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High contrast: 10 ways to bring timeless black and white back to your home

These days, florals are a faux pas and paisley is passé. Scan Pinterest or open any decor magazine and one thing is clear: It's all about simple, timeless black and white. The trend has been popular before. The late eighties, for example, when checkerboard marble tiling was the height of chic. The current obsession of interior designers everywhere achieves luxury in a more understated way: with a subtle layering of simple, striking patterns like stripes, herringbone and zigzags.

Jennifer Worts is a black and white thinker. The acclaimed interior designer is an expert at using high contrast, ultra graphic wall treatments and furniture. The resulting spaces are sophisticated and modern, and not at all reminiscent of an Edward Gorey cartoon or like something built for Emily the Strange.

For example, Toronto-based Worts recently remade a grand old Georgian manse in the grand old Georgian neighbourhood of Rosedale. The clients were a young family with a couple of kids. Although they loved the place's traditional crown mouldings and ornate railings, they wanted to update the fusty colour scheme with something more contemporary. They started by painting everything white, but, according to Worts, "didn't want the space to feel too clinical."

To add interest, Worts suggested painting the accents – doors, pickets, railings – black. "It's unexpected," she explains, "and it feels youthful."

Although Worts likes the aesthetic, she cautions that things can start looking a little too Beetlejuice unless a sense of balance is applied. To bring homey warmth to her Rosedale project, she used unlacquered brass hardware and metal light fixtures. For another house, she painted a young boy's bedroom in bold, black-and-white stripes, but limited the treatment to one wall to prevent it from become "overwhelming."

Interior stylist Lisa Canning, a regular on The Marilyn Denis Show, agrees that balance is essential. She suggests starting with a large-scale print – a high-contrast damask wallpaper, for example – then offsetting the intricacies of the pattern with a solid white sofa. Small throw pillows can be used to pick up the pattern again, as long as they're used judiciously.

Canning also suggests mixing up the textures of the room to offset black-and-white's inherent starkness – a sleek, black leather couch, for example, with a fuzzy, white wool blanket – as well as creating a good lighting scheme so that the dark tones don't feel too heavy.

In a loft bedroom Canning remade for a bachelor, she kept the palette minimal. The candles and walls are all white. The vases, radio and mirror are all black. The bedspread is a bit of both. But because the space is flooded with overhead lighting, and the black accents are restrained, the room feels tailored and fresh.


Alchymist Bowl

Kelly Wearstler’s hand-painted Alchymist Bowl is glazed with matte ivory and high-gloss ebony.

African Spot Pillow

The African Spot Pillow from DwellStudio is 100 per cent cotton.

Gravity Bowls

Canadian ceramicist Jennifer Graham’s Gravity Bowls.

West Elm cups

West Elm cups from Canadian ceramicist Jennifer Graham.

West Elm zigzag floor pouf

The West Elm zigzag floor pouf works as additional seating or for resting weary feet.

West Elm pouf

Apply the trend in small hits: a pouf from West Elm from Canadian ceramicist Jennifer Graham

Circus lighting

London-based designer Corinna Warm’s Circus lighting comes in matte white and matte black aluminum.

Circus lighting

London-based designer Corinna Warm’s Circus lighting comes in matte white and matte black aluminum.

Lloyd Ralphs design

Toronto design firm Lloyd Ralphs has a deft hand with contrast. This bedroom manages to be light, cozy, modern and classic all at once.

Jennifer Worts design

Designer Jennifer Worts painted black-and-white stripes on one wall of a boy’s bedroom in Toronto’s Forest Hill neighbourhood.

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