From the August/September 2011 Issue:

Rich Color Showcase:Deep & Dramatic

    Writer: Ren Miller |

Bored with beige? Four designers show how to take a walk on the dark side

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Study in Contrasts
A guest room by designer Mary Sferra balances light and dark hues, sleek and textured surfaces, serene and dramatic ambiences. “We used a subtle play of textures that delight the senses and calm the spirit,” says Sferra, a member of the American Society of Interior Designers and principal of M.R. Sferra Interior Design. Sferra, who designed the room for the 2010 Designer Showhouse of New Jersey in Saddle River, chose dramatically deep eggplant paint. Providing contrast are bone white crown and trim molding and a mix of pearl and platinum tones in the furnishings, including a shag rug that looks like a silky cloud but is actually made of soft, durable rayon. Reflective surfaces, such as mercury mirror night tables, contribute light and depth. Silk velvet adds a luxurious sheen to the headboard, which has a classic tack design inspired by Mies van der Rohe’s Barcelona chair.

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A tarnished silver finish on lounge chairs upholstered in a taupe boucle with silver thread and the accent table add more luster, as do the silverleaf shades on shagreen leather table lamps and a metal-framed bench with silk velvet and gold accents at the foot of the bed.

Sources: design, M.R. Sferra Interior Design in Haworth; Donald Kaufman paint, Eagle Paint & Wallpaper Co. in Englewood, applied by Jonathan Kutzin of America Painting LLC in Cresskill; mercury mirror night tables and lamps, Century Furniture in Hickory, North Carolina; upholstered headboard, designed by M.R. Sferra Interior Design and fabricated by Creative Upholstery in Paterson with J. Robert Scott fabric; window treatment, Kay Window Fashion in Saddle Brook; drapery hardware, Designer’s Resource Inc. in Lodi; Sferra Bros. linens, mattress, comforter, pillows, Duxiana in Ridgewood; dresser and lacquered wall panels, Niermann Weeks in New York City; white crackle vase on dresser, Greenbaum Interiors in Paterson and Morristown; upholstered chairs and table between chairs, Samuelson Furniture in Paterson; rug, Rug & Kilim in New York City.

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Chic Yet Casual
The challenge with the dining room in the 2010 Cape May Designer Show House was that it’s part of a functioning inn as well as a family home. It had to be posh enough for out-of-town guests as well as suitable for everyday family meals. Gretchen Kubiak of Black & Poole answered the challenge with a sophisticated glossy navy paint on the walls and modern furnishings that look fresh and relaxed but don’t clash with the yesteryear style visitors expect in Victorian Cape May. The clean lines of a trestle dining table that seats 12 and masculine yet chic chairs with buttery leather seats and ticking-style upholstered backs appealed to the inn’s owners. Kubiak balanced those with more contemporary lighting and photography.

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Two radiators that jutted into the narrow room didn’t allow room for storage, so Kubiak built around the radiators to add narrow shelving and a dark gray and blue granite top that can be used for serving. She painted the built-ins, trim and ceiling white and used creamy canvas window treatments to balance the walls. And those navy walls? “I wanted to show people that dark colors can be very attractive and livable,” she says. The photo above the table is “Camargue,” 2006 by Edward McHugh. The photo beside the sconce is “Monturque,” 2000, by Richard Kagan.

Sources: design, Gretchen Kubiak of Black & Poole in Philadelphia; walls, Sherwin Williams Liberty Blue exterior in high gloss; table, Restoration Hardware; chairs, Lee through Host in Philadelphia; Ziyi chandelier and ring sconces, Circa Lighting in Savannah, Georgia; photographs, Gallery 339 in Philadelphia.

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Rich in History
A visit to Blenheim Palace, birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill, and its aristocratic beds inspired Felicia Zwebner in the design of a bedroom at the 2010 Designer Showhouse of New Jersey in Saddle River. A black and goldleaf chinoiserie bed by Ebanista gave the plain-box room sophistication while a matte black ceiling added drama, says Zwebner, whose firm is Art de Triomphe. “There’s a milkiness to the paint so it’s almost charcoal,” she says. To boost architectural interest, Zwebner stacked three types of crown molding. And to balance the dark colors, she chose a light hemp wall covering, a heavily textured creamy rug with hints of red, and a Parisian console stripped of its molding and carving for a modern look and goldleafed to complement the pattern in the bed.

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In one corner a modern take on a wing chair is covered in a lustrous silk velvet damask. At the window, a pearlized leather Roman shade can block light without a blackout liner, while woven silk side panels add texture. Spots of red in the leather top of a bench (from the designer’s own FZ Collection), accessories and flowers give the room life. “The contrast of light and dark—some of it high, some of it low—creates rhythm,” Zwebner says. “Your eye just dances through the room.”

Sources: design, Felicia Zwebner of Art de Triomphe in Teaneck; bed, decorative pillows, desk with chair, Ebanista in New York City; bench, FZ Collection; mirror, porcelain urns, Agostino Antiques in New York City; nightstands and table lamps, Vaughan Designs Inc. in New York City; floor lamp, Vaughan with shade by Lamp Works in Lake Forest, Illinois; upholstered chair, The Charles Stewart Co. in Hickory, North Carolina, with Stroheim fabric; console table, Kravet in Bethpage, New York; window treatments, Window 25 in Newark; rug, Starr Carpet in Englewood; linens, Leron in New York City; floral arrangements, Petals Premier in Teterboro; artwork, Midday Gallery in Englewood; picture frames, Jewel Spiegel Gallery in Englewood.

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Deep in Nature
Dragonflies figuratively flash through the cozy family room that designer Janis A. Schmidt created for Diane & Ed Hutchinson, owners of Fairthorne Cottage, site of the 2010 Cape May Designer Show House. In fact, a chocolate brown fabric embroidered with teal and lime green dragonflies with bodies of gold metallic thread inspired the design by Schmidt, whose firm is aptly named Dragonfly Interiors. The fabric, which is framed and hung as art, and a chandelier with dragonflies cut into the metal shade seem to shimmer at dusk. Chocolate grass cloth with a chevron pattern covers the walls. “Darker colors can bring a sense of comfort and make a space feel enveloping and calming,” says Schmidt, a member of the Interior Design Society. “To balance the darker shades and pick up on colors in the dragonfly fabric, the designer covered two swivel rockers in a brighter teal fabric with chocolate piping and carried through the teal to the draperies, pillows and accents. She added a coffered ceiling and upholstered the insets with teal and chocolate striated fabric, complete with buttons for a tufted look.

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The white-painted ceiling coffers and window trim further balance the darker hues. Schmidt worked with a decorative artist to finish the window seat in a coppery teal shade and topped it with a durable dotted chenille-covered cushion to boost seating capacity in the small room. A light teal and chocolate rug ties everything together. For the walls flanking the window, Schmidt continued the nature theme with aged copper panels depicting chrysanthemums in relief.

Sources: design, Dragonfly Interiors in Montvale and Cape May; dragonfly and grass-cloth fabrics, York Wallcoverings in York, Pennsylvania; fabric inside coffered ceiling squares, Lady Ann Fabrics in Largo, Florida; antiqued brass and glass coffee table, Hooker Furniture Co. in Martinsville, Virginia; chairs, Masterfield Furniture Co. in Taylorsville, North Carolina, with Kravet fabric; Schonbek Tesoro chandeliers (one shown) and Schonbek Dragonfly Drum light fixture at the window, Bright Light Design Center in Cape May Courthouse; draperies, Custom Window by Robert A. Kline in West Berlin; window seat finish, Mary Dima of Daroo Designs LLC in Blue Bell,?Pennsylvania; construction, Saponaro Construction in Cape May; coffered ceiling, Ken Nichols Construction in Cape May; window seat and fireplace restoration, Jeremy Masemore Restoration & Renovation in Henryville, Pennsylvania.


Mary Sferra of M.R. Sferra Interior Design

In what situations would you encourage homeowners to consider using a dark color in a major way?
People a have a misconception that dark walls make a room look smaller. I have found that darker colors not only add drama and personality, but can also make a room more inviting. In a recent project we selected dark claret for the walls and a wash of gold on the ceiling in the smallest of bathrooms with fabulous results. In another bathroom we accented the beige tile surround with a dark brown ceiling, dark bronze hardware and chocolate brown towels. Remember, it’s just paint — have fun!

Do’s & Don’ts
• Don’t be afraid to use color on your walls or ceilings.
• Do explore with trial sample color swatches on your wall. Surround the swatch with white because darker colors will always appear much darker when surrounded by lighter tones or a non-compatible existing wall color.
• Do remember it’s difficult to truly appreciate the color and its impact until it completely surrounds you once painted on your walls.
• While white may be your desired color for ceilings and trim, there are a multitude of whites to choose from, and don’t be afraid to use a color other than white. Do be sure the ceiling and trim color is softened and acts as a compliment to your selected color.

Gretchen Kubiak of Black & Poole

In what situations would you encourage homeowners to consider using a dark color in a major way?
• All of my projects feature at least one room in a dark color. Dark colors bring the drama! Spaces should help create a mood and evoke certain emotions. This can be achieved in a very straightforward manner: a formal dining room with a dark dramatic color creates moody, formal atmosphere. It can be used also in a slightly comedic, ironic or even irreverent way: a casual beach house bathroom turned upside down with black walls, white towels and black-and-white images of the sea. Throw in a colorful bar of soap and some sea grasses and you have a modern beach bathroom! That tan will look even darker with all of the dark color enveloping you!

Do’s & Don’ts
• Do create contrast when using dark colors,which is something I do in every corner of a space. But remember that too much dark can create a room that looks muddy and without design direction. Be sure that with every surface you treat in a dark color or fabric, you have an equal opportunity to create a light feeling elsewhere in the room.
• Do use dark colors in small spaces. Dark colors recess, which contrary to popular belief, can make a room appear bigger! Painters are notorious for steering homeowners away from using dark paint colors. Don’t be afraid and don’t listen to your painter. My advice is that if you are excited about adding drama with dark paint, get a consult from a professional! That wine color might look great under the florescent lights of your big-name home-improvement store, but might make your family room look like a slaughter house when you get it up on the walls. Dark colors can be fun and exciting, but proceed with caution!
• Don’t go overboard with colors. I recently worked on a project for a client who doesn’t like white walls at all. I’ve come to realize there are more people like her then not. But don’t be tempted to select a whole rainbow of colors. If you like saturated color, select a palette and try to stay within those colors. Create harmony by repetition. Use the same color again on another floor. Did you paint the dining room a deep brown? Surprise us with an upstairs bathroom in the same color. It will look just different enough in different light and different scale, but you won’t be inundated with a new color around every corner.

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Felicia Zwebner of Art de Triomphe

In what situations would you encourage homeowners to consider using a dark color in a major way?
• For creating sophistication or drama to a room.
• To make a room more masculine.

Do’s & Dont’s
• Do use dark colors to visually bring down a high ceiling.
• Do use them to make a large cavernous room more inviting.
• Do create an intimate atmosphere with dark colors, such as in a bedroom or dining room.
• Don’t use dark colors when a room already has dark-stained or dark-painted paneling.
• Don’t use dark colors inside closets (you won’t be able to see your clothes).
• Don’t use dark colors in a small room, a windowless room, an attic (will just make you feel more closed in).

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Janis Schmidt or Dragonfly Designs

In what situations would you encourage homeowners to consider using a dark color in a major way?
• Throw out most of what you think you know about using darker colors and think outside of the box. Many times I’ve joyfully used dark colors in very small spaces like a powder room. In one case it was wallpaper with a black background with several other colors in it. The room had very few interesting furnishings to entertain the eye except for a pretty vanity. So the wallpaper made the small space feel more inviting, comforting and interesting. All the trim was done in white, as was the sink and toilet. Add beautiful lighting fixtures and you have a jewel box!
• Use darker tones when you want to make a space feel cozy or enveloping ... or dramatic! Just be sure to balance the deeper tones with complimentary hues. If you have dark walls, consider how to address the trim or the tone of the flooring or the lighting. Using lighter hues on the furnishings also creates a beautiful balance.
• You can introduce darker tones with furniture or cabinetry or very dark floors. I am a big fan of black accents, and you can use black in a number of ways. Choose cool whites, light aquas or silvers to emphasize a dark element, such as a sleek dark cherry or mahogany vanity mounted to a bathroom wall. Painting stair rails black and white will bring drama to a foyer or hallway, and a piece or two of black wood furnishings in a living room or den will be a step toward sophistication.

Do’s & Don’ts
• Don’t make everything in a room dark. Remember, it’s about creating balance.
• Do make sure you have enough natural or artificial light in a darker space.
• Do consider the surfaces you are making dark. Are they vertical? Horizontal? What opportunities will these give me to create balance? If it’s a dark wall, can you wash it with light or balance it with lighter artwork? If it’s a dark floor, you might add a contrasting area rug.

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Mary Sferra
M.R. Sferra Interior Design

Gretchen Kubiak
Black & Poole

Felicia Zwebner
Art de Triomphe

Janis Schmidt
Dragonfly Interiors
201-391-2600 or 609-846-3326/