THE POWER OF BLACK: CAN YOU PULL IT OFF IN YOUR SPACE?

Bold, graphic, inky black.  A misunderstood color.  So misunderstood some say it is not a color, just void of light.  Maybe I have a penchant for embracing the misunderstood.  I've always been drawn to "eccentrics," the quiet kids in school.  They call these types "black sheep," right?  Black makes me sigh.  A room painted black is fresh and modern, yet classic all at once.  It feels like indulging in a slice of German chocolate cake with black coffee.  It's decadent.  Luxurious.  Fresh.

There's a lot of fear around using the color in design.  I painted our bedroom black at our previous home (sorry, I'd share images but I was terrible about documenting my designs before; I'm working on it!).  My husband's eyes looked like they might fall out of his head when he saw the room in its half-black-painted glory (yeah, it looks scary before the other design elements are added, and especially before the final coat is up.).  In another instance, one contractor asked my husband if I was "goth or something" seeing all of the black elements I had planned (I think he was joking...).  Just about every room benefits from at least a dose, even if just the drapery rods are black, for example.  It clarifies the other colors in the room.  Paint a furniture piece black and it suddenly gives it heft and prominence.  But what about black walls?

The risks of painting a space black are namely that the space will feel:

  1. Unwelcoming and cold.

  2. Like a dungeon or cave.

So how do we create a space with black walls and yet avoid these risks?  Here are some examples of beautiful spaces that expertly used black on the walls.  

source  Design by Mark D. Sikes.

source Design by Mark D. Sikes.

source  Design by Mark D. Sikes.

source Design by Mark D. Sikes.

source  Design by Mark D. Sikes.

source Design by Mark D. Sikes.

The talented Mark D. Sikes designed these black spaces (I'm sighing like that German chocolate cake's on the fork!).  There's nothing cave-like about these spaces, and they definitely don't feel cold and unwelcoming.

Source Neal Beckstedt's use of black is the perfect backdrop for both colorful and textural art and objects. Photographed by Eric Piasecki.

Source Neal Beckstedt's use of black is the perfect backdrop for both colorful and textural art and objects. Photographed by Eric Piasecki.

Source  Designer Betsy Brown's use of black is countered with loads of natural light and carefully selected furnishings, finishes and accessories.

Source Designer Betsy Brown's use of black is countered with loads of natural light and carefully selected furnishings, finishes and accessories.

Source  William McLure's striking art and beautiful antique furniture take center stage against black walls.

Source William McLure's striking art and beautiful antique furniture take center stage against black walls.

How is it that these spaces appear light, fresh, and STUNNING?  I think black does a couple of things.

  1. Black recedes, so walls painted black make a room actually feel larger.  Have you ever notice how often stores and restaurants paint their ceilings black?  The designers plan this detail because it pushes the ceiling up visually, creating a sense of height in the space. Like a night sky.

  2. Black is the perfect backdrop for art, antique furniture and an array of finishes and textures because it causes the object to be the highlight.  It takes a backseat visually because it recedes and brings the finish or texture forward, making the art, finish or texture the star of the show.

TIPS WHEN DESIGNING A BLACK ROOM

The first risk when designing a black room that I mentioned earlier was that it will feel unwelcoming and cold.  To counter the risk, bring in plenty of warmth.  Warm burnished antique brass.  Textural materials like linen, jute, rattan, wicker, wool and water hyacinth baskets.  Bring in wood and often pale wood furniture pieces. 

The second risk I mentioned was that the space might feel like a dungeon or cave.  To counter the risk, bring in light.  Rooms with windows work, but if there isn't a lot of natural light bring in reflective elements (did you notice the use of mirrors in Mark D. Sikes' bathroom above?).  Mirrors work beautifully, but even elements like chrome will add sparkle, causing the light to bounce around the room.  Bring in glass in any form (framed photography or art, glass lamps, etc.).  This works because glass has a reflective quality, too.  The other way to bring in light is to bring in white.  Or at least lighter colors in draperies and furniture.  Light toned oushak rugs or natural fiber rugs counter the black beautifully.  There needs to be opportunity to add these light and/or reflective elements to make a black room feel open and airy, so if your space doesn't have windows so that swaths of light fabric can be hung (or hung elsewhere like from a canopy bed) or if reflective elements are not something you can or want to bring in, the room will feel a little more cave-like (which isn't necessarily a bad thing, anyway, if that's what you're going for, like in a cozy den).

The design of a space doesn't end when the walls are painted.  Bring in other elements that warm and lighten the spaces.  Paint is only one component in a design scheme.  Yes, the type of light the room gets and the room's architecture should be taken into account when choosing paint, but the layers added after really matter, too.

How do you feel about black spaces?  Are you loving these spaces but still not comfortable pulling the trigger on a black-walled design?  I can help: you can get it touch with me here to discuss making your design dreams for your space come true.