Explore the Art of Light and Dark in Design

Imagine being in a room painted all black with one light source coming from over. Your favourite thing sits at the middle of the space (I’m going to imagine an Eames Lounge Chair here, but you select what is located dear to your heart). From that single light source, your illuminated thing dramatically appears with highlights and throw shadows. Here is the idea behind chiaroscuro, an art technique employed by artists like Baglione, Caravaggio and Vermeer from the 16th and 17th centuries.

The Italian term for “light and color,” “chiaroscuro” is characterized by contrasts affecting a general composition. Using opposite ends of this light-dark spectrum results in drama, depth and visual interest, as found here in “Girl with a Pearl Earring,”by Johannes Vermeer.

How can people take this two-dimensional idea of defining space onto a painted canvas and then apply it to the three-dimensional areas in which we reside?


Brick components painted black naturally appear brightly colored, while white areas have a tendency to come ahead — one example of chiaroscuro. Here the darkened stairs framed by light-colored walls creates a feeling of intrigue about that which is located at the very best.

LASC Studio

This roofline is pronounced, because the dark color stands out against the light sky. And painting a door black when it sits within a white wall immediately draws attention to it.

Eric Aust Architect

At dusk, once the interiors of a home are illuminated, dark window frames look spectacular against white walls.

Daniel Marshall Architect

Windows appear dark during the day, thanks in part to their reflectivity. Together with the general dark color on the next level of this home, the windows mix in with the adjoining walls, and the entire upper portion is one uninterrupted space hovering over the lighter base. Dark elements bright and overhead ones below play with visual perceptions of heavy versus light.

Architecture Smith + Scully Ltd

Shadows can provide an extra layer of texture and detail to a dark-colored exterior. Here the shadows assist notify the size and repetitive nature of the columns framing the walkway. The distinctive white soffit provides visual directionality to the entrance.

CplusC Architectural Workshop

Structures with simple, powerful lines and shapes are fantastic for employing contrast. The jet-black bottom of this roof form is sudden and feels romantic, because the perceived heaviness of this color brings it nearer to the viewer.

Jessica Helgerson Interior Design

Interiors are great places for chiaroscuro, too, as a result of the ability to harness and play off normal light entering the home. All the zones here are contrasted with by side light from dividers.

jessop architects

Skylights can split areas of bright illumination. Top lighting may have a very intense effect throughout the day due to its location and constant proximity to sunlight. Dark walls further differentiate the brightness round the skylights here.

Benjamin Dhong Interiors

Contrast doesn’t need to be white and black. This profound, subdued blue will help to frame the lighter-toned distance beyond.

In chiaroscuropaintingsartists define objects by exhibiting them against a juxtaposing background color. In design these objects can be stairs or light fixtures that stand out against their background.


A daring use of dark floors and ceiling will accentuate white walls and furniture. The additional dark elements here, like the bracket and the inside of the fireplace, further exaggerate this contrast.

The attractiveness of chiaroscuro is that it actually could be a black and white matter. Are you ready to add some contrast to your life?

More: In Praise of Shadows
5 Smashing Black and White Homes

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