The Surprising Blessings of a Monochrome Home

As luxury interior designers, we keep up with nearly every fabulous new product and trend—and want to try almost all of them. For instance, right now we’re infatuated with Stark’s eye-popping abaca rugs and Chicago artist Matthew Lew’s ‘Fornasetti-style’ dishes—both just out and irresistible thanks to their strong and spirited use of color and pattern.

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Stark’s new abaca rugs and Matthew Lew’s Fornasetti-style plates can add color to monochrome palettes. Rugs: as seen in; Plates: Eric Kleinberg

But using all these items is almost impossible: Projects would suffer from overload. That’s why “Monochrome Home,” a new book by renowned journalist and location stylist Hilary Robertson, is significant. The book’s emphasis on limited palettes built on one or two hues reminds us that neutrality and the flexibility it affords us is something we often take for granted. So many of us dismiss monochrome color palettes as boring.

1505013 JLI Blog Monochrome Home jacket

Monochrome Home book jacket

The rich and intense images in Robertson’s book show that nothing is further from the truth. As she rightfully notes, “committing to a monochrome scheme might sound restrictive, but it affords the decorator considerable freedom to experiment.” Yet getting to the point where that experimentation is possible is easier said than done; in our experience, choosing paint or wall treatments, furnishings and textiles in subtle shades, tones and textures is a balancing act that requires solid knowledge of color theory and a practiced eye.

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Anything goes when it comes to the art thanks to the monochrome palette of this room. Project: City Retreat, Master Bedroom

But with the right foundation in place, a well-done monochrome color palette offers many rewards. And the greatest is the ability to experiment, as Robertson points out. That experimentation can take many forms, from “mixing pieces from different decades, adding pattern and layering texture,” as Robertson suggests, to bringing in unexpected yet game-changing hits of intense color, which we do all the time in our projects with art and accessories. “If it’s all neutral, it all works together; there’s a flexibility that allows you to change your arrangements without having to wonder ‘Where can I put that chartreuse upholstered chair now that my living room is turquoise?’” explains Robertson in the book.

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A midnight blue sofa gives a moody edge to a room with a black and white color palette. Photo from Monochrome Home

That’s exactly the point: any bright color can work in a monochrome room, and even more significantly—lend the space specific qualities. That chartreuse chair—or pillows, window treatments and even a loveseat—executed in deep midnight blue will evoke a very different decorative demeanor than the same pieces in poppy or lemon yellow. If a room’s foundation is monochromatic, it’s easy to change its nature and mood time and again with small hits of bold or intense color.

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A few strategically sited hits of red are all it takes to add excitement to this expansive living and dining area in this JLI project. Project: Lake County Estate, Dining Room

Robertson also points out a host of other valuable, and often overlooked, advantages that are easily achieved by using restricted color palettes for the foundation of a room or entire home:

● It allows eclectic elements to exist happily together;
● The results are restful, timeless and practical; and
● Monochrome homes can take many forms.

And this last point is perhaps the most important: As Chicago luxury interior designers, we are passionate about experimentation and innovation—and the last thing we want a design tool to be is restrictive. But given the projects in Robertson’s book, and our own body of work, it’s clear that monochrome color palettes can work with any period or style, and offer those of us who like variety the flexibility for quick changes every now and then.

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A monochrome palette unifies a host of eclectic furnishings, ranging from a shabby chic sofa and roll-arm easy chairs to modern lighting and a rough-hewn contemporary stool. Photo from Monochrome Home

13 May 2015

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