Dark Walls for a Sunny Room
A south facing room is a good place to use dark walls and strong colors. Here, spruce green complements
a number of different reds. The curtains were dark green satin and the American Empire daybed in front of the windows
was covered in a red & gold damask. The red leather chairs came from a bankrupt hotel and the mirror--from
an 1890's mansion--covers a blocked-up window. The advantage of a room like this is that
you don't have to worry about matching colors. And it's easier to change your decor if you're not locked into
a set color scheme. The red sofa in this room had come from a yellow room and moved into a blue room when it was time
for a change. All I had to do was paint, as you can see below.
Same room, new decor.
One of the most striking rooms I ever saw was a stair hall created
by the Scottish architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh that was exhibited at the Art Institute of Chicago a few years ago.
Given a tiny space having no natural light, Mackintosh defied the convention of using pale colors to
'enlarge' a room. Instead, he went as dark as possible-all black. The only light came from a small panel
of back-lit yellow glass set into the wall below the stairway. The reflections of that dim light glinted
off the black enamel and the gilt-framed pictures on the opposite wall, and made an extremely rich effect out of simple materials.
Soon after I saw that room, I redid my green room. Flat black walls, satin black trim and high gloss black floors made
a perfect backgroud for the bird's-eye maple furniture. On sunny winter days, the copper-pink wool rug cast a wonderful
rosy glow onto the ceiling and anyone in the room. Dark colors don't have to mean dark rooms.
In a room similar in size to the black room, I went the other
way, with a minimal style and an all-gray palette. This apartment, on Chicago's Lake Shore Drive, had an amazing
view of the lake, the park, and six miles south, the towers of downtown silhouetted against the vast gray Chicago sky.
Any attempt at 'decorating' would have been doomed. Nothing could compete against a view like that, so that
what I used. Nothing on the walls, nothing at the windows, as close to nothing as I could get in the way of furniture.
And, nothing was better than to sit and watch the lights of cars slowly snaking their way up the Drive in the
Chicago dusk. In such a simple room, qualities of light and air
take on an importance they can never have in a conventionally decorated space. The play of sun on empty walls, the pink
haze at sunset that lay like a blessing on the city, the glitter of moonlight on the lake were all the decoration this
room needed. Sometimes, what you leave out is more important than what you put in.
If You Have Lemons....
This was one of the dingiest rooms I had ever seen. It might have once been nice, but by
the time I saw it, all that was left of the original room was the cast iron tub. The original lavatory--the top of it,
anyway--was out back being used as a planter. Its replacement was a particleboard vanity. The walls were
covered with cheap paneling, pressed board covered with a picture of wood. It had to go. But it was only a rented apartment, so new walls were out of the question. I gave everything a single coat
of primer, and replaced the vinyl-coated wire shelves with some home-made wooden shelves I found in the musty
cellar when I moved in. One had a heart with the names LuLu&Ted. I felt LuLu&Ted deserved a better fate
than mildew, so I gave them a coat of paint, and put them up. I did the same with the top of a Victorian dresser I found
in the attic. This was years ago, before anybody heard of Shabby Chic, and everybody hated it. Go figure.