A touch of black can add intrigue, sophistication and even mystery to a decorating scheme, inside or out.

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A touch of black can add intrigue, sophistication and even mystery to a decorating scheme, inside or out.

Paint your door black, and suddenly your house stands out. Add a black coffee table or a black-and-white chair to a monochromatic room, and the décor goes from dull to dramatic.

A bit of black is almost a cure-all for an uninspired space, says interior designer Candace Sveda. “If somebody says, ‘What’s wrong with this room?’ most of the time you can look at it and say, ‘It just needs a little bit of black.’ ”

Black works because it adds contrast without clashing, Sveda says. Since it goes with everything, it’s easy to add to any color palette.

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And it doesn’t have to involve a big change. Even something as simple as adding black knobs to a vanity can break up the monotony of a bathroom with matching fixtures, she says.

People sometimes fear black will make a space dark and depressing, but the trick is keeping it in check, says Jackie Jordan, director of color marketing for paint maker Sherwin-Williams. Black works well in accessories or small accents, such as throw pillows or area rugs. Or, if you’re a little more adventurous, you can paint an entire accent wall black, such as a fireplace wall or a wall hung with artwork.

Jordan even has black walls in her laundry room, she says, but they’re offset by a white ceiling, trim, cabinets and appliances. Plus a window keeps the room bright.

Black can even be used on a home’s architectural elements. Picture the drama of a black fireplace surround or black moldings in a coffered ceiling.

Jordan likes the look of painting all the interior doors black but leaving the rest of the house’s trim white. “It just adds this great kind of flair to the interior,” she says.

Another look that’s becoming popular is to paint window sashes black. The effect is almost like eyeliner, drawing attention and adding interest both inside the house and out. It’s also a historically accurate detail on an older home, since sashes were often painted dark colors in the 19th century.

What if you have white vinyl windows? You don’t want to paint them black, because dark colors absorb heat and can cause vinyl to expand and contract excessively. But you can achieve a similar look by surrounding the windows with narrow black trim.

Painting a front door high-gloss black is a sure-fire attention-getter, says Michael Murphy, interior design and trends producer for Lamps Plus. And it complements any color scheme.

“It’s like instantaneous drama,” he says. “Instant curb appeal.”

Inside the house, there are plenty of ways to add a touch of black, Murphy says. Black lampshades or chandelier shades are one, especially with foil linings to reflect light. Black chairs or bar stools in a kitchen are another.

Murphy says he loves the look of black marble countertops, especially in a powder room.

Black has another benefit: It has a minimizing effect, Sveda notes. Just as black pants make us look slimmer, black paint makes a bulky element less imposing.

She uses that trick to play down a large oak island in a kitchen that she redecorated recently. Her client balked at the idea at first, but Sveda persisted.

“Before it was even finished, she called and said, ‘Oh, my gosh, I can’t believe it,’ ” Sveda says. The black island, she says, added just the right contrast to the oak cabinets and no longer looked so formidable.

Black, however, is best used with restraint, Sveda and Murphy say. Too much black, and the power of contrast is lost.

Not sure you like the starkness of pure black? Consider using an off-black, such as a brownish black or a very deep gray, Jordan suggests.

Off-blacks have different colors as undertones, perhaps blue, violet or red. For that reason, Jordan says you have to be careful when you use them. It’s best not to use other black accessories in the same room with an off-black piece, she says, because the blacks are hard to match.

Sheen is an important consideration, too. While a shiny black piece can be dramatic (think of a black lacquered piano), Jordan prefers a more matte finish for most uses because it doesn’t show imperfections as readily. Just be sure to use a high-end paint that you can wash, since black shows dirt and fingerprints, she says.

That’s the reason Sveda would use a semigloss finish on items that are touched often, such as a dresser. Semigloss finishes are easier to clean than flat ones.

GO FROM DULL TO DRAMATIC

There are many ways that a touch of black can be added with dramatic affect to your home’s décor.

  • Paint non-matching chairs black to unify them.
  • Paint an outdated piece of furniture black to update it.
  • Spray-paint ornate gold picture frames flat black to downplay the glitz and focus the attention on the artwork.
  • In a traditional room, add a chair or pillow in classic black-and-white toile. In a midcentury modern setting, use a bold pattern such as a trellis design.
  • Instead of decorating a tween’s bedroom in her favorite color, use black and white as the base with the color as an accent. Black and white will be more sophisticated and easier to live with as the child grows older, and the accent color can be changed easily as her taste evolves.
  • Add black in odd numbers: maybe one strong piece, such as a sofa, wall or door, or three smaller pieces sprinkled around the room, such as a throw, a vase and an accent pillow.
  • Instead of using a dropped ceiling in a finished basement, spray the basement ceiling flat black, including all the exposed ducts and pipes. Black makes the ugly parts less noticeable, and the effect is unpolished and hip. Adding industrial-looking light fixtures adds to the look.