Dramatic and Sexy Black Decorating Ideas

Not just for trim, painting with black can be a smart, stylish choice for an entire wall. See how five designers use the paint color to a room's advantage.
By: Susan Kleinman
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Black and White Open Plan Kitchen and Living Area With White Sofa

Black and White Open Plan Kitchen and Living Area With White Sofa

Just as a great black dress shows off exquisite jewelry, the black wall in this high-rise condo in Century City, Calif., highlights the cream-colored pendant light fixture. 
Photo by Michael McCreary

Every manufacturer offers black paint, but it's typically used for the front doors of Colonial-style houses, or for trim in old Victorian homes. But black can be much more than just an accent color. Cover one wall — or even a whole room — in black, and the result can be daring, dramatic and definitely sexy.

"The paint is actually chalkboard paint from Home Depot and can be used for scribbling memos and notes," says designer Nicole Sassaman, who lived in the space before selling it to a Hollywood producer. "When we saw it finished, though, it was so pretty that we decided to leave the wall blank."

Part of what makes this color work in the area is its subtle, matte finish, and the fact that it's absolutely black. "Many black paints have a lot of blue in them," says Sassaman, "but this one is true black."

The shade and finish of black that's just right for a given room will vary greatly with the light, says Sassaman. So, just as you would with any other color, try paint samples on the wall and examine them at various times throughout the day.

Powder Room With Black Accent Wall

Powder Room With Black Accent Wall

While shiny black walls might overwhelm a larger room, they are perfect in this 48-square-foot space.
Photo by William Waldron

In this powder room, adjacent to a large dining room in a New York City townhouse, designer Jamie Drake covered half the walls in dark graphite-gray Venetian plaster, which he had polished to a very high sheen; the other half is lined in gold-backed, white glass mosaic tile. Drake fashioned a sink from a 19th-century Turkish marble basin, and set it into a custom-designed base of ebonized wood. The overall effect? As dramatic as midnight.

"Even in small doses, the challenge with black is to keep it from looking funereal," says Drake, author of Jamie Drake's New American Glamour. To keep the mood sexy, rather than somber, he opted to paint the ceiling a sharp coral color, with a pale oyster gray crown molding.

"In addition to lightening the room, the vivid ceiling color also lifts the eye," Drake explains, "and that's always a plus in a smaller space."

Black and White Art Deco Kitchen With Black Cabinets

Black and White Art Deco Kitchen With Black Cabinets

Although this room is only about 10' x 12', it's plenty bright even with the black walls.
Photo by Tim Street-Porter

When designer Miles Redd first renovated the kitchen of his New York City apartment (featured in Rooms to Inspire by Annie Kelley), the cabinets were ebonized wood and the walls were celadon. "But then one day I walked in and decided that this room really has to be black," says Redd, so he covered the walls in high-gloss, dark, dramatic paint.

The floor is lacquered white, punctuated with a black star, and the countertops are all mirrored. Windows and French doors leading out to the garden let sunshine in during the day. And for cooking at night, Redd installed high-wattage lighting under the cabinets and range hood.
"But the truth is, I don't actually want it bright at night," he says. "I have two table lamps on the counters, and often I just leave those on with no overheads. People are always worried about painting a room black — they say 'But it's going to be so dark! ' — and I say 'yes, it will, but that's not a bad thing. Dark can be moody, dark can be elegant, dark can be very sexy."

"She requested blackout shades so that she can sleep whenever she needs to," say designers Alexandra Loew and Lauren Soloff, principals of The Desk of Lola, "and that inspired us to do a whole black bedroom."
The designers wanted to find a way to make black soothing, not overbearing and heavy. To create that comfortable, inviting feeling, they painted the walls ICI Paint's "Dark Secret" in an eggshell finish, and chose "Torn Lace" wallpaper from Los Angeles-based designer Simon Storey. The custom-maade headboard is upholstered in black pima cotton with extra batting for a double dose of comfort and a luxurious look.

Black and White Wallpaper and Black Headboard

Black and White Wallpaper and Black Headboard

The owner of this 1920s Spanish duplex in West Hollywood, Calif., travels frequently for work. When she comes home, she often needs to sleep when her body clock is still set to a foreign time.
Photo by Deborah Jaffe

"As with any color," say the designers, "you have to be careful what black you select and what white you choose as an accent; they too, have a spectrum. For us, this project was about exploring how much we could get out of the black and white pairing through finish, surface, pattern and intensity."

Those are just a few of the surprising ways you can make black work throughout the house.
"Every room needs some black," he says. "It's like eyelashes and eyebrows: It makes everything else look framed and focused." Which is exactly how this red dining room, designed by Douglas Dolezal and Robert Miller, looks.

And there's certainly no shortage of ways you can introduce black. It really does go with almost everything. "As is the case with white," says designer Nicole Sassaman, "black can look good with almost any color. But it is best used with contrasting colors — lights and brights — rather than darker shades of brown and so forth. Bright colors like pinks and oranges really sizzle against black."

Red Dining Room With Black Table and Chairs

Red Dining Room With Black Table and Chairs

Whether you use a lot of black, as these designers did, or just a little, do try to incorporate at least a dash of darkness in every room, says designer Miles Redd.
Photo by David Duncan Livingston

Redd also favors the color with bright, bright accents. "I adore pink with black and white — and make it a shocking pink!" he says. Redd also loves emerald green with black and white, and all kinds of blue.

And don't restrict yourself to solid-and-solid combos, either, say designers Alexandra Loew and Lauren Soloff, principals of The Desk of Lola. "Certain patterns can also look great with black," they say. You might try a feminine black and white print, a traditional toile or a graphic modern pattern. Or, try accenting black walls with ethnic textiles. "Their textures," Loew and Soloff say, "can be a great foil to the slickness of black and white."

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