Black magic

Pay your last respects to the harsh power-black of the Eighties, says Nilgin Yusuf, this time around it's chic, dramatic, warm and inviting
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The Independent Online

The Baccara, a velvety black rose, has been making striking appearances at the chicest parties. This sensational bloom, only available since February, when it made its debut at London Fashion Week, has since been spotted in elegant black lacquered vases and floating alongside black candles. The woman behind the deliciously sinister roses is designer-florist Nikki Tibbles, whose clients include Chanel and Ralph Lauren.

At her new shop at the Great Eastern Hotel, the Baccara is much in demand, even at £6 a stem. "The Baccara rose is sexy in a dark, understated way. People don't associate black with flowers but are always struck by the final results; they look wonderful with lilac roses and the black element brings something completely different to floral arrangements."

After disappearing up its own matt black void in the Eighties, the colour black has re-emerged, triumphantly, dramatically and exotically, for a new millennium. The Ninties were characterised by purity: white airy lofts, stripped floorboards and lots of natural light. Now that maximalism is here and ostentation is making its lary presence felt, black has re-emerged as the statement colour in fashionable interiors.

At the Tate Gallery, Millbank, the "Ruskin, Turner & Pre-Raphaelite" exhibition, starts and finishes with a black room. Interior decorator and colour consultant to the Tate, Jocasta Innes, created a striking background for the artworks: "Black really dramatises the architecture of a space but it's a sophisticated choice that needs to be handled well." In an altogether more chilling application, black features in Berlin's new Jewish Museum by Daniel Libeskind, which reflects the architect's philosophy of "psychological space". A definitive black line leads visitors to the "extermination" room, an empty, unheated, entirely black tower.

Although these are high-art, high-brow applications of black, its influence on the home is already clear. The early warning call came from Wenge wood, an exotic hardwood with distinct dark characteristics. Favoured by minimalist designers such as Spencer Fung and Ou Baholyodhin and promoted in urban temples of Zen calm, like the Metropolitan Hotel and restaurant, Nobu, Wenge wood was favoured by the Wallpaper* set some years ago and has influenced the spread of black ceramics and glass, product design and furnishing fabrics.

Martin Waller of furniture and fabric house Andrew Martin believes the new focus on black reflects social optimism: "We never see black in a depression. It takes off when people feel confident - as it did in the 1920s." (A less positive interpretation would be that black pre-empts recession but let's not go there.) "The age of quiet living is gone and dramatic statements are back. I'm a big fan and painted my bedroom black from cream two years ago."

Those who thought only headbangers, Satanists, goths or manic depressives would live with black should prepare themselves for a chic shock as black is being taken up by growing numbers. Architect Paul Douglas of Room, an Edinburgh-based architectural practice recently painted the bedroom of his Victorian house black. "I wanted a retreat and a cocoon. People think of black as austere but it can be incredibly warm. The trick is good lighting."

Combining Osborne & Little black and charcoal striped wallpaper with chalkstripe curtains by Andrew Martin, a black bouclé headboard and velvet carpet, the various black tones are offset with warm cherrywood wardrobes and cabinets. "It's quite masculine but not at all cold. I was inspired by New York Deco hotels; that's when black was used really well."

Over in Waterloo, south London, Polly Clayden, a journalist and Aids treatment activist, has lived in her 1930s flat for 20 years. "When I was young my mother, who was a teacher, painted my entire bedroom in backboard paint so I could draw on the walls. Now, I have a tiny dramatic black hallway with shiny black gloss on the doors and door frames and matt black walls." Professing a long-standing love affair with this "absolute, non-ambiguous colour" Clayden adores black cashmere, pearls, patent leather and tulips.

Anyone considering black as a colour scheme should spend some time observing the light and shadows in various spaces. Clayden suggests places that are naturally dark - hallways are perfect. "I'm not sure I would paint a lovely, airy room black but if it's dark anyway, then why not emphasise these qualities?" Avoid Victorian gloominess by keeping the room clean and modern, she says, "not cluttered with dusty ornaments and endless picture frames".

Thirtysomethings will be muttering darkly about an Eighties revival, but the current use of black draws on earlier references spanning 16th-century Spanish painting to the Jazz Age and Bloomsbury set. "In the Eighties, there was lots of black and white; very stark colour schemes that gave all interiors the look of a hairdressing salon. Now people are using it as a colour, not just a contrast," believes Paul Douglas. The Eighties' black was a flat, matt, blanket shade. "Now we use texture and tone mixing deep pile fabrics with shiny black lacquer and glass, dark woods and warm, low-voltage lighting," he continues.

Far from the corporate, yuppie image of days gone by, the new black has depth and resonance, a striking backdrop, not for uniformity but individuality. *