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Home decorators painting a brighter picture for dark interior paints

Far from gloomy, experts say darker paints create a cozy, more welcoming room
This image provided by frenchCalifornia shows a living room. A San Francisco home done by interiors firm frenchCalifornia, features this stylish space painted in Backdrop’s Lobby Scene, a dark, warm purple-red that was inspired by Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel and the color of the lobby boy’s uniform. (frenchCalifornia/Douglas Friedman via AP)

Dark hues have a bad rap as gloomy and depressing. More likely, they’re bringing home the good vibes, all year long.

One weekend when I had the house to myself, I painted our family room Benjamin Moore’s Kendall Charcoal, a deep, earthy gray.

I waited till I had two days alone to do it because it looked pretty shocking when I got started on the trim and rolled the walls. Was it going to veer into Goth Teen Bedroom territory? Or maybe a villainous, albeit stylish, lair?

But when I’d finished, it looked amazing. The rich color, along with white trim and comfy furnishings, gave the room way more character, and felt much homier than the basic beige had.

When the weekenders returned, the response was as I’d hoped; everyone loved it.

That was in 2018, and it’s the only room I haven’t repainted twice since, so there you go.

Turns out I’m not a loony outlier when it comes to loving dark paint.

For Apartment Therapy’s 2024 State of Home Design report, editors tallied 131 design experts who said “moodiness” will be one of the year’s hot vibes.

Pros say darker hues are more likely to create resonant atmospheres like coziness, stylish ambiance and even a little drama to keep things interesting. Rooms with these colors aren’t boring, nor are they over-stimulating. They envelop and embrace.

“Moody hues are more than just visual,” says designer Noz Nozawa. “They’re storytellers, deeply evocative, emotional and often very nostalgic.”


She thinks people don’t give dark hues enough credit for their versatility, and points out how well they go with different woods, metals and brighter hues.

“I often like to use them as a grounding point — they anchor a room, and then all the other textures and elements in a space can harmonize around them,” she says.

Try it yourself, Nozawa says, by holding a moody color swatch next to different woods and metals.

“The swatch will complement in a way that’s warm and comforting, not gloomy or heavy,” she says.

Tasked with choosing BlueStar’s 2023 Color of the Year for their appliance collection, she went with a deep, fruity Wine Red, which pairs well with different finishes and might remind you of a cozy evening sharing a glass with friends.


“Here in the Pacific Northwest, about two thirds of our days are moody,” says Peter Spalding of the interior furnishings marketplace Daniel House Club in Portland, Oregon.

“To cope, we drink a lot of coffee and buy tactical gear instead of fancy dress,” he laughs. “You’d think brightly colored interiors would be sure-fire medicine too, but actually some of the coziest interiors I’ve done here have been in moody greens, blues and grays.”

He’s not a fan of cool grays, especially in the Northwest’s dreary light.

“But a warm French gray is another thing entirely. It’s sort of creamy, with green undertones, and creates a cocoon that no one wants to leave,” Spalding says.

That chameleon quality, where a color shifts slightly depending on the light, is what you’re after, he says.

Besides dove gray, Spalding favors deep russet and dark forest hues.

“They can glow in the sun, or create a cozy envelope when it’s gray outside.”

Jennifer Verruto of Blythe Interiors in San Diego likes how these hues make a space feel settled and warm.

“Forget the idea that dark colors turn rooms into caves of doom. It’s time to embrace the moody vibes! They have an energy. A room wrapped in a dark, dramatic color can actually provide an uplifting, invigorating feeling,” she says.


She advises counterbalancing any potential heaviness. Position mirrors to bounce light around. Bring in lighter furniture, rugs and décor. Use warm woods and nature-inspired motifs for a comforting, organic vibe. Some of her favorite paints: Sherwin-Williams’ Iron Ore, Gale Force and Pewter Green.

Deep blue could remind you of an oceanside vacation. Mossy greens might evoke a favorite woodland hike. Mineral hues like citrine, garnet, iron and copper also have that earthy connection.

Brad Ramsey, who has his own interior design firm in Nashville, loves to create a “jewel box” space.

“By taking a moody hue and color-drenching the walls, drapery, even the ceiling, you get this cocoon-like feel,” he says. A study, dining room or den in a larger home can, when made darker, work well as an intimate social space, or a retreat for some quiet “me” time, he says.


Some of the imaginative names for these paint colors are as much fun as the hues themselves.

Dock Blue, Basalt, Goblin, Adventurer and Jewel Beetle are all to be found at British paint maker Little Greene, which has branched into the North American market now.

Backdrop’s founder Natalie Ebel says she wants to evoke a place or a feeling with the paint names. Masterpiece Theater is their first brown, with olive and a little yellow in it.

“It’s a color that really lends an atmosphere to a space, like a period drama for your walls,” she says. Backdrop has even developed an accompanying playlist, which includes some Verdi, Rossini, Bizet and Hans Zimmer.

Their warm-purple red called Lobby Scene was inspired by Wes Anderson’s movie “The Grand Budapest Hotel.” And a deep olive green is among the company’s most popular paints. Its name: Night on Earth.

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