“Black isn’t just a color, it’s an emotion.”

– Hindi Author Rama Kant

The first time I discovered black was when I became terrified of blue, yellow, green, pink, red and orange. That may sound crazy to some of you who know me. But I had finally met my match when two busy attorneys from San Francisco, Donald and Rachael, invited me to their recently purchased contemporary home in Tiburon. Little did I know they had a surprise waiting for me in the kitchen.

I walked into the empty living room to breathtaking views of the bay beyond a wall of glass, sandwiched between soaring gray ceilings above and dull gray carpeting below. The surrounding milky white walls looked tired and soulless in contrast to the brilliant blue water and emerald green islands in the distance.

Rachel and Donald's home had beautiful views of the San Francisco Bay
Rachel and Donald's home had beautiful views of the San Francisco Bay


“We want our home to look like this”, I heard the couple say in unison. Turning reluctantly from the view, I walked to the kitchen to find Rachael with both arms wrapped around a huge artbook embellished with bold colored stripes dotted with chunky black letters spelling M A T I S S E. She laid the enormous book on the counter and began flipping through the pages. “Actually, we would like our home to look like Matisse lives here,” she announced looking straight at me.

“We want cerulean blue, saffron yellow and lime green walls on the lower level,” Donald affirmed matter-of-factly. “Yes, and we love fuchsia pink, crimson red and orange the color of cantaloupe,” Rachael declared jubilantly as she laughed out loud. I was spellbound. I had never encountered clients who were not afraid of color. This couple relished it as their mentor Matisse did through his artwork. When I was leaving that day, I thought, how am I going to pull this off?

The bold, black table brings harmony to the entry
Embedding black among bold colors looks crisp and sophisticated


The first thing I did was contact Arno, a gifted decorative painter from the South of France. He was perfect for the job, having been born and trained in Provence, Matisse’s stomping grounds, where color flourished everywhere.

I met him at the couple’s empty hillside home to explain Rachael and Donald’s wishes and their extraordinary penchant for color. We went through the Matisse book, identifying hues Donald and Rachael preferred, then walked through the house deciding where to put each.

This was a challenge. Neither Arno nor I had ever worked with so much saturated color in one structure. Several hours later, we finally came up with a plan which I tentatively presented to the homeowners. They approved immediately.

The Circus

The process began the next week as Arno and his crew applied pigment to the walls. I walked in at one point to find the artist with head in hands surrounded by towering blocks of vibrant color. “This looks like a circus, mon amie,” he lamented raising his hands to encompass the rooms. Arno was right, I sighed. Indeed, the house had unfortunately taken on the atmosphere of a three-ring circus.

What do we do? I thought as I walked through the lower level wringing my hands. Color had never failed me. I trusted it to enhance the homes and lives of people I worked with. Yet this time, it was too much, I muttered as I took in the bold cerulean blue wall climbing 16 feet to the ceiling. Then I stopped, “I know — we can tone down the colors by glazing the walls with a dirty translucent stain,” I said to Arno. “With Rachael and Donald’s approval of course,” I added. “Mais oui, Madame,” he replied.

The black low bellied console and mirror ground the colorful living room
The black low bellied console and mirror ground the colorful living room


When the couple arrived an hour later, they surprised us by saying they loved the walls just as they were. “Then you must fire us,” Arno demanded dramatically with his thick French accent. I quickly stated the problem with the walls and our solution to Donald and Rachael. “We’ll put it back as it is if you’re not happy,“ I promised. They reluctantly agreed and left.

The next day Arno’s team glazed the walls. This helped somewhat but the colors still seemed to vibrate. The painters left but I stayed, sitting alone on the living room floor, trying to figure out how to soften the hues even more. Then magically I heard the word “black” come from my gut where my intuition lives. That’s it, I thought, as I ran to look at the paintings in Matisse’s book.

By that time, I had ordered furnishings and fabrics the homeowners had approved. I called them to ask if I could change the finishes on three pieces. Fortunately, they trusted me and agreed. I took a risk and contacted the Donghia Furniture showroom just in time to change the order.

Pale apricot walls contrast beautifully with black
These large dramatic black pieces give the eye a place to rest

Black Magic

Several weeks later the furniture arrived. To the delight of both my clients and me, the three pieces I changed from wood tones to black – the entry table and a living room console and mirror- did exactly what I hoped for.

Black contains all colors. It can ground a colorful palette because it projects the same hues around it. I knew this about black, but I had never tested it. Now I needed its magical presence. And this fabulous color came through in spades. From that day forward, I have loved black. In addition to grounding a colorful palette, it mysteriously adds a sophistication and timelessness to a room that no other color can.

Touches of black ground this colorful palette
Even small touches of black work magic

The Artful Home

The black and yellow painting adds both contrast and harmony
The black and yellow painting adds both contrast and harmony

Rachael and Donald were different from most homeowners. They wanted an artful home, a unique space that didn’t follow the trends, but resembled a painting with color-splashed walls and vibrant three-dimensional objects. Although they didn’t select black as one of their initial colors, almost all of Matisse’s artwork has black in it such as the painting above, Interior with an Etruscan Vase.

The black hood and chairs accent the sunny kitchen
The black hood and chairs accent the sunny kitchen

The lesson of this story is – black is a great elixir for grounding colorful palettes and making all the hues relate. Truly a magical power! So, don’t be afraid of the dark this month with February’s long black nights. Like the shimmering stars in Vincent van Gogh’s famous Starry Night or Kirby Kendrick’s Taos Spring, black has dramatic and positive attributes that can enhance your home and add sparkle to your life.

Love and Blessings in tehe New Year,
Linda & Tobywan Kenobe

Showing 8 comments
  • Merrilee Franklin

    Absolutely gorgeous and stunning…I loved reading about your process!

  • Kirby

    What an amazing talent you have, Linda! I love your blogs!

  • Lynn

    Such a great lesson in handling colors but also in listening to your “gut” intuition, Linda – brava!

  • Brenda

    It’s awesomely colorful and appealing, a beautiful home!
    In my son’s first little house, after he was married, my young daughter-in-law had dark kitchen cabinets painted white, a pea green color on the bits of wall space, which met a vivid blue wall in their breakfast nook. Table and chairs were black, as were frames on a couple paintings.
    It looked awesome! Sold quickly when they were ready.
    Linda, your work is wonderful. I will always remember 2005 and next year to your friends home and Valley of the Moon

  • Kay Criley

    WOW! With your love of color, Linda, you must have relished this job. Black is definitely dramatic and grounding. Good eye; good instincts; great talent!

  • Bunny

    You saved the day and the project with your artful and intuitive use of black…..lovely!

  • Mangala Arts

    Thanks for sharing about Traditional Painting. Your content is realy informative for us……Thank a lot

  • eileen Chadwick

    Just saying..I hope you have a spot for a bedroom downstairs. As we get older the stairs can and will present problems…so just think about it now not later. Love Ya from Santa Fe ..your old home. eileen

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