5 ways to use dark colors that won't overwhelm your space – 'this is the right way to pull off this scheme,' say experts

Want to embrace a dark color palette? Experts suggest five clever tricks that will make spaces cozy, but not too extreme

A living room with dark walls and a yellow sofa
(Image credit: Maria Orlova. Studio credit Donna Dufresne Interior Design)

Let's be honest – even if you love the idea of a dark color scheme, actually putting it into action can feel a bit overwhelming and scary. There's always a risk that your room goes past cozy, into suffocating. 

The fear, of course, is legitimate, but interior designers have clever ways to make this specific scheme work in your favor. With the right ways to match and contrast, and with useful paint tricks, you can easily embrace this color trend in your home.

1. Color drench the space 

A dining room with wooden dining furniture, color drenched in black

(Image credit: Nicole Franzen. Studio credit Jessica Gersten)

Painting the ceiling and walls the same color is a great trick when you want to dial down the effect of a specific color. 'If you consider a color you love, dial it down from its loudest shade and use it as a singular tone across spaces,' says Jude Stewart, a color specialist. 

To avoid making the space feel too one-dimensional, choose a deep tone such as black or dark grey, and unify it across walls, ceilings, millwork, and other surfaces. Then punctuate the room with accents in different hues to break up the monotony. Ideally, in a dark scheme, the use of earthy hues or materiality plays well, making the room feel cozy and warm.

Consider an eggshell or a matt paint finish so the color seamlessly blends into the surroundings. 

2. Consider color block

A living room with black walls and a yellow sofa

(Image credit: Maria Orlova. Studio credit Donna Dufresne Interior Design)

Color blocking walls or furniture is a less intense way to bring dark colors into a home. 'We used pops of bold color to add dimension to the space,' says Donna Dufresne, founder of Donna Dufresne Interior Design. 'With such a dark palette it is important to choose a few key pieces and colors that will both stand out, contrast, and bring cohesion to the area.'

3. Avoid painting the ceiling

A living room with dark green walls and a purple armchair

(Image credit: Derek Swalwell. Studio credit Studio Doherty)

Taking the color across the vertical surfaces but stopping just before the ceiling is still a great paint idea for walls if you're afraid of color drenching. The result? A bold room that still feels open and breezy. White or cream can add relief to a room and are especially useful if you're using a dark color scheme. 

'This room is part of an amazing home that was designed in the 1980s, and is filled with natural light and vast white walls,' says Mardi Doherty, director at Studio Doherty. 'This sitting room is tucked off to the side of the home, accessible via three steps leading down into the room. As natural light was limited in this space we chose to make it a cozy darker space. Painting the walls and having carpet in the same tone allows the room to be bold yet immersive. This color connects with the surrounding lush garden visible from the top of the stairs.'

4. Use a tonal color scheme

A color drenched scheme

(Image credit: Ab Rogers Design)

While decorating with color in bold shades, you might want to choose a tonal scheme. This is essentially using different shades of the same color across an interior, making the space feel instantly relaxing and peaceful. Different tones of the same color add depth to the room, making it look sumptuous.

'Believing in tonal colors relaxing psychological power, we used this deep, soothing shade to suit the functions and activities the room hosts, and to add a slice of happiness to the dwellers every time they entered the room,' says Julie Harris, studio director at Ab Rogers Design. 

5. Let natural light in

A dark bedroom lit up with natural light

(Image credit: Le Atelier)

And finally, let there be light! The easiest trick in the book, natural light can ease up the vibe of a dark room and make it appear more airy and bright. During the day, make sure to open up the window dressings or curtains to bring in filtered light. At night, use fixtures as lighting solutions for dark rooms so that your interior always feels snug but never dull.

'Look to the ceiling lights and lamps, and make sure the bulbs have the maximum light output that is comfortable and functional,' says Jennifer Morris, founder of JMorris Design. 'A shift from 40 to 60 watts can make a big difference.'

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Design Editor

Aditi Sharma Maheshwari is the Design Editor at Livingetc. She is an architecture and design journalist with over 10 years of experience. She's worked at some of the leading media houses in India such as Elle Decor, Houzz and Architectural Digest (Condé Nast). Till recently, she was a freelance writer for publications such as Architectural Digest US, House Beautiful, Stir World, Beautiful Homes India among others. In her spare time, she volunteers at animal shelters and other rescue organizations.