I’ll take a rainy day spent curled up with a good memoir over the blazing sunshine more often than not. However, my Austin interior design studio spends more days being beat down by the hot Texas sun than I’d prefer. Rather than wait for a dim day to come along, I can retreat to the same coziness with a dark and soulful interior design scheme. While “bright and airy” spaces can feel sterile and demanding, low-lit and morose rooms allow you to withdraw from the outside world and find comfort among the rich colors and textures. Executing a melancholy interior takes a bit of fearlessness, but it’s so worth the plunge.
Let’s take a look at the dark and moody trend, design elements, and inspiration behind the movement.
No one had fun playing it safe. Fearless Design is a blog series where I examine interior design schemes, trends, and elements that require a leap of faith. Don’t be afraid to be fearless.
Examining the Dark and Moody Interiors Movement
I don’t often take to interior design trends. However, the movement towards dim and downcast interiors is one I can get behind. Dark and moody is the opposite of bright and fresh. It’s more than just a color palette. It takes on an entire mood of ennui. Think dimly lit rooms enveloped in rich deep colors with furnishings that are both edgy yet tinged with history. Walls welcome deep, rich colors like charcoal, textiles like velvet or mohair, antique furnishings, and even a bit of clutter on the shelves.
Some are dubbing this the “Dark Academia” trend defined by earthy color palettes, Gothic and Neoclassical antiques, as well as accessories like books, scientific illustrations, and anything else you might find in the office of an imagined Ivy League professor. I can feel the crisp Autumn air blowing against my cardigan as I write. It’s exotic coming from Texas’s unrelenting brightness and blazing heat.
Now, opening a can of white paint never scared anyone. However, it takes someone fearless to coat their walls in colors like Farrow and Ball’s Mole’s Breath and Mahogany, which are the very colors accenting my studio walls. So, why have so many of us scraped up the courage to take the leap into dark and moody design? Personally, I think we all needed a break from the demanding cheeriness of our bright, open-plan homes.
Out in the world, we’re confronted with a slew of problems throughout the day, whether it’s work emails, the news, or grabbing the wrong coffee order. However, we’re expected to keep a stiff upper lip. Interiors affect our mood as well. While bright spaces keep us on display, dark spaces allow us to let go, giving us permission to indulge our emotions and lick our wounds.
Why are Dark and Moody Interiors Trending?
While we might take to retreating into our emotions, the aesthetics of the day also have a significant impact on interior design trends. For example, film and television portray characters in a much darker light (both on set and in the script). Technology advancements allow for better picture quality with minimal lighting, creating beautifully dark scenes lit by a moody lamp or candle. Even on our phones, night mode picture quality allows us to take evening photos without a flash. Additionally, we’re getting a bit braver in the topics we cover, taking to darker themes in shows like The Last of Us and Wednesday. In short, we’re all embracing the darkness.
Elements of Dark and Moody Design
You can’t have light without the dark, and I, for one, am glad we’re getting in touch with our dark sides! In melancholy interiors, we’re seeing a return to old patterns and motifs from Victorian, Art Nouveau, and even the Depression Era coming together in contemporary spaces, creating a sense of history and depth. After escaping formerly trending minimalism, we’re craving reminders of the nostalgic past. Now, our homes can be healing spaces that remind us of our past or even someone else’s. The thought can be comforting and relaxing.
Here are a few elements to consider in a dark and moody design scheme.
Embrace deep, rich colors like brown, gray, and black.
Turn down the overhead fixtures and focus on moody ambient and task lighting.
Embrace layered textures to create visual depth and a comfort first feel.
Shop antique markets or display family heirlooms to bring a sense of history to both new and old spaces.
Exposed Structural Elements
Embrace exposed wood beams, brick walls, and other structural elements to bring in even more texture.
Sometimes more is more. Moody spaces demand maximalist decor. If it makes you feel deep emotions, add it in!
Dark and Moody Inspiration from Vermeer Still Life Paintings
For my dark and moody inspiration, I look to one of my favorite artists, Vermeer. I cherish his depiction of interior scenes. That pale northern light coming from the windows and the way the colors somehow still have energy even in such dimly lit rooms — I think it is magical. Really, it’s what every dark and moody design scheme should aim to emulate.
A Break from the Demanding Cheery Sunshine
I feel a sense of relief from the forced cheeriness of bright and airy interiors, with their sunny colors that beckon me to return a smile. Leave the sunshine for the outdoors! I love crossing the threshold knowing my interior has let me off the hook, allowing me to relax and even wallow in my emotions if need be. So, when designing a home, include some room for a darker space or two. The demands of the world outside are real, and a darker and moodier space might be just the thing to help you recover and get back out there!
Join me on the dark side.
Amity Worrel is an award-winning interior designer based in Austin, Texas. She has worked on high-end interior design projects for celebrities and tastemakers in NYC, LA, and the Bahamas. In 2008, Amity decided to bring her passion for diverse design back to her hometown of Austin. Her spaces pull from timeless design concepts ranging from coastal contemporary to cozy cottage to Austin eclectic. Emotional connections, functional flow, and a touch of humor remain central to every interior design scheme. Her work has been published in national and local publications, including The Wall Street Journal, House Beautiful, HGTV Magazine, Better Homes and Gardens, and Austin Home. In her free time, she loves perusing estate sales and diving into design history. Learn more about Amity.