Interiors: dark havens

The darkness is back, discovers Emma Clegg. But it’s all good because light and bright just can’t give you a brooding atmosphere in the same way as a resonant, rich interior can, and the palette therein is extensive…

If you lived in the Dark Ages, a sombre interior with wood panelling, practical furniture and stone slabs (if you were lucky) for the floor was probably your go-to. Rural peasants formed 90% of the population back then and they lived life on the edge – working the land, with a limited diet and meagre comforts – so they dwelled in dark interiors with small windows and a pervading smell of candlewax. The Gothic style in the 12th century also wallowed in darkness, a more conscious design decision, with the heavy use of ornate decorations and deep rich colours, but even then there was an emphasis on vertical elements and natural light.

Then colour hit and – apart from a few brief monochrome blips starting with 1920s Art Deco – it’s mostly been the star of the interior design show since. The 18th-century interior certainly became obsessed with ventilation, light and air circulation, and the preference for whitewashed walls and lighter colours embedded their roots in the interior psyche. The Victorian interior became darker and cluttered, but now we’ve purged, revamped and reinvented these ubiquitous period homes with stripped boards, airy extensions, sliding glass doors and Velux windows.

Now of course our interiors fulfil our practical needs on every level, and they are also a personal and conscious choice – they embody our sense of self and we can flip with nonchalance from minimalism with clean lines and neutral tones to eclectic interiors in vibrant colours at the roll-out of a new paint shade or a pair of organic hemp curtains.

So here’s another arrow in your interior design quiver because the brooding darkness is back. It’s time to steer ourselves away from lights and brights, or at least dabble in the dark side. The fashion for darks is perhaps a reflection of a more serious, inward-looking and protective national perspective. But let’s sweep over the psychology and revel in the dramatic impact.

Sometimes it just makes sense; a small dark space cannot be made into a bright, reflective interior if it has limited natural light, and a dark backdrop can make other colours more vibrant, give pictures more resonance and a room more depth.

We are conditioned to respect the natural characteristics of a room and primed to use a colour palette to enhance these – warm colours in north-facing rooms, bright reflective colours in south-facing rooms. Yet followers of the moody interior such as tastemaker and designer Abigail Ahern, known for her signature dark paint ranges, says that inky hues will give any space, wherever it’s located and in whatever direction it’s facing, an instant Hitchcockian atmosphere. “When you go dark, you suddenly create this vibe that almost exaggerates cosiness; you just want to hunker down and never want to leave”, she says.

The garden’s up for grabs, too, with a dark exterior wall the perfect foil for green foliage and floral colour or a statement metal chair or table.

Bring it on. Think of the bruised colours around black, but also earthy hues, inky blues, dusky shades, pepperpot greys, smudgey purples, brooding greens – there’s a world of colour within a dark palette.