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Painting with dark tones

The move towards using darker colours on the walls in our homes has gathered pace over the last few years. Feature walls were the stepping stone. A way to bring in a darker tone, but with the safety net of more familiar, lighter shades surrounding it. Then kitchen cabinetry became a place to experiment with deeper shades like charcoal grey, dark navy and even bold bottle green. Having lots of appliances, work surface space and crockery or glassware on display means the depth of colour is easily broken up and feels a touch less daunting. But now, our homes are gradually getting braver at taking on darker paint colours. We’re using them in bigger ways. We’re letting paint bring out our courageous side. If you’ve been tempted by the dark side, read on for inspiration on how to use one of our seasonal shades, Walnut (a brown so deep it’s verging on black, but with extra warmth and softness) in upstairs and downstairs rooms.

A balance between blending and contrasting

When you use a dark colour like Walnut on your walls, it can be quite striking to have other elements in the room in the same (or a very similar) colour, so they almost meld into one. In this sitting room scene, the artwork purposefully has a blackened oil backdrop and the subject in a suit of the same tone. And because the frame is so thin, it’s not immediately clear where the wall starts and ends. On top of this, the George sofa is upholstered in our Isla Grousevelvet, which is a close pigment match to Walnut. It means the sofa melts into the wall with just the lustre of the velvet whispering their separate existence. You could go one step further by having the door painted in Walnut, but here we’ve chosen a lighter colour so that Walnut doesn’t over-dominate. The Elgin rug then shows the difference that adding an extra textile can bring to a dark room: with or without it, the palette is transfixing, but including it softens whereas taking it out plays to Walnut’s strong and sturdy side.

Use it on every surface

If you’re feeling especially brave, using dark tones in a continuous way, from skirting and radiators to walls, cornicing and yes, even the ceiling, is a beautifully enveloping application of colour. There are different schools of thought on this approach. Some suggest that you should only do this in a room where there’s not much natural light. Reason being that if a room is naturally dark, using light paint won’t make it lighter but actually murkier. Instead, you should follow nature’s cue and use dark colours to play on its cosy, private, secluded character. Others say that a dark colour on the ceiling lowers it and doesn’t encourage you to think of lightness and height in the same way white does, making your room feel smaller. Our Suffolk kitchen scene shows how using Walnut on every surface (as well as a dark timber floor), in a room that’s medium-sized and with a good amount of light (not flooded, but neither sombre) works wonders. The single use of colour means that every part of the kitchen flows into the next – the ceiling included, which is almost a continuation of the walls, making the ceiling feel higher rather than lower. And when all the parts of your room become one, it makes them feel larger.

Choose your accents

Back to contrasts. Accenting can be done with the same shade, just as with the velvet sofa in our Walnut sitting room. So, when designing a dark room, make sure your accents are a combination of colour and texture. In our Walnut bedroom, we’ve used velvet, again in Grouse, on the Charlie headboard and the blanket to paradoxically achieve continuity and difference. But you’ll also see the panelling painted in white to echo the white bed linen, pulses of Rust (our other seasonal shade) and brass accents that interrupt the single use of colour to create a palette.

The accent colours you choose will have a big effect on whether your primary shade is warm or cool. Every colour has a warm or cool base, but it doesn’t have to stay in its box. Walnut is versatile and can be swayed either way, and Rust is the unexpected partner that brings to the surface its inherent warmth and softness. Use it on upholstery against a Walnut wall, use it on a cabinet’s interior (look closer at our dresser and you’ll notice the inside is painted in Chestnut, the paint shade that partners our Rust textiles), use it on cushions, and you’ll soon see how deep and dark doesn’t have to mean contemporary and daunting. In fact, darker colours can be the most soothing and comforting of all…

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