A Designer Reveals the Secrets to Making Dark Colors Work

updated May 3, 2019
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(Image credit: Minette Hand)

After years of living in beige and buttercream apartments, designer Arielle Goldman was “…itching to go bold” when she moved into this old Victorian. Thankfully, she has a knack for fearlessly painting walls and using dark, dramatic colors in her home, which she talks about on her blog, Scotch and Nonsense. And which you can see quite clearly in her house tour, A Beautifully Moody Historic Victorian in Virginia. She shared key design tips on how to flirt fearlessly with dark and moody paint colors, in case you’re itching to go bold, too.

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(Image credit: Minette Hand)

Find inspiration…

Everywhere, which I know isn’t helpful, but it’s true. Museums, gardens, books, movies, friends’ homes, you name it. There are lots of styles and looks that speak to me, but I always go back to my home or the space I’m working on. Not everything would work in our little historic house, so I have to respect that.

Fortunately, I’ve always loved period movies, so lots of inspiration comes from my favorite Jane Austen adaptations and British mysteries. You can always find great color and over-the-top gallery walls there. I also tend to veer a bit masculine in my style, so the image of a cozy, smoky club is never far from my mind.

(Image credit: Minette Hand)

Don’t choose paint in a vacuum

When we bought our house, I got together with a friend who has a great eye, and we chose a color scheme for the house room by room. I knew I wanted a dark green library and deep blue dining room, and from there we chose colors that would complement each other and flow nicely from one room to the next.

Test your paint first

You also need to test your paint on a wall. Don’t be afraid to paint a big swatch, and see how it looks in both natural and artificial light. It’s great to find color inspiration on websites and Instagram, but they can’t show you how a certain paint will look in your house. I can’t even tell you how many variations of dark olive green I went through (and how many trips to the paint store I made) before finally settling on the right color. I felt a wee bit like I was losing my mind, but it was worth it in the end.

(Image credit: Minette Hand)

Have a clear vision

Making design decisions can be nerve-wracking, especially when you want to take a risk with a bold wall color or a major piece of furniture. It helps to have a clear vision of the overall look you want for your room, and if that crazy paint color fits in your vision then you have to go for it. It will still be scary to paint that first brush stroke, but when all is said and done you’ll be glad you went for it.

Always always always remember the space you’re decorating. It’s easy to get fixated on a gorgeous room you found on Pinterest, but if it isn’t right for your home you have to leave it on the pin board. I love the look of modern, lofty industrial flats, there’s no point in decorating our low-lit Victorian like one. White walls wouldn’t look airy and bright here; they’d look dingy and sparse. That’s not to say you should ever stop looking at spaces that inspire you, but when it comes to decorating you need to find a look that suits both you and your home.

(Image credit: Minette Hand)

Why we used the word “fearless” to describe Arielle:

“I’ve always loved trends (not every trend, certainly, but trends in general). They’re a great way to expand your horizons and see things in a new light. Unfortunately, trends can get taken too far, until you see that one look everywhere. It gets monotonous, but it also leaves anyone who doesn’t fit into a specific type out in the cold.

I wanted to create a community that celebrates more offbeat style and risk-taking looks. My co-hosts Britt Kingery, Cassie Bustamante, Rain on a Tin Roof, and Swoon Worthy and I (Scotch and Nonsense) started an Instagram series where we encourage people to share their own fearless looks on Instagram with the tag #fearlesshome.

Thanks, Arielle! See more of Arielle’s fearless and bold home → A Beautifully Moody Historic Victorian in Virginia