Deciphering Undertones part 2: Tan, Taupe or Beige?

by Quinn Larson

Another challenging color family to decipher undertones from is the brown family.  Midtone browns are exceptionally popular as they are thought to be “neutral colors” and therefore go with everything.

For the most part they do, however, these shades do have undertones that exert a color presence.  If you aren’t aware of this, it can sometimes result in confusion or disappointment.   Many do not understand why, once on the wall, their “tan” actually looks more like “beige.” Or, why what they thought was a “taupe” looks more like “mauve.”  In this post as in the “Deciphering undertones: What’s My White” I’ll break down the different neutral browns via their undertones.      

Undertone Recap

Remember undertones are the result of mixing two colors together.  The dominant color after mixing will be the overtone, or the perceived “color” and the recessive color will be the influencer or “undertone.”   These designations will always remain the same regardless of the color family or category you are working with.

Browns with red undertones produce colors in the hot or milk “chocolate” range, and feel warm and cozy.

Browns with orange undertones are the colors we associate with the term “beige” and are used in both interiors and exteriors.

Browns with yellow undertones constitute the “tan” shades.  Warm and beach-y they are by far the most popular choice among neutrals.

Browns with green undertones are generally regarded as variations of the “olive”, or “khaki” families- though with a much softer green color presence.

Browns with blue undertones- because these colors appose each other on the color wheel, when mixed the resulting brown color tends to have a gray cast.  We know these colors as “taupes.”

Browns with purple undertones are recognized mostly as “mauves,” though some are classified as plums.

Browns with black undertones give the mixed color a gray cast and, like those with a blue undertone, fall under the title of “taupes.”

Remember when coordinating these brown tones, the accompanying colors that best match will share the same undertone, or color family as the undertone.  Recognizing the undertone of your brown will help guide you to the right color families, to coordinate a perfect color combination.

Colorfully yours,



2 responses to “Deciphering Undertones part 2: Tan, Taupe or Beige?”

  1. Kathy Carroll says:

    I used Classic Taupe in my kitchen/dining room when I remodeled it about 6 years ago. Gobi Desert and Raffia Cream have been my paints of choice for my living room since I moved in. Love the warmth and subtlety.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Instagram @BEHRPAINT