How to Use Dark Colors

Interior design is like any other field: there are rules, and these rules are meant to be broken. Some of the strictest “Rules of Interior Design” revolve around color – how to choose it, how to use it, and what not to do. In the latter categories, dark, strong, and bold colors are often treated like a lit fuse (Use Caution!). In fact, dark, rich and bold colors are often the key to a striking interior design, but they must be used well. By their very nature, there is no way for them to fade into the background if they are a little “off” or the color isn’t quite right.


The following tips can help you explore how and when to use dark colors in your design. From full dark interiors to the barest of accents, darker colors are often the means of adding depth and contrast in your living spaces.

Monochromatic dark with a light upper border. If you like the idea of a charcoal room, but worry the effect may be too cave-like, I recommend choosing a white that you like and cutting that into the ceiling, continuing the white paint down into the vertical wall space. If your ceilings are higher, this lighter upper-border can go as much as 2-feet down. If you have lower ceilings, you may only want to dip down 6-inches to a foot. The point is that the extra lip of white around the wall and to the ceiling lightens up the space and will prevent a claustrophobic effect. What a great way to enjoy some of those rich velvety blacks, grays and chocolate browns. Or, it will have a similarly muting effect for a bright and crazy color scheme.

Add moulding or wall details in a lighter color. In this living room, both the walls and ceilings are painted Ralph Lauren’s Artist Grey UL31. In a different version of the technique I wrote about above, these homeowners opted to use extensive moulding and trim work on the walls and ceiling, painted in a light Rivera Terrace. The overall affect is that you are in a cozy, private space but nothing about it is gloomy or shadowy – quite the opposite.

Accent Walls, plural! Accent walls are said to be out of style and then back in style – – the bottom line is they have been used and will always be used in interior design. If you enjoy a room with rich jewel tones, I say use more than one to layer the rich color effect. This may sound crazy, but when done well, this technique can create a More is Less impact. Check out how these contrasting burgundy and blue accent walls work together. Somehow, by having both, it softens the effect, don’t you think?

Dark and bold details. Here is where interior design gets really fun – the details. Dark and bold colors can have an equally appealing and dramatic effect when they’re used in the details. For example, choosing a dark and colorful trim color makes your room details pop. Your furnishings and accents can be your mode of going bold as well. This can keep a room very light and bright while still delivering the dramatic impact you’re going for. Also, this route is ideal for renters. Who wants to have to repaint a place back to white when you’re dealing with the moving process? Your dark and bold furnishings can go with you wherever you live.

Are you still feeling apprehensive about when, where and how to use dark or bold colors in your interior design? Contact Kristina Wolf Design.

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