How Do You Like Your Contrast? Low- and High-Contrast Rooms to Learn From

published Apr 19, 2016
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(Image credit: Marie-Lyne Quirion)

There are so many design elements that we look at, either consciously or unconsciously, when decorating our homes. Proportion, balance, color, texture—they all come out to play. One factor in particular that’s been on my mind lately (perhaps due to those monochrome Scandi interiors we all love to pin) is contrast. Specifically, the amount of contrast between light and dark in a space and how to pull it off.

Note: contrast can of course also refer to a mix of styles or colors, but for this instance, I’m referring to a contrast of value (in art terms, the lightness and darkness) in a space. If it helps, picture taking a black-and-white photo of these rooms: how close would all the colors seem then?

Low Contrast Spaces

(Image credit: Stadshem)

This Scandi studio apartment is a classic low-contrast look. Sure, there are pops of black in among all the white, but they’re small and evenly-scattered, leaving the overall look monochrome. Lots of texture, pattern, and variety in shapes (check the angles on those rugs!) keeps the look interesting, despite the limited palette.

I particularly love the variety of textures in this feminine, low-contrast space. We’ve got metals, skins, and everything in between—loads on which to feast the eyes.

This bedroom is a dream of a space in low-contrast greys and blues. The subtle patterns at play, from the chevron floorboards to the rectangular wall panelling, keep the eye bouncing around the room.

Here’s a pulled-back example of a large, low-contrast space with tons of interest going on: ultra-matte wall and cabinet finishes, metal accents, and plush velvets and furs.

London-based designer Abigail Ahern is famous for her dark, moody interiors. Scale (that huge chandelier), texture (velvet, glass, metallics), and limited pops of saturated color are key to her low-contrast designs.

High Contrast Spaces

(Image credit: ANNALEENAS HEM)

Here’s an interesting space on the other side of the spectrum: an all-white, airy room gets a shot of contrast in the form of dark furniture and rugs. If these items were smaller and more scattered the effect would be different, but because the dark pieces are large and concentrated in the center of the room, they increase the contrast in the space.

(Image credit: Emily Johnston for Lonny)

Here’s a slightly more relatable example: dark furniture pops against pale walls and floors.

(Image credit: DelightFULL Unique Lamps)

The opposite is true in this kitchen. The walls, tiles, and floor are dark and receding, while the fridge and furniture (and those great eye-catching pendants) stand out in pale hues. I find this space super dynamic because of the contrast.

(Image credit: 47 Park Avenue)

This balanced, contrast-rich space is one of my favorites. We’ve got white floor and walls, black ceiling and fireplace, and large, saturated pops of color in the furniture.

Finally, here’s another example of using darkness and color in a high-contrast space. The bold colors pop against the dark walls and white floor, creating a vibrant impression.

So, what are our takeaways? The key to making low-contrast work is often texture and pattern, while high-contrast rooms often need good natural light and open proportions to work well.

For me, high-contrast spaces feel a bit more dynamic, interesting, and inviting. However, I know from experience that low-contrast rooms can be much more relaxing to actually live in. Looking at my own design inclinations, I tend to decorate bedrooms and private spaces in a low-contrast way and living rooms with more color and value difference.

What about you?