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Black Out | Apartment


Black Out in luxury apartments is primarily associated with chic urbanity—a stage set for evening entertaining, a backdrop for important art collections, and a luxury space in monochrome.


The Color Black. Black is the preeminent achromatic color, since there is no true black without depriving a space of light. This is undoubtedly why black has been assigned negative values: evil, death, the devil. Still this color, or rather non-color, is not always associated with such dark symbolism; it is sometimes synonymous with asceticism and austerity, such as in religious clothing. In architecture, it is not uncommon to find homes painted black in Protestant countries, which emphasize and impose self-restraint and austerity.1

In modern periods, the interpretation of black has been extended and revaluated. In 1977, Modern artist Wassily Kandinsky, wrote that black was ”Like an oblivion without possibility, like a dead void after the sun’s death, eternal silence, without future, black resonates internally . . . The feeling of black is mourning without hope, but it is infinite and spiritual.”2

In the 1980s, Ad Reinhardt, an artist of the Abstract Expressionist movement, revaluated the meaning of black in his reductive all-black paintings. Reinhardt is best known for his so-called "black" paintings of the 1960s, which appear, at first glance, to be simply canvases painted black, but are actually composed of a number of black and nearly black shades. He had started single-color paintings in Red and Blue, and he focused on the all black paintings as absolutes. The process of a black painting relates to Zen meditation and involves attempting to make the “Ultimate” painting. Ad Reinhardt raised black to a sacred status by making these repetitive, monochromatic, all-black paintings, which influenced Minimalism.3 In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the term Minimalism is also used to describe a trend in design and architecture, in which the subject is reduced to its necessary elements. The use of a variety of colors was restrained in favor of fundamental and geometric forms purged of all metaphor, equality of parts, repetition, neutral surfaces, and industrial materials. Black as pure color became a favorite for interiors and architecture.

Black in Luxury Apartments. In the 20th century there are few biases concerning black spaces. Black Out is a common color in commercial interiors, such as restaurants, nightclubs and bars. In retail interiors, black settings are used for displaying bright or colorful objects. In residential designs, however, people are reluctant to use black, because natural lighting is considered an important element. In apartments, a small space becomes smaller if the spaces and furnishes are all black.

Compared to residents of family homes, city dwellers, who spend most of their time in their apartments at night, expect their spaces to have a dramatic atmosphere. To create the aura of a nighttime urban landscape and provide the desired background for skyline views, high-rise apartments are designed with an extensive use of black,4 a color often associated with chic and urbane spaces. Black Out and White Box have one aspect in common. A White Box tends to make objects precious, untouchable and exclusive. Black Out has a similar effect, especially if artificial lighting reinforces the display aesthetic.

By the 1980 decade Black Out had become an archetypical practice in luxury apartments. Designer Marcel Bretos transformed a Manhattan apartment into a Black Out space in order to capitalize on city vistas. Black walls next to windows causes the buildings viewed out the window to become more noticeable and brighter.5 In other words, black walls provide the frame for a city view. Black Out also provides a background for objects or spatial areas.

Another Manhattan apartment designed by Eric Bernard has all-black finishes, including metal, glass, black mirrors, dark vinyl walls and black lacquered surfaces. Artificial lighting focuses the eye on the client’s art collection; objects shine against its black frame, creating the illusion that light lifts the pedestal-supported objects from the enveloping darkness.6 Bernard notes that since “the occupants’ at-home and entertaining hours are confined to evenings almost exclusively, the light and sparkle picked up by reflective surfaces within the basically dark setting creates a dramatic and fantastic atmosphere.”7

In another New York City apartment, designer Charles Allem arranged black and white photographs against a panel of black velvet drapery. The contrast between the white-matted photographs and the interior walls, transforms the apartment into a gallery space. Polished and glittering materials, from stainless-steel furniture to a 1930s nickel-and-black lacquer triple-tiered circular table and a stainless-steel bench, draw eyes to furniture in space “like jewelry in a showcase.”8 The zebra-striped black and white floor covering almost creates a Black White space.

In the 21st century, Black Out continues to be used as an interior practice, but black has also acquired a more nuanced expression. For example, Greg Natale’s design in 2005 for a Sydney, Australian apartment emphasized various textures and tones in walls, furnishings and furniture. The interior is composed of a bold basalt floor, a charcoal gray stucco finished wall, a tea table made of black back painted glass, a black leather sofa, and black taffeta window coverings.9 This black composition highlights the richness, stylishness, and luxury of the apartment. A single yellow armchair breaks the black, and at the same time, calls attention to an all-black setting.

At the beginning of the 21st century, New York City experienced a condominium building boom of new luxury high-rises designed by celebrity architects and designers, such as Richard Meier (Perry Street Towers, 2002); Armani/Casa (20 Pine, 2006); and asymptote, Hani Rashid and Lise Anne Couture (166 Perry Street, 2007). These luxury condominiums offered concierge services, views of city skylines and opulent materials for kitchens and bathrooms, and each sales office used model apartments to show potential clients. The interior design division of Giorgio Armani, Armani/Casa, converted a former Chase bank into a 409-unit building, and showcased it with a Black Out model apartment. Clients entering the sales office of the W Hotel Condo stepped from a bright city street into an all black space with red neon accents. The archetypical practice of Black Out in lavish apartments continues unabated as a symbol of extravagance and drama.10

end notes

  1. 0)
  2. 1) Jean-Philippe Lenclos and Dominique Lenclos, Colors of the World : The Geography of Color (New York: Norton, 2004), 33.
  3. 2) Lenclos and Lenclos, Colors of the World, 33.
  4. 3) Sam Hunter, “Ad Reinhardt: Sacred and Profane,” Record of the Art Museum 50, no. 2 (1991): 26-38.
  5. 4) Barry H. Slinker," Black Magic," Interior Design 60, no.1 (Jan. 1989): 222-223.
  6. 5) Edie Lee Cohen, "View from Fifth Avenues," Interior Design 51, no. 7 (July 1980): 202-205.
  7. 6) Monica Geran, "With a View to Enjoyment," Interior Design 51, no.7 (Sept.1980): 276-281.
  8. 7) Monica Geran, "Artful," Interior Design 57, no.5 (May.1986): 296.
  9. 8) Steven M. L. Aronson, "Charles Allem: A Feel for Twentieth-Century Style and Glamour Marks his New York City Apartment," Architectural Digest 58, no. 9 (Sept. 2001): 248-53, 292.
  10. 9) Montse Borras, "Darlinghurst Apartment," The New Apartment: Smart Living in Small Spaces (New York: Universe Publishing, 2007), 256.
  11. 10) Evidence for the archetypical use and the chronological sequence of Black Out in luxury apartments was developed from the following sources: 1970 West Side Duplex [1976] Barbara Greene, GKR Inc., Interior Design; New York City in Anonymous, "Finishing the Space," Interior Design 47, no.7 (Apr.1976): 168; PhotoCrd: Robert Perron / 1980 Adam Tihany Apartment [1980] Adam Tihany, Interior Design; "Designer as Client," Interior Design  (Jan. 1980): 217; PhotoCrd: Mark Ross; Living Room, Private Apartment [1980] Marcel Bretos; New York City in Edie Lee Cohen, "View from Fifth Avenues," Interior Design 51, no. 7 (July 1980): 202-05; PhotoCrd: Jaime Ardiles-Arce; Living Room, Private Apartment [1980] Eric Bernard; New York in Monica Geran, "With a View to Enjoyment," Interior Design 51, no.7 (Sep.1980): 276-81; PhotoCrd: Jamie Ardiles-Arce; Keller Williams/Richard Spivey Showroom [1980] Larry Williams, ASID, Interior Design; Keller Williams; Houston, TX in Anonymous, "Almost a Home," Interior Design 51, no. 10 (Oct. 1980): 291; PhotoCrd: John Lindy; Foyer, Private Apartment [1981] Juan Montoya; New York City in "Drama in II Acts," Interior Design 52, no.7 (July1981): 204; PhotoCrd: Jamie Ardiles-Arce / 1990 Guest Bathroom, Elyse Lacher [1991] Elyse Lacher, Cy Mann Designs; New York City in "Background for Living," Interior Design 61, no. 7 (May 1991): 186; PhotoCrd: Mark Ross / 2000 Living Room, Private Apartment [2001] Charles Allem; New York City in Steven M. L. Aronson, "Charles Allem: A Feel for Twentieth-Century Style and Glamour Marks his New York City Apartment" Architectural Digest 58, no. 9 (Sept. 2001): 248-53, 292; PhotoCrd: Michael Moran; Bedroom, YMCA Building [2003] Stefan Boublil; New York in Deborah Schoeneman, "Where the Boys Were" New York 39, no. 35 (Oct 9, 2006): 66-68; Living Room, Private Apartment [2005] Greg Natale Interior Design; Sydney, Australia in Montse Borras, "Darlinghurst Apartment," The New Apartment: Smart Living in Small Spaces (New York: Universe Publishing, 2007), 256; PhotoCrd: Sharrin Rees. 

bibliographic citations

1) The Interior Archetypes Research and Teaching Project, Cornell University, (accessed month & date, year).

2) Kim, Najung.“Theory Studies: Archetypical Practices of Contemporary Luxury Apartment Design.” M.A. Thesis, Cornell University, 2009, 26-33.