Interior Design Gurus on How to Do Bold Black Walls Right

In a sea of non-committal beige and 50 shades of white, decadent black walls are a distinctive choice.

They’re alluring for their dramatic elegance, but can be an intimidating prospect for the home.

Sure, black walls look fantastic in swanky hotels on the pages of Architectural Digest, but will they work in your humble abode? Among the mysteries contained in the murky depths of a dark coat of paint is the question of how: How do you make black walls look stately, not scary?

To shed some light on this elusive topic, we talked with some of Chicago’s most talented interior designers.

Designer Alexandra Kaehler is a big fan. The day we spoke she had just finished installing an entirely black family room.

“I think black always works in a residential space,” she says. “It can make a large space feel cozy or a smaller space feel vast… and lends itself incredibly well to bedrooms, living spaces and bathrooms.”

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Photo by Andrea Mandel; courtesy of Alexandra Kaehler Interiors

Different textures impart a variety of effects—changing the mood of a room from rustic to regal. “The finish is important,” says Tai Kojro-Badziak of roomTen Design. “A polished black lacquer library allows a fantastic literary collection to shine, while minky black bedroom walls hint of sensuality.”

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Photo by Heather Talbert; courtesy of Alexandra Kaehler Interiors

Black can deftly accentuate striking artwork or an ornate piece of furniture. The contents of a room pop against a dark backdrop, so the other colors, textures and materials in the space become more significant. “Consider the black velvet jewel box, against which a glittering necklace develops more depth,” Kojro-Badziak says.

What goes into the room is as essential as what goes on the walls. Balance is key. Kaehler says she often uses lighter fabrics with dark walls to create contrast.

“However, there are times where I choose to embrace the darkness and carry it throughout the space as well,” she says.

In this case, a play of texture and luster will keep a dark space from falling flat. Designer Nicholas Moriarty suggests selecting polished metals and textiles with a subtle sheen.

“The addition of luminescent materials against the black walls will aid the eye in moving through the space,” he says.    

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Nicholas Moriarty Dining Room Courtesy of NM Interiors

Natural light will prevent black walls from becoming oppressive. “Rooms with large windows and Southern exposures innately allow for bolder, deeper color choices,” Moriarty says. Kojro-Badziak even suggests black for a tropical setting.

“Large windows can flood the walls with sunlight, creating a compelling contrast—especially effective in conservatory-type spaces featuring sculptural palms,” she says.

If you’re not ready to take the plunge, Moriarty suggests considering an “almost black,” which she describes as a black-like color that’s really a very dark blue, green or purple. Or try an inky black on the ceiling. A dark ceiling will effectively disappear, bringing you down to earth and enhancing the sensuous surroundings of the room.

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Photo by Heather Talbert; courtesy of Alexandra Kaehler Interiors

“Think about the difference between night and day,” Moriarty says, “On a clear day you’re always looking up… At night, you’re generally more focused on what’s immediately around you.”

However you approach it, painting a room black is a decisive move, so make sure the other elements of the space impart the same confidence. “Don’t be shy!” encourages Kojro-Badziak.