Today I’m sharing timeless ways to decorate with black. Contrary to popular belief, I don’t dislike black, but there are 4 design traps to avoid in order to keep black from overpowering your design.
When is decorating with black timeless?
Black has received nothing but bad press on this blog for a long time so I received this question from a follower:
Maria, can you post pictures of when you find black timeless and done right. Kitchens, doors, cabinets etc. I would love to see examples of what you find tasteful.
If you have just built and decorated house in MOSTLY black and white, you might want to skip this post. 😬 Finding out which black look is timeless will only be useful for those of you that are in the beginning stages of decorating.
The rest of you might get upset because you won’t be able to unsee the mistakes you’ve made.
Timeless black staircase ideas
So, for my dear readers who want to see some examples of how to use black correctly, feast your eyes on these images…
This is a beautifully designed staircase. Black skinny railings like this with timeless pale oak floors is perfection.
Here’s another staircase example that’s especially helpful if you need to paint all your steps because you are planning to change your floors. Simply leave the risers and the spindles white (see below).
Painting the entire set of stairs black is not only a recipe for constant dusting but this will also SCREAM, “I painted my stairs in the black trend.”
Remember, as soon as you can spot the “WHEN” this was installed, it’s no longer a timeless choice. Read more about that here.
I have one more foyer to share.
This entry features an utterly timeless black and white checkered tile floor. And again, this staircase has slim black railings. Black lampshades are also a classic way to add a bit of black to a room. Notice, however, that they chose white shades for the wall sconces.
Knowing when to stop choosing everything in black is KEY.
Timeless black kitchen ideas
Here’s a kitchen that could have been installed BEFORE the black trend. Notice, there are no black faucets or lighting that might immediately DATE this kitchen.
Black has been repeated on the pantry wall and inside the glass cabinet. The mixed metals are also a beautiful detail in this kitchen. Choosing a stainless steel faucet and hood fan combined with brass lighting and hardware is very timeless.
I also like how the counter stools relate to the floors, but also create contrast with the black kitchen island.
In MOST cases, black appliances go with black countertops. However, the kitchen below is a good example where an exception could be made. Why? Because it’s a high-end range with stainless accents that are also repeated in the hood fan.
I like the open shelving and the black and gold lighting. And again, the black counter stools create contrast next to the white kitchen island.
One edit I would make here would be to repeat the gold in the hardware, instead of the black pulls on the cabinets. Also, I’m not a fan of the dark stain that has been added to the honey oak floors. A medium brown would have been more timeless in the end.
Timeless black bathroom ideas
I’m not sure if I’ve ever shared this before, but I’ve loved this bathroom for years. Installing a timeless black and white floor and then ONLY repeating the black in the decorating is a good formula to imitate.
In this bathroom below, Joanna Gaines has done a great job of leaning into traditional (beyond the modern farmhouse). Nothing says timeless in a bathroom like a black and white hex floor.
Timeless black interior door ideas
A question I get often is, can I paint the inside door of my front door black? The answer is YES, but only as long as the black is repeated on the inside like it is here in the floor (below). The top of the console table also happens to be black, but that’s it – so it’s not overdone.
This is what it means when people say, “Every room needs a hit of black.” A hit is very different from a large dose. And when decorating with black, it’s much better to go small, than to go big.
Read more: Dos and Don’ts for Painting Your Doors Black
Timeless ways to decorate with black
This contemporary living room (below) is a stunning example of decorating well with black.
Notice how black is sprinkled around the room in slim elements like the task lighting and window frames. Black mullions always look best when they are slim. Black is also repeated in the pattern of the rug, the dark espresso or black coffee table (behind the ottoman), and also in the bookcase.
Additional design details like the weighty antique mirror and deep green occasional chairs have similar visual weight, without looking heavy and stark.
Pro stylist Steve Cordony certainly knows how to use a judicial hit of black to make a room look elegant without being too trendy. Notice his generous use of living greens and warm brown tones to balance all the white and black accents around the room.
I talk a lot about the misuse and overuse of black framed windows.
Want to know when I think they are perfect?
Black windows in a garden walkout like this breakfast nook below are where they look beautiful and perfect. The two details that make them perfect are that they are 1) large enough to be accented as a feature and 2) the frames are elegantly slim. They simply allow the eye to go past them to the garden view.
Sadly, beautiful black framed windows like this won’t work in colder climates.
The subtle black piping and legs on the upholstery is the perfect amount of black to repeat the black windows.
And speaking of black windows, where I see the black and white trend go badly is most often on exteriors. Builders seem to have a process where they design the interior layout to meet certain demands, and the exterior ends up looking more than a bit random.
The scattershot placement of windows of all different shapes and sizes is the hallmark of this look. Then it’s made so much worse by installing black windows to highlight just how mismatched the windows are. It’s kinda like bad eyeliner.
The only exteriors where I think black windows are beautiful and timeless is when the windows are, above all, symmetrical. And often the windows are luxuriously large. Like this pretty exterior below.
It’s also notable that the roof is a natural cedar shake and not overbearing with more black. Add in a beautiful garden and nothing looks better with black and white than green foliage.
And while everyone is currently painting their front door black, this entrance below might be the prettiest black and white entrance I’ve ever seen. The black door picks up the beautiful black and white pavers and the wrought iron gate. And once again, there are gorgeous plantings for balance.
4 design traps to avoid when decorating with black
I think the most important takeaway for how to decorate well with black is to remember that black needs to be balanced and softened in design. The quality everyone wants from black is bold drama, but it’s way too easy to miss the mark.
Here are my best tips for getting what you want out of black, by avoiding these common design traps:
- Use black sparingly. Remember that it’s not only about choosing something in black “because it goes with everything” or “because black is on-trend.” Black decorating accents demand attention and tend to bounce the eye around the room. This is tiresome and not at all the elegant effect intended. Instead, limit black to two or three elements placed where you want to draw attention.
- Use black sparingly. Black is the heaviest colour. Make sure you don’t let it suck the air out of your space or drag it down. Balance black with plenty of white, cream, and colour.
- Use black sparingly. The overuse of black is where it quickly gets harsh, flat and predictable. Don’t choose black for every light, plumbing fixture and surface simply because it’s trending (or because it feels like the only option at big box stores – ugly is always on sale).
- Remember to add the pretty. A black exterior without a pretty garden or gobs of greenery is a severe-looking monster in the landscape. A black and white interior with no beautiful styling or decor to soften and warm it up is simply bleak and stark. Repeat the black in subtle ways, but also make sure to create balance with other colours or neutrals (see #2).
It’s not that I don’t like black, it’s that I often find it’s not done well and it’s becoming the default choice during this trend cycle. Just remember, you have to be more mindful when decorating with black so it looks timeless and not immediately dated.
I hope this post fills you with some timeless black decorating inspiration so you can find ways to decorate with black without missing the mark.