Seeing the world in black and white

With black and white, there’s no middle ground. It’s high-contrast. Crisp. Classic.

In home design, the teaming is a perennial favorite — one as beloved as it is in apparel, especially by purists. It has its place in traditional decor, with styles from Art Deco to Country French (think toile prints) to Neoclassical. And, of course, it’s about as modern as it gets. It runs the gamut from sleek black-tie Hollywood glam to romantic country casual, where the fabrics may be washed linens and soft plaids and the finishes matte and distressed.

But this year, black and white has emerged as one of the big furnishings stories. It started across the pond, where it was not a coincidental occurrence, at the big Paris show, Maison et Objet. It continued on this year’s fashion runways. From Dolce & Gabbana oversized horizontal stripes to Jason Wu black on white luxe embroideries to Marc Jacobs animal prints — zebra, snow leopard and giraffe — as well as cheeky op art prints and Louis Vuitton’s playful checkerboard.

Perhaps the biggest takeaway from all that black and white is its current moxie — from color blocking (bold swaths side by side a la Mondrian) to distinctive patterns (houndstooth, chevron, stripes, op art and geometric designs are packing the most punch).

“The energizing power of black and white is not confined to apparel,” says Ron Fiore, creative director for Bernhardt Furniture. “Black-and-white combinations are easy to live with, grounding, and mix with any palette. Stripes are familiar, and to mix a floral pattern with black-and-white stripe is kind of cool.”

If you want to furnish a full room in black and white, you can create an envelope with walls painted simply in either hue, perhaps with contrasting moldings. Choose white or off-white slipcovers for a soft look, and furniture in ebony frames. In this kind of setting, amped-up patterns can be especially effective.

“Graphic shapes breathe new life, making black and white modern.

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A sort of color blocking in furniture in the last year or so has teamed light and dark finishes in single pieces. For example, an ebony dresser is set with contrasting ivory drawers, for example.

Inlays add textural dimension as well, because they’re essentially like mosaic strips or tesserae that create a pattern. And mother of pearl lends sheen as well. Indeed, one enormous advantage of a black-and-white palette is its ability to change attitude, with a simple addition of color. And just about any color is smashing. Lipstick red is a favorite go-to combination for pop. So are yellow and mustard. Cobalt blue or turquoise. Purple, magenta or hot pink. Orange or coral. Lime green or emerald.

When a black-and-white room gets hit with a piece of color, that brings it out even more. The color could be in throw pillows or a slipcover, a funny little ottoman.

So just as in fashion, a single black-and-white piece goes with just about everything — it just depends on how concentrated the graphic is to pull it off.

“Black and white is a classic combination which can both ground a room and add a pop of intrigue and excitement,” says New York-based international designer Sara Story. “It is timeless and modern at the same time.”


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