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Ask Maria: What Mood Does Black and White Convey, Warm or Cool?

By 03/20/2018June 17th, 201819 Comments


Recently, we received this question:

What color mood does black and white have? Is it a warm, cool or neutral color mood.

Since the planet is suddenly obsessed with painting their rooms art gallery white, and since black is the new grey, this question doesn’t surprise me. It’s probably a highly searched question online.

But here’s the problem.

It’s not the right question.

People are trained to ask themselves ‘What mood are you looking for?’ because when anyone starts talking about colour and re-decorating, that’s the first question a decorator or a paint store will ask.

What’s the mood that you want to create for this room?

That could be a great question for someone who has a blank slate.

But if you are like many of my clients who just want their existing living room to feel good, (which means they have existing furniture to work with) this is totally the wrong question.

The second place people look for colour inspiration is current trends.

They look at all these blown out WHITE rooms on Pinterest and they decide white is the answer.

My bookkeeper just moved into a little house in the country and during our one of our regular meetings last week, she mentioned that she just painted the entire house some shade of art gallery white.

This is someone who does not follow my blog and is not overly interested in design. But the pulse of colour is currently about WHITE. And that’s how she ended up with bright white walls.

So back to the question about black and white.

A room decorated entirely in black and white can be warm or cool but that depends on the balance of black and white, the texture, lighting, and most of all styling.

This room (below) is so black that it could read cold. The floors warm it up for sure, but it’s a great example of when too much black makes a room feel masculine.
If you live in a house that it old and undecorated, this room might still hold some appeal for you (which is why you might be shaking your head right now instead of nodding). And, there’s nothing wrong with that, but just stay with me.


This room (below) is even more black on grey on black. What is the mood here? Debilitating is what I would call it, which is what too much grey and black will create.

Take away the high end, well-lit display cabinets at the end of this room and the lacquered furniture and we’d really not want to spend any time in this room. Except if it was dark and we were watching TV.


Okay so you probably get the picture right about now right? Are we depressed? I know I am.

What makes the following rooms work?

Here this room has been styled well with hits of brass everywhere, lacquered floors and furniture to provide some shine, black and white books in the black bookshelves to add texture along with a glittery chandelier.

This room is almost as black as the media room in the above photo but the gold adds warmth and glamour to the heavy black colours in this space. And the white walls provide some much needed contrast here.


Love that the black (below) wasn’t repeated in the faucets and the mirrors. This bathroom, although obviously trendy, has just the right balance of black and white with the black repeated strictly in the light fixtures. That’s enough.


Not too heavy, and glamorous enough to be the bathroom that looks like it belongs with the living room we just saw before this photo (above).

This art gallery white room (below) has lovely architecture detail with black and white artwork and a primarily white area rug to balance the black leather sofa.


Be mindful of how you decorate with black. It can look chic, elegant, strong and dramatic, but it can also quickly look boring, masculine, harsh, flat, and predictable.

The way to introduce a trend this strong is with paint. How many of us would love a bathroom entirely tiled in black?

black tile | black and white bathroom


As I said in my 2018 trends report, if you want to incorporate black into your kitchen, do so only if you can incorporate a wall or two without uppers.

Otherwise your kitchen might be as bleak and dark as so many espresso brown kitchens were (and still are) in the 2000s during the Tuscan brown trend.

Remember, boring equals timeless. This statement is still just as true five years after I wrote that post.

Who is incorporating black into their reno’s or new builds this year? Who is going to follow my advice? Raise your hand, haha!

Related posts:

5 Reasons You CANNOT Paint Your House Art Gallery White

How to Decorate with Black (and How NOT to Decorate with It)

Dos and Don’ts for Decorating with Black Outside; Before & After


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  • Noni says:

    Working on my bathroom right now and I really appreciated this post. Too many black finishes in a small space just seem to make my eyes bounce all over the place. This confirmed my decision to keep it simple.

  • That one with the lit cabinets in the back looks like a non-color photo. Fine if a black and white photo, but I wouldn’t want to live there. Good post and examples. Just like when the gray trend started and everything was gray with no fun colors, better examples like the ones you’ve shown will help people not end up suicidal.

  • Jane Beard says:

    I aspire to boring. After four years, I just made my Tuscan brown bathroom supremely boring. And I love it.

  • Cindy says:

    I live in a ‘countrified’ style home {tho house is only 4 years old}, and have always loved some black pieces to ground my rooms {a thrifted piece painted black, iron bed, chandeliers/lighting, picture frames, etc} as well as warm woods. Tho I’m not a fan of the modern farmhouse black and white trend {thanks Joanna Gaines}, I do think she does black and white well. Interesting to me how different styles will be incorporating these bold colors.

  • Michelle says:

    Great post! I am renovating my entire house down to the studs and follow your directions all the way! I recently paid for your new build e-design and it was so helpful. You suggested my master bathroom to have a black and white scheme. My builder is really into putting in a stripe in the shower stall tile and I keep saying NO! I want a timeless bathroom. (Plus it’s more tile I need to buy) Maria, thank you again for all your amazing words of advice!

  • Janet R says:

    I love black/white accents in my rooms of bright color. A MacKenzie-Child checked tea kettle, striped Ikea pillow covers, plus everything that we have built in has a black/white check border.I don’t know why, but it makes me happy. More fun than formal I guess : )

  • Tanya says:

    I painted my bathroom black a couple years ago and I am definitely not tired of it yet, I just love it! I do have a lot of white subway tile and white tiled floor (both have some black tiles) so it isn’t full walls of white, but it works so well in the space. If anyone ever asks me what every room needs, I always say yin and yang. I think balance — black and white, old and new, rough and shiny — and something that keeps the eye moving is what makes a room. This goes beyond cold or warm. You need both for cozy!

  • mrsben says:

    Personally, after experiencing black kitchen appliances (a nightmare to maintain) I would much prefer to introduce black into my decor with the use of accents and accessories only. In other words, that which can be easily and economically changed out unlike those that come under the umbrella of fixed elements. As for being enveloped in art gallery ‘white walls’ throughout my home; the mere suggestion of them is way too stark for me however ‘to each their own’ as my statement is not to offend. Excellent article Maria. -Brenda-

  • Trish says:

    I literally just escaped a night of tossing and turning over redoing my front hall that has me trapped by it’s black & whiteness! This post gives me hope. 🙂

  • Deborah says:

    My son has asked for some black wall paint to be incorporated into his bedroom-with-attached bath design. I’m thinking we could do this in his bath, since a.) it’s only a small upper portion of the wall above painted wood paneling; b.) there is a small strip of black-on-white accent tiles in his shower; c.) it’s a small job so not a big problem if we do it and it seems wrong.

  • Judi Chevalier says:

    Good points and illustrations!

  • Lucy says:

    I am not a fan of a lot of black in a room because to me it becomes depressing. That being said however, I do like a touch of black in art, frames, accessories etc. It always looks classy and classic ! Like you have said many times black and white in floor tiles are timeless and if you do paint black in your kitchen only do the base cabinets. For me I like color. I like to change accessories now and then to give the space a new look. If it is black like the pictures that you have presented I find it hard to make it cheerful! IMHO

  • Mary-Illinois says:

    My dream kitchen has white uppers, white tile backsplash, butcher block counters, & black lowers.
    I have wanted that for the last 10 years. I think it’s a perfect mix of feminine & masculine.
    I did give myself a black painted bathroom for a while. I loved it. And then, like everything in my home, I got tired of it & painted over it.
    Currently, I have very small doses of black. Not enough to declare I’m following the trend but because I think most spaces can handle a little of it. I think it adds an interesting mix.

  • Nicky McElfresh says:

    I love this post and how you’re brave enough to answer “it depends” regarding black and white rooms. I’ve been following your advice since I started reading your blog last year. For instance, we just installed medium brown wood-look tile throughout the main level. It relates well to our honey oak trim, which I don’t love but which does now look intentional.

    Last week I painted a tiny windowless bathroom black (vanity, toilet, and wall cabinet are white, brushed nickel fixtures, only moderately horrible navy/black ceramic tile squares). Now I love it! I’ve styled it with references to outer space and even the tile relates better. Previously it was a purple gray, and just wrong.

    Thanks again for the wonderful insights and education.

  • elizabeth says:

    Maria, I have no idea how I landed on your site, but a new subscriber here! 🙂 We are embarking on a kitchen remodel and have chosen a lovely specimen of Copacabana granite–almost pure black, white & grey–very, very little carmel–for our large island which we plan to waterfall. The perimeter cabinets will be white & I’m warming up to the idea of making the perimeter counter white to not repeat the stone in our island. I really want to anchor this lovely stone with black cabinetry (and the images above make me drool as I think the black cabinets–offset by enough white–are so striking and elegant). My designer is very much against the idea and recommends all cabinets to be white and to repeat the Copacabana on the perimeter. Who knew black and white could be so controversial?!?!? 🙂

  • Janet says:

    I LOVE black as an accent, but hate cold, sterile rooms. Thank you for the sage advice!

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