The touch of black

A touch of black - or a lot of black - makes for elegance and impact, for drama and contrast. On this point, the home-furnishings and fashion fields are of one mind this fall. Black, both proclaim, is not only a basic color, but a classic one.

In fashion, black dominates this season's color palette. The little black dress; the black suit; and black leather blousons, belts, and bags are all back in vogue.

But black, as a strong accent color, is also seen everywhere in home-furnishings circles. Top interior designers are using black ceramic tiles or black marble in numerous installations. They are sometimes specifying black bathroom fixtures, black or smokey-gray cabinets in kitchens, and black thin-slatted blinds for windows. This past winter Bloomingdale's showed modular-seating units covered in black parachute silk.

Designers are applying both shiny-black glazes and soft-matte finishes to walls and ceilings, and they are using black-backgrounded wallpapers for sleek urban settings. For years, they have emphasized the stylish chic resulting from the discreet placement of a few beautiful black lacquer pieces decorated with Oriental chinoiserie designs.

The black trend has extended to cookware and dinnerware as well. When Arabia of Finland introduced its new Kokki ceramic cookware last year, it was finished in a dramatic black glaze that brought a timely and fashionable new look to the gourmet cook-and-serve field. Fitz & Floyd introduced a black porcelain dinner service called Midnight Poppy - with each plate accented with a pastel-shaded poppy - and Fabrik added a new glossy black line of dinnerware called Starry Night.

When Paul Hansen introduced its line of black and white lamps and accessories , vice-president Howard Shattuck explained: ''The use of black with lighter colors means contrast. This contrast creates a texture of its own. It entertains the eye and creates movement and mood.''

This year the Bernhardt furniture company brought back a black silk mixture as a new-old upholstery fabric, ''because we were getting calls for it.'' The company's fashion director, Lisa Michael, says: ''Black makes a strong statement and has a lot of dramatic appeal when it is used on contemporary chairs and sofas. But we see it as an accent color, and know it isn't for everyone.''

Selig Manufacturing Company has also reintroduced black in pure silk, as well as in cotton and other fabrics. Peter S. Culhane, director of interior design for the company, says: ''Black is great because it is a total neutral and you can put anything with it. Lots of people are now bored with beige, and are experimenting with the excitement and individuality of black as a new neutral.''

In showhouses, showrooms, and their own homes, designers are demonstrating the many applications of black. For instance, Designer Kris Brame of KMR Designs Ltd. in New York took a staple gun and shirred black chintz over the unsightly peeling and cracked walls of his studio apartment. He terms it a ''night space, '' and he found that the black walls were a wonderful foil for his colorful art collection, which he lights with track ceiling spots.

In Los Gatos, California, interior designer Marlene Grant completed her own home this year, featuring an all-black kitchen. She explained recently, as we toured her house: ''I love the noncolor of black. I love it particularly when I see it contrasted against color. Most people are afraid of black, but I see it as a color of nature. After all, at night, even the sky is very black.''

New York designer Mario Buatta recalled recently that the best kitchen he ever installed in one of his own homes was black. ''It made all food look beautiful, and I loved working in it,'' he says.

Designer Patricia Guthrie transformed a garret with four windows at the top of a house in Little Silver, New Jersey, by the use of strong contrasts of color and texture. She painted the paneled walls matte black, whitened the stucco ceiling, and ran white Italian ceramic tiles diagonally over the floor. She covered a sofa with black menswear wool, and placed a red-lacquered chair at a modern glass and grass desk.

Chuck Winslow, as he illustrated at the recent Kips Bay Decorator Showhouse in New York, is one of the decorators who now love the combination of black and gold. The bedroom he decorated featured a black bamboo bed, black cube pedestals , a black screen, black pots for flowers, and black afghans - all lightened and brightened by white and gold embellishments.

One manufacturer, assured that the public might be tiring of bright metallic finishes, is even introducing black and pewter finishes to anodized aluminum to get an entirely new look. Another has simply added black glass to his brass-table line, and he terms the effect ''very art deco.''

The nice thing about black is that you can have it on your own terms. You can add what you want, where you want it. A lot of people may feel that a little black goes a long way. They would turn their backs fast on an avant-garde all-black room. But they might be willing to buy a black lamp or gourmet cooking pot, or to give an old piece of furniture a new coat of glossy jet-black lacquer. When it comes to fashion, the choice still lies with the customer.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.