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Black And White Decor (Part 1): Making A High Contrast Style Work For Your Space

A black and white decor is a daring choice, but one that’s starting to become quite popular, despite the larger trend towards decorating with bright, bold colors. Why? Because colors can be difficult to match, both from paint swatch to wall and from one color to the next. But put black and white next to each other and the contrast between them is instantly striking – and fool-proof. Finding the right balance between the two takes a little finesse, but whether you opt for a small display or a whole room (or even a whole house!), the natural balance is there to back you up, and works well with just about any style.

Modern

Sleek Lines, Glossy Finishes, And Stark White-On-Black Silhouettes Make A Black And White Decor Feel Very Chic And Modern (by Atmosphere Interior Design Inc., photo D&M Images)
Sleek Lines, Glossy Finishes, And Stark White-On-Black Silhouettes Make A Black And White Decor Feel Very Chic And Modern (by Atmosphere Interior Design Inc., photo D&M Images)

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Of course, there are different kinds of black and white. Highly glossy finishes – on the walls, cabinets, wallpaper, lighting fixtures, or even furniture – immediately make a room look and feel more modern. That sleek, chic, polished sort of black and white has a very glamorous, urban vibe. Posh modern spaces tend to use black more liberally and more boldly as well, as in black walls, black and white wallpaper, and zebra print accents.

Reclaimed

Black And White Items Naturally Cluster Well, Making It Easy To Create Displays From Interesting Found Black And White Objects, Wall Art, Or Furniture (by The Old Painted Cottage)
Black And White Items Naturally Cluster Well, Making It Easy To Create Displays From Interesting Found Black And White Objects, Wall Art, Or Furniture (by Jennifer Grey of The Old Painted Cottage)

While the inherent drama of a sharp black and white contrast lends itself well to a modern design, it’s also a very, very good fit with this year’s major trend towards using reclaimed, salvaged, and found objects for a more rustic, industrial style home decor. Slightly weathered blacks – rather than glossy ones – help underscore the appearance of age while still giving the space a slightly formal quality. Sticking to a strictly black and white decor also makes it easy to visually group and coordinate unusual or found decor items like old signs, framed manuscript pages, old photos, antique typewriters, or really any interesting looking object.

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Traditional

Even Small Amounts Of Black Can Make For A Striking Accent In A Traditional Decor (by Connor Homes)
Even Small Amounts Of Black Can Make For A Striking Accent In A Traditional Decor (by Connor Homes)

A more traditional design offers a middle ground between these two techniques, using blacks and whites that are clean and solid but not overly glossy. Modern designs tend to favor black, but a more traditional look will be predominantly white, using black detailing – like a counter top, hardware, handrail, lighting fixture, or piece of accent furniture – to make the white stand out as being more intense. Dark finished floors were a popular technique for creating this effect a few years ago, but have fallen somewhat out of favor. Instead, opt for black counters in the kitchen and bathroom and other large pieces in the rest of the house.

Patterns

Mixing And Matching Multiple Patterns Feels Less Busy When Done In Black And White Than With Most Other Colors (by Laura Manchee Designs, photo by Miro Dvorscak )
Mixing And Matching Multiple Patterns Feels Less Busy When Done In Black And White Than With Most Other Colors (by Laura Manchee Designs, photo by Miro Dvorscak )

With most colors, you want to avoid layering too many patterns. Even if you stick with the same color family, or even the same color outright, too many patterns can make a room look busy. But layering black and white patterns can work surprisingly well. This can be everything from chair upholstery, area rugs, or wallpaper to smaller details like throw pillows or wall art. Bolder patterns with less fine detailing (either in black or white) tend to work a little better, as very fine lines can be a bit dizzying, but by and large this is one design where mixing and matching lots of wild patterns is really fair game.

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Greyscale

Adding A Touch Of Gray Will Help Soften The Look Of A High Contrast Black And White Decor (by Alexander James Interiors)
Adding A Touch Of Gray Will Help Soften The Look Of A High Contrast Black And White Decor (by Alexander James Interiors)

If a very sharp, bold contrast is a little too much for you but you find the look of a black and white decor appealing, consider working in a little bit of gray. Using shades that aren’t pure white or black will help soften the whole space, giving it a less dramatic feel but keeping that same classy, sophisticated look. Very soft grays will also help tie together multiple fine white-on-black patterns, making the space feel better blended and more uniform without totally sacrificing the edginess of a high contrast style.

Color

Adding The Tiniest Bit Of Color Can Totally Alter The Personality Of A Black And White Decor (by Tom Stringer Design Partners, photo by Werner Straube)
Adding The Tiniest Bit Of Color Can Totally Alter The Personality Of A Black And White Decor (by Tom Stringer Design Partners, photo by Werner Straube)

Maybe my favorite thing about a black and white design, though, is that it’s the easiest style to add color to. This might sound a bit counter-intuitive, since the design itself is colorless, but what that means practically is that even one single brightly colored piece – whether it’s a potted plant, accent chair, or a throw pillow – can completely alter the tone of the room. Any bold color will work, as will an item of just about any size. And the best part? If you decide you don’t like it, you just change out one or two pieces (or even just your flowers) to instantly re-envision the space.

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What do you think of a high contrast black and white decor? Do you love the look? Let me know in the comments! And for more ideas on how and where to make this look work, check out Part 2 of this guide here.