Ready for the new neutral room colour? It’s black

Elizabeth Mayhew

THE WASHINGTON POST – The design world always has an “in” colour it embraces as its neutral; it’s the colour you see painted inside spec houses and rentals and popularised in catalogues and online.

While white is always a neutral fallback, beige was favoured in the early 2000s. For the past 10 years, it’s been grey. Now many in the design world say there is a new neutral in town: black.

Director of Trend and Design at the Home Depot Sarah Fishburne credits the growing black-painted-room trend to the modern farmhouse craze of the last few years.

The style updates classic “country” details by painting them black so they look more modern.

Fishburne plans to paint her dining room black before Thanksgiving. “I have always loved black rooms, especially when you have great moulding and trim work. The black really shows it all off,” she said.

‘Whether sleek and modern or rustic farmhouse, black paint and decor offers a sophisticated air to many different looks,’ said Braina Nix, who designed this black dining space. PHOTOS: THE WASHINGTON POST
FROM LEFT: A black room by Houston-based designer Dennis Brackeen; and a room in Farrow & Ball Railings black shades, a favourite of designer Briana Nix’. It has a subtle blue tint

Fishburne’s dining room has classic board and batten siding three quarters up its walls and a 10-foot-high coffer ceiling, which she said “will really pop in black”.

Another thing she thinks will stand out against her soon-to-be black walls: her art collection. “Like white, black is a blank canvas and it’s super versatile.”

Briana Nix, a designer for the online decorating service Decorist, agreed that black is extremely versatile – a characteristic that is essential to any neutral. “Black is a great supporter of all interior styles,” she said. “Whether sleek and modern or rustic farmhouse, black paint and decor offers a sophisticated air to many different looks.”

Beyond making spaces look more stylish, black paint has another useful quality, some designers said: It makes rooms feel bigger. Houston-based interior designer Dennis Brackeen said this is contrary to what most people think.

He said dark colours make a room’s walls recede. Decorist designer Caitlin McBride explains: “Since the corners of a dark painted room can’t be defined and there isn’t an easy way to tell where they start or end, the walls feel endless.”

McBride recently painted her laundry room to make it feel bigger (she said it’s about the size of a walk-in closet) and add contrast to the large white washing machine and dryer that dominate the space. She has plans to paint her nine-foot-high guest bathroom ceiling black, too. “I want to make the ceiling recede up and out, like you’re looking into space.”

While many are embracing this move to the dark side, Patrick O’Donnell, Farrow & Ball’s brand ambassador and expert colour consultant, warned that black – or any very dark colour – is not for everyone, and certainly not for every room.

O’Donnell said you should first think about the primary use of the space you’re painting.

“You probably wouldn’t want to paint a nursery in black, but in a bedroom, black helps embrace the nighttime darkness and induce a good night’s sleep.”

Another consideration is the direction your room faces. “If it’s north or east, this is often a great opportunity to go darker, as the idea of painting an ill-lit space white or light can end up feeling dull.”

When it comes to choosing the right black paint colour and finish, there is some debate. Fishburne plans to paint her dining room in Behr’s Satin Black (PPU26-1) in a matte/flat finish.

She likes its soft, chalky look and said the flat finish is more forgiving for imperfect walls.

Nix, on the other hand, avoids using matte black.

She feels it dulls a room. Instead she opts for a high gloss, which “will reflect light and give dimension to your space”.

Just beware: High gloss paints show every imperfection, so your walls need to be in perfect condition. Nix’s favourite black paints are both from Farrow & Ball: Pitch Black, which she said is a true black, and Railings, which has a subtle blue tint.

Brackeen’s go-to colours are C2 Paint’s Aperture (C2-981) and Benjamin Moore’s Deep Space (2125-20).

McBride likes Sherwin-Williams’ Tricorn Black because, she said, “It’s a true black colour with no undertones and looks good in every paint finish.”

For colour, O’Donnell recommends using a black with an underlying nuance – whether it’s blue, red or green – so you get notes of different colours as the light changes throughout the day.

Whatever colour or finish you choose, he said it’s important – especially when going from light to dark – to use a primer and undercoat in the same tone as the wall colour so you get a rich and saturated result.

If a full-blown black room is too much for you, try adding touches of black. Fishburne suggests using black furniture, textiles, and accessories in your design mix because “they add weight to very light rooms and additional depth to rooms already painted in a darker hue”.

McBride likes to paint interior doors black, and she often uses black curtain rods because, she said, “they’re like the eyeliner of window treatments. They draw your eye up the walls to the ceiling, highlighting molding and other room elements that may otherwise be missed”.