Monday, July 25, 2011


BLACK AND WHITE: A Study of Contrasts

While modern sensibility gravitates towards the neutrals of beige and beige, we seem to have forgotten the neutrals of “the lost generation”: black and white. Gertrude Stein may have had other colors in mind in coining the phrase, but it recalls her zeitgeist and the Cole Porter era. With the burgeoning of photography, images were cast in black and white, suggesting the complexity and uncertainty of the Great War, while alluding to the security of a black and white world. These were the neutrals of that time: black and white. And, of course, we know, that when thrown together, they are anything but. The product of their marriage is color, the grays of reality. Yet, their purity transcends that ambiguity.

There is something very refreshing about black and white. You know where you stand. Black tie or white, the event is formal. The little black dress iconically worn with white pearls is as symbolic as Coco Chanel’s love of combining the contrastingly stark opposites. It is Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers; it is the world of Man Ray and Moholy-Nagy. It is Modernist with roots back to Josef Hoffmann’s passion for opposites. It is starchy and sharp, transparent and clean. It is Ford’s Black car with white-walled tires. It is “Night and Day, Day and Night.”

It is comforting to know that we can return to these neutrals in design - that they present themselves as sharp an image as before, making black and white classic. Always a strong statement, they let the homeowner know exactly where they stand. And, stand they do. As walls, furniture, glass, lights, and in almost every aspect of the home, they carve their niches, making a gesture to the past, yet very modern.

Black and white is effective in making bold statements. These neutrals define functions easily, while creating sharp edges of distinction. For instance, a black sink against a white wall, or visa versa, clarifies for the user a definiteness of purpose. Or a black couch set upon a white floor creates the same strong backdrop. It is dramatic, theatre in the home.

Using black and white tiles on the floor, whether marble or ceramic, create this sense of drama especially in an entry foyer. White tiles placed on a diagonal with black inserts is the quintessential classic, classy floor. Placed as such, it leads the visitor gracefully through the entry, suggesting a sense of purpose and style. In the bathroom, in particular, the powder room, black and white parleys a air of formality, suitable to the half-bath. The more recent water closet by Kohler, the Hatbox, adds to this sense of bathroom drama, both in its shape and color. It sculptural form, that of a ladies hatbox, disguises its true purpose, suggesting perhaps that it transcends its ordinary function. It is elite and elegant, functional and fancy.

Furnishings also create home drama. Black floors are classy, so much so, that when a white couch or rug is set upon it, a special tension is created. It says, in effect, that it knows what it is and what it wants to be. It presents an aesthetic level of comfort. White these neutrals feel perfectly at home in the more public areas, in the more private ones, they are less so. At bit startling in the bedroom, they are sharp to the eye. If one wishes to use black and white in the private areas, the neutrals need to be somewhat tamed. For instance, a mostly white bedroom with splashes of black will fit the bill. It will create a light, bright, airy space that is very chic and modern. Alternatively, a mostly black room will absorb all the light, making for a smaller, cozier space, more appropriate for a man’s study.

In the kitchen, black and white is especially effective as it creates a crisp backdrop to the meals prepared there. White cabinets with black counters and backsplash draw a sharp distinction of purpose which highlight the appliances and cooking utensils. In particular, stark white walls in a kitchen parlay an image of cleanliness.

Whether in the entry foyer or bathroom, black and white create a sense of drama in the home. The contrasts of its opposites make for a formal, yet elegant and classy backdrop, suitable for those who want a classic look of appeal.

What do you think about the classic neutrals, Black and White?

Do you need advice as to how to make your home more "Classic" modern?

Send me any questions you may have regarding this blog post.

Friday, March 25, 2011

On PAINT: "Any Color ... as Long as it's Black"


Paint, one of the most inexpensive and important elements of design, was not one of Henry Ford’s favorite interests. In his reference to all cars being painted black, Ford wanted to maintain an identity, a branding if you will, for the automobile he created.

In addition to the diversity added by paint color are the numerous techniques employed to make it look different. A favorite technique, especially in the kitchen for its easy maintenance and in the living and / or dining room for its elegance is Venetian stucco. This technique, with its many layers of plaster evokes a feeling of depth and movement. It is also wonderful in the way it reflects light, as its sheen bounces light off of its surface. Having recently painted an 18’ ceiling a charcoal silver gray venetian stucco, the clients were amazed that they could see their reflection above. A supremely talented artist and decorative painter, Stephen Pusey, created this ceiling and, for another client, Linda Foa, a library almost completely painted in a cross-hatched pattern. It is so subtle, yet so elegant, with the light being caught between the horizontal and vertical lines, it reflects light throughout. Pusey of Consortium Arts states: “A painted or "special" finish brings a vibrancy to a room and is the perfect compliment to any design, traditional or modern. While the effects that can be achieved are limited only by the artist's imagination and knowledge of materials.”

For a simpler, yet completely elegant look, a striae technique accomplishes the effect. Its consistent, vertical lines does wonder for a low ceilinged room, heightening the space. Ragging, sponging, and other similar techniques also add interest. Some unusual paint applications are as follows: writing or scribing words on walls, drawing pictures on painted surfaces, creating artistic compositions, like those of Sol Lewitt, directly onto the wall creating whimsical, ingenious and imaginative compositions. In effect, the wall becomes a work of art. As art collector Paul Frankel notes, “my Lewitt enhances and gives definition to my dining room, bringing both aesthetics and integrity to the space.”

Paint is a wonderful decorative tool; it enhances, illuminates, and enriches. If, applied and specified professionally, it can bring a room to life. Whether the designer uses many colors to achieve their effect, or one, employed correctly and with purpose,
even black can have a very powerful effect on a wall. Reinhardt and Nevelson are some well-known artists who found truth in the mono-chromatic fields of black paint; they sought a reality within the depth of their vision within a single color, So, Mr. Ford, perhaps you were ahead of your time!

Do you have questions regarding the use of paint in your home? Call to discuss how paint can change the complexion of your room...What have you tried to be successful in painting your home?

For more visuals on color go to:

Monday, January 31, 2011

ON PAINT: "Any Long as it's Black" (Part I)


Paint, one of the most inexpensive and important elements of design, was not one of Henry Ford’s favorite interests. In his reference to all cars being painted black, Ford wanted to maintain an identity, a branding if you will, for the automobile he created.

As homeowners, we have a vast array of choices, black among them. In fact, New Yorkers are famous for loving black in their apparel and accessories. But other than on pieces of furniture and the occasional granite counter top, black is not a favorite wall option, albeit it’s strong and powerful design statement in the home.

Color is probably the easiest variable to change. The first thing a new homeowner does, if they are not renovating or building, is to paint. And, while it can be an expensive line item, with skim coating and preparation, it usually fits quite comfortably within the client’s budget, however small. Paint can change the look of a room from formal to casual, from serious to whimsical, from mature to youthful. It is part of the magic that an interior designer manifests in creating a room’s appearance.

Paint can define spaces, create distinct areas without having to build walls. It can also create interest in its placement, moving the observer’s eye from one wall to another. It can create a mood, an ambience, a style. For instance, were all the walls in a room painted stark (decorator’s) white, it would evoke a spare, minimalist feeling. Were the space painted dark green, one would gather it more suitable for a library or club. And, if a room were colored with pink and blue stripes, most probably it would be a nursery. In addition, colors change with the light of day or night, so that a sofa looking periwinkle blue when in the sun, may very well appear lavender in the shade. So, yes, color does define by intention, by subtlety, by design. As the Benjamin Moore company notes: “Paint color is a most powerful decorating tool. What color to choose? What sheen for trims, for ceiling for walls? There are important decisions to make in selecting paint and so its best to confer with a professional designer who has the experience and knows exactly what works best.”

Choosing the right color is oftentimes difficult. The small chip you get at the store parlays into something completely different on the wall at home. Having had a client who chose not to use a professional’s expertise in selecting a color, she chose a pink that, when applied to her dining room wall, ended up looking like a bordello! It all has to do with the amount of reflectivity a color emits. Plus, color expands and deepens from chip to wall. So, if you are choosing a green that has a lot of black in it, it absorbs the light, whereas a lime green might evoke the opposite effect.

What should be taken into account is the finish level. A flat finish will absorb the light, yet show less imperfections. Thus, it is a perfect choice for the ceiling. Walls usually require an eggshell finish, that is more easily cleanable. And, woodwork most commonly requires a satin finish, easy to maintain.