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Call For Contrast

Showhouse interiors are a study in contrasts

Written by Krissa Rossbund

Good interior design is not all black and white. Its breadth can range anywhere from minimalist to exuberant, from neutral to vibrant, and from textural to sleek. The rooms featured here stimulate with contrast, juxtaposing dark and light in various and sophisticated ways. Treat yourself to spaces where modernity intersects with tradition, pizzazz pairs with geometry, and quiet palettes whisper elegance. The results are stunning: that’s black and white.

Architectural details take charge in this elaborate Little Rock Symphony Designer Showhouse living room. Its high ceiling and elaborate moldings prompted Laura Day, interior designer and Trading Spaces personality, to create an elegantly monochromatic space that has just the right touches of femininity.

"This room was grand, with a heavy fireplace and travertine marble floors," says Day. "My goal was to tone it down, keeping the grand qualities but making them fresher."

She tackled the space by settling on an almost colorless palette, covering walls in a trellis-patterned beige-and-white paper to draw components of the room together. But the real bang was the ceiling, which she painted charcoal gray. Not only does the dark surface make the ceiling appear to be lower, it also serves as a dramatic backdrop for a sculptural Italian light fixture made of epoxy and fiberglass.

A white-on-white scheme blurs the line between traditional and modern. A white leather sofa with a tufted back mimics the pattern of the wallpaper. Side tables, each with a black inset, coordinate with a pair of black X-based benches in front of the fireplace as well as with black 1940s French wire chairs.

Photograph: Nancy Nolan

Artwork is often used to spark inspiration for striking room palettes. On fine oils and charcoals, the artists’ signatures may be recognizable only to art connoisseurs, but the names signed on the original photos in this room in the Lake Forest Showcase House are well-known—Bogart, Bergman, Gable, and Garbo.

Black-and-white striped fabric embraces a pair of black twin beds in a masculine version of a canopy. Edged in the same Greek key trim that is used on the bed linens and draperies, the canopy is attached to the ceiling by crown molding, camouflaging the original, un-even molding. At the foot of each bed, a zebra-pattern storage ottoman adds another dimension of masculinity.

Windows serve as the bridge linking interiors to exteriors and emphasize a compelling view.

Guests invited to this elegant room aren’t confined to ordinary wood-framed chairs with cushioned seats. Instead, sumptuous woodsy-green velvet-covered armchairs encourage conversations long into the night. Not to distract from the shapely chairs and landscape, walls in warm café au lait recede quietly into the background and are emphasized with subtly contrasting white trim and moldings. The interior of a built-in corner cabinet is painted the same color as the velvet chairs, and offsets a collection of Venetian glass vases.

"Dining rooms are full of theater, with the table as the stage and the guests as the audience," says Roberson. "With a palette that is simple, elegant, and flattering, the table is ready for anything from a seven-course meal to chili."

Photograph: Casey Sills