Black magically transforms dated room into gem

Throughout my years of producing home makeovers I have encountered many frightening rooms. And like the questions I hear repeatedly from renters and homeowners, I find myself asking, How did they get this bad? Who would intentionally paste mismatched wallpaper on every surface of a room, including the trim, baseboard and ceiling? What was the purpose of paneling a bathroom or carpeting a kitchen?

What I have learned is that we all change our minds about what’s hot and what’s not every few years. Tile style, fabric fashion and color trends move in cycles, and that’s the fun of it. So how do you reconcile yesterday’s décor or someone else’s taste with how you want your space to look today? Try a little black magic.

When I was faced with a bathroom in a 1920s apartment building that had original green tile walls and dated fixtures, I decided to make a dramatic change. The tiles had to stay, but the white walls only drew attention to the not-so-attractive green. So I chose black paint for the upper walls and ceiling, and even painted the grout around the tiles black to break up the block of color. The room was transformed.

Theoretically black is not a color, but a tone of which there are many degrees, including soft gray-blacks, reddish blacks, deep browns and sultry blue-blacks. Whichever tone of black you use, the results will definitely be dramatic, especially when applied to walls.

It’s tempting to be adventurous when decorating a bathroom. You can try unusual color combinations and exotic paint effects that would be intimidating in larger, more public rooms. I was inspired by the beautiful bento boxes I had seen in Japanese restaurants. The highly colored, lacquered surface of these elegant containers complements the individual portions of meat, fish and rice, producing a true feast for the eyes. Why not try the appealing Asian mix on a larger scale?

When this bathroom was complete and the homeowner had lived with it for a while, I asked her if a black bathroom was, in fact, difficult to live with. On the contrary, she discovered it was the perfect backdrop for putting on makeup!

An important point to remember when working with dark tones such as ebony, anthracite and eggplant is that the sheen of the paint carries a big impact. If the surface sheen is flat or matte, black will absorb light and appear heavy or dense. I used a glossy sheen on the walls, and the light reflects back into the room like a mirrored surface. This vibrant quality lifts the mood; it’s pure theater.

Please note that whenever you paint with a dark color, in order to get solid coverage, it’s advisable to apply a tinted primer. In this case, mix a little of the black paint into the primer and apply one coat. Then apply three coats of black. High-sheen paint is more forgiving than matte, as the reflective quality masks differentiations in shading. When you decide to reverse the process and go light, prepare the surface with one or two coats of high-hide primer.

Debbie Travis is a columnist for King Features Syndicate. E-mail questions to her at

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