Decorating with Black

By Kate Riley September 18, 2013

It’s the great debate, is black truly a color? From a scientific perspective, to see and define color, you must have light. Artists and designers do consider black a color, however scientists do not because technically black is the absence of all color. When light shines on an object its true hue is revealed by the light bouncing off of it observed by the human eye.

Since color theory is based in human perception, it’s okay for us to refer to black as a “color” for purposes of interior design. Three adjectives come to mind with the discussion of decorating with black: glamorous, sophisticated, timeless. Think of the tuxedo, the grand piano, film noir, and black and white photography.

black and white space bhg

better homes & gardens

I’ve been exploring the obvious colors on the wheel in this continuing Color Series, but it does make sense to include black, white, and gray as a major players because of their impact when making choices in how to decorate homes and spaces. 

When it comes to exteriors, what’s more classic than a glossy black front door and trim? I have a weak spot for black mullions, divided light windows, or French doors, and can’t wait to incorporate them into a future space design.

black gloss front door

black front entry door

black divided light windows

domaine home / traditional home / elle es


Black painted cabinets – yet another timeless choice, balance the drama with plenty of white and textural wood tones or woven pieces.

black bathroom cabinets

black office cabinets bhg

black and white kitchen cabinets

davidas kitchen & tile / better homes & gardens / house & home

What happens when you paint the walls black? Drama, that’s what. If you have light furnishings and accessories, the black walls envelope a room and provide a gorgeous backdrop to show off all of those pale accents.

painted black wall

black walls in bathroom

black bedroom wall

black wall white mats

black entry wall house tweaking

black exterior wall

lda architects / kristins jaarda / ashley goforth / source unknown / house tweakingcollected interiors


The same is true of black wallpaper in grasscloth or geometric prints, the dramatic impact of patterned or textured black walls is undeniable.

black grasscloth wallpaper in bathroom

black wallpaper

kerrie kelly / at home arkansas


Who’s got a crush on black stripes? That would be me. Bold or thin, they’re a playful chic choice for furniture, rugs, and walls.

domaine home dining room

black and white stripes on sofa

black and white rug and pillows

black and white striped chairs

domaine home / style at home  / schappacher white homestyle at home


Another element that makes black special in interior design is its power to make a graphic statement. Textiles and tile are the perfect example!  

nate berkus black and white rug

black and white fabric on sofa

graphic black and white rug tiles

graphic black and white prints

graphic black and white pattern medley

nate berkus / michael partenio / at home arkansas / pinterest / arkpad 


As with any color, decorating with black can always be achieved in smaller or less permanent ways by incorporating accents or painted furniture.

black modern console

gloss black chest

black painted armoire

black console and mirror

black and white office furniture

ferreira design/ pinterestterra cotta properties / chango & co / pottery barn


Have you included shades of black in your home? Perhaps a painted or chalkboard wall? On cabinetry or with accessories?



  1. Just fabulous- I’m trying to talk my son & his fiancé into wallpapering a wall in their house in black & white stripes ! It would look so dramatic!

  2. What a fantastic entry Kate! I am so obsessed with Black and White interiors, and all the pictures you referenced are swoonworthy! I agree there is nothing more elegant, glamorous, dramatic, or timeless, and black and white seems to be successful at transcending all seasons. Thanks for all the inspiration–I’m ready to paint my French Doors black, and hope that a glossy black stair hand railing and treads are in my near future. Deni

  3. My biggest issue with black? All the white that has to go with it! My kids would never be allowed in the house! However, when they fly the nest I think black (and the obvious white contrast) will very much be in my home, esp to create that grand entrance! Thanks for the ideas!

  4. I just painted my exterior front door in glossy black too. It’s so crisp & elegant looking. I remember hearing you should incorporate a little black into every room-not sure if that holds anymore but I do have an affinity for black lampshades.

  5. Love this post! I am constantly seeing light and airy spaces around blogland {and they’re *beautiful*!} but it’s so nice to see black highlighted and showcased so well. And talk about drama! Love that. Thanks so much for sharing!

    ~Abby =)

  6. Hi kate –

    I have the HEMNES eight-drawer dresser in black in my master bedroom right now and have been looking at it for years thinking what I could do to spruce it up. I love the color of it, black, for that pop of color impact in the room considering everything else in the room is neutral. Any recommendations on how I can spruce it up myself? A glossy finish, new knobs, inlays??? I would love to know what Kate my do in my case :)

    • Send me a pic Jessica, sometimes just new hardware makes all the difference – think of it as jewelry against a little black dress :)

  7. i love love love black! its my favorite color for both interiors and fashion! just this weekend i switched out my black and white chevron rug in the family room for something more subtle, and i already miss it! i have a piece of black furniture in almost every room. i do love the light and airy cottage look but i cant give up my black!

  8. Hi Katie,

    As usuall ur posts are always answering my dilemas! I want to know what color of siding my cape house should have…and then after reading this i have the answer. White! With a nice black door. Everything inside my house is kind of white and balck with accent colors of red, blue and green that varies according the season… We are renovating our house very slowly… I hope one day it is done the way i dream. I also started a blog, so my family and friends in brazil can see what is happening with it. It doesnt have many pictures yet and the ones it does, are not professional looking. But it is for friends and family anyway…

    Thank u for inspiring us!

  9. I L-O-V-E black utilized in decor!

    When I was first starting out decorating my first home [some 15 years ago], a designer friend told me to stick with 1 thing and use it in EVERY room. That can be a style, an object, a color, etc. I took those words of wisdom and have used them ever since.

    And my choice then was to use — THE COLOR BLACK!
    And, I still carry that throughout my decor in every home we have lived in.

    We just updated our bedroom bedding and it is BLACK and White, I posted about it here:

    It’s so classic and timeless. As long as you get a good balance, it can work well for you.
    Thanks for posting about this fabulous color! ;)


  10. I love these images Kate!! This is my favorite color post so far! I keep going back to black and white for my bedroom, I just don’t love anything else like I love black and white.

  11. This is a fabulous post. I love your blog; it’s on my daily read list. I painted my husband’s office walls black, and we LOVE it. I painted the built-ins, trim and ceiling a pure white-talk about DRAMA.

  12. I think black is really classic if used well. I like a lot of these examples, especially the idea of using bold black-and-white textiles and tile in a space. It’s a graphic way to add texture and still stay neutral.

  13. Just designed a private client house – designed every door from scratch for this modern farmhouse. Every door was a different style – but we had them all painted black.

    My new favorite color for a house is now black. Loved the end result of the doors being painted black with crisp white trim and soft, pales tones on the walls.

    Classic and clean.

    • Agreed Stephen, I’m looking around my house now thinking “what will be painted black?”
      Can’t wait to see the client’s reveal on your blog, you always do amazing things in design!

  14. I like black a lot, but oh dear lord, the dust. I think that’s why I prefer black on vertical surfaces, like doors. I don’t believe I personally could get away with a black piece of furniture with a wide, flat space.

  15. I painted my front door and exterior shutters black last year! What an awesome difference from the cranberry! Definitely made the house look more classic and elegant! Currently thinking of doing walls above beadboard or board and batten in the dark gray-almost black in my half bath on the first floor, but first the beadboard/board and batten needs to be completed!

  16. I’m really they white wall, with wood furniture (dark or light) and lots of color but you really showed me how nice it would be to have a black wall as backdrop for presenting art. I really liked it
    and also the patterned floor tiles , her in Israel you can see in old housed the spice colored one , burnt sienna , amber and olive but i really loved the black and whited shone here.
    thanks so much for the beautiful examples and the way look of different aspects and ways to design in black and White, you sure got me thinking

  17. Hi Kate – I fell into the brown trap years ago and can’t figure out how to crawl my way out of it and add some black in. I was struck by the photo of the bathroom with black walls and brown wood vanity. I’d love to know: What are your thoughts on how to combine black and brown?

  18. When I changed up my living room last year I added a bunch of black, white and cream. I love it. It opens to the kitchen and I plan to paint the orange oak cabinets this year with black on bottom and white uppers.

  19. I love black mullions and doors! And the occasional piece of glossy black furniture. I once saw a really chic console/accent table that was painted in a satiny finish, with a high gloss black floral stenciled all over it. I made a mental note in my head to DIY it sometime!

  20. I love the clean look of black and white. Black is a grounding colour and all rooms should have something black in it. However, black is the PRESENCE of all colour and white is the ABSENCE of all colour. When you take many colours and mix them together you get black, and white is reflective, thus the absence of all colour and why it is preferred for wearing in hot climates.
    When you remember those simple things it makes everything make sense. Also some designers think of black and white not as colours per se but as tones.
    Enough with the art lesson, I love your blog and love your inspiration.
    Thank you

  21. I painted my front door and garage door glossy black. I love it!! I can’t believe I hesitated so long to do it. I have a light gray living room and have incorporated tiny bits of glossy black into the decor: a large velvet throw pillow, two carved picture frames, and a faux mounted gazelle head. It adds just the right amount of class.

  22. My house went way out of the norm for the rest of the neighborhood – we chose to have black trim outside when everyone else has white. I love it – soft dove grey with black trim. Inside we chose all shades of grey – with lots of black accents all around. The color palette inside and out really makes colors pop – it turned out even better than I imagined.

  23. Where did you find that gorg mirror over your white sofa? I love your style! So chic!

  24. I do love black and love some of the photos you’ve chosen. I especially love black and white stripes. We are finishing up our sunroom and it’s done in black and white stripes.

  25. Thanks for putting together this collection of inspiring pictures! I’m automatically craving some black and white in my house!

  26. YES!! Black and white is a staple in my home, both outside and inside. I pair it with blue and white and green and white. I have black and white marble floors in my entry and guest bath. Can not live without my black and white. You have shown so many sophisticated options and I enjoyed pinning away!! Great post Kate, Thank YOU,

  27. When we bought our current house, it was previously owned by an interior decorator that went crazy with black paint. She painted the kitchen cabinets, the hall cupboards, all three bathrooms’ cabinets and cupboards, and EVERY interior door and door frame. I could not wait to get in our new house and paint. We have since painted the entire interior jersey cream (Sherwin Williams) with pure white baseboards and molding and we left some of the black (in the bathrooms, in the kitchen and the front door. I have to say that the contrast of colors is absolutely beautiful. I get so many compliments on the color scheme of my home and I know it’s the pops of black here and there that set it apart. Now I’m just counting down the days till I start my kitchen remodel and can get rid of those poorly painted black cabinets. White cabinets with marble counters……CAN NOT WAIT!!!

  28. Awesome post! I love our black and white coastal decor. I’ve always loved pure white walls and cabinets but looking at these photos makes me want to paint my bathroom cabinets, the kitchen cabinets and maybe a wall black. Thanks for the inspiration!

  29. My living room, with its modern black leather sectional, is open to my kitchen, with its bright white cabinets. I have incorporated both black and white into both rooms to help connect them.

    I also recently painted my small and drab powder room black, which amped up the sophistication quite a bit. I would have rather done a black and white geometric wallpaper, but budget-wise, the coal paint was the best option for right now.

    You can’t go wrong with black!

  30. Love, love, love, love! Did I mentioned loving this post? Thanks Kate for pulling together such a great curation of images – bookmarking this one for sure!

  31. I have something with Black n white , I love both of these and their combination very much and your decorations are truly great . I loved them,, sensational images..

  32. I am in a rut of browns; tan walls, tan carpet, lighter hardwood and brown couches. Any tips on where to start with wall color and accent furniture color. I love this blog and would love to start incorporating this crisp look into my home!

  33. Oh this post had me from the first image! Perfection! I love black and I don’t use it much anymore since my wardrobe is basically black. I think one day when we move, I may have a kitchen with black cabinets and white subway tiles, a huge kitchen! xo

  34. I’ve been looking for a new color scheme, with visions of color wheels swirling in my head. This is simple & elegant, & so ME! Thank you for the inspiration. It’s as simple as black & white. :)

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