It's Not Going Anywhere: Why Black & White Has Such Staying Power

It's Not Going Anywhere: Why Black & White Has Such Staying Power

Mimi Faucett
Aug 22, 2016
(Image credit: Jason Arnold Interiors)

Is there a more classic décor combination than black and white? The initial appeal is obvious: it's easy and seemingly effortless. Take away all the tangerines, turquoises, and telemagentas (it's a thing — I promise), and what you are left with is simple: black and white. Those two straightforward colors in unison simultaneously act as a restrained neutral and a serious statement-maker. What is it about this achromatic couple that has such staying power?

"The combination transcends time periods and design styles," says Andrea Magno, Senior Manager of the Color & Design Studio (aka color guru) at Benjamin Moore, who pointed out design doyenne Dorothy Draper's penchant for black and white checkered tile (see a modern interpretation by Jason Arnold Interiors above), as well as its dominance in Art Deco buildings.

There is surely a sense of nostalgia that surrounds this color pair. Whether you're picturing a world created by F. Scott Fitzgerald, or even just watching the grayscale "It's a Wonderful Life" during the holidays – black and white recalls, dare we say, the good ol' days.

According to Magno, in today's world the subdued twosome offers a sense of relief to a constant overload of color and pattern. Though full of impact, the entryway above from Vogue Living would have taken on an entirely different persona had the palette been saturated with jewel tones or primary colors.

(Image credit: Jersey Ice Cream Co)

This very thought was the motivation behind the Benjamin Moore 2016 Color of the Year: Simply White. Keeping a space devoid of punchy pigments allows an inhabitant to focus on the room's more structural and textural components. In the above kitchen, Jersey Ice Cream Co. lapped a 19th-century Hudson Valley cottage in the two-toned palette that brings out its bones without seeming stark. Instead, the creamy tones seem to preserve what always existed. Like the paint combination was there long before the photo was snapped.

(Image credit: Lonny)

Perhaps the most "trendy" incarnation of black and white is in Scandinavian minimalism, a look that steadily dominates our collective Instagram feed. Hilary Robertson, interior stylist and author of Monochrome Home – who went to college in Scandinavia – notes of the style, "You would think that no other colors existed." For Robertson, using a monochromatic scheme is a no-brainer. "It's like a good Helmut Lang," she says, referring to the fashion house's timeless LBD. "A mark of minimalism that causes the onlooker to focus on silhouette, material, quality and scale." In the dining room shown above from Lonny, it's easy to take a moment and notice the frame of the table, the gentle curve of the dining chairs, the delicate impact of the light fixture.

To some, the combination might seem one-note, but lovers of the black and white tout its versatility. It's with a pared down palette that you can go wild with fuzzy textures and glossy sheens, like in the above scene of Gilles Mendel's living room from Architectural Digest.

A quick review of your favorite paint deck and you'll find an endless spectrum of off, cool and warm whites, and now, a just-as-expansive collection of its contrast. "Our palette extends beyond just pure black and pure white," explains Charlotte Cosby, Head of Creative at Farrow & Ball. "It encompasses nuanced shades of each that can be used as a more sympathetic black or white in different situations."

As lovers of design, we are attracted to balance – our eyes can't help it. And there is no greater achiever of balance in the interiors world than the pairing of black with white (hi, Jenna Lyons' perfect town home seen above via Domino!). It's the most popular couple of all time – and it's not going anywhere.

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