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Why does taupe look purple?

Why does taupe look purple?

Taupe is a neutral color that can often appear to have purple undertones. There are a few reasons why taupe can look purple, even though it contains no actual purple pigment.

The undertones in taupe

Taupe is a mix of brown, gray, and sometimes green or red undertones. The combination of undertones is what gives taupe its complex neutral appearance. Here are the key undertones that contribute to taupe’s color:

  • Brown – A rich, earthy base that brings warmth
  • Gray – Adds coolness and muteness
  • Red/Pink – Contributes a rosy undertone
  • Green – Cuts through brown to mute it

The interplay of these undertones is what makes taupe such a chameleon color. Depending on the lighting and surrounding colors, the undertones in taupe react differently to the eye.

The effect of light on taupe

The way light hits taupe can bring out its subtle undertones. Here’s how different types of light affect taupe:

  • Natural daylight – Emphasizes cooler gray/green undertones
  • Incandescent bulb light – Warms up taupe and accentuates brown/pink undertones
  • Fluorescent lighting – Can drain warmth from taupe, making it look muted
  • Candlelight – Adds strong warmth, enhancing red/brown undertones

Softer, warmer light often makes taupe look more pink, reddish-brown, or mauve. Meanwhile, bright white light highlights the coolness in taupe. This chameleon-like nature is part of what makes decorating with taupe so interesting.

Surrounding colors influence taupe

The colors around taupe also affect how our eyes perceive it. Here are some color palettes that can make taupe appear more purple:

  • Plums and lavenders – These cooler purple tones bring out the subtle mauve in taupe
  • Periwinkle blue – Taupe looks more dove grey against this pale purple-blue
  • Regal colors like royal purple or navy – Taupe’s pinkness stands out against these rich hues
  • Vibrant citrus colors – The warmth in taupe is accentuated next to oranges and yellows

When decorating with taupe, be aware of surrounding colors. Warm paint colors will make taupe look more neutral, while cool paints bring out its hint of purple. Place taupe furniture against warm woods or beiges to appear more brown.

The effect of oxidization on taupe

Taupe can also change over time due to oxidization. Here’s how it happens:

  • Taupe paints and fabrics often contain trace amounts of purple or red pigments
  • Over time, these pigments can oxidize when exposed to light, moisture, or pollution
  • The oxidization process makes purplish/red undertones more pronounced
  • Therefore, the taupe color shifts slightly cooler and purple-gray

To minimize this effect, look for taupe colors with stable pigments. Also, test swatches over time to see how the color develops. Oxidization is accelerated in rooms with sunlight and humidity. In most cases, the color change is subtle, but useful to be aware of.

The purple paradox

When directly compared, taupe and purple seem strikingly different. Purple contains blue undertones, while taupe leans brown and gray. However, our eyes perceive colors differently depending on lighting and context. This color illusion explains why taupe can transform into a chameleon shade.

Here are some examples of how taupe can look more purple or gray depending on placement:

Placement Effect on Taupe
Against warm wood tones Appears brownish
Near teals and blues Seems to have a purple cast
In a bright, sunny room Looks more gray and muted

So while taupe has no actual purple pigment, its complex mix of undertones allows it to bridge the gap between brown, gray, and purple depending on context. This makes taupe an intriguing neutral to decorate with.

Choosing quality taupe paint and fabrics

To achieve the most genuine taupe color, opt for high-quality paints and fabrics. Here’s what to look for:

  • Paint – Choose higher-end paint brands with rich pigments. Avoid cheap paints, which look washed-out.
  • Fabric – Look for taupe fabrics with gray, brown, and red undertones. Inspect them in different lighting.
  • Carpet – Wool taupe carpets have depth and complexity. Synthetic blends appear flat.
  • Furniture – Real wood finishes bring out warmth in taupe upholstery.

Quality taupe has nuance and visual interest. The more undertones, the better, even if it subtly shifts between brown, gray, and purple. Cheap taupe can look flat and artificial.

Beige vs taupe – how to tell the difference

Beige is often confused with taupe, but they are distinct colors:

  • Beige – Made from yellow and brown undertones, with no gray. Warmer and brighter.
  • Taupe – Contains gray undertones that mute the brown. More somber and complex.

While taupe has purple tendencies, beige never does. Beige also looks more noticeably brown. Here are some examples of beige vs taupe:

Beige Taupe
Creamy pale brown Complex combination of gray, brown, red
Warm, bright Cool, muted
Goes with yellows and oranges Pairs well with blues and greens

While beige is a warm neutral, taupe has more edge. Taupe also blends with a wider range of colors. This makes it more versatile in home decor.

Using taupe in your home

When used thoughtfully, taupe can add stylish sophistication to a room. Here are some tips for decorating with taupe:

  • Use taupe as a neutral base and add pops of color. Blue and green accessories make taupe feel more modern.
  • Mix taupe with metallics like bronze, pewter, or silver to create depth.
  • Layer taupe with cream or white for a soothing, zen look.
  • Pair taupe walls with brown leather furniture for an elegant library effect.
  • Choose taupe carpet for an understated foundation in living rooms or bedrooms.

Remember to pick the right undertones. Reddish taupe looks best against cool colors, while gray taupe complements warm wood tones. Use large taupe pieces sparingly to avoid a monotonous look. With thoughtful pairings, taupe can provide the perfect neutral elegance.


While taupe contains no real purple, its blend of undertones allows it to take on purple-gray overtones in certain lighting and environments. The effect stems from subtle shifts between its brown, red, and gray pigments. This chameleon-like quality makes decorating with taupe an interesting challenge. Emphasize the desired undertones in taupe by choosing complementary colors and materials. With the right context, taupe can provide a canvas for elegant, memorable rooms.