5 Expert Tips on Using Dark Paint to Transform Your Space

dark paint
Photo: Farrow & Ball
Paint and decor experts share their tips to transforming a space with dark paint.

The dead of winter means major hibernation mode. (Read: cozied up at home drinking red wine in bed… can you really blame us?) In an attempt to transform our space into a proverbial cave, we sought out the advice from the experts.

1. Paint All Four Walls
It may not be for the faint of heart but go for major drama and paint an entire room a dark color. Farrow & Ball Director, Sarah Cole says, “An increasingly popular way to use dark colors like Railings, Down Pipe and Stiffkey Blue is on all four walls to create an incredibly dramatic space. These colors work really well with brightly colored art, fabrics and furnishings, really highlighting the colors. English interior designer, Rose Byam Shaw says, “A dark color tends to expand, rather than to contract a space," confirming that yes, you should go dark!

2. Expand Small Spaces
We'll admit to swooning over a tiny bathroom that's painted a dark charcoal gray or even black—it's incredibly dramatic and has major decor impact that's unexpected. “Dark colors are a great way to transform small spaces like bathrooms, cloakrooms and cupboards into a dramatic, cocooning space," says Cole, who suggests jewel tone hues like Brinjal, Pelt and Hague Blue for a sophisticated look.

Looking to try something more dramatic? Decorative painter, Robin Sacks (we first met her at the Kips Bay Decorator House, where she transformed a stairwell using painted geometric accents) says, “Try a bathroom in black Venetian Plaster stripes—alternating between shiny gloss." She used this technique in a small bathroom with a white tiled chair rail and says it, “married a sense of playfulness and sophistication." You can also use a dark gray or navy on a ceiling for a visual trick to adding depth.

3. Accent Your Furniture
Painting furniture pieces a bold shade has been a decor favorite for ages, but when going dark (instead of, say, a canary yellow), Cole says, “Painting furniture strong tones is a great way to use dark color as an accent to an otherwise neutral space: Try transforming a writer's bureau with Railings No. 31."

In verso, Shaw says, “A rich, dark shade makes a fabulous foil for paintings and furnishings. Lighter pieces of furniture are thrown into relief against a dark background, and paintings can almost seem to float on a dark wall."

4. Frame a Room
Contrasting colors, like black and white, always create a dramatic effect. Shaw says, “Use the dark color on woodwork—the base boards, the door and window frames, ceiling cornice, with a lighter color for walls and ceilings. This is very effective in houses with good proportions and fine detailing because the dark color serves to highlight the architectural bones." Shaw continues that you can also, “You can frame and contain (a dark room) by using a complementary white on woodwork, for example around door frames and windows, and on the ceiling. This looks incredibly smart, and crisp, like a fresh white shirt worn with a dark suit, and also ensures that the space will seem chic, but not gloomy."

5. Play Up Shadows:
Sacks' statement room at the Kips Bay Decorator House was an amazing stairwell she had painted in an ombré gray with painted geometric accents. Using this poorly lit space, the trained fine artist says, “I knew I wanted to transition a dark color to a light color. The staircase is large, but has 3 distinctly different areas so I decided to play on this idea of light and shadow when choosing my color scheme. A white wall can have a grey hue when cast in shadow, so I played up that effect to create a dynamic space using basic materials. I specifically chose a cool white, a cool gray and a warmer slate gray, and the metallic lines united the space, elevating the simplicity and adding interest, depending upon how the light hit them."

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