I Mad for mono­chrome

Mod­ernise your home with black and white

The Daily Telegraph - Property - - Front Page -

Scan­di­na­vians live by it, con­tem­po­rary ar­chi­tects frame their min­i­mal­ist creations with it, and glam­our-lov­ing lux­ury in­te­rior de­sign­ers swear by it, too. Mono­chrome is the (non) colour pal­ette that prob­a­bly achieves the most con­sen­sus across the board when it comes to in­te­ri­ors. Its ad­vo­cates say it’s clas­sic and rest­ful, but that doesn’t mean it has to be safe; in fact, it takes quite a bit of cre­ativ­ity to make an in­ter­est­ing scheme when colour is ab­sent.

“It’s time­less and so­phis­ti­cated, and re­ally quite strik­ing. You can’t go wrong with it, can you?” says Tamzin Green­hill, an in­te­rior de­signer.

She chose this look for the hall­way of her Vic­to­rian home in Hamp­stead, which puts a mod­ern spin on the clas­sic tiled floor with hand­made geo­met­ric tiles from Emery & Cie, a Bel­gian com­pany, plus chic black and white pho­tog­ra­phy. “I’m not strictly a black and white per­son, but I didn’t want a hall­way that was su­per-bright and colour­ful that I might get bored of. When I walk through the door, this just feels calm­ing,” says Green­hill.

Jenny Weiss, of Hill House In­te­ri­ors, says that mono­chrome is of­ten the go-to pal­ette for the high-end schemes she works on, es­pe­cially for the “en­ve­lope” of a home – ar­chi­tec­tural el­e­ments such as floors, stair­cases and doors. “It means the bones of the place looks great even be­fore you’ve put any­thing in it,” Weiss says.

“That ba­sic scheme, done right, could last you 20 years or more, and you can add punches of colour with art­work or ac­ces­sories, which, when you get a bit fed up of them, you can change.” She points out that mono­chrome doesn’t have to mean bril­liant white paired with deep­est black: while this might cre­ate max­i­mum im­pact, it can be rather harsh on the eyes. Look a bit closer at most schemes, and you’ll prob­a­bly find soft grey, ivory and taupe rather than white, and the deep brown of a stained tim­ber rather than true black. “In this coun­try, it’s im­por­tant for black and white not to look too cold,” says Weiss.

How­ever, there is a place for strong con­trast. Weiss is a fan of ze­bra and other an­i­mal prints, putting a leop­ardspot run­ner up a stair­case in one re­cent project.

There’s a vogue for dark ar­chi­traves and skirt­ing boards (rather than the de­fault white), which can el­e­gantly frame the view from room to room. Black, Crit­tall-style steel and glass walls and doors are also back, and look best when paired with white walls to em­pha­sise their crisp, in­dus­trial look.

Graphic pat­terns such as stripes and chevrons can be use­ful as at­ten­tion­grab­bers, draw­ing the eye to a par­tic­u­lar fea­ture. This is what Roselind Wil­son did in an award­win­ning kitchen-diner, where a built-in ban­quette at the far end of the room was up­hol­stered in fat stripes.

“The room is about nine me­tres [30ft] long, but the minute you walk in, your eye is pulled right to the end of it, and then up to the cor­nic­ing on the four-me­tre [13ft] high ceil­ings. It all helps em­pha­sise the di­men­sions,” says the in­te­rior de­signer.

Wil­son’s kitchen de­sign is a les­son in how to make mono­chrome more in­ter­est­ing than just black, white and grey, us­ing a num­ber of ma­te­ri­als and depths of sheen so that the pace never slack­ens. “There’s a fire­place in black pol­ished marble, but the black lam­i­nate work­tops are by con­trast quite flat. Then there are tall units in a graphite-stained oak, which has much more of an earth­i­ness and depth; and fi­nally, a white pol­ished marble work­top adds even more in­ter­est,” she says. “Tex­ture is one of my favourite things – I love lay­er­ing them up, with­out mak­ing it over­bear­ing. The tac­tile qual­ity of fin­ishes and ma­te­ri­als is re­ally ex­cit­ing to me.”

Katharine Poo­ley agrees that a mono­chrome in­te­rior only works if there’s tex­tu­ral in­ter­est. The de­signer’s sug­ges­tions for a rest­ful bed­room scheme in­clude “adding ac­ces­sories such as cash­mere throws and silk cush­ions, or even fab­ric walling, which makes the space more cosy”.

She also sug­gests in­cor­po­rat­ing fur­ni­ture and ac­ces­sories in metal

fin­ishes such as bronze and cop­per: the eye won’t read them as a colour as such, but they will still add sense of warmth and cre­ate a point of dif­fer­ence with the black and white.

Mono­chrome is as­so­ci­ated with many dif­fer­ent pe­ri­ods and styles, from lux­u­ri­ous art deco to the more rough-and-ready stylings of in­dus­trial loft liv­ing.

It’s an al­most ubiq­ui­tous fea­ture of Scan­di­na­vian in­te­ri­ors, where it sig­ni­fies a cer­tain hu­mil­ity – a home that doesn’t need to show off, be­cause it’s there to be com­fort­ably lived in.

In a bid to ex­plore new di­rec­tions, prod­uct de­sign­ers are look­ing to far-flung places for new in­flu­ences – Burk­ina Faso’s earth houses, painted all over in un­even geo­met­ric pat­terns; Ber­ber rugs, with their dark brown lines criss-cross­ing on cream wool; and the wo­ven bas­ketry of coun­tries such as Rwanda and Sene­gal. The em­pha­sis has shifted to ob­jects with a hand­made, im­per­fect look, to give a scheme a sense of au­then­tic­ity.

On­line re­tailer Maisons du Monde is a one-stop shop for the eclec­tic mono­chrome look, styling con­tem­po­rary, in­dus­trial-in­spired fur­ni­ture with graphic black and white tex­tiles. The ap­proach by Anne-Laure Cou­plet, its brand di­rec­tor, is to pair black and white with nat­u­ral ma­te­ri­als such as rat­tan and wood to add warmth.

Of course, the sheer joy of mono­chrome is that you can mix it with what­ever colours are of the mo­ment. A few years ago it was yel­low and grey, cre­at­ing a soft, Scan­di­in­spired look; right now, look to co­ral, dusky pink, indigo, teal or emer­ald for your colour fix.

Marks & Spencer is go­ing big on bold black and white over the com­ing months. Its Man­hat­tan col­lec­tion, launch­ing in Septem­ber, was “in­spired by the op­u­lence of New York ho­tels, with soft vel­vets and green marble mixed with bold mono­chrome fur­ni­ture,” says James Pat­more, its de­signer.

It is styled to turn up the glam­our, with teal vel­vet so­fas, brass, glass and marble. Ac­cent chairs in black and white stripes or graf­fiti-scrib­ble pat­terns stand out against the moody back­ground.

Mono­chrome isn’t for ev­ery­where, or ev­ery­one. “I wouldn’t want my whole house to be black and white,” Green­hill ad­mits. “I think it would make any­one crazy.”

But it works bril­liantly in ar­eas such as hall­ways and bath­rooms, where you want the space to feel crisp and clean. A mono­chrome bath­room is a de­fault for many, but it needn’t be bor­ing, es­pe­cially if you use tac­tile sur­faces such as marble and ex­plore in­ter­est­ing sculp­tural shapes for baths and basins.

“A black and white scheme may of­fer a free­dom to ex­per­i­ment with form and tex­ture,” says Paola Tanini, the co-founder of Ital­ian bath­room com­pany Devon&Devon, which has cre­ated some glo­ri­ous mono­chrome spa­ces. “It will al­ways be pure and el­e­gant, and the con­trast of dark and light can’t fail to make an im­pact. In a world search­ing for the next new thing, the com­bi­na­tion of black and white al­ways de­liv­ers.”

‘It’s time­less, so­phis­ti­cated, and strik­ing. You can’t go wrong with it’

Shades of grey: Marks & Spencer’s Man­hat­tan range, above and main, fea­tures bold black and white fur­ni­ture and launches in Septem­ber

Clas­sic: a rest­ful bed­room de­signed in mono­chrome by Katharine Poo­ley, above; tex­ture makes up for a lack of colour in a kitchen de­signed by Hill House In­te­ri­ors, be­low

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