Making A Dark Wall Color Work in a Small Apartment

A and his partner B contacted me recently for a colour consultation. They are a young couple, living in NY, and so space is at a premium.

They were moving into a classic one bedroom apartment, with a small kitchen open to a combined living/dining area, one large window at the end of a long rectangular space. The landlord of their new apartment had graciously agreed to paint for them, including one accent wall of their choosing in the main space. A and B had ideas about what direction they wanted to go, but were looking for some assistance selecting the specific wall color in their new home. 

Below is a similar layout, so that you can get the idea…

We moved onto the design questionnaire phase, and they explained that they were looking to add a dark accent wall in the living space - would that work, they asked? Which wall should they paint? What should they paint the other walls?

A and B already had a Kivik sofa, upholstered in dark grey, a dark brown entertainment console, and were purchasing a small side c-table with an industrial feel. Their kitchen, which was open to the main living space, consisted of antique white cabinetry and dark grey stone countertops, and the entire space had gorgeous walnut flooring.

After looking through their pinterest boards, it was clear that A and B were after a slightly moody transitional space that incorporated industrial elements. When discussing the design direction with them, I mentioned masculine as a descriptive word - to which B replied that she definitely wanted their home to reflect that a woman lived there.

So how to make this desire for dark and moody, add some feminine elements, and make it all work in a small-scale space with limited natural light?

First off, I suggested painting the accent wall behind the sofa, and using a dark grey similar in tone to the upholstery. It always makes a room feel more spacious when the largest pieces are similar in tone to either the flooring or the walls, I discussed this in a previous post, here.

Next, I suggested keeping the rest of the space nice and airy, with a soft white that would work with the Antique finish on the cabinetry. Adding a wall of white linen curtains would soften the space without taking away any of our precious sunlight. A rug underfoot should bring in the grey and the white, to link the two and and some pattern. A glass topped-table disappears visually, but the curvaceous wood frame breaks up all the grey. Copper and gold metal accents, in lighting and accessories, will add some curves, warmth and pick up on the wood tones of the floors. Artwork over the sofa should be glass-fronted, bold and primarily white, or a large mirror would work here to bounce as much light as we can into the space.  Of course, a large plant near the window is a must, every room needs life.

 A & B prefer to work with Behr paints, so for the dark grey accent wall we chose the dusky Evening Hush, and then the beautiful soft chalky white Swan Wing for the rest of the walls.

A & B inquired about which accent colours to add here. A dark grey and white palette, paired with warm woods, naturally lend themselves to greyed pastel or jewelled tone accents.

My choice here would be to add a little femininity through some amethyst accents, look at the difference in feel created by simply adding a few throw pillows…

As a side note, as shown on the sofa, I found an Etsy seller, ArtPillow whose textiles are printed with her original artworks, offering up some pretty spectacular swirling explosions of colour available as shower curtains, pillows, and duvet covers…

Colorlicious, right? Art for your sofa. Dying.

Okay, I am easily distracted by art and colour, but getting back on track :)) every consult has one main driving issue, and this one was how to use a dark colour in a smaller space with one window..

There were four things to take note of here:

1. Using a similar wall colour as the sofa, the largest piece of furniture in the space, groups them together as one, visually, and keeps the room feeling more open.

2. Large, primarily white art fronted by glass bounces light into the space.

3. Painting out the other walls in a soft white, and using a floor-to-ceiling white window treatment, allows for maximum light and minimizes visual clutter on the other walls, allowing the room to "open up".

4. One element should bridge the gap between colors, here the rug fills that need.

My clients were very happy with the end results, which is the main focus around here…

What do you think? Would this design work for you?

am xo

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20 North Ora said...

I'm not a grey person, but that would make a lovely room. When they already had decided on the sofa, it's a hands down winner.

Great ideas.


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You will only really know if a colour scheme will work once all the furniture removals is done. I would generally stick with white as best you can unless you have a LOT of natural light in your apartment.

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It is actually possible to make dark colours work for you in small areas. The idea is to neutralize the area by balancing out the walls. Only a single side or alternate sides should be dark while being complemented by lighter hues on either sides. I have tried this concept in my own room and even with a couple of storage cabinets on display, the place does not look or feel stuffy.

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