How to Decorate With a Dark Color Palette, According to an Interior Designer

Using a dark palette to design a room can be a great choice, but intimidating in practice. Rich shades of black, gray, and brown can feel heavy, especially in tight spaces, if they’re not balanced. These colors may also feel out of sync with the light and bright palettes of certain design aesthetics, such as coastal or farmhouse styles.

But if you’re drawn to hardwoods or modern designs, grounding darks are the norm. When done right, paint and accessories in these colors can be eye-catching and downright royal. So what’s the secret to pulling off a dark color scheme? Native Houston designer Christopher Charles shares his top tips for walls, floors, and furniture that make the most of a dark palette.

Ali Harper

1. Be bold with paint

With over a decade of experience in luxury interiors, Charles encourages homeowners to go bold when it comes to wall colors. “Painting interior doors a darker color like brown, black, or various shades of gray can add visual interest and drama to your home,” he says.

And if you’re not ready to commit to an entire room with dark walls, small painted accents add a custom look without darkening a room. “Painting crown moldings and base moldings in darker shades is a wonderful custom look,” says Charles. “With this application, you can create understated drama that can visually increase ceiling height and turn ordinary crown and base moldings into room highlights.” Or opt for just an accent wall, such as a fireplace wall, to play it safe.

For a functional feature, consider chalkboard-style dark paint in high-traffic areas, such as kitchens, children’s bedrooms, playrooms, or foyers. Not only can this dark color be the backdrop to fun, colorful designs, but note walls can also become the centerpiece of household coordination.

If you’re ready to go big, Charles suggests painting the ceiling for a “very distinctive and custom look.” Either way, lean into a dark palette by using paint sparingly but strategically to make the room pop.

Brie Williams

2. Balance with light colors

Using a dark color palette requires a balance between white and light tones. If you’re not ready to paint your walls a dark color, “white walls are the perfect backdrop for much darker furniture and deeper and richer artwork,” says Charles. Get creative and use light neutrals throughout the room to contrast with darker tones.

3. Watch out for lighting

Lighting is another important element that enhances a dark color scheme. Try highlighting the darker elements of a room so that an accent wall or bold charcoal furniture is illuminated instead of fading into the background.

Swap white or off-white lampshades for darker shades with gold or silver foiled interiors, Charles suggests. “Reflective interiors provide beautiful lighting at night,” he adds. Light and color balance is key to mastering dark spaces.

Hector Sanchez

4. Try Textile

Whether it’s bedding, curtains or rugs, fabrics can often be an afterthought. But textiles are the unsung hero of most living spaces. Use dark or contrasting textiles to give a room a high-end and intentional feel.

Charles says that beautiful rugs, wall-to-wall carpets, and rugs can be arty when placed atop a dark floor finish, such as dark hardwood or gray cement. Additionally, dark window treatments can add both interior flair and exterior appeal. “Darker color window treatments can help frame picture windows and two-story windows nicely,” he says.

Nate sheets

5. Update cabinets or hardware

“Custom built-in closets and cabinets are a perfect way to introduce darker, richer, and more saturated color palettes into your space,” says Charles. Whether dyed or natural, these pieces can “add a tailored look to otherwise basic pieces.”

For a dramatic change in the kitchen, renovating a cabinet offers the opportunity to switch to dark wood veneers or gunmetal shades. Don’t be afraid to go dark for a gastronomic experience at home.

If you want a more subtle change, “adding matte black hardware to cabinets, drawers, and appliances is one way to add small but noticeable dark elements to a space,” says Charles. Another easy swap is to replace furniture legs with matte black designs to customize a piece of furniture.

Annie Bader

5. Let the sun shine

When designing an office or living space with matte black or deep gray, consider natural light sources. Picture the room at noon, with maximum sunlight streaming in – where does the light fall and where are dark furniture or fixtures most visible? Where do you prefer to sit, play or work? That’s where the dark colors should go.

Just as artificial light provides contrast to a dark color scheme, so can natural light. Frost windows that you would otherwise close. If you have a skylight, place a dark rug or leather chair underneath. Use dark colors wherever you can bask in a flood of warm light.

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