Monochrome Home
Elegant Interiors in Black and White

By Hilary Robertson, photography by Pia Ulin


If there was ever a book of ‘house-porn’, Monochrome Home by Hilary Robertson is just that book. Not only is every page full of rich interiors of black, white and greys, but each oozes a sultry and enviable design.

I have always been drawn to the deep greys and blues that seem so ‘Manhattan loft apartment’ in their simple and sophisticated style. However, when it comes to black, white and grey themes for small spaces, it’s difficult to decide if a dark jewelled tone or a light misty white will best articulate the shape and size of the place (check out my article on Painting and Repainting for further reading about colours for small spaces). A purely monochrome home has always seemed like a challenging palette to me, despite the clean lines and sophistication it presents.

When designing a colour scheme for your home, it has to feel livable: Saturday-morning-slumped-on-the-sofa livable as well as birthday-cocktail-party livable. I was never convinced that monochrome could be all of these things and more until this book wandered into my studio.

Throughout the book, Robertson takes the reader on a tour of monochrome houses, showcasing their elegant shades of grey in each chapter. One feature entitled ‘Five Shades of Grey’ immediately caught my eye with its masculine lines and deep textures balanced perfectly throughout.

The owner of the house, Milanese architect Marzio Cavanna, uses five shades of dark grey Farrow & Ball paint to create the palette behind his dark and stormy interior. The extract below shows how he has used natural light to contrast the layers of his dark colour scheme, creating enticing shadows.

Five Shades of Grey

Some architecture has the magnetism to bewitch, the bricks-and-mortar attraction of a movie star. Milanese architect Marzio Cavanna was seduced by a grand building with a compelling amount of ‘presence’. He claims he knew that he would buy the apartment before he even crossed the threshold. In the entrance hall, terrazzo floors, damask-patterned sandblasted stone walls, the grand sweep of the marble staircase and the cage elevator with its velvet banquette seat were the ingredients that convinced him that the rest would be just as beautifully conceived.

Built in the 1920s, the apartment consists of a series of rooms accessed via a 15-metre/50-foot long corridor that Marzio has treated as a room in itself, furnishing it with tall shelves laden with books on interiors, art and architecture, console tables and even a bench to sit on. Atmospheric lighting creates chiaroscuro moments where dramatic contrasts illuminate shapes and textures.

Upon entering, you are plunged into a shadowy world where five shades of dark grey paint (all of them Farrow & Ball) form the background for brighter accessories: metal floor lamps in the shape of sea urchins, sculptural table lamps, a group of stone finials and brass candlesticks.

Although it was the vernacular details of the building that impressed Marzio, his approach to decorating the space was not slavish to the period it was built in. Instead, he used the shades of grey as a starting point, painting rooms top to bottom, with mouldings, window frames, doors and skirting/baseboards all the same shade, a move that makes the rooms instantly more modern. This sophisticated shell is layered with textures in similar shades. Antique linen curtains, alpaca blankets and upholstery in black, forest green and darkest aubergine offer subtle relief from grey, making the space sumptuous but also calm and enveloping.

The only space that reverses the balance of light and dark is the white fitted kitchen, where Marzio chose to profit from the natural light seeping in through elongated French windows that lead onto a small balcony where he grows herbs. As a break from the plainly painted dark walls elsewhere, he installed partial white-painted wood panels scored vertically to emphasize the height of the ceiling and mirror the style of the cabinets. A long skinny French picnic table bought at a flea market serves as a dining table and is teamed with white Bertoia chairs.

Despite the sober, masculine colour scheme the apartment is far from monastic. Marzio has pulled together the most comfortable ‘man cave’ imaginable by mixing hard materials with softer, tactile ones; moulded fibreglass Eames chairs teamed with a traditional upholstered sofa and club chairs, for example. And he does not shy away from the decorative, adding a gilded frame here, a curvaceous vessel there and a jolt of acidic green from the flowers he chooses, the perfect foil for all those shades of gray.

The lighting in each photograph is impeccable, luring the reader into the contrasts of a crumpled grey bed sheet and the hair of a sumptuous sheep skin. The overall texture of the collection of homes photographed throughout this book goes far beyond the reaches of a rainbow pallet.

Masculine, angular, dark and sultry, Monochrome Home is the midnight hour of topnotch design.


Extract taken from Monochrome Home by Hilary Robertson, photography by Pia Ulin, published by Ryland Peters & Small rrp £25 Available in all good book shops and on Amazon



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