• Shelby Whitfield

Paint it Black: a How-to Primer for Dramatic Color

While in the middle of painting my own bedroom black, I had someone serendipitously message me to ask for a blog post on how to handle black paint.

She asked which rooms black was most suited for, what kind of mood it creates, and if the whole room should be black, or just an accent wall?

Veronica Solomon Casa Vilora Black Bedroom Houston

Veronica Solomon; photo by Colleen Scott

It seems like a lot of people may understandably associate black walls with depressing spaces, but I find that black rooms, while moody, sure, are dramatic and sophisticated. But they can also be cozy and soothing! Black creates a neutral backdrop, so you can really do almost anything with it.

MArco Scarani Roger Davies Architectural Digest Library

Marco Scarani; photo by Roger Davies

So, to rewind and answer the first question: all kinds of rooms!

Black can be serene in a bedroom, elegant in a dining room, traditional in a library or lounge, or beautifully functional in a kitchen. I even loved the pearl-finish paint I was using on my master trim and decided to go ahead and repaint my kitchen cabinets (and trim) too. An easy, but wonderfully drastic change!

Robert Stilin Joshua McHugh Architectural Digest Kitchen

Robert Stilin; photo by Joshua McHugh

Next question. I'm rarely a fan of accent walls. Commitment to the design is part of what creates the best results, so I love when people just go for what they like! But there are definitely exceptions to my opinion (and it is just an opinion, so if you love accent walls, then enjoy them guilt-free!) and the bedroom below by Tim Campbell is a great example of when accent walls work very well.

The black wall serves to highlight the architecture in a way that makes the bed feel tucked away in a niche and just a little cozier than if the whole room were painted either black or white.

Tim Cambell Karyn Millet Architectural Digest Bedroom

Tim Campbell; photo by Karyn Millet

But where do you stop? What color should the trim be? Whatever you want! It just depends on what your goal is. Steven Gambrel paints trim often. Against the white marble and ceiling below, it stands out beautifully and sets off the tile perfectly. (This technique would work with dark walls and light trim, too).

Stephen Gambrel James Merrill Elle Decor

Steven Gambrel; photo by James Merrill

My bedroom is small and has a lot of trim, which is why I'm painting everything black. I don't want the eye stopping every few feet to look at unexciting flat casings.

I'm using flat paint on the walls and pearl on the trim, but if you want a solid canvas while still highlighting your beautiful trim, step up the trim sheen to a satin.

Darryl Carter Washington DC

Darryl Carter

Adam Levine's bedroom below doesn't have trim, but if it did, I'd imagine it'd be dark, too.

Mark Haddawy Adam Levine Architectural Digest Bedroom

Mark Haddawy; photo by Roger Davies

Black makes it hard to go too wrong. Just check your undertones (easiest to do on a fan deck where you can compare blacks side by side) to see if your color is leaning cool or warm before you start.

Martin Raffone & William MacIntosh; photo by Richard Powers

So what colors work well with black? It truly is a neutral, so anything! Adding warmth is important if you aren't aiming for high-contrast contemporary, but it's easy enough with pieces like burled maple antiques in a traditional home or maybe cane chairs in a farmhouse or a mid-century ranch.

Suzanne Kipp; photo by Werner Straub

You might have noticed that most of these rooms have great natural light, as light is absolutely important in any interior space, painted black or not. But it's especially important in dark rooms; besides the obvious that light can help you see and affect your mood, light contrasts so well against dark surfaces.

Jae Joo Julia Robb Powder Bath

Jae Joo; photo by Julia Robb

Contrary to what you may have heard, painting a room a dark color can actually make it appear larger; dark recedes, and light advances. So you need light to create visual limits in your space!

If you don't have a ton of windows in the small room you want to paint; don't worry. Black still works in powder rooms, vestibules, and bars, and good interior lighting is just fine. Having a mix of (dimmable) overhead, task, and decorative lights can help achieve flexibility in the feeling of the room. But lighting is a whole 'nother post!



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