Don’t be afraid to try dark, moody colors in your home’s design

Don’t be afraid to try dark, moody colors in your home’s design

Seattle-based interior designer Allison Lind’s clients tend to resist dark interior colors — at first. 

Many want their living spaces to feel light, bright and open, which is great for some areas of the home. But painting a small, windowless room all white won’t necessarily make it feel larger. 

Sometimes you need to go in a different direction.

“Some spaces want to be the moody, dark rooms of the home, so let’s embrace the darkness,” Lind says.

Many of us spend our days in brightly lit offices, she says, so a richly colored room at home can be a soothing antidote. So designers are encouraging homeowners to embrace beautiful shades of black, along with deep greens, moody blues and rich burgundies.

Many of Lind’s clients say they are afraid they’ll get sick of a color that feels different, or they’re worried that dark might equal drab. But by using saturated colors, they’re actually adding depth and dimension to their space, she says.

Bellevue interior designer Ayesha Usman believes dark and moody colors work especially well in Pacific Northwest homes. 

“It’s about bringing the outdoors in, and continuing the same feeling of warm, cozy and moody in interior finishes,” she says. “Your home should reflect your surroundings.” 

The lengths to which one goes to add dark features to a space depends largely on personal tastes.

Michelle Dirkse, a Seattle-based interior designer, recently worked with clients who had an unusual request: They had purchased an old church and were looking to create an interior that leaned dark — “less sanctuary, more mortuary,” she jokes. Dirkse came up with a design that included a library/bar area with desaturated green walls (including a hidden bookshelf) and dark furniture and area rugs.

Don’t be afraid to try dark, moody colors in your home’s design

Starting small

Those types of smaller spaces are the safest for taking design risks, Usman says. She suggests trying new ideas in what she calls “accent rooms,” such as offices or media rooms. Other designers recommend dabbling with dark colors in powder rooms (half-bathrooms), which lend themselves to jewel-box-style collections; dining rooms or dens that are walled off for privacy; or small bedrooms where experimentation may bring surprising results. 

Of course, this approach doesn’t work for everyone. “Some people really like light and bright bedrooms,” Lind says. “If you don’t like blackout curtains, a dark bedroom may not be for you.” 

A hallway can be an excellent place for a splash of dark paint or a deep-hued rug as you transition out of the busier rooms in the house, Dirkse says. “Darkness can set a tone of quiet.” 

On a recent commercial project, she chose a darker mid-tone for the carpet and paint to communicate, “When you’re in this area, take it down a notch.” 

A hallway can be an excellent place for a splash of dark paint as you transition out of the busier rooms of the house. (Courtesy of Farrow & Ball)

Transforming with paint

Painting is one of the fastest ways to give a room a darker and moodier feel. Blues and greens are natural fits for the Pacific Northwest, Lind says. Avoid neon green or cobalt; instead, choose the colors you’d find in nature — the green of a fir tree or the gray-blue of water. 

Green can be a challenging color to get just right, Lind says, as it can have surprising undertones. “A green next to a white-oak floor may look really different than next to a dark walnut floor,” she says.

Whatever color you’re considering, look for a desaturated version with a bit of gray or brown, which Dirkse says will help the color feel “sophisticated and not childlike.” Her favorite hues include gray and black, along with desaturated greens, blues and burgundy.

Anyone who has shopped for “white” paint knows there are dozens of variations, which can also be influenced by a room’s location and lighting once it’s applied to the walls. Black is similarly varied: It can feature blue, maroon and other undertones that add richness to a newly dark space, Dirkse says.

A high-gloss finish can add glamour to a small space by reflecting light, she says. But be warned: The shinier the sheen, the more you’ll notice paint flaws on walls and trimwork.

When possible, skip the flat white ceiling paint, Dirkse says. 

“Part of why people are afraid of dark colors is the white ceiling glaring at you,” she says. Painting the ceiling the same color as the walls creates coverage that blends the edges. This monochromatic approach works best when mixing sheens — typically that’s a flat finish on the ceiling, eggshell on walls, and satin on the baseboards, trim, crown molding and doors. 

You can inject deep, moody richness into a room’s design without taking an all-dark approach. Adding dark-colored accessories, such as wallpaper, drapes and wood furniture, can be just as effective as a coat of dark paint. (Courtesy of Alex Hayden)

Furnishing for depth

If you’re not ready to give up your white walls but you still want to create a moody vibe, try adding dark drapery, furniture and area rugs to contrast against lighter walls. Black-stained wood furniture can be a beautiful addition, Dirkse says, along with black architectural accents and decor.

Dark and moody needs to be well-balanced too, Usman says. If you go with a dark paint choice for walls and ceilings, lighter furnishings and artwork can help prevent a space from feeling too dark or drab. 

Accessorize with houseplants and vintage finds, and add warmth by choosing wood furnishings. Then layer on rattan, wicker, boucle and linen textiles and pillows, which Usman says will add some softness to dark and moody interiors.

The shine of metals in lighting and hardware can make a dark room pop, too. Usman likes accessorizing cabinetry with brass fixtures and hardware “for an antique, lived-in look.”

Consider tones that harmonize, Lind says. To contrast against a dark navy or charcoal wall, go with oatmeal or off-white pillows rather than bright white, which could be jarring.

And remember, dosing a room with darker hues doesn’t mean the whole house will suddenly feel heavy or dark.

“[Creating a dark room] can help an adjoining space feel larger and different, due to the contrast,” Dirkse says. So you might get that even-brighter room after all — just down the hall. 

Choosing the right paint color

If you’re think about taking your interior over to the dark side, here are a few recommendations from Usman, Dirkse and Lind for paint colors that will help get you started.

Usman: Paean Black and Railings, both from Farrow & Ball; and Onyx and Wrought Iron, both from Benjamin Moore.

Dirkse: Lead Gray 2131-30 and Townsend Harbor Brown HC-65, from Benjamin Moore.

Lind: Duck Green and Scotch Blue, from Farrow & Ball.

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