Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Using touches of black and/or white in our rooms

I was in a friend's lovely home the other day. She used a variety of pinks in decorating her home -- and pink is right up my alley. She had lovely watercolor prints, lots of white, gleaming wooden floors, and a few floral pattern rugs. Her home reminded me of a garden, which is no surprise since she adores gardening. (How she finds the time with all that she does to serve people, I don't know!). She has a lot of lovely milk ware, which she uses in her hospitalty. She has worked hard to make a beautiful, welcoming home, and she has re-arranged things she has collected over many years of marriage in an artful way.
Anyhow, what struck me about this pretty garden-inspired home was that the effect was all the more delightful because my friend used touches of black in her decorating. Some of her lamps had black shades. One of her floral patterned rugs had a black background. She even had an old couch recovered in black and had someone add a bright rose-colored cording to it. Several hints of black really set off the other elements in her rooms. The black grounded everything, but the overall effect of her rooms was light and airy and pastel.
Everyone has their own idea of what makes a space feel homey. I personally am not a stark-black-and-white kind of girl, though I have friends who decorate their homes this way, and they love it. (I've noticed that many people who gravitate to this scheme have what we call "winter" coloring -- dark hair and paler skin, with a lot of contrast in their own look. I guess it makes sense that they are at home in cool-toned, high-contrast setttings).
I gravitate more towards things that are soft, pastel, curved, and French in feeling. (And, I love to use pink roses in my decorating scheme -- huge surprise, right!) It doesn't occur to me to use black in my decorating.
When I go to pick out a lampshade, for example, I automatically reach for white or for a soft color that matches the lamp. I don't know why I don't consider black. I've seen lots of wonderful rooms with lamps that have black shades in them. (Of course, some lamps would look better with black shades than others).
My friend's example has me re-thinking this issue. This morning, I dug out my copy of "Decorate Your Home with Love," by Mary Crowley. I remembered that she had written a section about using black and white in the home. Here's what she says about black:
""Black is the exclamation point, that little something that brings the rest into focus. Just look at the human face -- varying tones of skin and hair all "brought together' by that little jet-black pupil in the center of the eye. Sometimes, in a wash of white, that touch of black will be just what you need -- in a candleholder or pillow or vase or end table."
This makes sense to me. What great painting is without at least a touch of black, against which the colors and shapes come into greater focus?
Mary also points out that if you like to use a lot of black in your rooms, a little bit of white can add the zing and the focal point. I think this is true not only of black, but it also works if your rooms are done in any strong, rich, dark, or vibrant color. White windowsills and baseboards, white sheers under curtains, and a white vase or candlestick do wonders in these kinds of color schemes. White lifts the room and keeps the effect from being either too somber or too overwhelming. (Note: IMHO, cooler colors work best with cool-toned off-whites or with pure white; earthy or muddy colors do best with a warm-toned offwhites)
Mary believes that if your rooms are a mish-mash of furniture, fabrics, textures, etc. that jar your nerves, white can be your soothing answer. She uses the example of visiting a woman whose living room was a hodgepodge of colors, and nothing seemed to come together. So, she found for her a wicker coffee table that she srpayed white, and she placed on it an all-white flower arrangement. Then, she sprayed some wall sconces white and hung them above the sofa. She says that it was amazing how the white gathered everything together and created a peaceful, orderly serenity in that room of many colors.
She also describes a woman whose husband operated a dark and gloomy-looking restaurant. The woman and her husband had no budget for re-decorating. She asked Mary if there was anything she could do. Mary noticed that the room continaed four huge redwood tubs taht had once housed live plants. So, she painted these tubs with several coats of sparkling white paint and put in some new greenery. She said that the white immediately transformed the restaurant. It lightened everything and added a cheerful atmosphere.
Just three weeks after my daughter married this year, she was bridesmaid in a beautiful wedding in an old mansion in Nashville. This ante-bellum mansion offers wonderful, surprisingly budget-friendly wedding packages. The wedding itself was held outside in a wonderful old garden, and the reception was inside of the home.
The house is pre-Civil-War era with many of the original wall-paper, wall murals, crown molding and baseboards and chair rails, wooden floors, marble fireplaces, etc. It looked to me as if it might have once been run down before the people who currently operate it as a wedding venue bought it and re-furbished it. So, it has a little bit of a shabby chic feel, which I love anyway. I was particularly struck by one room, which was decorated very simply. Yet, it was beautified by gleaming silver and totally white floral arrangements. Now, my instinct again, would be to add color to the floral arrangements. But, the white was stunning.
If you're like me, you may not have a lot of money to spend on your decorating budget. Perhaps, you are like me in that your furniture is a collection of things you bought years ago, as well as old pieces from your parents' homes. (Our couches are falling apart after twenty-something years of raising children, so I've had to throw slipcovers over them).
For those of us on a tight, tight budget, it's good to know that we can solve many a decorating dilemma with some inexpensive white paint. And, it's also good to know that we can add focus to a room with just a bit of black.
Though I don't like all-white rooms, I do intuivitely think of using some white as a unifier andas a room-brightener. As I said earlier, it's harder for me to visualize how black might work in my home. But, now that I've been inspired by my friend's example, I'm going to re-visit this issue. Right now, we can't divert much our funds to decorating. But, I'm sure that I can find some creative and inexpensive ways to spruce things up with a bit of white and a bit of black. If you have any suggestions, let me know!

Elizabeth, who loves what silver also adds to a decorating scheme, but who is not very good about polishing the few silver pieces she owns.


Terri said...

Great post! My daughter's room is pink with black & white - it's so refreshing!

Sandra said...

I wanted to tell you I've been enjoying your blog. This is another good post.

I also like a touch of black or white in a room. My living room has some black and my kitchen, some white. I think it works in both rooms, at least I hope so. :o)

Elizabeth said...

Hi Terri,

Your daughter's room sounds like a room I'd really love!


Deanna said...

I can't recall where I first read about adding a touch of black to every room but I do find it to be good advice. Like you, I am naturally drawn to pink and other pastels. While a completely pastel room might be fine for a dreamy 12 year old girl, it probably isn't appropriate when decorating a master bedroom shared with one's spouse.

Fortunately my dh likes pink and didn't mind when I painted our bedroom walls a pale shade of it. One wall already had wallpaper so I removed it and had it replaced with a narrow pink and white striped paper. The carpet we had installed throughout the house is a dark green berber which is surprisingly neutral -- like grass, I suppose.

I have added touches of black in lampshades, a couple of pieces of black furniture, a black iron mirrored wall decoration and an arrangement consisting of two black evening bags, a hat with a veil and a pair of black gloves. As you say, these touches of black *ground* an otherwise light and airy room thus preventing it from being too feminine for a master bedroom.

Elizabeth said...

Thank you, Sandra, for visiting my post. It sounds like you already have a handle on the black and white principle. I'm sure your rooms are lovely.


Elizabeth said...


Good point. I said in an earlier post that if our tastes lean to the frilly and romantic, we need to be mindful of how husbands, sons, and male visitors to our house might feel. (I learned this one the hard way). When I was writing this post about black and white, I didn't think about how black could keep a room from tending to be too feminine. But, your post has helped me see another facet of why black works so well. I also love the idea of your dark green carpet, which I'm sure "grounds" things even further.


plainandsimple said...

Thank you for another thoughtful post.

Terri said...

Hi, Elizabeth - I posted pictures of my daughter's room on my blog. I don't know how to put a link in the comments sections or I'd link to it for you. It's somewhere in my archives. If I can find it, I'll let you know where it's located (that is if you're interested in seeing it).

Elizabeth said...

Hi Terri,
Yes I'd like to see the photos. Just tell me how to access them at your blog.

Terri said...

Hi, Elizabeth,

the post about my daughter's room is dated March 6, 2006 and it's called "Finally!". I'm sorry I can't figure out how to get a link in here. The pictures make her room look more pale than it really is. There are still a few things that we havent' finished in there.