Taking a leaf from the fashion books, interior designers have introduced basic black as one of the latest solutions in the endless search for the timeless, classic interior. Gone are white walls, white sofas and white rugs -- white rooms with splashes of color. Gone are rooms filled with patterns on patterns -- the super-busy cluttered look. Its antithesis, in fact, has become one of the most popular trends in interior design.
Dubbed the minimalist approach to design, "spartan" might be a more apt description.
Throw away those vases full of flowers and replace them with a simple glass bowl holding two or three sprays of exotic blossoms. Enshrine a few tastefully understated works of art, cover your floors in gray industrial carpet, paint your walls a lighter shade of gray and upholster your furniture in shades of black and gray. Add a few shiny black pieces of furniture and you have all the elements of the latest fashion in home interiors.
Few of us are going to rush out and revamp our homes to be in tune with the latest trend, but the black-to-basics look has become so pervasive that it's bound to infiltrate many Washington-area homes.
"I like working with black because it emphasizes the form, the architecture of furniture design," says one of the city's leading exponents of the minimalist look, Mary Douglas Drysdale. The interior designer, whose living room is pictured here, lived and studied in France for a number of years. She attributes her penchant for black in part to a lesson she learned from French women. "They have very few clothes and use basic black a great deal because it wears so well and always looks chic. The same can be said for furnishings. People and accessories add the color." Drysdale also attributes her approach to inspiration provided by nationally known designers like Juan Montoya and Joe D'Urso, both of whom are considered leading exponents of the style that uses color and furnishings sparingly -- with an almost oriental asceticism. In fact, the movement has spawned a renaissance of black lacquered furniture.
Just as the Victorian period saw a revived interest in japanned or lacquered and painted surfaces as well as "ebonized" woods, once again fashions in home furnishings lean towards the East. In Mary Douglas Drydale's living room, the most unusual accent piece is a Chinese Chow table that belonged to her mother. The Chow table is a large table, usually accompanied by four stools which fit under it, and has been copied for centuries since its invention (1066-221 B.C.).
The low, broad, shiny expanse of table is a precious and delicate surface in a room dominated by dramatic floor-to-ceiling panels by local artist Tom Dineen. The black Belgian marble dining room table, designed by U.S. Tile and Marble, is a takeoff of a designer table imported by Atelier International (see page 76). A dark mirrored wall expands the space in the one-bedroom apartment.
For those who find the care of black marble or black lacquer to be impractical, a number of manufacturers have come out with alternatives:
Formica has produced an entire line of new designer laminates in black-on-black patterns. Several furniture manufacturers are offering black polyester resin-coated furniture or black satin-finish plastics.
Beylerian, a firm well known for its plastic waste cans, sets of drawers and storage bins, is planning on introducing black into many of its lines.
Kitchen appliance manufacturers -- who have moved in the past decade from basic white to avocado, harvest gold and coppertone to almond -- are now offering black as an option to keep in step with the high-tech look of many kitchens and the faceless black glass fronts on many stoves. Specifically, KitchenAid and General Electric offer black panels on their dishwashers. Sub-Zero, the Rolls Royce of residential refrigerators, now makes a basic black model, as does their counterpart in stoves, Crown. Poggenpohl, a prestigious European kitchen cabinet manufacturer, has an all-black line, and International Contract Furnishings (ICF), a New York importer of Italian kitchen cabinets, is thinking of adding a black-lacquered line within a year. "We have to," says ICF vice president Pat Hoffman. "Black is just too big for us to ignore."
Even stereo turntables have taken on a decidedly uncluttered or minimalist look. Most are reminiscent of Bang and Olufsen's classic system enshrined in the Museum of Modern Art's objects collection. Basic black has also made an impact on other equipment, where the brushed chrome or stainless surface is giving way to a simple, understated black set of controls.
And the appliance that has come the farthest yet traveled the least distance is the telephone . . . Basic black is back. CAPTION: Picture 1, A black lacquered audio cabinet designed by Rudolpho Bonetto. Sold by Beylerian through Bloomingdale's, it's $3,265; Picture 2, How do you design a basic table lamp? Why you make it look like a basic light-bulb, like Alcinoo, a blown-glass creation designed by Gae Aulenti. It stands 22" high and is $500 at Ambienti in New York; Picture 3, Formica's new designer line of plastic laminates offers blacks (and other colors) in "pin stripe, stripe, disc, lacquer, graph and maxi-graph." From designers; Picture 4, Minimalist designer Mary Douglas Drysdale is seen here in the living room of her Calvert Street apartment. The look is black-to-basics -- spare furnishings, dramatic graphics and a clever combination of high tech (industrial carpet, office chairs for dining), antique (a Chow Chinese lacquer table and a footrest) and modern -- sofa, chairs and table she designed after Atelier International's Il Colonato. Picture 5, This closet on a swivel base, called "Pipedo" and designed by Carlo Urbinati for the Hastings Il Bagno Collection, is an elegant armoire for the bath. It comes in several styles. This one is $950; Picture 6, Fat sensual legs are the distinctive note of "Il Colonato," shown here in its $5,840 black marble version. Mario Bellini's creation also comes in travertine and with tops in various shapes, some of glass, at prices from $4,210 to $8,680. The Atelier International import is available through interior designers and architects; Picture 7, Furniture dealer Roche Bobois can offer you an entire bedroom in black. The queen-size bed is $1,290, the tables, $633 each, the chest, $1,248; Picture 8, A leather-covered coffee table with metal corners is designed by the Italian architech couple Afra and Tobia Scarpa. The top rests on a matte-black plastic cylinder. "Tobio Basso" costs $860 and is available from B & B America through architects and designers; Picture 9, Sony's PS-X55, which lists at $270, is from Sony's new line of black audio equipment. It's sold by the firm's dealers; Picture 10, The Morsa Duo Floor fluorescent lamp is 5 feet high, 12 inches wide and costs $227.50 at Morsa, Centro Di Disegno in New York. Another version juts whimsicaly from the wall; Picture 11, The headlight htat isn't, you might call this bare-bulbed diffuser that sits on the floor or a table, or hangs from a wall. By Atelier International, it's available through designers and architects; Picture 12, The Unigrid system by Belerian is a hard black plastic grid that can serve as a high-tech-look room divider. The panels, in sizes from 8 inches square to 24 inches, are made up of square grids ranging from 3/4 inch to 4 1/8 on a side. The panels, which are not free-standing, must be anchored to walls or ceilings. From design departments at Bloomingdale's at $5.50 to $68 per panel. Photographs By Breton Littlehales and Bill Snead