Blackout in Brighton
Dark Design – Luxury Living Room
Column by Lara Protheroe
We’ve been at it again: painting the whole house black, one wall at a time. Renovating our sitting room has taken months of planning and some tricky furniture logistics. Our Victorian glass-fronted bookcases survived a precarious van journey (including a hair-raising roundabout topple), making it from Sussex to Somerset miraculously intact. After throwing our handsome but agonisingly uncomfortable brown leather sofas out of a first floor window we were ready for our noir transformation.
One thing to say straight out about any room makeover is this: do it now. Don’t wait till you’re about to sell the place: design your dream and then live it for as long as possible. And don’t try to make your dream conform to anyone else’s: any prospective purchaser is far more likely to be looking for potential than perfection. They want to see what can be done with a space rather than picture themselves living with your choices. Do you want to present the same old vanilla that they’re seeing in a hundred other places? No way!
Our painter was less than convinced by our choice of jet black, but once we’d decided the (initially single) feature wall might do well with all its friends matching it, he started to warm to the theme, and by the time he’d blackened the entire space, he appeared as impressed by the striking effect as he was by his own (admittedly masterful) handiwork.
The Little Greene paint company’s ’Jack Black’ Intelligent Matt Emulsion is the same dramatic shade that we used to great effect in the bathroom, and we just love its inky quality. The ceiling and gloss work – in Little Greene’s ‘Loft White’ – provide a perfect stark counterpoint.
One wall is completely taken up from end to end with a black-backed, partially white-fronted and fully bespoke storage unit, housing as its centrepiece a stunning electric fire from Stovax & Gazco beneath a sizeable TV that nevertheless disappears into the blackness when not in use.
There is something primal about fire and the very concept of a hearth; and despite my excitement at the prospect of this feature I have nevertheless been astounded by the extent to which it brings a sense of calm, comfort and (yes, I’m going to say it), hygge to the room. The Gazco Skope Inset 135R electric fire achieves remarkable depth and mesmerising movement, such that we can sit transfixed in the absence of any other light or stimulus: even our usually hyperactive toddler will sit contentedly watching the flames dance away and lazily toggles the colours on the Chromalight Immersive LED system with insouciant glee. Whilst it will easily (and economically) heat the room as required, you can just as well ‘light the fire’ without any heat output at all – perfect for a summer’s evening.
The fire is the highlight of the space, and the feature that appears most striking to any first-time visitor. It achieves an exquisite blend of contemporary style with the timeless appeal of a family hearth, whilst its minimalist installation integrates seamlessly with the clean lines of our broader design aesthetic. The overall effect is hypnotic. The fire comes with a variety of fuel effects: you can lay a realistic log selection on top of coals or choose clear glass pebbles and crystals. We opted to use the coals along with all the various crystals, abiding by our motto of ‘go big or go home’. The glass front is easily removable to change up the display as the spirit moves us, and we can operate the handset and change colours and adjust the temperature with total ease from the comfort of our majestic sofa.
The floor is black rubber, in the form of 60x60cm Eclipse Black tiles from Harvey Maria. This natural eco material is sleek, hardy and super easy to clean. The perfectly smooth and (again) deeply inky tiles have lent the room an industrial but nevertheless warm and tactile feel. The floor prep was straightforward if amazing to behold (with a totally level screed gradually settling like an immaculate ice-rink on the bare concrete) but rubber is a material that requires a certain expertise, and S Vine Flooring – by all accounts masters in their trade – laid it out immaculately. Any fears that we had over durability have evaporated after the first few weeks of onslaught that life with a toddler (fill in all the blanks you can think of) entails; and yet any mishap or horror is ‘disappeared’ with the swish of a cloth or e-cloth mop.
From whence best to admire these various treasures? There is more than one reason why the wise invest in a quality sofa, and our Italian velvet corner unit from Arlo & Jacob in deep raven black both looks and – crucially – feels incredible. My other half (at over six foot) can stretch out full-length on even the shorter side of the corner Crawford, which is so vast that I and our 3-year-old can lie full length on the other ‘wing’ at the same time. We had thought long and hard about how much space to sacrifice to seating, but with a vast corner sofa you can pile up or stretch out as a couple or (even large) family, entertain multiple guests or simply hang out solo. We paired the sofa with a matching Rupert footstool with hidden storage for magazines and toy dinosaurs. It will happily double up as a coffee table or trampoline – something for everyone!
We’ve dressed the sofa with some beautifully tactile black sheepskins from The Wool Company. I’ve slopped them over the arms to protect the upholstery and provide a woolly headrest, but our toddler likes to pull them down onto the rubber floor to loll around on in front of the fire. Cornwall-based The Wool Company’s skins are a luxurious treat: wonderfully soft and of first-rate quality.
Online store White Black Grey is a goldmine (onyx mine?) when accessorising a monochrome space. We have black rubber trays, vases and a fruit bowl, that burst with contrast when filled with bright flowers, fruit and crayons. Easy to clean and with a lovely matt texture, they offer practicality of function without compromising the aesthetic of the space.
Bloc Blinds was a no-brainer for the window furniture. The Bloc Blinds iQ in matt black are variously operated via sleek remote control and/or a dedicated app, and I can barely describe my satisfaction when attached to the sofa covered in sleeping children, casually adjusting the blinds to promote maximum repose without so moving so much as an inch.
The absence of chains and cords means they are totally child-friendly and remarkably unobtrusive either when open or closed. The design is such that they can be tailored to any requirement. The Bloc Blinds measuring and fitting service is second to none: by way of test I ‘measured up’ meticulously myself in advance of their arrival, only to discover that I would have gotten the whole thing catastrophically wrong. The ability to control the lighting and privacy of the space with such ease is a boon beyond measure.
Faithful Ikea did us proud with black dining chairs provider along with black wooden trestles for our hefty glass sheet dining table, which now appears to float against the black alcove wall. Not wanting to leave our newest family member out of the monochrome madness we were thrilled to find that Koo-di have just brought out a slick black duo highchair, a throne from which he will soon enough preside over family mealtimes and doubtless throw porridge and assorted foodstuffs liberally in my direction.
The idea of using so much black seemed to scare everyone except our carpenter at RED Joinery who was immediately enthusiastic and full of the same sense of possibility that had gripped me in the planning. The room hasn’t become smaller or darker (in colour it has of course, but not in illumination). Indeed, the ‘infinity’ quality gives a greater sense of perceived space (and amazing backdrop for family photos!), whilst the depth of colour feels cosy and the whites in the room are picked out, highlighted and fresh.
I have used plants to introduce colour and organic texture amidst the more utilitarian austerity. The Urban Botanist produce huge terrariums and we have a super-size jewel-shaped piece that appears to hover, full of succulents and tiny fairy lights. I’ve also added plants in glass box frames hung on the wall of the alcove arch, much to my toddler’s amazed delight.
The stunning sofa cushions from Mind the Gap are a nod to the green foliage elsewhere in the room. Mind the Gap is based in Transylvania (to the delight of my Stoker-loving soul), yet this decidedly unvampiric print bears a rich mixture of greens, with a hot pink accent on some of the tropical leaves and a smattering of brightly coloured bugs. The cushions are 100% linen and beautifully finished. Teamed with some hot pink velvet companions, they add style and depth to the vast black velvet sofa.
So what’s the verdict on this latest bold venture within our ever more dramatic domicile? Clean lines, an augmented sense of space, discreet blinds, immaculate rubber flooring, a mesmerising hearth and the biggest, comfiest sofa I’ve ever encountered. The sea-brightened daylight of Brighton streams in and the pure pigments, both black and white, glow freshly throughout the room. Clean and modern design precludes none of the warmth, comfort and practicality that one would look to achieve in any family sitting and dining room. Black is back (as if it ever went away), the perfect backdrop to your own darkened den of relaxation.