Paint It Black: The Glory of Dark Interiors

As Mick Jagger first sang back in 1966, he sees a red door and he wants it ... you know the rest. I believe we should ignore the metaphor and take him literally.

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August 21, 2018
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Designers like Leanne "WEAR BLACK, PAINT WHITE" Ford remind us that "white is the color that makes everything else pop," and I hear that. In a space like this one (by Florida-based designer Bea Pila), a pale area rug and creamy sofa are clever backdrops for oversaturated accent pieces. My eye, on the other hand, goes straight to that licorice whip of an accent wall. It’s like a portal to a dimension where everything is sexier.

From: Bea Pila

In fact, Leanne knows what I’m talking about. This magnificent stairwell and sitting area — which she dreamed up — make me want to call up my two witchiest friends and make predictions about Macbeth all night. But sure, white is dreamy, I guess.

Coco Chanel made a number of questionable life choices, but her aesthetic instincts were near-unimpeachable. "I imposed black," she is said to have stated, "[and] it is still going strong today, for black wipes out everything else around." It is quite literally a blank slate, ready for anything.

I am big enough to admit that my own instincts are less consistent: My husband and I spent several years in a bedroom I’d insisted on painting the color of the Incredible Hulk’s comic-book skin. It was (figuratively) a dark time, and when we finally hid that bilious green beneath several coats of café-au-lait beige, we could almost feel our blood pressure creeping back down.

But — there is a but — we went bold again a few years after that, in a new bedroom. I fell in love with Farrow & Ball's Down Pipe, a deep, velvety grey that feels like a supportive hug from Stevie Nicks. Our walls have been near-black for almost a decade now, and I sleep like a baby nestled between them.

That news would come as little surprise to sleep experts. Their research demonstrates that excessive light can wreak havoc on our rest-starved bodies, and they’ve long urged us to invest in blackout curtains and step far away from eye-dazzling devices before bedtime. I’d carry that data to its logical conclusion and prescribe inky nap-sanctuaries across the board.

It should go without saying that black is in no way basic. A reclaimed-and-charred-wood wall like this one — which took a month to fabricate and install — is both subtly dimensional and a fitting backdrop for paler organic pieces.

The elegant, tone-on-tone black damask wallpaper in this space, in turn, contrasts beautifully with both a wall-mounted mirror and a showstopping spool bed. One could use a piece like this in a room with white walls, but one would run the risk of evoking one of those '90s boy-band videos in which everyone is wearing matching linen suits. (Aside: How did they dance in those? Linen wrinkles when you look at it.)

Teen boys and black walls go together like...I don’t have a simile here, actually, because there’s no pairing more natural than that one. Pops of color on the nightstands, fiberglass fish and linens give this bedroom an updated-mod feel, and as the years roll by, it can evolve along with its occupant via athletic pennants and trophies or, say, guitars and death-metal posters. (You do you, teen boys.)

Let’s step out of the bedroom and consider gothic-glam dining spaces for a moment, shall we? One could serve frozen waffles and dinosaur-shaped chicken nuggets at this table and it would still feel like a banquet at Dracula’s house. (That’s a good thing.)

Seriously, there’s no context in which black does not transport. Strictly speaking, this is a macaron boutique in Houston, but I’m pretty sure princesses with enchanted dancing shoes take it over once the proprietors close up shop each evening. I’d open my wallet wide here, and I don’t even like macarons.

"Black is not sad," Ann Demeulemeester (a Belgian fashion designer and queen of cool) has noted. "Bright colors are what depresses me. They’re so...empty. Black is poetic. How do you imagine a poet? In a bright yellow jacket? Probably not."

Verily, the black walls and fireplace in an old-school library have lyricism to spare. Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot — another Belgian — would also consider this an excellent spot in which to reveal a murderer’s identity.

Obsidian-dark, molded surfaces in a home office foreground its stone fireplace and abstract art. There’s no fading into the shadows in a space like this.

From: Robert Brown

Some would argue that saturated walls (and a matching ceiling, no less!) make interiors feel unnaturally small, and to them I would say: Okay, yes, this photo is clearly fudging a bit with perspective. Even so, its take-no-prisoners palette expands rather than cramps its style.

I have long contended that we should literally paint our bathroom door black, a la this antique piece in Genevieve Gorder's home (Genevieve has a black living room as well, incidentally, and it is boss). At present I am still losing this argument, but my husband will come around. He’s a Stones guy.

From: Genevieve Gorder

Once that door is open, as it were, the festivities can really begin. Come on, how chic is this black bathroom? I wouldn’t even mind if the dark walls relaxed me so much that I fell asleep in there. Totally worth the pruny digits.

From: Prairie

We should also talk about how black grout means never having to scrub your tiled shower with a toothbrush because your mom’s coming to visit and you don’t want her to think you live in filth after some contractor did a lousy job of sealing your tub. Hypothetically.

Johnny Cash became the Man in Black when Manuel, the designer who created his touring wardrobe, turned out nine ostensibly-funereal outfits for him. "And I don’t know how many shows he had around the United States," Manuel told Esquire, but then he came back and said, 'Manuel, I want you to make me outfits every week. The color is not in question any more.'"

I repeat: The color is not in question any more.

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