20 September 2010

decorating on the dark side


 design by David Hicks

there are rooms- and then there are dark rooms- not of the photographer's sort- but the living, dining, bedroom kind.
Dark colors do work- a coffee, a plum, a black, Yes, black has its place. No matter the naysayers. I wrote in a post about some of the rooms Lady Diana Cooper decorated- her first as a young girl was black.

Portrait of a young Diana by James Jebusa Shannon

The first room she decorated on her own was her bedroom at the family's ancestral Belvoir Castle. She must have been very much as she( at left) is drawn in this National Portrait Gallery work by her mother Violet-(on the right, a self portrait)  Duchess of Rutland - an accomplished artist.

Here- she describes the room:   

He gave me a narrow four-poster bed. for my now room at Belvoir, which was to be painted black. The bed was upholstered in red damask. An alcove was scooped out of the wall for my jug and basin and painted by me with stylised sea waves...The black walls were hung with swags of everlasting flowers a la Crivelli. The table and chair were Savonarola-esque and the window, granite fireplace and coalbox solid Victorian. There were four coloured reproductions of Madonnas in gold Italian frames and the candlesticks from Florence, regilded... I thought it was beyond compare, but greatly feared criticism. My mother never damped our taste-she who had so influenced it.

My money collected for months, went on church candlesticks (cheap because the gilt had come off, which I could later home-gild-myself with gesso, size, gold leaf and a burnisher), tassels and braids, anything to make my new room at Belvoir more like Carpacccio's idea of St Ursula's. 

Carpaccio's The Dream of Saint Ursula, 1495

Carlo Crivell's Renaissance Saints with intricate fabric details

So- now that you have adjusted  to darkly painted rooms, and read the details the 14 year old Diana lavished on her first interior decoration- She referenced Art, shopped well & took on diy.

Nicky Haslam's black walls

  Now-what do you do when you find your own young ones wanting to decorate on the dark side?                                    
My experiences with most children & teenagers in decorating rooms has been exceptional. Two clients called me in specifically to work with their children directly- No input from the parent- Perfect projects resulted. In most cases a parent works through the details of a room with me for smaller children and then later imput comes from the parent and teen. One teen Lady  wanted to channel an Anne Boleyn room. I was willing- I was even into it. Unfortunately, she had Anne's temperament too-and we all know how Anne's story ended-same story with the room.

A recent trip to a plumbing & fixture showroom with a client and her  Lady 5 year old-proves the point- Children can be taste makers at an early age. So just know. Lady She asked to show me the sink and fixtures she favored -
I follow her to the most perfect in the showroom. Inside a special display- in black I might add - I found Lady 5 standing at a  Czech and Speake vanity with fixtures. I had to agree. We've also discussed tubs, tile, paint colors and fashion. She has good taste &  at some point her Mother will cut her loose to decorate her own room I have no doubt.

What happens when IT happens?
think of Purple? as PLUM.
Brown? as COFFEE.
Black? as MIDNIGHT.

Sit them down your Aesthete with ART- give them research to do before they paint or decorate.
Have them ask why?
How will  their DREAM ROOM look ? Have them find their inspiration.
Not a literal translation. No copying- it's not creative or cost effective-
But It will Inspire & that's what you want to do- Remember Diana's words:
My mother never damped our taste-she who had so influenced it.

more of Carpaccio's work here
more of Crivelli's work here
Mile's Redd here
David Hicks here



  1. I love your blog, you pull all together that have an essence of history, design, permanent influence and ultimate beauty! Thank you!

  2. The first image by David Hicks is just stunning! Our small library has been dark brown for several years and I love it...still.

    There is something both comfortable and sexy about a dark room.

  3. All are brilliant, however David Hicks is my favourite!

  4. My little library is upholstered in black with a gold metallic ceiling.There are three doors and a double window that faces west. When it was painted white, it felt cold, sterile. Now black with all of the openings draped in carmel-colored tapestry fabric, the room feels quiet, calm and soothing. It is a bit of a folly, but a perfect place to read.

  5. Great post!
    I painted our dining room "Get Back Jack" from C2Paint, which is really like Black Cherry Soda, or Dark Plum.

  6. Gaye --

    Original spin on the topic! The Hicks room you selected is one we haven't seen as often -- I love that. And what looks to be a blue-green covered chair is stunning against the dark walls.

  7. I always love, love your blog - you show such a depth of design knowledge.
    The Sister Parish blue room has always been such a favorite of mine. It was in the Getty's house in an earlier version, my favorite.

    Keep up the marvelous, inspiring work!!
    A Design Dinosaur (who still loves color, layers, antiques and full-fledged draperies)

  8. I had a friend who had a black or almost black dining room and it was superb! The moldings, of course, were white and when you sat down to a candlelight dinner it was to die for. Wish I had the guts...

  9. Anon (aka Design Dino.) So appreciate the good words about the blog-My design eye has never adjusted to the modern cookie cutter rooms spreading across the magazine glossies. There is Miles Redd-though I have thought he was saturated in the mags- I do think He is classic in his great style and design-and always with a twist-and Jeffrey bilhuber as well. I think there will have to be a return to some of the solid design I love and I am grateful others do too.

  10. I am feeling that Sister Parish room-I have to say I am not devotee of her work-there is one apt she did for herself with chocolate glazed walls that deserves a spin here though and I am going to dig it out. That blue though is superb-I add that I have seen this room photographed it showed more green.Still Love the total look of it- Of course I see Anne Getty in it, She is in a league all her own.

  11. So really- What would you do if your 14 year old wanted to paint their room black?

  12. My cottage's living room walls are covered in a deep forest green stria wallpaper from Rose Cummings with an English club sofa in a Pierre Frey fabric to match. The accent colors are cerulean blue and aubergine. It is very soothing especially at night.

  13. oh dear, queerfishes-I lost your comment :(
    of :), thanks.pgt

  14. An absolutely wonderful posting! And some rooms are "evening rooms" even though they may not be dark per se. So much of that feel has to do with great atmospheric lighting ...

  15. Not sure what I would have said if my daughter had wanted to paint her bedroom walls black. Black was not in her color vocabulary. She did paint a very stylized zebra in grey tones on a soft lavender grey wall. Stunning.
    Love this post. Diana Cooper never fails to fascinate me.
    Love the Hicks room. The Sister Parish, I think, seems not usual for her. Ii so admire the classic style of Miles Redd.
    Thanks again for the richness of color in this post.

  16. I dreamed of painting my bedroom black as a child. No dice (more that the room didn't need to be painted than the color choice -- thrifty Yankees). I was, however, allowed to move the furniture around in my little room and the living room. And I used to sketch and sketch different layouts and designs for rooms I'd visited. I didn't remember any of that until reading your post and thinking about having wanted to paint it black; thanks for the trip down memory lane!

  17. Beautiful post. Love Crivelli and love Blakes. Each of their rooms is amazing. David.

  18. What a wonderful collection of dark walls. Classic, timeless and modern all at once!

  19. Dear Gaye, I love the sound of Diana's room. The Prussian blue is divine. I believe there should always be black in a room but have never been brave enough to paint a room in it. My friend the designer Giles Deacon has a black bedroom with 1920's walnut furniture and it looks great.

    My room is a dark red - a Fired Earth historic colour called dragon's blood red which I have also with 20's French or Italian walnut furniture. Everyone think's it's dark but I love it. It looks aubergine in certain lights. And all my lampshades are black. Maybe I will get more adventurous after reading this xx

  20. I have always loved red- 2 of my abodes had red rooms. This house is the first with few real colors on the wall-the ones I selected are pales-I miss that rich color on the walls now and have temptations to go dark in several rooms-that blue is where I am heading or a deep violet. I love a black room. The Hicks room is a great catalyst for dark.



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