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Painting confidently with dark tones

Painting confidently with dark tones

The move towards using darker colours on the walls in our homes has gathered pace over the last few years. Feature walls were the stepping stone – a way to bring in a darker tone, but with the safety net of more familiar, lighter shades surrounding it. Then kitchen cabinetry became a place to experiment with deeper shades like charcoal grey, navy and bottle green. Having lots of appliances, work surface space and crockery or glassware on display means the depth of colour is easily broken up and feels a touch less daunting. But now, our homes are gradually getting braver at taking on darker paint colours. We’re using them in bigger ways. We’re letting paint bring out our courageous side. If you’ve been tempted by the dark side, read on for inspiration on how to use our deepest shades in a confident way.

The effects of blanket colour

If you’re feeling especially brave, using dark tones in a continuous way, from skirting and radiators to walls, cornicing and yes, even the ceiling, is a beautifully enveloping application of colour. There are different schools of thought on this approach. Some suggest that you should only do this in a room where there’s not much natural light. Reason being that if a room is naturally dark, using light paint won’t make it lighter but actually murkier. Instead, you should follow nature’s cue and use dark colours to play on its cosy, private, secluded character. Others say that a dark colour on the ceiling lowers it and doesn’t encourage you to think of lightness and height in the same way white does, making your room feel smaller (something you might actually want to achieve if your space is very lofty and lacks intimacy).

Our Suffolk kitchen scene shows how using Walnut on every surface (as well as a dark timber floor), in a room that’s medium-sized and with a good amount of light (not flooded, but neither sombre) works wonders. The single use of colour means that every part of the kitchen flows into the next – the ceiling included, which is almost a continuation of the walls, making the ceiling feel higher rather than lower. And when all the parts of your room become one, it makes them feel larger.

How to choose complementary neutrals

If you do want to use dark paint on all your walls but don’t want to carry it onto woodwork and ceilings as well, then you’ll need a suitable neutral to colour these areas instead. The principles of choosing one are as with any other colour: pick out the undertone of your wall shade and then choose a neutral woodwork/ceiling colour with a similar base. So, with warm purple-brown Clove, we might choose Salt which has a complementary touch of pink to it. There are three ‘bright’ whites – Snow, Salt and Shell – in our core collection as well as three more off-whites – Lily, Silver Birch and Old Chalk – and they range from the cleanest (Snow) to those with hints of warm or cool grey (Shell, Lily and Silver Birch) and yellow (Old Chalk) so there’s one to suit every darker colour. For a failsafe option, choose a neutral from within the same palette (you’ll know that Silver Birch is perfect for Walnut because they’re both in the Timber palette). Or, if you’re using an archive shade, experiment with tester pots in your room’s light – the best way to whittle decisions down.

Bright and off-whites aren’t your only option for woodwork and ceilings though. Sometimes, with a very dark wall colour, a more pigmented neutral is the way to go. Honed Slate might look quite dark on its own, but put it up next to Olive and it recedes into the background happily. Ditto with Driftwood and Clove. And just look at the difference between Ink with Snow and Ink with Shingle.

A balance between blending and contrasting

Whether you extend your chosen dark colour onto woodwork and ceilings or you go for a complementary neutral, decorating doesn’t stop there. Now you get to experiment with the effects created by furniture, fabrics and accessories.

When you use a dark colour on your walls, it can be quite striking to have other elements in the room in the same (or a very similar) colour but a contrasting texture. Picture a sofa in one of our deepest velvets – Mallard, Swallow or Grouse, for instance – against a wall in an equally as bold, matching shade (try Cactus with Mallard, Ink with Swallow and Walnut with Grouse). It means the sofa melts into the wall with just the lustre of the velvet whispering their separate existence. And if you’re not keen on velvet? Other fabrics can have a similar effect, like our Linara at Neptune linen-cotton in Dark Fig, which has a brushed texture that subtly picks up on light and would pair well with walls in Clove. Or you could choose to try this technique using furniture, with matt emulsion on the wall and the contrast of eggshell’s subtle sheen on the furniture.

That said, don’t have everything in the room in the same colour, or there won’t be anything to excite the eye. Think of colour contrasts as the squeeze of lemon in a dish that enlivens all the other flavours. The white mounts on framed artworks and the milky glaze of pottery are both easy ways to do this. Or, as we touched on with paint earlier, if you’d like less of a contrast, choose paler timbers and other natural materials to do the job. Don’t forget other colours can add the element of difference you need as well – Old Rose with Clove, for instance, or Saffron with Ink. And make use of metals, mirror and glass too, which will highlight as they catch the light.

The confident use of dark paint can be mellow or it can zing with drama. It’s all in how you use it.

Explore all our darkest paint colours and order samples online here.