Monday, January 7, 2013

Would You Paint a Room Black?

Let's pretend that you've just stepped into a paint store, armed with swatches, your head bursting with the names and numbers of black colors, and the Trivia Gremlin pops up and says, "Don't be silly! Black isn't a color!"  
"Look it up on Wiki," Gremlin says.
You mean, I've been calling it the wrong thing for decades?
Maybe I should be more careful. Maybe the next time I walk into a furniture store, I should say, "I'd like to see a chair that's, um, how to describe it? A chair that isn't a color.
Is black the absence of color? A mix of all colors?
According to Wiki, black is the "absence of light" and "the opposite of white."
For our purposes, we'll refer to it as a color, and the gremlin can go eat cake. Well, it's a good thing that gremlins don't exist (more cake for us, right?), because black is one of the most alluring, sophisticated colors in a paint deck.
Historically, black is the shade of mourning. It symbolizes submission and was favored by religious orders. The color didn't achieve fashion status until the 15th century--then, it lost favor when it became associated with bad luck and black cats.
Now, it's associated with the little black dress and black tie events.
Black is used as a grounding element by interior designers--
or an entire background.
 You might be reluctant to paint a room black--this reluctance might have hardened into dislike if you've ever had to paint a dark room a lighter color. Then, some people are flat-out scared. We've been told that a black outfit will make us seem thinner, so common wisdom says that it will turn any room into an itty bitty space.
Forget all you know about black.
This color can instantly make a small space look larger. It can add glamour, bling, drama--and depth. Many years ago I had two black rooms--one with windows, one with poor lighting. I did not choose them. I was too chicken. I was led down this path by an interior designer, and in my mind, I thanked her every day.
Those rooms were gorgeous.
In my present home, I didn't use a designer, and I felt very bold when I opted for greige in the powder room.
A word about powder rooms. They're special, little places. Guests tend to linger in our living and dining areas,
but they spend minutes in a powder room.
These spaces are often described as "little jewel boxes," the perfect spot for homeowners to be wild or grand, as elegant as elegant can be, a place for your guests to open a small gift box and know that you created it just for them.

Many powder rooms are tiny and windowless, and designers often choose whites or sunny colors to give a feeling of space and light.
Others use dramatic reds, which are lovely and memorable, but like many jewel-tones, red is assertive, and it isn't neutral (more later).

Just how far will you take powder room drama?

Black was the first color I thought of when I saw my small, windowless powder room. "This is the place to strike out boldly,"
I told myself. But how bold?
Using black paint in a small, dark room seems counter intuitive, but the color is a chameleon--and, as previously mentioned,
it can create drama and high style.
The unspoken rule is: Small spaces can handle big design.
But if you use black, you must be very, very brave.  
 I have other options. I could use tile, but it's costly and (IMO) permanent. I really want to keep the wooden floor and the pedestal sink. But, as much as I love beige,
the color isn't doing one positive thing.
The room doesn't look bigger.
It's the opposite of a jewel box, more like a "time-out" box where bad decorators go after they make mistakes.
 I searched for examples of black rooms on Houzz, and found quite a few. Here, the walls have been trimmed.
 An art gallery breaks up this black wall, which acts as a neutral canvas for the colorful prints.
By the way, the color is Benjamin Moore Black 2132-10

One thing I learned from a black room: it acts as a neutral and turns lighter objects into pieces of art. 
Above, the walls have been painted "Caviar," by Sherwin-Williams
Paired with white, black is very lovely. 
I love all-white bathrooms, but paint won't fix my room. I'd need wallpaper or tile--and I am not ready for that kind
of financial commitment.

Beadboard isn't inexpensive, but it would last forever--
and it can be repainted. A flat finish would be elegant (but scary in a bathroom), and high gloss would bounce light; a satin finish would add a subtle polish and would be impenetrable to water.
Naturally I vote for a lacquer like finish because it would make the jewel box dazzle. 
I'm imagining a black beadboard powder room with a white pedestal sink and an over-the-top white mirror.
"Caviar" by Sherwin Williams

I'm imagining abundant lighting, gorgeous sconces, and the judicious use of mirrors. I'm imagining a white orchid on a white painted table, nickel faucets, white guest towels, colorful art on the walls. I can't go wrong by painting a wall, right?

Before you go, I have a few questions:

1. Would you paint a room black?

2. Have you done it? What were the results?

3. What color would you paint this room?

4. Would you opt for tile? Beadboard? Something else?

Stay tuned for another episode of Renovation Diary, when MLee and her wild ideas will doubtlessly end up in the "time-out" box.

See you later with chocolate-dipped strawberries, a divine treat for all foodies and DIY designers.
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  1. I hear black is the new black! I think a powder room is the perfect spot--don't think I could handle more and small if you have to paint over it in the future :)

  2. Those are some beautiful examples - but could I live with one on an everyday basis? Not sure. :/ But then I can't make a simple paint color choice.
    Enjoy your evening.

  3. Yes, I would paint a room black ~~ the right room for the color. My
    18-year old nephew painted his bedroom black, it looks awesome!!

  4. I probably wouldn't. That being said, those rooms you showed are gorgeous and I say go for it in a small space!!! The great thing about paint is that it can be painted over :-)

  5. I would paint a room black if I had the nerve. The photos of black walls in the bathrooms you've shown are fabulous. They would be a nice offset to the white rooms you've been thinking about. I like the bold gold mirrors and think mirrors really make a difference in the black rooms. As far as bead board goes, it has too much of a country kitchen feel for me, but that's just me. It is very popular and might look better in person.

    I do plan to paint some doors black in our next house because I think they really make a statement.

  6. My first thought was, good grief...NO! But then I scrolled down your pictures & loved some of the room examples. Expecially with the white trim & right accent pieces. Also, I realized that I recently painted my own bathroom a chocolate brown....way out of my comfort range...& absolutely love it. So, go for it! Tile? Hmmmmm, I think not.

  7. Thanks for your ideas! I wonder if the pretty white mirror would look odd with beadboard--a clash of styles. I love the look of a gold/gilt mirror against black. Classic!

  8. I love this website:, under the balancing the effects paragraph. That said, I would totally paint the room black and I like the bead board idea, but I'd have to put in white tile flooring, maybe penny round or hex tile. : ) Too, I love the idea of a gilt mirror. You could totally salvage a thrift find mirror and spray some gold on it to get the effect you're looking for without spending the cost of pricey gilt framed mirror.

  9. I would go for the black. I have had several black rooms and loved each of them. Currently my dining room is black and the main floor bathroom is black. The bathroom has white tile and white fixtures and I use a lot of white in the dining room. I will say that with black the quality of paint really makes a difference. i.e. the Aura paint in my DR is much more beautiful than the Ralph Lauren paint in the bathroom. I'm thinking that your room is fairly new and the walls would be in good enough shape to use a high gloss paint which I think would look amazing. Or you could use a gloss wide stripe on a flat black background - vertical or horizontal - makes me happy just thinking about it! FYI black wall have to be dusted occasionally...

  10. A piece of furniture, yes. An accent wall, yes. The entire room, probably not.

  11. Am not sure if i would like black in any room - I would love it to start with, but eventually I would want a more calming color. All the rooms painted in black look awesome but am not sure if i would like it in my home . I prefer gray - it has its own drama and love what you can do with gray and so many shades to pick from. I would recommend gray for the powder room .

  12. I have had black walls in a bedroom and bathroom. I loved them because they were so dramatic. It's just paint, and easily changed. If you don't like it, use one of those one-coat paints that will cover anything so you don't have to do multiple coats.

  13. You're so right--it's only paint, and one-coat brands do make it easier. I might try Urbane Bronze,which is on my front door/garage doors--a dark,dark gray, almost black. I have some leftover, along with caviar. Just to see if the room can handle it.

  14. Michael I used to cook in a kitchen with black and white tiles on the floor, black walls and the ceiling was gilded - this was in the late 1960s in Adelaide - too long ago - me thinks.

  15. I would paint the wall you see black, but not shiny, and not eggshell but the other one, the one that is in-between.

    White beadboard around and black on top. Love the idea.

    DO not get shiny paint, though, get the eggshell, it has a sheen and isn't unforgiving like flat but you will hate shiny.

  16. I love black and find myself bringing in more black throughout my home. I don't think I could do a black room but do love the idea of a black half bath. As for the beadboard I don't think I would do black beadboard from floor to ceiling in a small bathroom because I would think it would close it in too much. But, I would do black paint the walls from floor to ceiling and wouldn't worry with it closing in at all. I'm thinking too much texture with that color for a small room. Does that make sense? Anyway, with your bathroom I see a small cupboard door in the room which you could keep white to offset too much black. I can easily see white beadboard on the lower half under a chair rail and black on top. But maybe that's playing it too safe. LOL! I can't wait to see what you do and bet it will be stunning!

  17. I came back to say that in my Google reader your post about painting a room black is followed by Dust jacket Attic, who featured lovely black and white rooms. Maybe it's more than a coincidence. :) Her black and white rooms are fabulous.

    I would also agree with the comment above about not painting a room with shiny paint. It is very unforgiving. We made that mistake once and never again.

  18. Never thought of that,but I'm lovn' it!
    ~JO @ LoblollyLane

  19. I would paint a room black or deep blue (pretty) if there were lots of windows. Little potty rooms like that are fun to play with. If you do paint it black, maybe just paint the walls without a treatment like tile or beadboard. That way if you aren't happy with it for long it will be easier to change.

  20. Many years ago, a friend of mine who is uber-talented painted her powder room black, and she vein-painted it with gold to look like marble. She used a feather from her parrot to do it. She also did something with all of her Lalique perfume bottles to display them. It was quite stunning. She was never afraid of color and had her living room painted the most luscious shade of melon I've ever seen.

    I'm a big lover of wallpaper in small bathrooms. We have one powder room decked out in red tartan/plaid, and my husband still loves it. I have antique prints in there and some antlers for my towel rack with a plaid Ralph Lauren golf towel on it. The closet is also wallpapered and has all sorts of things that are Scottish and English in it... photos, antiques, my father's dog whistle, horns, golf prints, Robert Burns books, Victoria and Albert, etc. Before that, the bathroom was a faux fabric wallpaper that had to be removed when we removed the old sink. It left gaping spots. We have another powder room that is painted aburgine (sp), and while I like it, I want something prettier. The room has no windows and seems dark. I have oil paintings in there, but I keep feeling like it needs to have more light or life.

    When I'm in a powder room, I like to be awash in color, and I'm leaning toward a robin's egg because teal is the universal color that makes everyone look good. Black would be good, too, and I imagine that you are a winter and look good in black. Green is the hardest in a bathroom, I've found. I bought some expensive Schumacher paper years ago, and I didn't put it up because when the first roll went up, I looked sick. LOL SInce it was a guest bath, I was afraid the guests would all feel the same and leave. ;-)

    Depending on the room, I might try a black powder room. I've seen libraries done in black that are wonderful. I thnk Keith Irvine did one for someone like Irvine Berlin. But I think you might need a lot of things on the wall to not make it feel you have stepped into a cupboard. To that end, I had a living room painted Lafayette Green (which is DARK green with black tones), and I loved it. The room had three windows, and twot had a western exposure. I loved that room. My painter talked me out of the red I wanted because he said it would be too hot with that exposure. He was right. He was a smart guy. But the dark room was filled with lots of gilded frames and even gilded molding, floral linens, gilded curatin rods, white linens, frames in silver, etc. Two of my friends who are professional designers adored that room, and it was a little jewel box. BUT, people gravitatged toward the room in the back of the house that was a large library/family room combo. It was painted a very light taupe. I love and miss that house SO much. It lived well in so many ways, but my friend who bought it finally changed the living room color into some Pottery Barn number, and it lost its sex appeal.

    All of that to say, go for it! You've got such good instincts, and paint can be fun.



  21. Shelia, your tartan bath sounds heavenly!! Do you have photos? I am totally thinking of switching directions here, because I am crazy about tartan. All of your decorating memories are awesome!!!!
    Thank you so much for sharing all of this beauty with me. XX00

  22. Great ideas! You all are the greatest! I'll hold off on the beadboard for now and paint samples (I have small pots of Caviar and (dark gray) Urbane Bronze. I'm interested in seeing how this small room will handle a dark, bold color. The outcome will point me in the right direction--paint or something else. Thanks again! I'm open to all ideas about this powder room.

  23. I went back to look at your pictures, and think about this. If you want to eventually use wallpaper, why don't you just use paint for now. (Of course, that might mean you'd have to get the plumber to disconnect stuff later. Hmmm... I guess the trick is to decide if you really want beadboard or not. I actually like the boards that go taller, up to practically the celing. What is it called? Board and Batten? My cousin had that in his bathrooms in the Martha's Vineyard house (of my dreams). He's an architect and does a lot of preservation work with a comfortable, traditional sensibility.

    If it were me, I would figure out some sort of collection to use in there... antique prints, copies of antique prints that you could copy from the internet, or just some wonderful old oils and go floor to ceiling. I like that wall that has all sorts of artwork on it in one of the pictures from above. I did this in my stairwell in our old house and loved it. It was covered in paintings and had a great gallery effect. I did it because the foyer and stairs were so unimpressive. It did the trick.

    If you are doing nickel and those colors, though, that will be a different feel altogether. So gold frames are probably out. Let me think for a bit. I'm really NO help. LOL And I made some GROSS typos in that last post. One in particular, and you probably gasped when you saw it. I did. ;-)


    Sheila... who can't see doodly on this IPAD!

  24. Unfortunately, I took all the art out of the tartan bath when I was having a fit to change some things up. I will try and see if I can find old pics. If not, maybe I can recreate it. But you have to give me some time. LOL It's about 19 years old, Michael Lee, but I still love it. The trick is going to be finding tartan wallpaper you like. BTW, I took clan books and copied each of the tartans from the clans in our families and the history on the opposite page. I matted them in black and framed them in very inexpensive frames. A great look!

    Have you seen the blog Tartanscot? He has some great tartan ideas.

    Let me get on this. xoxoxoxox

  25. High gloss black in the bathroom is perfect! I have pinned it!



  26. I'd use it in your powder room - if you don't like it, get a boatload of primer later and repaint it! Small room, lots of drama...IMO :)

  27. I have a bunch of Sherwin Wms "pots" and plan to paint swatches today. I'll report the findings!

  28. I would definitely paint that room black. It would be stunning.

    But, on another note, I don't like black toilets. One of my friends had one in her very dark powder room, and I felt like I was sitting on a black hole. Yuck!

  29. Can't wait to see what you went with. I was going to say no to black, but after seeing some of your examples, I'm thinking it might look awesome.

  30. I love the drama of black, and it goes with everything. Best of all, when you tire of it, you can always change a wall color!