I love all the colors mixed together.

– Brian Elston

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 successful 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.

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

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 first thing I did was call Arno, a 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 the homeowner’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 or 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 quality 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. “You must fire us then,” Arno demanded dramatically with his heavy 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.

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

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.

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 anchor a colorful room by giving the eye a place to rest. 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 do.

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

An 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 than most homeowners.  They wanted an artful home, a unique space that didn’t follow the trends and looked like 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 like the painting above, Interior with an Etruscan Vase.

The lesson of this story is – black is a great elixir for grounding colorful palettes and making all the hues relate. When you think about it, this truly is magical. So, don’t be afraid of the dark this month with January’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.

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

Love and Blessings,


Toby and Linda Applewhite
Showing 9 comments
  • lalla stark

    i have always yearned for a touch of black….and now i know why…your magical words and work put it all into perspective.

  • Lynn

    Isn’t wonderful when you discover something this important, Linda? I love your description of the creative process that you go through, the despair and the joy alike. To me, black is like silence in music, an important counterpoint to sound. Your post and these gorgeous photos inspire me to invite more color into my home!

  • Donna Buehler

    What a beautiful home! Every home should be artful. Black is a rich and powerful anchor which makes other colors more vivid. I adore it. You have used it perfectly.

  • Kirby

    Seven ago Linda transformed The living room in our 100 year old house by painting the tired neutral tiles of our fireplace a vibrant black and white check design. She added yellow print wallpaper & red/rose pattern chair fabric. Wow! Now it’s exciting just coming in the front door! Hurrah for Linda for rediscovering BLACK!


    I have always used bold colors in every room of my house and included a black (or black and white check or stripe) piece in each of the colorful rooms. But never knew why! Thanks Linda! I have recently moved from my colorful 1925 Mediterranean in San Francisco to a tan 1988 Mediterranean in La Jolla and am working furiously to add colors!

  • Marla

    Ooh I would LOVE to see a picture of the above described by “Kirby”!

  • Kay Criley

    SMASHING! SMASHING! SMASHING! I would love to insert myself into those surroundings and soak up the light from those colors!! And Black! It has always been dramatic and sophisticated. Consider the beauty of a shiny, black Baby Grand piano!
    You indeed work miracles, Linda. Now enjoy bringing your magic to your abode!

  • Nyla Puccinelli Moore

    Love your ideas as always. Some black in a room is striking.
    Thank you so much for sharing!!

  • bob lewis

    …❤ black…

Leave a Comment

Linda Applewhite Design