How, and why, to decorate your house with black paint

Black paint used to be the preserve of moody teenagers redecorating their bedrooms – those days are long gone.

Interior designer Suzy Hoodless reveals the secret to using black paint.

Why is black a great colour for walls?

It’s a good foundation colour – you can put anything with it, so it makes a great backdrop. I look at interiors as a recipe, a combination of ingredients and black walls make a strong, basic ingredient, to which you can add all sorts of interesting things. Whatever you put against the walls will be beautifully framed by the dark backdrop, so their shapes are made stronger and more graphic. Furniture, shelves, bookcases, pictures, even a wall-hung marble basin and brass taps in a cloakroom:all can be made to look sharper and more striking.

Of course, black isn’t for everyone, although I’m surprised and pleased by the number of clients who like it. If you want a room flooded with natural light, it’s probably not for you, but the drama is hard to beat. Black walls can make a room feel cosy, but can also, curiously, make a space feel bigger, rather as if the wall is pushed back. When white, a wall ends; when black, the effect is like a tunnel, stretching to infinity.

I try not to fall into the trap of colour trends. One of the things I particularly like about black walls is that the look is always classic, always chic.

Where doesn’t it work?

I don’t think there are any rules. We’ve painted walls black in sitting rooms, studies, bathrooms, cloakrooms and bedrooms, but we have yet to create a black-walled kitchen, although we’re currently designing a kitchen with a black island. In basement rooms, which tend to be darker anyway, it often works to paint the walls black to accentuate the more intimate feel and then layer up with colour and texture to add more warmth.

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Should woodwork be black too?

Yes! My rule with woodwork is to paint it another colour only if I want it to stand out. Once the walls are painted black, the eye is best drawn to the room itself, not the skirting at floor level.

Black walls - design by Suzy Hoodless

What black paints do you prefer?

Farrow & Ball’s Off-Black and Little Greene’s Lamp Black are favourites because both are warm, friendly shades and a little softer than classic black paints.

 What about gloss?

I love gloss black paint, but we don’t use it much because it will highlight every lump and bump in the wall unless it has a very flat surface. However, we’ve recently decorated a hall with gloss black (and very flat) walls and used beautiful pendants and wall lights to create dramatic shadows, making the walls appear to glisten and glow in a glamorous way.

 What colours pair well with black?

Green works particularly well, so I might mix in all kinds of greenery and plants and green upholstery or fabrics. I like black mixed with white for a classic monochrome look.

Some colour combinations date, such as brown and orange, but black and white or green are timeless. They always look contemporary and elegant. Black works well with brass and gold, dusky pink or soft grey; in fact, it can be combined with just about any colour.