It's Not All That Black and White

Simple black and white slip covered parsons style chairs mix with colorful oil painting by James Brown, blue and white Chinese porcelains, and a "gold" fish sculpture by Francois-Xavier Lallanne, all atop a beautiful black and white marble top table. Photo by Joel Laiter

"Black and White". A reference to the lack of middle ground, or any shades of grey (or any other color of the rainbow) that might muddle things up....visually, the highest possible contrast. Black and white thinking is referred to as a "false dichotomy", a situation where only two options are offered, when in fact, many more choices are available.

Food for thought in the world of design. Some of the best interior spaces begin with the classic palette of black and white. I was particularly drawn to a few in the recent Veranda (March 2010) and Elle Decor (Jan., Feb. 2010). The Paris apartment of David Gieseman in Veranda is an example of what, at first glance, appears to be black and white. But if one studies this beautiful home, one finds not only splashes of color, but also a definite democracy of style. No black and white thinking here. Here you will find casual canvas slipcovers mixed with lacquer and gilt bombe Regence chests, Jean-Michel Frank stools and lamps, Louis XVI chairs, Hermes throws, African art and fabrics, and Chinese blue and white porcelain, with a few Picasso's thrown in for good measure.

Black and white backdrop to warm wood tones, gilded frames, colorful art and books, and blue and white porcelain. I love the simple slip covered chairs next to the Regence chest and black linen chaise. And, that Jean-Michel Frank stool again! I am quite smitten. Photo by Joel Laiter.

This mixture of a classic backdrop for the collections of life's experiences appeals to me above any other kind of space. One might begin with preconceived notions about how the world should be. One might start a room with white walls, a black chest of drawers, some white chairs,a black and white rug. But what brings richness, interest, character, "personality" is the addition of meaningful color.....those moments that change one's view from simple black and white to an understanding that life is full of nuance.

Black and white Hermes throw, gold vintage swing-arm lamps, Decanter by Van Day Truex for Baccarat, Kangxi porcelain. Photo by Joel Laiter.

Perhaps I am drawn to this particular apartment because it is clear the owner has a point of view, but it is also clear he is open to discussion. He has collected experiences that have led to a colorful life. He has not copied a particular style. He has made his own. And it is beautifully represented.

The black and white kitchen broken is up with the rich woods and the exclamation points of red knobs on the Wolf range. French concrete floor tiles add a hint of Escher. Photo by Eric Piasecki.

By now, you have undoubtedly had the pleasure of seeing the January, February Elle Decor. (And if not, do!!) Elle Decor never disappoints, and this home by Steven Gambrel is no exception to that rule. I loved the basically black and white (with shades of grey) palette of the home, but Steven throws in emerald, malachite, high-gloss forest green, punches of lipstick red along with natural warm tones, livening up spaces with his masterful use of color.

I like everything about this hall...the white bead board walls, the sisal carpet, the shiny black doors with their nickel doorknobs, the black picture lights, and, of course, the red frames! Photo by Eric Piasecki.

I am always on the lookout for really great ways to display family photos. It is not always easy. I have taken so many photos as my girls have grown, displaying them in nooks and crannies. But the "designer" in me had a hard time finding a good way to display the larger black and white portraits in an artful way. I have many young clients that are looking for places to display their children's photos, and it can definitely be a challenge. I think Steven Gambrel did a brilliant job here. The photos are united with simple red frames that demand your attention in the otherwise classic black and white hall.

Hallways are places where one gets from "here" to "there". And these photos chronicle our "here" to "there" lives. It is nice to be able to stop along the way and remember where we have been. This hallway might not have been quite so extraordinary without them. Another example of how color, and the personal, can punctuate.

In the same issue of Elle Decor is the home of Photo Stylist, Juan Carlos Garcia-Lavin. Self described as a die-hard minimalist, Juan Carlos has mellowed to a softer style that is not quite so strict....not quite so "black and white". This home is another example of a black and white base that has "lived" itself into not only additions of color, but also accumulated styles.

Living Room of Juan Carlos Garcia-Lavin...modern black and white, but not sterile. It is fun, warm and diverse. Photo by Simon Upton.

The serious modernism is tempered by the warm, organic wood tones and touches of green....not to mention the plethora of colorful art throughout the spaces (check out the full article!!)

Simple and modern does not have to mean cold and boring. The addition of the wood tones of the floors and the organic sculpture, the softer "black" Benjamin Moore Twilight Zone wall, art and books "warmify" the space. Photo by Simon Upton.

Texture and color combine here to add life to this apartment. But it is not just any color and texture. It is not color from your local design chain store. It is added through collection of things that have meaning for the owner. The objects are interesting because they tell a story of a life. They are not generic. They are quite thoughtful, from a simple glass vessel filled with driftwood and found river rocks, to the large collection of diverse art.

The Master Bedroom is a masterful mix of black and white with art adding color. Such a great mix of objects and textures. Photo by Simon Upton.

The point remains, life is not black and white. It is an accumulation of experiences, different for everyone. The best interior spaces reflect that. They should evolve, grow and change, as we do. They should reveal who we are and what we care about. That means a diversity of styles, punctuations of color, and collections of memories.

So bring in the artful branch from your front yard and the souvenirs of your travels. Keep the books and the photos and the art collected through the years. Say "yes" when a family member passes down a beautiful antique. But don't be afraid to shed "things" that have lost their meaning for you or are simply not a good fit. You get to decide. That's the beauty of it.

The options are endless.