Love it or hate it, using black in architecture and interior design can create an impact like no other.
Black always gets a strong reaction. People either love it or hate it. I’m one of those people who love it. This might have something to do with being an architect (widely known to be the colour of choice worn by a number of famous architects); I’m not quite sure. It upsets me, however, as I have come across clients who are completely against using it in any form, any space, in any amount, period. Some consider it inauspicious or bad luck, some think it’s too harsh, some think it makes a space dark. I wanted to write this article purely to implore people to open their minds to the possibility because black, when used in the right context, creates an impact like no other.
One of first instances of black being used in architecture was not intentional. The traditional London stock brick that was made in the early 20th century was used extensively to build the ubiquitous London terrace houses. These houses have, over the years, discoloured due to environmental pollution resulting in blackish tones to houses around the area. These houses in turn have inspired a whole generation of modern architects who now create some stunning examples of true ‘black’ architecture.
There are inherent properties to different colours and Architects as part of their training, are taught how to use them effectively. Cladding a building completely in black highlights its sculptural quality. This technique is used effectively when a modern extension is designed to be set against an existing building of heritage or special character. Black is bold yet neutral so it creates a statement without clashing against its background. An All-Black look is not suitable in all contexts. In some instances black can be used with white to create a classic look that will never look dated. Architectural elements such as windows and doors can also be considered. In my opinion, black window frames are practical and effective as every view out is framed like a picture.
In choice of façade finishes, materiality and texture can be as important as the colour choice or the form of the building. For example, black brick has a roughness and breaks down the visual scale, stained timber slats can be used to emphasise the verticality or horizontal lines in the massing. New technologies are resulting in newer materials such as black concrete and pure black render/paint shades which weren’t available even a few years ago. These materials have resulted in a proliferation of buildings in noir of varying scales and typologies.
Similarly in interior design, black can be impactful or subtle when it’s used purposefully and in the right context. A favourite of mine is black floors. Using black makes the floor a stage for the objects that you place on them, highlighting and accentuating the colours and forms. This concept can also work on vertical surfaces, in smaller amounts. A word of warning at this stage, the size and natural light in the room is an important consideration before deciding the amount of black you want to use. In my own designs I like to use metallics such as silvers, golds and bronzes along with black to create luxurious spaces. Another way is to use black is within a pattern so you break up the amount across a space. This can be achieved through upholstery and soft furnishings or wallpapers or even floor tiles laid in a pattern. Geometric, floral, checked, stripes the possibilities are endless!
So be bold, be open to the idea of black, take advice from experts if you are unsure or just experiment yourself!
The writer is an architect working with White Design Allies.