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Expert Advice: Living in Black and White


Expert Advice: Living in Black and White

March 21, 2013

The combination of black and white paint can be both simple and dramatic, but it’s a look that is not necessarily easy to pull off. We turned to paint expert Eve Ashcraft and interiors writer Heather Smith MacIsaac, who collaborated on the book The Right Color, for insights into how you effectively combine the two colors.

Remodelista: What is it about a black and white interior that is so appealing?
Eve Ashcraft and Heather Smith MacIsaac: Most people think of patterns when it comes to combining black and white. But beyond the obvious and often wonderful graphic possibilities of the duo, like classic checkerboard floors, we love black and white for their muscular ability to shape space and call out architectural details.

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Above: Inax woven tiles on a mantelpiece in a Melbourne apartment. Photograph by Sharyn Cairns for Home Life.

RM: How do you mix black and white without overwhelming a room?
EA & HSM: When combining black and white as a pattern, the smaller the scale the more the pattern will read as texture rather than colors. The tile on this fireplace, the dominant feature of the room, knits together a black and white scheme via its geometric pattern.

black white wall flowers

Above: Pressed wildflowers hang on a wall in the entry of Jimmy Stanton‘s antebellum home in Georgia. The wall is painted in Writer’s Parchment by Ralph Lauren. Photograph by Bjorn Wallander for Country LIving.

RM: What makes this grouping of black frames so powerful?
EA & HSM: By its very nature, black has a strong graphic quality some steer clear of. Black furnishings like this wall of framed pressed flowers allow you to ease into the commitment to black. One row of prints would be a dipping of the toes, four rows is a plunge, with far greater impact and reward.

black white staricase 2

Above: An elegant Cuban tiled staircase from the book The Great Houses of Havana by Hermes Mallea. Photograph via Harrison James.

RM: How do you make a bold statement without going over the top?
EA & HSM: Bold black and white motifs can be tricky when applied to walls; supergraphics are not the easiest to live with. Underfoot though, such patterns can animate an otherwise tailored space. Here, black paired with ivory softens the optical effect of the tile floor, the jazzy pattern itself a contrast to the fluid black line of the banister.

bedroom with black accents

Above: A bunk bed featured in our Remodelista post of Ski Cabin Bunk Beds.

RM: How do you add a touch of black to an all-white space?
EA & HSM: In a nearly monochromatic environment, where shadows alone create different shades of white, black sconces act like distinct punctuation, literally commas on the wall. The density of the small black objects is visually commanding.

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Above: A black painted armoire in the 19th century home of French designer Sandrine Zigler-Munck via Marie Claire Maison.

RM: Can you mix matte and gloss in a black and white interior?
EA & HSM: Black can be a sinkhole, but in this hallway, texture and finish allow black to deftly play with light and shadow. The floor is a solid plane of black paint, but because it is glossy it acts like a deep reflecting pool. The armoire carries the black right up the wall but its mottled finish tempers the impact of its heft.

Expert Advice Living in Black and White portrait 8

Above: A DIY bedside table made from a stack of magazines and a buckle belt found on the blog Varpunen.

RM: An easy color fix?
EA & HSM: Not only is a stack of magazines bound by a single band a clever provisional nightstand, the band is a brilliant stroke made bolder by being the only black in a spare all-white room. Here black provides direct simple drama.

RM: Suggestions for good black and white paint pairings?
EA & HSM: Here are a few different options:

Need more paint suggestions? Check out more posts from Eve Ashcraft. Explore more Palette and Paints.

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Frequently asked questions

What is black and white living?

Black and white living is a design aesthetic that utilizes predominantly black and white elements in interior design.

Why should I consider black and white living in my home?

Black and white living can create a sleek, modern look. It can also make a small space appear larger, and it's easy to mix and match pieces from different design styles.

How do you balance black and white decor?

It's important to layer textures and shades of black and white to add depth. Using natural materials like wood or adding a pop of color can also balance the starkness of black and white decor.

What are some tips for adding warmth to a black and white room?

Adding plants, natural materials, warm lighting, and soft textiles like a rug or throw can add warmth to a black and white room.

What are some common mistakes when decorating with black and white?

Using too much black can make a room feel cold and uninviting. Not incorporating texture or a pop of color can also make a room feel one-dimensional.

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