There is nothing more classic, chic, or timeless than a black-and-white interior. This high-contrast opposites attract combination has long been favored by interior designers and architects who find inspiration in the artistic purity and inherent glamour of a color palette reduced to its essential elements.
While it might look easy to design in black and white, it actually requires consideration and restraint. When it’s not done well, a black-and-white interior can seem unimaginative, stark, or cold. But designers and home decorators who have mastered the iconic combination follow some basic principles that bring their black-and-white interiors to life.
Strike the Right Balance
Interior designer Kara Mann, known for her sophisticated, modern interiors, has a 70/30 rule when it comes to black-and-white decor. “Pick a dominant color and use the other as your accent color,” she says. “Aim for a 70/30 ratio, for example, a large black sofa set against a white backdrop of white floors, walls and coffee table. Then accessorize with metallics.”
Shades of Black and White
The color black has many many variations—from tar black to near-black slate grays to the deepest midnight blues. Choose a shade of black that works with your home’s character and natural light for everything from paint to furniture to tile to accessories and metal finishes.
Similarly, there are many shades of white, from warm yellow- or pink-tinged creams to cool blinding snow whites. Mixing shades of white on walls, finishes, furniture, textiles, and accessories will provide texture and interest, and keep your interior from looking too one dimensional.
Focus on Texture
Using varying textures on furniture, finishes, textiles, and accessories is essential for creating a layered, dimensional black-and-white space. Bring in textures of black with matte black metal fixtures, shiny black subway tile, shou sugi ban paneling, high gloss black paint, plush black velvet, or black linen sheets. Add textures of white with complementary shades of paint on walls and trim, and textiles and upholstery such as linen, (real or faux) sheepskin, leather, wool, cotton, or silk.
Play Around With Patterns, Graphics, and Art
One of the easiest ways to liven up a black-and-white interior is to play around with patterns. Think stripes, plaids, polka dots, geometrics, and abstract motifs. A classic black-and-white checkerboard floor. Dramatic dark floral wallpaper. If you’re a minimalist who prefers solid colors, using black accents in a predominantly white room can create a bold graphic effect, such as industrial black metal sconces, table lamps, or floor lamps in a white room. A curvy white couch on a black floor will create a sculptural effect. Black-and-white photography or graphic art will look right at home in a black-and-white room.
Mix Periods and Styles
Mixing old and new furniture, objects, art, and accessories is one of the best ways to create an inviting interior that feels collected over time. The discipline of sticking to two neutral colors allows you to mix periods and styles while retaining an overall sense of cohesion. Painting vintage or antique furniture white or black can help it to integrate seamlessly with more contemporary pieces while creating a sense of history and timelessness.
Warm It Up
Blogger Annie Diamond of Most Lovely Things designed her family home with a black-and-white palette that provides her with a timeless, neutral foundation that can be styled as seasons change or holidays come and go.
Diamond says she follows some simple rules to keep her black-and-white space feeling cozy. “Use all shades of black and white: off-white, cream, camel, oatmeal, black, light and dark gray, silver, concrete,” she says. “Warm up all the neutrals with wood: wood furniture, bread boards, bowls. Add some rattan pieces like a bar cart, a lantern or a basket. Then add some organic things like driftwood, rocks, or seed pods.”
Another key element to creating a warm space is to focus on lighting. Using warm, diffused lighting will create a comfortable and enjoyable ambiance. Don’t forget to include multiple sources of light in the room, from task lighting to ambient light, and to light all four corners of the room to promote a sense of well being by preventing shadows.
One of the easiest ways to guarantee that your black-and-white scheme doesn’t seem too cold is to incorporate greenery. “Add more plants than you think necessary,” Diamond suggests, “and don’t forget branches or even a stem or small branch in a vase.”
Use Color as A Finishing Touch
Mann, who in addition to her interior design work is also a furniture and product designer, says that decorating in black and white doesn’t mean there is no place for color. “Don’t be afraid to infuse hits of color,” Mann says. “Accent pillows and art are a great way to add color to a space without detracting from the overall color scheme.”
Diamond enjoys seeing how adding something as simple and ephemeral as a vase of colorful flowers can transform her black-and-white home at a moment’s notice. “I never worry about using only white flowers,” she says. “I think that’s what’s great about having a neutral black-and-white home, any color you add in the way of flowers is beautiful!”