black dining room

5 tips for pitch-perfect black

The clocks have changed, and we’ve moved seemingly overnight from summer light to early winter evenings. It’s the time of year that makes you want to feel cocooned in your own home, protected from the world outside. In current decorating terms one of the most effective – and chic – ways to achieve this cosy feel is to paint a room black. A black room seems to fold in around you, creating an intimate space where every accent of colour is emphasised like a jewel.

But of course decorating with black also goes against many of the decorating rules around adding light and space, and so taking the plunge can be difficult to do with confidence. We’ve got five tips for selecting the right black for you, and tricks for making it work so that you get the dark, desirable room of your dreams right first time.

First, choose your black

Farrow & Ball's Black Blue

Farrow & Ball’s Black Blue

Black is black is black, right? Not really. Just like any other colour, black is rich in gradations and undertones, so take some time to pick the right black for you. A ‘true’ black will be very dramatic, but it might look somewhat harsh. It’s best reserved for south-facing rooms already flooded with warm light. Look carefully at the room you are about to decorate – at the furniture, the art on the walls, even the view out of the window – and try to select a black that has sympathy with its surroundings. A charcoal shade is a softer black that is far easier to live with. A blue-black which has a blue tone when painted over a large area, for example, can be a wonderful black for a seaside home, subtly chiming with the blues outside. An off-black tends to be more forgiving to other colours painted next to it. A black with red tones to the fore will help a room feel cosy rather than stark.

…or a not-quite black

Farrow & Ball Mahogany

This small hallway uses Farrow & Ball’s Mahogany instead of a true black

For small spaces like bathrooms, hallways and studies, black can have a powerful effect, making the compact space into an asset rather than a short-coming to be disguised. But in these small spaces you might want to look at almost-blacks, which will have the same dramatic power but with a bit more warmth and depth. A deep, dark green, a very bronzy brown, a deep blue or even dark aubergine will read as an atmospheric almost-black in a small space, and might be easier to live with as well as keeping you in love with the colour for longer.

Mix your blacks

Farrow & Ball Hague Blue and Black Blue

Walls in Farrow & Ball’s Hague Blue and shelves in Black Blue

An all-white room using slightly different shades for the walls, floor, woodwork and ceiling gives a wonderfully deep, layered look, much more liveable than brilliant white all over. The same is true for black, so don’t be afraid to use differing shades on different surfaces. Rather than presenting you with a blanket colour, using a variety of blacks – a lighter or darker shade to pick out architectural features like alcoves or a fireplace for example – will soften the edges of your scheme and highlight the best bits.

Inject some texture

Farrow & Ball Railings

A bedroom featuring Farrow & Ball’s Railings on the panelled wall

Another way to stop your room looking like an indistinct black mass is to play with texture. Black emulsion will have a dead flat appearance, so break that up with a dado rail or panelling. By painting woodwork in an eggshell or gloss black you will add depth and detail as well as a slightly reflective look to the surfaces. A great way to soften a black room is to add wood panelling below a dado rail so that the whole lower half of your room has a rich, glossy texture. In rooms like kitchens and bathrooms, mix black paint with glossy black tiles or rough slate – the extra textures will make the room come to life.

Add organic touches

Farrow & Ball Pitch Black

A dining room painted with Farrow & Ball’s Pitch Black. Image by Jake Curtis

A black room is what you make it, so once you’ve settled on the colour itself, make sure everything you put back into the room works together to enhance the effect. One of the best ways to make a black room liveable is to add lots of organic elements – think rough wood, warm leather, natural grass carpet and metallic like copper and bronze. For a more glamorous take, think about upholstery in soft black velvet and furniture featuring metal details and lots of gloss – lacquered furniture or black glass will work a treat. And don’t forget paintings – how much black actually shows on the walls will greatly depend on how many frames, pictures and mirrors you hang on top of it, so play around with these final finishing touches to turn the volume of your perfect black up or down as you wish.

black dining room

A black dining room with glamorous touches. Image by Line T Klein

Ros Anderson


Ros Anderson is an interiors journalist and blogger who has worked for The Guardian, Elle Decoration, Ideal Home and many more. In 2009 she co-founded cult interiors blog My Friend's House with Jill Macnair, as a place to write about design in a more honest, spontaneous and humorous way.

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