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How to decorate a room in black and white

Updated on October 13, 2015
TessSchlesinger profile image

Globetrotter, author, and thinker with interests in environment, minimalism, health, dancing, architecture, décor, politics, and science.

Black and White rooms

While Art Deco was the era of décor and design that boasted much black, white, and silver, and just as white walls never really date, so knowing how to use this dual colour combination in several different ways always ensures an up to date look. The ability to add a third color as an accent also means that soft furnishings and ornaments can be added and subtracted to give an entirely new feel. The trick is to understand how to use a third colour for emphasis, and how pattern, shape, size,texture, and proportion play a part!

The many different looks of a black and white colour palette

Warm shapes vs cool shapes

Have you ever noticed that when you doodle with a black pen, that it lacks the harshness of a thick, long black stripe? That's the general idea in ensuring that the color duo creates warmth in the room and isn't stark. Of course, the modernism style does demand sharp corners, straight lines, and stark colours, so if you love modernism, you might like that more barren look. However, there is a way of softening the modern look as well. In order to provide warmth, use floral designs, paisley, doodle art, and non-straight lines in general. This will add that special ambience. Thin lines create warmth while thicker lines lend more a cooler feel.

Black and White room décor for under $250

It cost me under $250 to design this studio in black and white. All agreed it was an elegant look!
It cost me under $250 to design this studio in black and white. All agreed it was an elegant look!

An elegant studio apartment for under $250

I decorated the above studio for under $250. The trick to keeping costs down is using what you have, buying as much as you can from thrift stores, and only buying new when it's important to you.

My most expensive purchase was my futon for $110. Thereafter, the dresser was bought for $50 (it was marked at $99 but I bargained it down) from a thrift shop, the carpet and desk from Ikea for $20,each, and the remaining $49 went on fabric, paint, and trimmings.

Using Rustoleum paint, I painted the dresser and chair (which I picked up free at a freebie organisation). Only a small tin was required. I bought half a yard of brocade black and white floral fabric from a fabric store (marked down as it was a remnant), and recovered the chair. The Paris lantern ($5) was found at a thrift store. It had a pink trimming, but I used black acrylic paint to convert it to the colour scheme.

The Ikea desk was glass and I purchased black and silver wrapping paper from an art store and slipped it under the glass. Using silver spray, I sprayed my brass candlesticks (the spray can come off so don't worry - it's not permanent), as well as painted the photo frame black. In order to break the black of the dresser, I bought silver tape and lined the doors with it. I unscrewed the knobs and sprayed them silver. You could, of course, have used white.

Then using a stripe black and white bottom sheet, I covered the futon because the black was too stark for the look I wanted.

I had two travel trunks (I move around a lot) which I painted black, then I covered it with my grandmother's handmade lace tablecloth from 1895.

Using pillow slips (cheapies picked up at thrift stores), I used them to store blankets during the day so that they worked as pillows during the day. The white, beige, and green pillow slip added a little bit of oomph!

The black and white carpet from Ikea finished the look!

Small office in studio...

The chair was originally a pink and creamy floral with pine wood. I painted it black and recovered the seat in a floral black and white brocade. To add more texture to the 'desk,' I used wrapping paper underneath the glass.
The chair was originally a pink and creamy floral with pine wood. I painted it black and recovered the seat in a floral black and white brocade. To add more texture to the 'desk,' I used wrapping paper underneath the glass.

Proportions matter when it comes to this color scheme

When decorating any room, proportions need to be considered. Obviously a very large room can have a massive lounge suite, but a smaller room might only manage a love seat, or even just a wingback chair.

There is a direct correlation between the size of the room and the size of the furniture. It's not just a matter of having less furniture in a small room; it's a matter of having smaller furniture in a small room. This is important.

Interior designers call this element 'proportion.'

The use of empty space in decoration

Most people don't think of empty space as part of a design, but it is the single factor that adds elegance to a room. It is also a strong component of modernism. However, less space between items is needed for cottage style prettiness or a more contemporary style.

Whereas pinks and greens, blues or reds, and all the other colours can get away with having less empty space, both modernism and a black and white palette need the space to make it work. So look at your room carefully. In fact, take a pen and raw it. Then draw to scale all the furniture that is totally essential to put into it!

Painting furniture a glossy black

Depending on how long you want your efforts to last, you can do a quick job, Paints like Rustins don't require an undercoat, although if your furniture has a varnish, you should use sandpaper to get rid of as much of the varnish as possible. If that isn't done, then at some point, the paint will come off. (Well, with conventional paint.) Be sure that you choose a black glossy paint that indicates that no undercoat is needed! You can also use Rustoleum.

When to chairs, be sure to remove the seat so that you don't get the fabric full of paint - even if you are going to recover the seat!

I used the Rustoleum on the dresser in the photo below. For some items I used the spray and for others I used a paint brush and a bucket of paint! :) Also, depending on your personal taste, you have a choice between matte, semi-gloss, and high gloss. I used the semi-gloss because it has a quiet shine and is easy to wipe.

Note the silver edging. I used this to break the starkness of this dresser. Silver goes well with the black as does white. If you've a bit of artistic talent, you can also use a white glossy paint to paint some flowers on.

Pine dresser painted black.

The pine dresser was sanded lightly, the handles removed, and then painted black. The handles were painted silver, then reattached. To add more 'pattern,' some silver tape was added to the frame.
The pine dresser was sanded lightly, the handles removed, and then painted black. The handles were painted silver, then reattached. To add more 'pattern,' some silver tape was added to the frame.

Using fabric as a throw and recovering chairs and lounge suites

Again, depending on how much work you wish to do, how much money you wish to spend, how big the room is, and how many items will be in the room, you need to convert existing furniture to suit your new colour scheme.

For chairs, use the paint or spray (whichever is easiest) for the wooden or metal parts. For fabric parts, shop around for a thick brocade with a decorate pattern on it. This adds texture. Texture can add warmth to your room. The more texture, the more warmth; the less texture, the more cold. So, for instance, a satin fabric would lean towards adding coolness to the room (great in very hot climates) while a heavy wool brocade will add warmth. If you don't have a rich purse, buying half a yard of brocade will cover the seat of one chair, and it may be all you need. If you have a loveseat and don't wish to expend that amount of money, throws are wonderful!

When you select a throw, look for patterns and textures. This will break any starkness. If, on the other hand, you want a modernist look, go for something with a largish rectangular pattern. Lacy patterns also work well. A table cloth with a black under-cloth and white lace one on top also works well.

A closer look at the detail. :)

Drapes, curtains, window coverings.

Lace works wonderfully well when it comes to a black and white interior. Other looks that work well comprises strikes, floral, or paisley. Once more, the type of curtain selected would depend on the size of the room and the degree of warmth required. Generally, the larger the room, the stronger and larger the patterns, and the smaller the rooms, the more gentle, softer, and quieter the patterns.

Having curtains made can be very pricey. I believe firmly in using what is at hand. If you have a lovely lacy table cloth from grandmother plus a smallish window, trot down to Ikea and grab a rob and some curtain 'pegs.' Simply snap the pegs on the cloth, hang on rail, and voila! The lace lets in light as well.

If you need something heavier and you don't want to spend thousands of dollars on drapes, another option would be search charity shops. Sometimes one can find exactly the right thing for a few bucks. Drapes should never be completely black, though. They should be a combination of the two colours or be white!

Accent colors

The universal law in both dressing and décor is stick to two colors (equal quantities) and add a dash of a third for emphasis. It's also important to understand shade and hue. While you can vary shade in your room, you need to be cautious with hue. Shade means that the colour is lighter or darker, while hue means it has a different combination of primary colors in its composition. For instance hue would comprise olive green, emerald green, and grass green while shade would mean a lighter or darker olive green.

Classic ways of using third colors would be one large item in the room (a throw covering a couch, for instance) or many small items (flowers, candlesticks, photo frames, etc.)

Pillows are ideal items to use for 'the third color.' :)

Can you use another colour combination?

Of course, one doesn't only have to use these principles for a black and white decorating scheme. One can use blue and white, green and pink, peach and purple. It really depends on your own personal taste. However, fashion colours come and go. One hue of green this year is not the same hue as next year, and then it becomes difficult to update without massive expense. Because black and white never date, the basics can remain the same while bits and pieces can be changed over the years.

Good luck with your new room. :)

© 2015 Tessa Schlesinger

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