The color black is both timeless and elegant. Everybody loves a little black dress or a sleek black sports car. But when it comes to decorating, black is one of the most feared colors in the spectrum.

Many people think black will make a space too dark, but good designers know that, if used properly, black is a powerful tool. I demonstrated this during a recent design project for my clients, Joanne and John.

They live in an elegant house that was lovingly renovated over time by her father. Sadly, he passed away before he got to work on his dream project: the dreary family room in the basement. So, I decided to pick up where he left off.


The room was really shabby, with wood-paneled walls, an outmoded fireplace and uncomfortable seating. However, the rest of the house had a lovely, traditional feeling with a neutral palette and a few black accents. I chose to bring this design scheme into the basement, but crank up the black to add much-needed sophistication.

There was some structural work to attend to first. A new ceiling was installed, the room was rewired and a mysterious door that didn’t open was replaced with a wall of windows.

I then painted the wooden walls a tranquil cream (after dealing with lots of primer, that is), put up some 36-inch-high white wainscoting and put down a plank-style, brown cork floor.

I now had a soft and neutral room. Yet, with a neutral-only scheme, the eye wanders with no place to land. Black accents help focus the eye, but you have to use them wisely — by punctuating, not overpowering. The right amount of black will add excitement and enhance the other tones in a room. I created an L-shaped seating area along two adjoining walls, brought in two beige chenille-covered sofas and added black and black-accented pillows. These sofas share a charcoal ottoman, a round side table and an area rug with a black-and-neutral pattern that speaks to the new black-and-gold floral drapes.


Along one of the walls, I created a fireside lounge. The room had an old stone fireplace that was a bit of an eyesore, so I built up the mantle, painted it white and refitted it with a gas insert. To one side, I put in two very cool designer chairs that are called “smoke chairs” and added a huge wall mirror and a black side table.

No matter where you sit there is a good view of a new 54-inch television, which I put against the final wall. The television sits atop a long wooden console and is flanked by black-and-white framed photographs.

When designing with black, lighting is especially important. So, in addition to recessed lights, I installed a crystal drop pendant outlined in black, two fireplace sconces, a bronze table lamp and a photographer’s tripod lamp.

I also added some accessories: baskets, bowls, vases, artwork and framed photographs — including one of Joanne’s dad, the master renovator.


One way to elevate good style to great style is to embrace a bit of drama. And that’s exactly what I did in Joanne and John’s space. By setting up a neutral canvas and then strategically adding dabs and dashes of black, I created a comfortable family room that has just the perfect stroke of sophistication.

Interior designer Candice Olson is host of HGTV’s “Divine Design.”