Interiors: Black and white attitude
The best in design and decoration for your home
Opposites attract and two colours at the separate end of the spectrum can add an elegant touch to any interior
"Ebony and ivory… live together in perfect harmony." Thus warbled Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder back in 1982, whilst sitting side by side at their piano keyboard. The song topped the charts for seven weeks.
And then twenty five years later it was voted the worst duet of all time. But, whatever your musical tastes, you can't knock the design principle behind the lyrics. Black and white is a classic combination.
As so often happens, the recent trend for black and white bold designs and monochromes - not seen since the early eighties when Macca and Stevie had their big audio love in - began with fashion and worked its way through to interiors.
It probably all started with a single well-tailored tuxedo and a crisp white shirt and then, in the 1920s, Coco Chanel invented the timeless little black dress. Critics of the look compared it to the ubiquitous Ford motorcar. Any colour, folks, so long as it's black. Around the same time, the Modernist penchant for black furniture and plain white walls brought the trend through to interiors.
And it comes and goes in cycles.
"Black and white always looks modern," said the great fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld, "whatever that word means."
I beg to differ. This year, black and white is very much "on trend", which means that the shops are full of dodgy chevrons and zigzags. Personally, they make my eyes go funny. Plus, they're getting dangerously close to zebra stripes.
So how do you achieve the classic timelessness of black and white without bringing on a migraine?
According to the interior designer, Gwen Kenny, it's all about bringing in tones. "Black and white on its own never works, and it can look cheap even when it's very, very expensive. It's like brassy hair - it looks tacky because there are no tones in it."
"White walls and black furniture can look great in photographs," Kenny explains, "but it's a combination that can look very cold and clinical. If you put black furniture against a stark white background with nothing to warm it up you can end up in trouble." Introducing soft grey and warm whites will make the look warmer and more elegant. "Either that or an accent of mustard yellow or midnight blue."
That said, Kenny (www.divinedesign.ie) is a big fan of black. "I like black, I really do," she says. "It can be very rich when it's used properly and we have a lot more of it in our homes than we realise. It works very well in something like a cast iron fireplace or leather furniture - it's like the little black dress that goes with everything."
Black floors are visually striking, but can be just as difficult to keep clean as white ones. "The black shows every fleck and speck - it's fantastic for a penthouse lifestyle where you work until seven every evening, but not a good idea for a family home," says Kenny, "the best bet for using black and white is probably to bring it in with occasional furniture, vases and lamps." If you're using a black lampshade, though, do make sure that it has a reflective coating on the inside to reflect the light.
Debenhams' elegant black pendant lamp (€56) is shiny on the inside so that the light won't get absorbed (www.debenhams.ie). For those that can't resist the stripes, the store also has a dramatic black and white rug (€252). Ikea have some black and white patterned duvet sets including the Stockholm (€40 for a duvet cover and two pillow cases). They also have a classic black and white daybed (€530) - the cushions are black and the frame is white (www.ikea.com/ie/en). And Marks and Spencer (www.marksandspencer.ie) have any number of accessories, all handily listed in the "monochrome" section of their website. I like the letter mugs (€8), a simple white mug with a black alphabetic decal. There's also a dizzying set of chevron towels (€8-€35).
"Black and white is about as timeless as you can get," says Anthony Horrigan, a young Irish designer now working for Belleek. Horrigan first came to fame when he won a student competition to design a range of tableware for Marks and Spencer in 2013. "The black and white was my idea but I think that Marks and Spencer chose it because they wanted a design that was quite formal and had a bit of longevity to it. His Deco range, a twelve piece dinner set in fine china, showed a black and white geometric pattern that cleverly warps around the shape of the plate. "The design is a detail from the top of a Romanesque column," Horrigan explains, "but I created the pattern using a software package called Platescribe which allows you to make patterns in the round without distorting the graphic." It will be interesting to see what Horrigan brings to Belleek, a company known more for embossing plain tableware than for using pattern. In the meantime, his work is on currently display in Limerick's Hunt Museum (www.huntmuseum.com), as part of an exhibition called Culture of Clay.