Back to Black: bringing drama and depth with darker colour schemes
Step into the shadows with Inigo as we look at listings practising the dark arts with powerful effect
Bright, light and white has historically been the done thing when it comes to classic interiors. It’s often for good reason – the optical illusions one can conjure with a pale palette are quite remarkable. But whatever happened to going against the grain? Embracing your decorating dark side when it comes to paint – or, indeed, polish – opens the door to a world of different effects that it’s hard to come by with a tub of magnolia eggshell: comfort, cosiness, depth and drama.
How you go about embracing those moody blues and other brooding hues naturally depends on the space you’re trying to fill and the emotions you want to stir. If you’ve soaring ceilings, consider a contrast; if painting all the walls feels like too much, think about going heavy on the details. Of course, it’s not as black and white as all that, though, so make sure to refer to our roundup of current listings, each proving that a bit of black magic can be a beautiful thing.
A house of handsome scale affords the bolder decorator a chance to delve into the more shadowy corners of the colour spectrum. Take this Melksham manor, where the charcoal walls of various rooms are cleverly countered with high white ceilings and delicate mouldings, saving spaces from gloominess. In the kitchen, a multitude of mirrors encased in glossy black frames amps up the contrast, while two-tone cabinet doors stand in for a dado, bringing extra pace to the rhythmic scheme.
Paint isn’t the only way to darken your doors, walls and windows. Why not make the most of old wood, if you have it? The rich hues of ancient oak panelling, for example, such as this example found in an Oxford dining room, often benefit from staining and beeswax polish over a loaded paintbrush. The result? Richness, warmth and an air of romance entirely befitting the room’s setting in the city of dreaming spires.
The temptation, when decorating the smallest room in the house, is to flood it with light. But why not buck the trend? The owners of this 18th-century barn conversion have gone for a moody petrol in their bathroom – a persuasive reminder that rooms you spend less time in can often take punchier treatment.
Dark details, such as steely grey window mullions and frames, are used to splendid effect in this London townhouse, adding drama and depth without feeling imposing. In smaller rooms, such stormy tones should be used if not sparingly then with caution – note how the current owners have picked up the grey on the glazed internal partitions on the first floor, which simultaneously allow for light to bounce generously around the divided spaces and cleverly play with perceptions of brightness, darkness, transparency and solidity.
How better to get giltwood glowing than to set it against a murky backdrop? Take inspiration from the gold frames hung on the muddy-green dining room walls of this former shop in Brill. The wonderfully sludgy shade reminds us of the 18th-century découpage artist and woman of letters Mary Delany, who chose to have one of her rooms “painted a sort of olive for the sake of my pictures”. We approve wholeheartedly.
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