the firm behind this modern traditional space. "Incorporating small accents of coral in the ottoman, pillows, and art provides a contrast without being too dramatic in this living room design."
Of course, coral isn't the only warm tone that goes well with this power pairing. "Shades of orange — whether bright or burnt — give so much energy and vibrancy to an otherwise navy and tan room," says Isabel Ladd, an interior designer based in Lexington, Kentucky. "It's a jolt of color that turns it up a notch and keeps a navy and tan combo from feeling stagnant." For this living room, she balanced patterned navy blue carpet and armchairs with fun pops of orange through a sofa, ottoman, throw pillow, and vase.
For a cool color that won't outshine navy, give teal a try. "Navy and tan are such an effortless combination to pair with," says Mindy O'Connor, principal of Melinda Kelson O'Connor Architecture & Interiors. "I like to use a range of blues from light to dark, often with a more green [or] teal hue, to pair with the navy and create a moody and subdued feel." For this formal living room, she chose a plush teal rug and assortment of throw pillows to break up the navy and tan tones.
Give your navy and tan room Mother Nature's seal of approval by incorporating her favorite color. "Depending on the shade of navy, I love to pair it with a mossy green so that the navy still remains the dominant color," says Grey Joyner, a North Carolina-based interior designer. From mossy greens that are reminiscent of your favorite landscape to a smile-inducing lime — as seen in this lively bedroom from D2 Interieurs — it turns out that it's very easy to be green.
Speaking of earthy tones, brown also pairs nicely with navy and tan. Don't believe us? Just ask designer Christine Vroom. "If you're trying to keep your palette neutral, muted brown looks really gorgeous with navy," she shares. "These tones keep the space looking subtle and tranquil, but the use of navy weighs the space." The best part is that there are plenty of brown tones to choose from. While Vroom prefers dusty shades, designer Kate Marker opted for chocolate brown stools in this navy and tan kitchen.
Calling all maximalists: Mustard yellow is a great way to make a statement. According to Nicole Clapman, principal interior designer at Studio Schicketanz, the bright pigment offers "a stark contrast and accent to navy and tan." For a low-effort way to embrace this palette, double down on accessories. In this kids' bedroom, Three Birds Renovation perfected the look with mustard bedding.
Anyone who is craving a room that's sleek and modern will find a lot to love about gray. "Navy and tan are in essence both neutrals," explains designer George Zikas. She suggests layering light neutrals like gray and white to soften the overall palette of a room. As this space from Kate Marker Interiors proves, a little bit of gray — shown here in the form of grout and a warm greige countertop — can go a long way.
Purples of various shades are poised to give your navy and tan palette a mystical twist. A deep violet is reminiscent of Pantone's color of the year, while pastel lavenders will provide a light, ethereal feeling. Designer Jennifer Walter, owner and principal of Folding Chair Design, prefers shades with pink and red undertones. "Magenta is such a great complement to navy," she shares. "It works without it feeling coastal or traditional as navy is typically seen. It situates this standby color in a new way in a room when paired with magenta, because they two feel deeper and more elegant together."
As far as we're concerned, you can never go wrong by pairing two primary colors together. The key, however, is to make sure they're of equal brightness. For a muted take on the classic trio, add maroon to your navy and tan palette. When paired together, these darker, muted shades will look undeniably polished, not over-the-top patriotic. Take a cue from Amy Sklar, who added four dark red chairs to a navy, tan, and white kitchen.
Just like black and white, navy and tan are a high-contrast combination that look good with just about everything. That's exactly why it can be so tricky to find the perfect color to round out this ultra-versatile palette. (With so many great options to choose from, how can one possibly make a decision?)
Factors you'll want to consider include existing furniture, the amount of natural light your room receives, and the overall look you're hoping to achieve. Since navy and tans are neutrals in their own right — making them suitable for modern, traditional, and bohemian spaces alike — that third color your incorporate will help you get the vibe just right. As a general rule of thumb, cooler accents will create a sleek, modern atmosphere, while warmer tones will keep your space feeling cozy.
To help ease your search, here are a few shades that look incredible with navy blue and tan:
- Royal blue
- Mustard yellow