How to Decorate with a Dark Color Palette, According to an Interior Designer

Drawn to a dark color scheme but unsure how to use these rich shades in your home? Design expert Christopher Charles tells you everything you need to know about decorating with dark colors.

Using a dark palette to design a room can be a showstopping choice but intimidating in practice. Rich shades of black, gray, and brown can feel heavy, especially in tight spaces, if not balanced. These colors can also feel out of sync with the light and bright palettes of certain design aesthetics, like coastal or farmhouse styles.

But if you're attracted to hardwoods or modern designs, grounding dark colors are the norm. When done well, paint and accessories in these colors can be eyecatching and downright regal. So what's the secret to pulling off a dark color scheme? Native Houston designer Christopher Charles shares his top tips for walls, floors, and furniture that make the most of a dark palette.

home library with dark painted shelves and walls
Ali Harper

1. Be Bold with Paint

With more than a decade of experience in luxury interiors, Charles encourages homeowners to go bold when it comes to wall colors. "Painting interior doors a darker color like brown, black, or varying shades of gray can add visual interest and drama to your home," he says.

And if you're not ready to commit to an entire room of dark walls, small painted accents add a custom look without darkening a room. "Painting crown moldings and base moldings in darker color hues is a beautiful custom look," Charles says. "This application allows you to bring in an understated drama that can visually increase ceiling height and turn ordinary crown and base moldings into highlights for the space." Or opt for just an accent wall, like a fireplace wall, to play it safe.

For a functional feature, consider dark chalkboard-style paint in high-traffic areas, like kitchens, children's bedrooms, playrooms, or foyers. Not only can this dark color be the backdrop of fun, colorful designs, but note-taking walls can also become the centerpiece of household coordination.

If you're ready to go big, Charles suggests painting the ceiling for a "very distinctive and custom look." Either way, lean into a dark palette by using paint sparingly but strategically to make the room pop.

black and white bedroom with vintage accents
Brie Williams

2. Balance with Light Colors

Using a dark color palette requires a balance of white and light shades. If you're not ready to paint your walls a dark color, "white walls are the perfect backdrop for much darker furniture and deeper and richer works of art," says Charles. Get creative and incorporate light neutrals throughout the room to contrast with dark tones.

3. Pay Attention to Lighting

Lighting is another important element that enhances a dark color scheme. Try spotlighting the dark elements of a room, so that an accent wall or bold charcoal furniture is illuminated instead of fading to the background.

Swap white or off-white lampshades for dark shades with gold or silver foiled interiors, Charles suggests. "Reflective interiors create beautiful lighting at night," he adds. Light and color balance is key to mastering dark spaces.

rich green velvet curtains bedroom bamboo shades
Hector Sanchez

4. Try Textiles

Whether it's bedding, curtains, or rugs, fabrics can often be an afterthought. But textiles are the unsung heroes of most living spaces. Utilize dark or contrasting textiles to make a room feel high-end and intentional.

Charles says that beautiful rugs, broadlooms, and carpets can be art-like when featured atop a dark floor finish, such as dark hardwood or gray cement. Additionally, dark window treatments can add both interior flair and exterior curb appeal. "Darker color window treatments can help beautifully frame picture windows and two-story windows," he says.

kitchen with black island and subway tile
Stacy Goldberg

5. Update Cabinets or Hardware

"Custom built-ins and cabinetry are a perfect way to introduce darker, richer, and more color-saturated palettes into your space," says Charles. Whether painted or natural, these pieces can add "a customized look to otherwise basic pieces."

For a dramatic change in the kitchen, cabinet refacing offers the opportunity to switch to dark wood veneer or steely grays. Don't be afraid to go dark for a fine-dining experience at home.

If you want a more subtle change, "adding matte black hardware to cabinets, drawers, and built-ins is a way to add small but impactful darker elements to a space," says Charles. Another simple swap is to replace furniture legs with matte black designs to customize a piece of furniture.

midcentury bedroom black walls bed
Annie Schlechter

5. Let the Sunshine In

When designing an office or living space with matte blacks or deep grays, factor in natural light sources. Imagine the room at noon, with maximum sunlight pouring in—where does the light fall and where would dark furniture or fixtures be most visible? Where do you most enjoy sitting, playing, or working? That's where the dark colors should go.

Just as artificial lighting offers contrast to a dark color scheme, so can natural lighting. Frost windows that you otherwise would shutter. If you've got a skylight, place a dark rug or leather chair just underneath it. Use dark colors wherever you can imagine yourself basking in a flood of warm light.

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