For decades, white has remained the default choice for kitchen design, most recently embodied by the Pinterest-approved trend of light and bright cooking and dining spaces.
But lately, one colour is gaining global popularity and it is not one associate with a bygone era. Indeed, this may be part of its appeal: Since about 2015, all-black kitchens have become increasingly popular. Sophisticated homeowners are exploring shiny black cabinets, black marble countertops with striking white veins, black floors and even black appliances.
Design manufacturers have taken notice, and sleek black ranges, refrigerators and more have been attracting attention at many industry shows lately. But are South Africans ready for the all-black look? Or will this trend, like so many before it, be another flash in the pan?
As part of our high-end kitchen design feature, we explore the reason why black seems to be the new colour of people in the know.
Black is the new white
We are starting to see black being used in a much bigger way, says Laurie Pressman, vice-president of the Pantone Colour Institute. “This is different than just larger black appliances or maybe a black countertop. This is about the move to black cabinetry, black paint, black flooring and different black shades for countertop appliances.”
It seems the movement is a pendulum swing towards something with greater depth and sophistication, given how black and other dark colours work surprisingly well in compact spaces. “Recently we’ve seen a trend of black kitchens designed by leading AD100 designers,” she says. “It may have something to do with designing smaller New York styled kitchens.”
Marlene van Rooyen, managing director of Media in Africa, sees a connection between an inky palette and the possibility of personalisation. “In my opinion, black symbolises someone who is passionate about design and who isn’t afraid to take risks,” she says. “Aesthetically speaking, black tends to feel more sophisticated and formal, depending on how it is styled, but for me that versatility is what’s most appealing.”
But why are we just migrating to the dark side in the 2020s?
Pantone’s Pressman suspects the advent of open-plan kitchens has had a big impact on how we perceive colour at the cooktop. “As we move to open-plan floors and kitchens, it becomes more of a key focal point within the home. We are changing our expectations for what a kitchen should look like and the function it needs to serve,” she says.
Another reason why black and other dark colours have appeal these days, is that consumers awash in smart technology are craving tactile experiences and fine craftsmanship – call it the Downton Abbey effect. Dark colours conjure cast iron, slate and black marble, evoking the look of kitchens before they were streamlined in the 1930s.
The popularity of industrial styles has positioned black as the new neutral. Converted factories and farmhouses have brought industrial elements with exposed pipes, beams and salvaged iron complemented with reclaimed wood; and in the restaurant and commercial sectors black is used with great impact.
Clients have recently become interested in bold contrasts when choosing a colour palette. It has been interesting to see that clients are gravitating towards shades of black as a cabinet colour. Consumers are no longer seeing black as the big, black hole they once perceived it as, and find it remarkably effective as a neutral to tone down a lighter counter or stainless-steel appliances.
Black suddenly seems like the ideal bold colour: Which colours can contrast a sea of seamless white, or feel natural alongside concretes, woods and metal finishes? Suddenly darker colours, matte finishes and polished metal trims feel at home. And indeed, matte finishes in particular have largely defined the new black kitchen moment, suggesting the appeal of subtle and grounded tones, which are often paired with high-gloss surfaces elsewhere in the kitchen for a balanced look.
Above all, the black kitchen might just become the “little black dress” of interior design, as black suggests “enduring elegance”, according to Pressman. “Whether a matte finish or a metallic, black conveys sophistication and chic, two things that never go out of style.”
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