As residents of the northern hemisphere, we’ve been conditioned to welcome as much sunlight as possible into our homes, and that includes the use of pale colours to illuminate a room.
So it’s hard to put that to one side and consider a dark colour scheme, let alone the darkest one of all: bold, moody, opulent black. There’s a definite predilection for black emerging in design – in architecture, charred or stained timber cladding is the preferred choice for many contemporary new builds, and more architects are specifying black window frames.
Interiors are echoing this, with glazed Crittall dividing walls, rooms crisply outlined in black paint used on the skirtings and architraves, and even whole rooms. “People are not intimidated to wear black in daily life, but seem to be scared to use it in interiors,” says Niloufar Bakhtiar-Bakhtiari of NBB Design. “Dark colours are soothing, cosy and simultaneously elegant, and these are wonderful qualities in a room.”
Bakhtiar-Bakhtiari owns a glamorous all-black bathroom, which features metallic scrolls looping along the walls, a mirrored wall and lots of open shelving, with backlighting to silhouette books and other objects dramatically. It demonstrates how, in rooms with little or no natural light, you’re often better off embracing it and going for the high drama that black can bring.
Many objects positively sing when they are set against a dark background, a trick that interiors stylists have been pulling for years to make furniture and accessories look amazing in photoshoots.
“We often suggest that clients should set their artwork against a black backdrop, as it enhances pieces dramatically,” says Bakhtiar-Bakhtiari. The recent trend for metallic finishes in furniture and lighting is a fantastic match for dark shades: a brass table light or steel console against a black wall provide maximum contrast.
“We use dark finishes in rooms with little natural light,” says Christopher Peacock, founder of the cabinetmakers of the same name. “As long as it’s juxtaposed against light walls, or reflective materials like metallic wall coverings, it can work really well. I use dark colours in master bathrooms, kitchens and dressing rooms without hesitation.
If you surround the cabinetry with texture, it takes on a very sophisticated feel.” If you’re thinking about painting a wall or whole room black, balance it with some lighter surfaces, too, says Helen Shaw, director at Benjamin Moore paints. “People get fixated about the colour on the wall, and don’t think about the light reflectiveness of everything else,” she says. “If you have a big sofa in a light colour or a dining table with a gloss finish, those rooms can take darker colours better.”
Adriel Lack, creative head of residential interiors for architecture and interiors studio SHH, pins the current trend on the influence of industrial design. “We’re definitely steering towards something edgier,” she says. “That’s partly down to the confidence of the client to go for a darker palette, but it also picks up on the New York loft look.”
But not every room in a house should get the dark treatment. It should be reserved for those used mostly at night, or that need a cosy ambience. The trick to successful black interiors is to create visual interest through texture. “Although there’s something very sumptuous and luxurious about a matt finish that absorbs the light, if you’re playing with strong colours you need a combination of matt and glossy, as well as other contrasting textures such as woven leather or timber veneer.”
Lack’s perfect pairings for black are other neutrals, such as “concrete greys, steely blues or taupes – those softer colours that appeal to everyone, which are sharpened up by having a dark contrasting colour. I would keep it monochromatic rather than mixing bright colour with it”.
Plenty would disagree, though. Emerald green and dusky pink are two colours that are frequently paired with black at the moment, and one of Benjamin Moore’s suggested colour trends for 2016 is a Mondrian-esque palette of black, white and primary colours, with the colour used sparingly to highlight architectural features such as doors and window recesses.
Benjamin Moore has 30 different shades of black and supplies every colour in a variety of finishes, meaning huge flexibility when it comes to creating understated effects. “There are blacks with tones of green, red, blue, purple… those subtleties give a scheme a level of refinement that you don’t get with an off-the-shelf product,” says Shaw.
So, armed with good advice from the experts, it needn’t be a leap in the dark to make the best of black.