Using Color Palettes

by Barbara Schwab

High Contrast Black and White and Gray Scale palettes.

Continuing the discussion on using color palettes in interior design, let’s further explore the use of High Contrast Black and White and Gray Scale palettes.

A high contrast transitional space with a checkerboard floor and photography hanging along the wall. Source: Architectural Digest. A high contrast transitional space with a checkerboard floor and photography hanging along the walls.

One design element I think of when envisioning a black and white color palette is a checkered tile floor. Often seen in foyers of large turn of the 20th Century homes these floors were executed in marble and create a memorable entry into any style home.

As a graphic designer I studied in the international style in art school, we spent a year translating the world into black and white, through typography, photography and rendering objects into their most basic forms and symbols, we learned to manipulate and edit our vision to a high contrast simplicity.

A Black and White palette is the purist form of color. Black the mix of all color, and white the absence of color. There is a clean crisp quality to just black and white that makes a bold interior statement.

Beginning with basic white walls, furniture needs to be considered.  I happen to have lots of chairs to choose from, but if your starting from scratch you can pick black, whites and grays for your furniture. Wood tones blend in perfectly with this scheme. If you are working with furniture you already have you can pick throws, and pillows in a black and white to pull off the look. Attractive black and white area rugs are for sale all over the internet, these can be used to create the drama of the black and white tile floor without its permanence.

Many people may consider this palette to be too stark. I agree it is not for everyone, but I so enjoy seeing it well executed. Have some fun creating compositional balances of black and white, negative and positive, spaces in the room to satisfy your own eye and design sensibilities. Its all about creating a balance between the objects that you choose to display, sit on, drape or walk on. Integrating photography and black and white art can work perfectly when creating a high contrast interior.

A gray scale sitting area created around a coffee table. The striped area rug was found inexpensively in home goods store. Painting by Richard Sikora

For a variation on the black and white theme you can mix in a range of grays for a clean, neutral, and more muted color palette. I will call this the Gray Scale palette.

With a Gray Scale palette there are infinite possibilities. One approach is to paint the walls grey. Up until recently I have painted every space I ‘ve lived in a shade of gray, it makes the whites really pop out, and is a perfect foil for art in the space. Shadows on the walls make the planes in the room endlessly varied. You can tell I’m a fan of gray walls. Layering of grays into the black and white palette makes for a rich dimension in the space and feels soft and comfortable. Spots of color can be introduced, but that is for another time.

Soft gray tones mixed into the room to soften the contrast,



Next: Using a Primary Colors palette- I love this one.