How to incorporate darker tones into your home design

Are you bored by beige, weary of white and feel a little gloom and doom at the thought of pale grey?

You’re not alone – interior designers and decorators love using dark, bold colours as a tool to add personality, strength, and sophistication within homes.

Contrary to popular belief, using darker tones in your home does not create a bleak-looking vibe. In fact, the right treatment of such tones can open up your space and make it feel larger.

All hail darker tones. Picture and styling: David Hicks

Darker tones can also create interest and drama in an otherwise bare space.

So how does a decorating novice liven up their space without going over the top?

We asked renowned Australian interior designer David Hicks for his top tips to add drama using dark tones. “Dark tones can often create a mood that you can’t achieve from light colours,” says Hicks. “I like to play with light and dark as this can create a very sophisticated palette.”

Be open to change

When using dark tones, imagination is key. As is the consideration: What will work in your home?

Incorporating darker tones into your living area can make a bold statement. Picture and styling: David Hicks

Before you go out and spend thousands, think of the items in your home that are your investment pieces. Likewise, what are the things you’re happy to experiment with?

Hicks says: “With bigger-spend items that you’re less likely to change often – such as a dark sofa and curtains, or even wallpaper – you want to get those right.”

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Don’t go overboard

Darker tones can add warmth and coziness to a space, whereas stark whites can at times make a home feel isolating and bare.

However, it’s best to not paint with too broad a brush. Start with small areas first and add as necessary – that way you can create a perfect balance of light and dark shades.

Hicks says: “If you’re thinking about a darker toned sofa or rug, buy some cheap, dark-toned fabric and lay it over your existing sofa or floor to visualize what it might look like before investing in the real thing. Having said that: Trust your instincts and have some fun.”

If painting your walls darker, keep the ceiling white. Picture and styling: David Hicks

Tip: If painting the walls in a dark shade, be sure to leave the ceiling white so there’s still a lot of light to counteract the darkness.

Choose your space carefully

Before getting out the paintbrush, do your homework.

Often homes of a specific style are better at taking on darker tones than others. Quite surprisingly, for example, darker tones can be used to great effect in Hamptons-style homes where dark floorboards are a key theme.

A trademark of Hamptons style is dark wood flooring. Picture: Julie Crespel

The light that bounces off the floors actually works to add dimension and brighten the overall space.

According to Hicks: “I’d not suggest using darker colours throughout, but in more intimate spaces such as master bedrooms, powder rooms, formal living spaces and studies – shifting over to the dark side can be interesting as it adds another dimension.”

Don’t limit yourself to just paint

While it might be tempting to buy a bucket of your favourite shade, you might get a better outcome if you focus on soft furnishings instead.

No painting needed: Darker furniture can also help achieve the look all on its own. Picture: Getty

Rugs, cushions, couches, wallpaper, and curtains can all take on dark tones with great effect.

In all-white rooms, Hicks uses distinctly dark rugs and furniture as a wonderful graphic contrast.

“Darker toned wallpaper can also work well along with a feature chair or sofa,” he says. “They can also be layered into many schemes or used as just one element, such as a dark-stained timber floor. It all depends on what you’re mixing them with.”

It’s all about balance when taking on darker tones. Picture: Getty

Originally published as How to incorporate darker tones into your home design by Erinna Giblin. Author at