Dark-themed interiors can radiate their own kind of luminescence. Done in the right space, black can look smart, crisp and glamorous

To some people, the idea of black walls and surfaces conjures an image of a heavy metal fan’s bedroom, or the scary basements of childhood. But actually, black is having a moment right now, and it can look crisp and glamorous. Just look at this midtown condo designed by Tomas Pearce.
According to Tomas Pearce partner Mel Quilatan, who along with project manager Brian Woodrow designed the space, the firm had created the interiors for common areas, lobby and model suite when the building opened. “The clients loved the entire look of the common areas, and contacted the developers to get in touch with us. They basically asked us to give their suite the same flavour!”
What most attracted the clients, Quilatan explains, was its dramatic, edgy but elegant use of black – on surfaces, walls, even floors. Touches of gold and vibrant brights, such as fuchsia and turquoise, along with a range of textures, punched up the design. But, in the end, the assignment was more than merely adapting these cues to a smaller stage. In fact, in order to make this striking scheme work, a bit of ingenuity was in order.
The clients are Americans who come to Toronto regularly for both work and family vacations. At 930 square feet, the condo is fairly compact – especially for a family with three young children! – so intelligent space planning was a top priority. On the plus side, it’s a corner unit, filled with light and boasting spectacular city views in two directions.
“They were a fascinating couple with a realy strong sense of art and design,” Quilatan recalls. “They wanted to push the envelope in terms of drama. One example is that one of the owners collects boots; the snakeskin mosaic tile in the master ensuite was his idea, and very ‘him’! All the art is theirs as well, and really gives a sense of their personality.”
The designers laugh that creating a dark, sensuous space in a condo that’s awash in natural light presented a challenge, but actually it’s a key part of what makes the program successful. The secret was to vary the scheme not just with colour, but also with textures, finishes, and individual feats of artistry.
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The bedroom looks sleek and modern. Courtesy of Tomas Pearce
Interestingly, the only room that doesn’t get natural light is the entry, and it’s the only room that doesn’t use black as its signature. Instead, says Quilatan, “We used some design trickery to expand this space a little.” The walls are covered in grey suede with horizontal bands, a classic way to pull the eye forward into the suite. Mirrors on the inner walls of the entry reflect light from the windows beyond, banishing gloom.
The most interesting feature in the entry is just to your right as you step into the suite: a marble-topped console with a gold base, arranged with antique travel cases in snake and crocodile. The wall behind looks like a single huge slab of granite; but on closer inspection it turns out to be a high-res photographic print on vinyl wallpaper. “It’s all very durable; this is, believe it or not, a kid-friendly home,” laughs Quilatan.
In the living room, translucent black-tinted blinds form the backdrop for a cushy black velvet sectional, a glass-topped and leather-wrapped round coffee table, and a rich-looking solid brass club chair, upholstered in black-and-white ponyskin. The finishing touches include a passel of silk toss pillows in fuchsia, white and gold; paired with other touches of gold and crystal in the room, it’s completely modern, but with a touch of pure Old Hollywood glam.
“In a setting like this, lighting has to be very carefully planned,” says Woodrow. “There are two main sources here: the frosted acrylic pedestal, set in the window, with a gorgeous crystal sculpture mounted on it, catches the sunlight in the daytime. But at night the entire pedestal has built-in LED lighting, and the side table has another built-in lighted panel in its top. At night, these two fixtures are all that’s needed to light the room.”
This room also demonstrates how Quilatan and Woodrow utilized every opportunity to maximize storage and space planning in this modest-sized pied-de-terre. Supporting posts, part of the original structure of the building, were modified into squared-off columns and mirrored, maximizing both light and the appearance of space. And directly facing the sofa is a built-in floor-to-ceiling unit, with a central recess for a wide-screen TV and leather-covered panels over deep storage cupboards.
In a condo this compact, there simply wasn’t room for a formal dining area; in any case, it didn’t suit the family’s relaxed lifestyle. The designers opted for a built-in black velvet banquette under the window, softened by more pillows in pink and charcoal silk and leather. The “dining set” is formed by a round granite-topped bistro table and a pair of gold and black chairs. It works fine for casual family dinners, or catching up on paperwork.
The kitchen is fairly compact, like most condo kitchens, but a single wall of crisp white cabinetry keeps the look simple and smart. The backsplash is black-tinted stainless steel, and in front is a small island topped with black granite at top and sides, roomy enough for two stools at one side. As elsewhere, the lighting is simple but carefully planned, with puck lights in the open shelves and a simple, shimmering white globe over the island.
The master suite presented some design challenges of its own, Woodrow recalls. Not only does it not get quite as much light as the principal rooms, but it’s wedge-shaped rather than rectangular, making furnishing a puzzle. It’s also, like the rest of the condo, fairly compact. The designers opted to make the bed the main event, turning the room into a cozy nest. Walls and ceiling are black, and the bedlinens and headboard are done in a soothing navy blue. “People think that dark wall colours make a room smaller,” Quilatan observes, “but in fact, painting the ceiling the same colour makes the edges disappear, so it feels bigger.”
The main lighting is a pair of backlit translucent glass towers on either side of the headboard. Low, lozenge-shaped side tables provide a surface for a book; there’s no need for bedside lamps, and no room for them.
There’s just enough space for a club chair and dresser at the end of the room, and a single, stunning work of art: a canvas of woven paper strips that depict a pair of giant, sensuous bright-blue lips. It’s one of the owners’, and the designers’, favourite works in the suite.
Quilatan and Woodrow acknowledge that using this much black in an interior takes a certain courage; but done well, it can be spectacular. “For a busy family with kids like this, it might have been too harsh, so we were careful to use balance: there are lighter elements as well, such as light-coloured floors, the white kitchen and lighter entry – and of course, lots of natural light.”
But there was a final element, Quilatan adds, that helped inspire the unusual, but irresistible design. “The couple were fabulous to work with. With 500 identical suites in the building, they wanted something really different. And they were full of ideas. If anything, we had to hold them back!”
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