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Decorating with Darks | Farrow & Ball

Author: Lauren Coleman

It’s no secret I’m terrified of painting my walls with dark colours. I was very nearly swayed when I visited Abigail Ahern’s house earlier this year and spent the whole train journey back concocting ways to persuade James to let me paint our entire bathroom black. Needless to say it didn’t work and I returned to my usual way of painting all walls white.

Our original guides on helping choose the right white and the ideal shade of grey have proved very popular but I don’t feel confident enough to tell you all how to use the more somber shades. Instead I’ve called upon the experts! We’ve been speaking with Farrow and Ball’s Head of Creative, Charlotte Cosby to answer a few of our questions.

Over recent years we’ve seen more and more people using dark colours in their interiors. Colours that were previously used outside on front doors or window frames have moved indoors and are having a big impact.
Dark colours are seen as an alternative neutral but with added drama. They add a level of depth to a room that whites, off-whites, creams and greys can only dream of; and they influence everything else in the space. Fabrics, furnishings, accessories and artworks will all pop against a dark backdrop allowing you to really showcase your favourite designs and patterns. Designers of the neon and metallic accessories we are seeing have also embraced this style of decorating as they know how much more eye-catching their accessories will be.
At the heart of any dark colour scheme is the paint colour. Rich charcoals, steely greys, midnight navies and autumnal greens and browns can all be used to great effect, but creating a dark colour scheme for a room can be challenging. Should you use whites on ceilings? Or layer darker tones?
Which rooms are best suited to dark colours?
It might seem counter-intuitive but small rooms are actually the perfect place to use strong colours. Smaller rooms are often lacking in natural light and by painting them white in an attempt to create light and airy feel you can often end up with a small, dark, dull room. By using rich colours like Brinjal, Pelt or Down Pipe you can create an unexpected yet impressive look.
Dark colour also work well in bedrooms or living rooms where you are trying to create a very warm, cocooning feel. Colours like Railings and Charleston Gray will create a very cosy environment, as well as behaving like a neutral against artworks and patterned fabrics.
Should you use white with darks, or embrace an all-over dark scheme?
You can do either! Using a crisp white like All White or Wimborne White can create a bold contrast and a very clean, graphic feel. However, if you want to create a really multi-layered dark look then pairing darks with darks is certainly an option. Blacks like Off-Black and Black Blue on walls with Stiffkey Blue or Hague Blue on woodwork will have a very modern feel.
I want my home to feel light and airy, can I still use darker tones?
Yes, you can actually do something very clever and use dark tones in hallways and smaller bathrooms and cloakrooms so that the other rooms, decorated in lighter colours, feel even more bright and airy. This is particuarly true in hallways. By decorating halls and landings in a very strong tone like Railings or Down Pipe you can trick the eye into thinking all the other rooms coming off it are even lighter than they really are.
Which darks are most popular at the moment?
Down Pipe, our slate grey is universally popular and was the colour many of our customer’s chose for their first dark decorating scheme. As people have become more confident we’re seeing navies like Stiffkey Blue, greens like Studio Green and browns like Tanner’s Brown being used. Penetrating greens and browns fit this year’s trend for a very botanical, plant-inspired look in decorating.
Finally, which is your favourite dark colour and why?
This is easy for me as I absolutely love Stiffkey Blue. It’s a rich navy tone that makes everything feel expensive! It looks amazing with copper and other metallic accents. I’ve used it in my kitchen with really fresh white gloss units and I love the contrast this creates.

One of these days I’m going to brave it. I’m determined to bring some dark walls in to my life. How about you? What’s your favourite dark shade and where have you painted it?

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22 thoughts on “Decorating with Darks | Farrow & Ball

  1. Been thinking about a darker blue for our dining room and Stiffkey blue could be the one! Love Farrow and Ball. You should go for it Lauren! And then inspire us all with a post on RMS 😉

    1. Do you know Amanda, I might just go for it. Need to decide which room first!
      LOVE Stiffkey blue – you must share when you paint yours too x

    2. I was thinking the same Amanda! My husband announced last night that he thinks we should paint our dining room a blue/grey and this might fit the bill! We get a lot of light into that room so a darker colour might work (I hope!) x

        1. Well the painting started last night! After choosing lots of samples, including F&B Stiffkey, we opted for Laura Ashley Sapphire. I am worried that it is too bedroom esq at the moment, but think it will look good with a second coat and once I paint the currently dark wood window a bright white! I’ll keep you posted…

  2. We’ve got Downpipe in our bedroom and I LOVE it! One wall has got the Albany Flamingoes wallpaper on and it goes perfectly. Downpipe ‘masculines up’ the pink of the flamingoes 😉
    I love the navy too- just trying to figure out where to use that one!

    1. Oooooooh Rebecca, what a fabulous combo. The flamingo wallpaper is brilliant!
      On the navy front I’m a big fan of a copper and blush accents x

  3. This post has come at such an apt time for me! We are about to repaint our conservatory and whilst I favoured a lighter sage type colour my husband is keen on something darker (charcoal) so we are at a bit of a loss of what to do! We have isunda grey Kivik couches and poang rocker and chair from ikea, but otherwise the room has no other decoration yet – any paint colour suggestions would be greatly appreciated! 🙂

    1. Hi Jane, what kind of style is your conservatory? Is it upvc, timber or aluminium? I adore a charcoal conservatory, it really showcases any foliage outdoors and in x

      1. It’s white uPVC, with one red brick wall (which used to be the exterior wall obviously!). We have a large garden, mostly lawn with some nice foliage and crabapple trees and a large patio laid with slate tiles. We’ve only moved in two months ago so we’re still trying to pull ideas together! 🙂

    2. Hi Jane, I was wondering, how did you get on with your conservatory? I’ve just recently moved myself and am badly wanting to paint the conservatory a dark colour so that the view into the garden pops against it (plus it will feel snug in the evenings) but it seems this idea is going against the grain for a conservatory and there are very few examples out there.

      So I’d love to know how you got on? And what colour you ended up using – all the lovely samples I’ve gathered that look so good in pictures are turning out not quite dark enough for me in real life – clearly the extra light in the room causes it’s own complications!

  4. I love using dark colours.
    In my bedroom we have Graham and Brown Mirage wallpaper in charcoal (they don’t do it anymore) and it’s a beautiful woodland. On two other walls it took me 38 shades of grey to decide on Valspar Gotham City, and I still remember my partners face when I told him I wanted to paint our room dark grey, but he’s let me had free reign. The wall across from the window is a stark white – valspar bridal veil, and the only colour on that wall comes from a black huge chunky full length mirror. Our carpet is a pale silver, a black bed and all the other furniture is white ikea hemnes range. A jolt of colour comes from purple curtain and two pieces of artwork a box canvas McKee – Baby Needs New Shoes which is beautiful soft shades of purple (and a little bit of my home town down south), and ironically with choosing Gotham City paint we fell in love with an Alex Ross print – Descent on Gotham. I’m insanely proud of how it all came together.
    We’re just putting the finishing touches to our daughters nursery (she’s 14 weeks old) and she’s having a Star Wars theme! You can imagine what our parents have said. She has valspar Submarine Blue with their silver glitter added, it looks absolutely amazing I highly recommend the valspar glitter, on three walls, and the walls across from the window is valspar bridal veil white. She has a pop of colour coming from orange! She has orange curtains, orange book racks and a orange bedding on the day bed in her room. A slate grey carpet. Her furniture is all white and ikea Hemnes range, but all the knobs have been exchanged for a mixture of Star Wars and Superhero ones I found on Etsy – Pinksugarcouture, there will be ikea stainless steel chunky shelves, her cot bed is Cambridge from Babies R Us. The Star Wars theme comes from art work she has a Craig Davison BMX-Wings on one wall, and the 3 James Hance -Wookie the Chew prints (Star Wars and Winnie the Pooh mash up I highly recommend checking out James Hance he mashes up so many classics he’s an amazing artist) prints, and a Wookie the Chew ceiling shade. And a surprise for my partner on the outside of her door I found a decal that says ‘Sssh… Jedi dreaming’ from Etsy JobstCo.
    The hall way/stairs/landing are my next task and we have four Spider-Man prints which are signed by Stan Lee to go up! Just need to decide on a colour for the walls.

    Well I got totally carried away there!

    1. Love your comment Victoria!
      As a Sheffield lass I love to see a McKee mentioned too.
      Very intrigued to your nursery. What a fab theme x

  5. My husband firmly believes in white walls – everywhere! It’s just so boring! We don’t clash on much but interiors is a big one tsk.

    Loving the pics on this feature – especially the fireplace in picture two. Makes me feel Christmassy (too early!).

    1. Ha ha Lynn, I ummed and ahhhed about putting the Christmas pics in and then thought I’d go for it. I do love a bit of Christmas!

  6. Ah man, I love this but I’m not brave enough. end of.

    Lee is a lot more adventurous with colour than I am, I really wish I was too but I cant help stay on the light and bright end of the spectrum. I’ll go dark on furniture paint but that’s my limit. Although I really do love Stiffkey.

    Some fab inspiration here Lauren xxx

    1. I’m exactly the same as you lovely but I feel temptation is going to get the better of me. I completely forgot I painted my old bathroom (no windows) charcoal grey and ruddy loved it!

  7. Last autumn I decided to take the plunge and paint our snug/dining room a dark blue. I bought some F&B samples, initially being fairly sold on Stiffkey Blue, however on testing the emulsion we actually found it to be slightly lighter (!) than the rich navy I had envisaged, and ended up going with Hague Blue which is darker, richer and has slight deep green tones to it. We paired it with white woodwork and I love the finished result! It was my favourite room to be in over winter. We still have a tin of Stiffkey Blue for wood (which looks a touch richer than the emulsion on testing) intended for our front door – another job that keeps getting put off!

    1. I have a Stiffkey Blue bag, and you’re right Hannah, it’s more of a mid blue. Hague Blue in your snug sounds stunning x

  8. My small home office is Hague Blue on all the walls and I LOVE it. There are yellow accessories and all the furniture is white plus I have a huge whiteboard which breaks it up.
    We are about to paint a wall in our lounge Stiffkey Blue but really, really struggling with a neutral for the rest of the walls. It’s north facing and everything is coming up too blue – even Cornforth White looks more like a duck egg blue. Insane!! Any suggestions?? X

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