Welcome to the Style Speaks Series—a moment in which we talk with experts and thinkers about what style and color really mean and what it conveys in our lives. Color is integral to how we feel, how we choose to communicate, how we choose express ourselves—and even how we choose to customize our phones! This is what these people think about color. What about you? What do you choose?
When it comes to color, Sabreen Madden is obsessed. As an interior designer and teaching assistant at Harrington College of Design, color is integral to how she creates spaces. During her day-to-day she is always thinking about color theory, color relationships, and design elements. “Everywhere I go, everything I do, every package I look at—even a box of cookies—I’m thinking about the color and design,” she said.
Black is one of Sabreen’s favorite colors. She took us around the house in Chicago she beautifully designed and shared how she thinks about what black conveys.
While she was decorating her home on Chicago’s North Side she took inspiration from raw, concrete, industrial modern spaces she saw during a trip to New York in 2009. “I realized it’s not scary. You can do one wall that’s black and pair it with white and really have an open and airy space that has these dark, dramatic moments,” she said. “I decided to just go for it.”
Sabreen said that the color black is often associated with a “gothic” stigma, but that was not her intention when she chose the paint for her industrial modern loft on Chicago’s North Side. She used black to create depth in her home.
Sabreen Madden’s husband, Terrence, built the fireplace in their industrial modern loft on Chicago’s North Side. She said the black paint around it is used intentionally as camouflage, so when a fire is burning it’s “kind of it’s own element,” she said, adding that the black paint also camouflages the television. Their dog Winnie can often be found sleeping on the fireplace’s steel hearth.
“I think black is a very sophisticated color or non-color,” Sabreen says. “I hope that when someone sees the black in my house they see it as an intentional element to enhance what’s within the space.”
Sabreen said color choice in a home is very subjective and contingent on what feeling the homeowner is attempting to convey. In her North Side home, where she used black and white as her base colors, Sabreen said she was attempting to be bold, dramatic and sophisticated, while also keeping her space personal.
“Usually when we go through the design process, we have a series of interview-type exercises to determine what a client wants in a space,” she said. “First and foremost, you want to have a functional space, and then you can talk about what kind of feeling you want. In that way, I try to get examples. If you want a light and airy feeling, what are some examples of a space that gave you a light and airy feeling? What about that space made you feel light and airy? Then we can build off of that.”
Sabreen said that if a client wanted to include black in their space, she would advise them to use it as an accent color to create some contrast. If too much black is used, she added, it can get too heavy, too dark, and can make a space look small.
“It would definitely show they are willing to take a risk,” Madden added. “Black isn’t something you see in residential design very often, but when you don’t hold back it can be very powerful and fun.”
“When you have all really light neutrals in a space, there’s nothing really to ground your eye, there’s no focus wall. Black is an absorption of all colors, so it’s not even really a color. In the bedroom I use it as a back wall to ground the bed. In another room I use it to frame the bookshelf, I also use it to emphasize the alcove.”
“You can get inspiration from anywhere, and that’s what I do now,” she says. ‘I even look at my dog, Winnie, and think about her color combinations compared to other dogs, I can’t help it.”