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How to Design with Black in the French Style

October 23, 2015

After having just written about the colours of Provence it may seem strange to talk about black in French interiors, yet….


Black dining setting
A black dining setting resting on a walnut floor. It’s all very dark, yet what we see is the reflection and a touch of gold….
Black French-style console
I designed the twin consoles in wrought iron with black marble to complete the room, and give it a place where colourful objects can be added.
French loungeroom with fireplace
A restful and refined elegance, black, soft grey taupes and splashes of red.
French lounge setting
The colour and warmth of the cushion stands out thanks to the black surrounding it…
Marble bathroom with black vantoty
A black and white bathroom with the soft grey veins of Carrara marble; the black vanity is softened by its wounded sides.
Louis XV Bombee chest
A Louis XV Bombee chest with a mirror, reflecting both light and the garden, dress a wall near the kitchen.
Detail of a black hall table
A little rub through on a black hall table brings some of the warmth of the timber through.
Black and brass detail
Black and antique brass or gold are really the perfect combination! The black both contains the richness of the gold and highlights it. Almost opposites, black and gold, create a dynamic tension that exudes elegance and refinement.
Cherrywood table and mirror
The contrast between the warmth of the cherrywood table and the black and gold bring a gentle and elegant formality to this dining room.
Hall console with lamp
I designed this console to complement the black fire surrounding the elegant French dining room.
Black was revived in France after the Napoleonic campaign in Egypt. The stylised and stark beauty of the black marble sculptures captured the imagination of the wealthy. So, decorators and fine craftsmen went about bringing some of that dark beauty into French interiors. The lacquered black finishes decorated with contrasting brass or gold make such a striking impression that it is not possible to be unimpressed.
Black absorbs light and, with a little sheen, reflects it as well; all the while exuding a restrained elegance. Together with well chosen colours – reds, blues and a dashes of gold – black seems to come alive, giving a serious and restful tone at the same time. Black does something else too…it makes colour bolder! Artists have known this for years, and in order to give the colours more strength, they paint the canvas first with a black background….
One of the effect that black furniture has is to really show its shapes, hence the dining setting in the photo below, we really notice the bentwood shapes and how well they complete the elegant baroque inspired shapes of the wrought iron base. As you can see, the black marble table top reflects the garden though the shutters. Our eyes zoom into the gold of the brass detail on the wrought iron base, its contrasting warmth highlighted by the surrounding black.
So what is the secret with black? I like to make sure there is some warmth: aged brass, a little antique gold and sometimes, a little rub through to show some of the dark timber underneath. I find that it adds complexity and depth to a room. Another important point is to make sure the lustre, or level of sheen, is right and not the same as the other black items in a room. Also make sure you have colour as well, knowing that they will appear bolder.
All of our furniture can be finished in black, with or without rub through. Contact us if you would like to discuss adding some black to your interior.
Happy black and colour decorating!

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– Jean-Christophe
Jean-Christophe Burckhardt

Jean-Christophe Burckhardt

An expert on interior design, craftsmanship and fine arts, Jean-Christophe has trained extensively in Italy, France and Switzerland. Since moving to Australia, he has supplied many of the country’s grand homes and collected a number of awards for his furniture designs.