How It’s Done: Mastering Monochrome

February 16, 2018

It’s that simple: Black and white were made for each other. Classic as can be, this favorite-of-ours combination has a sophisticated way of calming a room, resting the senses with its immediacy.

One of the best things about going monochrome? As curated and controlled as it may look, it’s actually incredibly easy to pull off. It takes a bit of discipline, but good things can come from constraints—giving yourself monochromatic boundaries will allow you to nerd out on the details and celebrate the contrast and clarity of combinations.

That said, there are a few considerations to keep in mind, as well as design tricks that make a two-tone space especially inviting and approachable. For this, we turned to Nicole Davis, a Southern California-based interior designer and monochrome master. Since coming across her work, we’ve seriously considered moving into her Instagram feed, which features a parade of enviable black and white spaces, from breakfast nooks to sprawling studies. Here, Nicole kindly shares her tips for making the timeless trend your own.

If there’s a pitfall to a black-and-white room, it’s that the stark color scheme has a tendency to look cold. “Monochrome can be sterile, but a great way to warm it up is to play with texture,” says Nicole. “Layer in bold fabrics, mix hard edges with soft, and don’t be afraid to combine styles—think outside of what the design world is telling you to do.” For example, you can soften up a monochrome couch with oversized, tufted pillows and nubby handwoven throws. For maximum impact, mix in textural elements from floor to ceiling. A flokati rug adds instant warmth to a black-and-white space, as do framed textiles and woven wall hangings.

Checks, zig-zags, stripes, florals—when you’re working in monochrome, print-mixing is a breeze. “Monochrome simplifies pattern,” says Nicole. “When you edit yourself down to two colors, you can be much bolder with how you combine prints.”

One of our favorite back-again prints? Gingham, in larger-than-life proportions. Although it’s enjoyed popularity since originating in India and Indonesia more than 400 years ago, gingham is bigger and better than ever this season, in exaggerated swatches and eye-catching monochromes. Pair this bold pattern with smaller-scale, more delicate prints for a look that complements rather than clashes.

“One of the best ways to balance monochrome is by layering in natural elements,” says Nicole. “I’m really loving natural wood. It takes things to a more organic place while softening and warming a room. It’s very classic, very timeless, and it plays off the black-and-white contrast beautifully.”

For one of her recent projects—a monochrome mountain ranch in Park City, Utah—Nicole echoed the nearby forest with wood-beaded chandeliers, antlers, and minimalist vases with budding branches.

Metallics look particularly lovely when set against the stark simplicity of black and white. To add depth and interest to a monochrome room, mix and match a variety of metal finishes. “I love bright golds mixed with more burnished brasses,” says Nicole. “Even a polished nickel looks great against black and white. Be playful—when you’re working entirely in neutrals, you really can’t go wrong.”

To further soften monochrome’s edge, be sure to include personal touches throughout the room. “The great thing about black and white is that the colors are so common that it’s easy to add accents over time,” says Nicole. “When you travel, look for monochrome artifacts and memorabilia that will both remind you of your trip and work well with your décor.”

One of Nicole’s favorite recent projects is a gallery wall she designed for a client’s monochrome space. Using black-and-white family photographs, she curated a collection than was both personal and considered. “The prospect of creating a gallery wall can overwhelm some people, but the trick is to pick a theme and stick to it—in this case, that meant simple, black frames with a consistent width.”

Be careful not to fall prey to monochrome’s more serious side. This is your home, after all, not a showroom, and a sense of humor and levity is always paramount. “One of the big mistakes I see people make is taking the trend too literally,” says Nicole. “Don’t feel stuck in this black-and-white idea. Use it as a guide, but then add in your own personality. You always want to have an element of surprise in a room.”

So go ahead—add a soft pop of pink, your favorite watercolor print, or a bold red rug. Bored of black and white? Put your own spin on the trend with rich cream and deep navy. The only true rule for a monochrome room is that you love spending time in it.

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