The nights might be drawing in, but that doesn’t mean we have to brighten up our indoor spaces
Every time you open an interiors magazine there are deep, rich and dark wall colours everywhere at the moment. Who are all these people painting their walls dark grey? Do they know we’re about to change the clocks and the light levels are going to get lower and lower until we sink into the gloom of a good old wet, dank and misty British winter?
Are they crazy or are they inspired? Well, it can be inspired.
The temptation is to put light colours on the walls of a dark room, to make it feel lighter and brighter and bigger. But often all you’re doing is pointing out the room’s deficiencies and making it feel cold and clinical, without actually changing the light levels either.
Dark colours, on the other hand, have a cosseting effect, making a room feel cosy and welcoming.
The dark colour acts as a ‘holding’ mechanism, and can provide a feeling of safety, one of our primary needs from our home. If the colour has a cool base, such as grey, there is a visual illusion making the space appear bigger – you don’t quite know where the edges of the room are.
Lighting can be the key to making a dark scheme work – think of pools of lamplight drawing you in, or down lighters washing a wall or highlighting a painting.
So how best to use dark colours? It’s a bit of a balancing act.
Try using dark paint on part of the walls only. Nearly always, this should be the bottom half – it grounds the space. A darker colour above feels top heavy and almost threatening: think of a really stormy sky – it dominates.
In the image here from Mylands paints, they have used a half-panelled wall – the dark colour allows the white and pink bath to stand out beautifully, making it almost into an objet d’art by framing and presenting it.
A dark-walled bathroom can be a sanctuary, rather than a place to get in and out of ASAP. Incidentally, a half-panelled wall is a great device – an easy DIY job and much nicer in a contemporary space than a dado rail.
Painting one wall dark and the others light doesn’t have the same effect – it chops the room up, whereas this way allows a continuous band, providing that holding mechanism.
If half a wall doesn’t tick your box, another way is to balance full dark walls with crisp white edges – all the wood work and the ceiling, and add in light furniture.
An alternative to using deep colour is a strong and large pattern, which has an enlivening effect. It dilutes the effect of solid block of dark colour, making it easier to live with.
Choose a paper with colours close to each other, as this has a more cohesive effect, especially in a small room, where high contrast would be a little in your face.
I rather like the walls shown behind the opulent velvet chair shown here.
Crisp white gives a strong outline to contain the deep colour and the pops of hot pink really stand out and become hugely attractive.
A second example is the marbled wall: here it is a ‘broken’ pattern that provides the relief from dark colour, which attracts the eye first. It also has the effect of adding a touch of luxury.
Mirrors are, of course, a great addition in a dark room, as they bounce any available light around, not just natural light but light from lamps too.
There are always two aspects to lighting – firstly, its effect, that is the light it delivers.
In a dark room, directional light is the most important, having pools of light, where not all the room is seen at once.
This provides that welcoming glow that pulls you in, and also makes the shadows a part of the story.
The other aspect is the fitting itself which can be decorative.
Some of these look best against a dark background, such as the mini asteroids shown here.
Hanging stuff on the wall also helps dissipate the strength of deep colour.
Two examples here – the circular feather wall hangings are interesting, because they are entirely about texture, not image. The repetition of shape and texture mitigates the depth of the wall colour behind and provide a frame, so it is highlighting the items on the wall, not the wall itself. A second example is the luxurious bedroom: here the artwork stands out, both by itself, but also with the repetition of a gold metallic finish of the pendant and open work bedside table. The soft pool of light is also golden.
The dark wood wall is a ‘broken’ finish too, although in a very subtle way, and adds to the feeling of luxury.
This is a great combination of features that could be replicated at a wide range of budgets.
So, the key to using dark colour on the walls is to balance it out, whether through covering some of it up with artwork or furniture that draws the eye and is held by the dark colour.
You can stop it being overwhelming by framing the colour with white and enhance its effect with lighting.
Ready to get the paint brush out yet?
The Limited Edition Petite Millbrook Bath from the Cast Iron Bath Company, painted in Mylands Rose Blush 1884, and the panelling in Sinner – who wouldn’t want that on their walls!
Above left: A rather sultry mid-century ambience for your home, enhanced by the marble walls, lamp and triptych Wilde mirror, with the glorious Anthony sideboard below. All from Essential Home. Above right: This magnificent bedroom has an inviting...
The Asteroid pendant lamp in glass is from Innermost.net I love these feather wall hangings and think they look great hung together as a wall display in different colours and sizes to create a sense of drama. From Audenza
The deep walls are painted in Mylands Berkeley
The Percy armchair in deep turquoise is from Sofa.com