Beautiful Rooms: Why a Drop of Black is Always a Good Idea

Every room needs a drop of black. You don’t have to go full goth, but even in a room of pared back pastels, soft neutral or full maximalist colour, a sprinkle of black will bring the whole thing alive. It’s like adding lemon juice to your grilled meat, salt on your chips or blusher to your face. It’s ok without it but once you’ve done it you realise how much better it is and wonder why you never did it before.

image by atelier ellis
image by atelier ellis

I will add one caveat – I usually don’t mean jet black, at least not when it comes to paint. Just as black and white is probably too harsh for most of us but ivory and charcoal is easier to live with, you might want to add a dash of navy blue or dark grey rather than black. The point is that you need a drop of the dark stuff in any interior.

Long term readers will remember my mantra: Something new, something old, something black and something gold. I stand by that but just as the gold meant metallic so the black can mean dark.

pink bathroom black lights by insiderherhome
pink bathroom black lights by insiderherhome

Take this bathroom by Heather Milner above; the soft pink walls could be overly feminine for a family bathroom, a little sugary for many tastes, but the black wall lights, mirror and tap make it look contemporary and modern rather than sugary sweet. Try thinking of it as a black and white bathroom where the white was replaced by pink to soften it a little. The other point is that the red towels are perfect. Remember I wrote a few weeks back about finding your disrupter colour? It can be a darker version of what is already there or a complete contrast, but do try not to have everything too toned and matching. It can be a little dull. A drop of black and third colour for disruption will always look more interesting.

bathroom designed by emilie fournet interiors image by kfiszerfoto
bathroom designed by emilie fournet interiors image by kfiszerfoto

Here the black has been used on the ceiling to dramatic effect while the bath is a soft teal shade. This is something you could easily change to keep it looking fresh as the dark ceiling is more unusual but the colours are classic. There isn’t a colour on the spectrum that wouldn’t work on that bath against this background.

black and white wallpaper in bathroom image by sgardnerstyle
black and white wallpaper in bathroom image by sgardnerstyle

And then there’s using a bit of black and white wallpaper. I love wallpaper but it can be hard to choose the right one when there are so many choices and also all that colour can be a little overwhelming. At least I often find that the case, so finding a strong pattern in a black and white colourway can be a really good solution. I have said before that I regard myself as a monochrome maximalist and this is a perfect example of that. Full on pattern in pared back colours.

The key thing to remember when choosing wallpaper is how does looking at a particular pattern make you feel and secondly is that the kind of feeling you want to have in that particular room?

black and white wallpaper design by joanhome
black and white  william morris acanthus wallpaper design by joanhome

So if you fall in love with a pattern but realise that it makes you feel energised then perhaps it isn’t right for the bedroom – try the study instead. But if staring at something instantly calms you down and makes you feel relaxed then it might be perfect for the sitting room or the place where you go at the end of the day to wind down.

This new wallpaper from Cole & Son is from the Pearwood Collection and incorporates many symbols of Tudor England (such as the roaring lion, the Tudor rose and the Oak tree) in a modern take on the traditional damask pattern. Here it’s in black and gold which is incredibly sumptuous but it works really well with the neutral and modern furniture which knocks it all back a bit.

True maximalists could throw in lots of gold, more flowers and paint the wall under the paper in black or gold or pink to really make the most of this dramatic paper. I prefer it quietened down like this.

boscobel by cole and son chair by attpynta
boscobel by cole and son vivi teddy chair by attpynta 

So a drop of black in every room. Who’s in?

Tags : black accentsblack interiorsdecorating with blackhints of black
Kate Watson-Smyth

The author Kate Watson-Smyth

I’m a journalist who writes about interiors mainly for The Financial Times but I have also written regularly for The Independent and The Daily Mail. My house has been in Living Etc, HeartHome and featured in The Wall Street Journal & Corriere della Sera. I also run an interior styling consultancy Mad About Your House. Welcome to my Mad House.


  1. No question! I’ve started to notice the hits of dark in rooms that I like, and how dull they’d be without them.

  2. I’m a white paint loving minimalist but I love a bit of black in every room – a vase, ornament or the fireplace. Our front door is Dulux Domino both inside and out and I drove our garden designer mad by insisting on having the anchors of the glass pool fence powder coated in Monument even though he could have bought black ones off the shelf. And it was totally worth the time and expense.

  3. I also add pops of black/dark. even if its just a small collection of picture frames in black rather than pale wood or white.

    With regard to wallpaper – how do I start to choose what I want!!! There are so many choices out there, even if I reduce the choice due to a limited budget, where do I start? How do I focus on reducing the choice so its manageable? I’m open to geometric and botanicals but even narrowing the choice to these there are still 100’s of options out there from many, many stockists.

  4. I think this lack of a touch of black or dark color is what makes me feel uneasy when I look at California interiors. Almost everything is in light often with punches of brights but very little if any darks. It looks as if the room was stopped before decorating was completed (but not in a minimalist way). Am I the only one to have this view about the California look?

  5. I’m definitely in! I’ve got a touch of black in most of my rooms, not necessarily paint but objects. Oh, and a black marble fireplace in the sitting room.

  6. Yes, I agree. Done with style and thought it adds something to a room. I love reading these blogs as I take ideas to use myself not having much style of my own. 😊

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