Get Strategic With Dark Paint

There’s a common misconception that dark paint colors can make a room feel depressed, confined or smaller than it actually is. This is kind of like the notion that wearing white after Labor Day will lead to some horrific fashion faux pas—a theory that is passé and downright false. In fact, strategically using dark paint colors like forest green, violet or even midnight black will not only add complexity to a space but also create mood and drama. Strategically being the operative word.

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“Darker colors add depth and intrigue to a space, but it’s all about finding the right placement,” said celebrity stager and luxury home stylist Cheryl Eisen of Interior Marketing Group in New York City. Contrast is key to designing with a commanding color palette. Pairing dark wall colors with light colored furniture and accessories makes a room appear much more expansive and luxurious. Similarly, offsetting seductive hues with lighter, natural colors adds an unexpected dynamic.

“We like to use a mix of light colored fabrics and accents to contrast and pop off dark walls,” said Nancy LaCalamita of East Islip’s Twice as Nice Interiors. “Mirrors are also a great tip to use as they reflect light and really shine on a dark background.” Dining rooms in particular benefit from a darker color scheme. “Since this is a space typically used at night, the walls provide a luxe, dramatic setting,” LaCalamita said.

If painting an entire room merlot is too much, too soon, consider incorporating deeper colored details to achieve the desired impact without being too drastic. “Dark walls and accents are two of our favorite design features and they are a great tool to draw the eye to a specific location,” Eisen recommended. But an accent wall should not be chosen arbitrarily. A darker colored wall will appear to advance forward, while a lighter colored wall will seem to recede. A darker accent is befitting of the wall behind a headboard in the bedroom or a TV console in living or family rooms, LaCalamita advised.


Dark art and accessories are another easy way to build depth in a room without the commitment of paint. “Oversized abstract art pairs perfectly with a neutral design palette and a large, dark coffee table really anchors a space,” Eisen noted. In an office, a dark wallpaper or installation piece behind a desk creates a powerful focal point. In a bedroom, she suggested adding dark grasscloth wallpaper to achieve the same effect as any dark accent wall while also adding subtle texture. “Paired with crisp, white linens, the darker tones create a warm and relaxing space,” Eisen said.

Equally as important as contrasting accessories and selecting the appropriate accent wall is the lighting concept. A dark room requires no more or less light than one painted in lighter hues, but selecting the correct fixtures makes all the difference. “It is all about creating balance for the eye,” Eisen claimed, noting the room’s lighting should be largely functional. When considering options for rooms with dark accents, spotlights and canned lighting set the scene, but also help render a space usable in everyday life. If the space lacks natural light, having a versatile array of artificial sources will ensure functionality and style. “You can have table lamps and a chandelier in the same room but that doesn’t mean you should turn them on at the same time,” Eisen added.

Risk takers might be inclined to turn this décor concept on its head and go beyond the walls. A high ceiling, for example, can be painted a dark tone to create a more intimate setting. “We love when the opportunity presents itself for a unique ceiling color,” LaCalamita stated. “We have used colored ceilings in bedrooms, living rooms and dining rooms where the walls are a neutral tone and the ceiling is a great pop of color.”

Word to the wise: if designing a home that’s going to market, using dark hues may be too buyer specific. As Eisen advised, “When we use dark colors in our luxury design projects, we really consider who will be in the space and its use before making a bold statement.”