Black, White, and In Between: How to Make These Colors Work

updated Oct 3, 2023
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(Image credit: Emma Fiala)

This has been a big week for us! Apartment Therapy — a site that has so much to say about color — went black-and-white. Along with many sites around the web, we’ve donated our color this week to raise awareness for National Painting Week (May 19–29), a week dedicated to the power of color and transformation where Sherwin-Williams will celebrate by donating to communities in need and completing projects during the month of May and all year long.

Then, a funny thing happened. We were looking at all these pictures of rooms in black-and-white and started thinking, actually — not a bad look! So let’s take a quick journey through grayscale and see how it’s actually one of many shades.


Mix textures.

(Image credit: Kim Lucian)

White on white is an impactful, exciting look for many, even if it’s too stark for some. One of the most fundamental tricks that takes the look from sterile to really having character is to create visual stimulation with a variety of textures. Rugs, throws, and window treatments build a layer of whites that make the all-white composed rather than unfinished.

Find the right white.

(Image credit: Lauren Kolyn)

“Living with less doesn’t mean you have to live in an all-white, sparsely decorated house,” Robyn says of her approach to Scandi-inspired minimalism. “That’s just what makes me happy.” If all-white or lots-of-white makes you happy, too, pay attention to its tint. Is it blue? Yellow? Red? Therein lies the secret of what makes the finished room feel warm and composed.


Find the right hue for you.

(Image credit: Glen Allsop)

The way we talk about gray around here, you’d think it’s a whole bunch of different colors. Because it is. There are grays with orange hues and grays with blue hues, and perhaps more so than with other colors, each will take on a character in your home that feels much more different than it did the paint store. So take home chips that lean both warm and cool to figure out which one will work for you.

Note your light.

(Image credit: Glen Allsop)

What makes grays exciting is how much a product they are of the light they’re in. Both this picture and the one above it are of Stephanie’s office in her home in NYC’s West Village, but as the gray recedes into the shadow it becomes a completely new color.


Dark colors don’t necessarily shrink rooms.

Going dark in a room pushes the walls back and makes a tight space feel less constrained. In fact, this library is so inviting that Margaret says it’s her favorite room of her Bangalow, Australia, house. Or maybe it’s just the peacock?

Use it to highlight detail — even if that sounds wrong.

(Image credit: Jessica Isaac)

One of the sexiest features of black is how it makes supporting players like trim and molding become featured performers by making them stick out in a neutral field. That’s what happened in Kristy’s Hollywood studio. She painted the fireplace she found on Craigslist in the same matte black of her statement wall. The fireplace’s detail, while more subtle, remains stately.

The fact is, there are a million little factors that go into choosing color, but ultimately the decision is pretty black and white: Go with your gut. Take in as much visual research as you can, develop your personal likes and dislikes, and go for it.

This post is sponsored by Sherwin-Williams and was created by the Apartment Therapy Creative Studio. Thank you for supporting the brands that make Apartment Therapy possible.