What is the Espresso Color Used in Furniture?

Updated on September 24, 2014

I remember a few years back when I was consulting with a client that wanted something that was bold and low-maintenance. She didn't like cherry wood and lighter color palettes just wouldn't fly with the theme we were going with. I suggested going with espresso furniture. Her response; "What's espresso?" This prompted me to clear the airways.

Espresso Kitchen cabinets with white quartz tops and stainless steel appliances. A very popular combination.
Espresso Kitchen cabinets with white quartz tops and stainless steel appliances. A very popular combination. | Source

What Color is Espresso?

Espresso is a color that stands between black and brown. It's really a dark brown that is usually mistaken to be a true black. Many times furniture will be listed as "black" when it is in reality espresso. But you don't have to fret, the difference is so difficult to notice that you can use espresso in place of black furnishings. To be quite honest, it's difficult finding jet black finishes. More often than not, companies advertise espresso finishes as black when they're really not. I'll talk more about true black in a little bit.

The Sheffield Linen Tower looks black to the unsuspecting eye but when you get up close, you'll realize that it's actually espresso.
The Sheffield Linen Tower looks black to the unsuspecting eye but when you get up close, you'll realize that it's actually espresso. | Source

The Role of Lighting

Espresso is a very dark brown that appears to be black. It has chocolate tones and in some cases, espresso can have hints of reddish hues in good direct lighting. It gets its name from the coffee. It really does look similar to a cup of dark coffee with light creamer.

Lighting will directly affect the way that espresso furniture looks. In areas like the bathroom, it will look more black than anything. If you place an espresso cabinet in the living room where it will be directly exposed to streaming sunrays, you'll more likely have a chance of seeing the reddish tints and the brown tones manifest themselves.

Espresso bedroom furniture often looks like black but it's really a dark brown finish.
Espresso bedroom furniture often looks like black but it's really a dark brown finish. | Source

Espresso, Black, & Ebony

It's important to consider how you will use the furniture but at the same time, espresso can identical to black furniture. If you're searching for a deep black, you'll need to find something with a ebony finish or a "straight black" finish. These are indicative of true black finishes.

Staining to Get the Right Finish

Some people like to stain their cabinets themselves to get just the right tone. You can often find unfinished cabinets that are ready to be painted or stained. This way you don't have to strip and sand them down before you update the finish. This method is obviously more time intensive and will require more elbow grease but it can be a fun activity for those who enjoy hands on and DIY home improvement projects.

Before and after shots from Kate from Censational Girl.
Before and after shots from Kate from Censational Girl. | Source
Kate updated her old vanity with a rich espresso finish and added chrome hardware.  Notice the counter top is still the same yet it looks like a completely new vanity.
Kate updated her old vanity with a rich espresso finish and added chrome hardware. Notice the counter top is still the same yet it looks like a completely new vanity. | Source

Decorating with Espresso to Make a Lasting Impression

Espresso is a very popular finish in 2014 and you should continue seeing it in 2015. It's very modern, chic, and bold. The classic blend is an espresso kitchen cabinet with white quartz tops and stainless steel appliances. You're pulling in the simplicity of minimalism with the common black-white decorating scheme. The stainless steel incorporates a bit of industrialism, making a statement of power and functional use. Finally, the white countertop keeps everything clean, innocent, and elegant.

A few color palettes that contrast espresso well are green-grays, blue-grays, light olive, and mint-green. Espresso is a very dominant color so you want something that contrasts and is almost borderline to becoming an accent color.

The Finishing Touches: Hardware

I can't leave out the finishing touch; hardware. Hardware is like the icing on the cake, it's the lacing on a beautiful dress, the haute frame to your lenses. Brushed nickel stands out and will complement stainless steel hardware. Another option if you want to tone it down a bit is a bronze finish. You can find oil-rubbed bronze finishes which is basically a polished finish that has a bit more gleam to it.

Espresso is a very versatile color that can be used in many ways. If you're afraid that it won't be black, you shouldn't worry. Unless it will be directly exposed to sunlight, it will work out just fine.

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