‘The absence of colour can be just as striking as its presence’: Designing monochrome homes

Speaking as a dedicated accumulator of all things patterned, colourful, inherited, whim-purchased and found, delivering a few hundred words in celebration of monotone interiors, in the traditional black-and-white sense, has been an exercise in self-restraint. As I write this, I am surrounded by lamps with shades of magenta and green, hand-painted ceramic pots and bowls, riotously colourful canvases and prints, and books lining the shelves, unfashionably arranged alphabetically instead of chromatically. However, speaking to interior designers and industry insiders about the benefits of paring back the colours we use in our homes has been enlightening. It seems that, where black and white schemes are concerned, there is much grey area to be explored.

Monochrome interiors certainly carry weight in the contemporary design community. Shanghai-based interior designer, Ben Wu, who recently won the 24th Andrew Martin Interior Designer of the Year Award, designs almost exclusively in washes of inky blacks and crisp whites. Adages on the pairing are rife across the design world. Andrew Martin’s Design Director, David Harris, has commented, “the absence of colour can be just as striking as its presence,” while Jonathan Adler has termed the use of black and white an “always combination,” adding, “it’s chic, familiar and fresh. There’s something in the air that makes me want to have sharp, graphic black and white everywhere.”

Mansfield White QUILTCOVER by Sheridan, www.sheridanaustralia.co.uk


One of the most surprising and appealing elements of designing a monochrome space is the sheer variety of tone, warmth, or coolness that you can achieve by choosing different shades of black or white. Natasha Bradley, Home Interior and Colour Expert at paint brand, Lick, says, “We’re forecasting a return to monochrome – not in the stark Scandi modernist style, but this new iteration will be warm, tactile and full of interest.” It is a touch of other, warmer colours in the black and white tones you choose that will distinguish the monochrome revival she believes will surface for 2021. “The subtle undertones in black and white paints will allow people to see monochrome interiors in a whole new light – rather than as the very bold, harsh and difficult style it has often been thought to be.”

Ben Wu, the winner of the Andrew Martin Interior Designer of the Year Award

(Ben Wu)

The flat dullness of badly executed monochrome schemes is enough to make even the most colour-averse renovator reach for the paint charts and fabric books again, so many designers advise incorporating different textures to bring out the richness in the tones you choose. Romaine Sutton, Head Designer at homewares brand, Sheridan, suggests layering throws and cushions in different textures such as faux furs, thick knits, and linens in your chosen colour palette. “In the bedroom,” she adds, “stark white sheets can really emphasise the texture and richness of your headboard and accessories.” Katharine Pooley, a London-based interior designer, is also an advocate for texture in monochrome schemes, saying, “Texture, texture, texture – this is advice I give to anyone when decorating and trying to lift a space and not necessarily just designing with a monochrome scheme in mind. Mix in metallics, mirror finishes, silk wallpapers or high sheen polished plaster, layer rich fabrics with high gloss ebonised timber.”

(Arlo and Jacob)

Another way to begin to bring in some monochromatic elements is by choosing some black and white accessories alongside cushions and throws, such as lighting and tableware. Curious Egg, a homewares brand, has a varied range of deep grey, antiqued lamps to bring in those darker tones, while lighting brand, Flos has just launched the new Bellhop portable table lamp in grey and white by industrial interior design studio, Barber Osgerby, perfect for hotdesking at home. For the table, abandon your plain white plates for a mix of greyscale flatware from new British tableware brand, Monoware. The simple, minimalist designs are perfect for both casual and formal dining, and let the food take centre stage. Glassware company LSA International’s Eclipse collection also features some striking black iridescent vases to lift your monochrome scheme.

According to Laura Barnard, the Buying and Merchandising Manager at sofa company Arlo & Jacob, using the principles of monochrome design as a base for any space will provide the perfect backdrop to show off your true colours. She says, “because we are a generation of home curators, partly from all our travels and the influence of Instagram, a monochrome scheme sets the mood to showcase our favourite furniture, plants and unique finds.” Adler adds, with affirming insouciance, “think of black and white as a smart backdrop for whatever your style is.” Suddenly, the oppressive restrictions of monochrome design are lifted, offering instead a helping hand on the way to achieving a unique space to call home. Now I’m no convert, but the white walls of my rented flat really do bring out the depth in colour of that magenta lampshade.


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