Black, the color of the '30s when life was cruel and hard, has returned to emphasize the '80s.

The richness of black is seen in a dining room with a white marble-topped, chrome-based table and eight elegant Chippendale side chairs, their seats covered in pale robin's-egg blue velours. Paperbacked black linen walls contrast with wood floors that have been refinished and stained with white pigment, then sealed with a non-yellowing urethane.

Black works as well as dramatic accent, especially in a white room. In one elegant bedroom I worked on, where the white quilted bedcover and white walls combined with natural sisal wall-to-wall floor covering, an antique black wire bench was placed in front of the window.

The glass was covered with white vertical blinds, and the bench was exactly the same width as the window, providing a fabulous silhouette of its ornate wire patterns. A white cotton upholstered pad made the seat comfortable for daily use. Black-and-white photo enlargements of tree branches in winter filled the plain white wall opposite the bed, echoeing the black accent of the bench.

In the kind of long apartment living room we all are too familiar with, the entrance door opened directly into the seating area, while the dining group was at the far end, near the kitchen. The problem: to protect the group visually from the front, yet be able to see through the divider.

A new grid system made of a hard plastic can serve as a hi-tech room divider. The black panels come in varying sizes, and the grid itself comes in sizes from small (three-quarters of an inch) to large (4 1/8 inches). The panels, however, are not self-supporting and must be anchored to walls or ceilings.

I used this new system to provide a feeling of visual privacy at the entrance of the living room. An L-shaped arrangement of the larger grid means that the shape provides a "wall" for the seating group that effectively cuts if off from the entrance area. In the angle formed by the L. were an elegant lounge chair and ottoman, the familiar contours and pale leather upholstery framed against the black grids, a perfect introduction to the modular seating system of the conversation grouping opposite.

The black of the grid panels was the only dark vertical accent I needed in this sleek space. I painted the ceiling a dark charcoal gray to match the ; wall-to-wall industrial level-loop carpet. Rich leather, pale gray velours, plants and a marble cubed coffee table were set aparty by the black panels, forming their own inviting grouping to provide privacy and comfort for the living area.