7 Tips for Decorating Rooms with Dark Walls


he transformative power of paint is well known. It can warm or cool a space, infuse a room with light, or make it feel a bit cozier. A few coats of an inky black or deep navy can take a room from unremarkable to magically moody. But how do you then ensure that your space still feels warm and welcoming, rather than gloomy or cavernous?

For a recent project, Athens, Georgia-based interior designer Cassy Young, who's part of Decorating Den Interiors, a collective of individually owned and operated design firms around the U.S., was tasked with turning a walkout basement into an elegant lounge and wine room. "Because it's a walkout, there is a bit of natural light, but we wanted it moody and dark," says Young, Decorating Den's 2021 Designer of the Year. "You don't want too much light to hit the bottles of wine. Black paint was perfect—it absorbs light instead of reflecting it." Happily, Young has decorated plenty of approachable dark-walled rooms over her career. She shares her tried-and-true advice below.

1. Get to know your walls first.

"If you want a matte dark wall, don't do it in an area where you'll have a lot of traffic," Young cautions. "If people are brushing up against or touching it while going down the stairs, that'll show." The designer also considers the texture of walls before opting for darker hues, especially in matte. "Dark paint is challenging—it shows every imperfection," she explains. For the basement walkout project, Young notes that she was working with brand-new drywall—an ideal surface for matte paint in these sorts of shades.

2. Add layers of texture.

To soften the matte black walls of the basement lounge, Young hung rectangles of textured wallpaper framed by picture molding, painted with a glossy finish. "I wanted to create some texture without it being busy. I didn't want to add a lot of contrast on the walls," she says. "I wanted them to recede and help the room feel bigger."


Room designed by Cassy Young

4. Lean into indirect lighting.

To create a relaxing, inviting ambience in a room with dark walls, the designer recommends focusing on indirect light. "If you have dark walls and light ceilings, choose a light fixture that shines up on the ceiling," she explains—an upturned dome chandelier, say. Remember, the dark paint will absorb the light, so shining it on the walls with sconces or other wall-mounted fixtures isn't a great idea. In a room with light-colored floors, though—like the basement lounge—Young will also add floor lamps that shine downward. "The indirect light keeps it very relaxing, not too energetic," she says.

5. Try metallic accents.

Lighting fixtures or sculptural art with a touch of metallics is another way to bring in some warmth. "I've run strips of gold leaf around picture-frame moldings," Young says. But when it comes to actual picture frames and other hardware, she stays away from polished metals: "I wouldn't like to see polished chrome on black walls. But I do like a little bit of gold or brushed nickel—the matte texture is important."


Room designed by Cassy Young

6. Use glass and mirrored surfaces strategically.

Dark walls and reflective surfaces can mix when executed thoughtfully, but Young warns against glass-front frames, especially if they're for a singular large statement piece of art. The reflection can end up having a distracting fun-house effect in a space like this. Instead, she recommends hanging art that doesn't require a glass frame, like a canvas or textile piece, both of which will soften the room.

On the other hand, when reflective surfaces are grouped together on a dark wall, they can help illuminate the space. For example, for a dash of radiance, the designer has installed mirrors and LED lights inside open cabinetry that's situated on a dark wall.

7. Don't forget the details.

Young's final decorating tip for dark walls is a small but remarkably important one: "To make the whole look seamless, install all new plugs, outlets, and switch plates that match the walls," she says.

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