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On Trend: Black, White and Red All Over

While fashion’s boldest colour trend may have looked rad in your adolescent bedroom, it takes a skilled hand to work with it today.

One of the trendiest colour palettes on the fashion runways this fall is black, white and red. It’s a trio that for more than three decades has held a special place for me—not in my mind’s eye, but in my olfactory memory. For in the fall of 1986, the odour emanating from a well-used and rarely washed black, white and red football jersey belonging to a high-school senior became firmly, nauseatingly and unforgettably a part of me. I was forced to wear the gear for the day, a Frosh Week hazing of such cruel proportions that the final indignity—my forced participation in a tackle football practice—barely fazed me, stoned as I already was on the fumes of male-sweat concentrate.

Italian furniture designer Seletti features their Pantone chair.
Italian furniture designer Seletti features their Pantone chair.

While that experience now means the colours conjure up unpleasant associations for me personally, could the trendy trio translate its popularity into our home design? The classic pairing of black and white has been a strong trend for seasons now—Ralph Lauren’s mod new dual-chromatic collection, for example, is kicky and tasteful—but is it time to add a splash of crimson, as Roberto Cavalli has to his shaggy punk furs and Fendi has done to some otherwise elegant dresses? Forgive me for not jumping on the fashion bandwagon just yet (all I see is the band Loverboy, circa 1980), let alone riding the perilous crossover into interior design.

Casamania Chariot works because one colour dominates.
Casamania Chariot works because one colour dominates.

I am not alone in my squeamishness. “I can’t stand black, white and red as the colour scheme for a room,” says Ian McLeod of Vancouver’s Johnson McLeod Design Consultants. “It’s harsh and corny and looks cheap.” (Tell us what you really think, Ian.) While he can see the palette’s appeal in fashion (“a black and white outfit with red nails and lips, sure”), it doesn’t work at home.

Italian furniture designer Seletti features subtle variations on the theme with their Trip 2 Drawer bureaus.
Italian furniture designer Seletti features subtle variations
on the theme with their Trip 2 Drawer bureaus.

McLeod and his design partner, Kerry Johnson, instead work with accents of deep oranges, mustard tones and rich, egg-yolk yellow in rooms that are predominantly white, with small hits of black. Those rich shades, he adds, “are the new ’red.’”

Not everyone completely eschews black, white and red all over, though the tastes of Trevor Ciona of Saskatoon’s Atmosphere Interior Design have changed since he decorated his own bedroom in that combo (in the 1980s, when he was 10). Atmosphere co-owner and designer Curtis Elmy says that, these days, the pair agree that classic black and white will always be stylish, but it’s best layered with greys, golds and camel. “Red wouldn’t be our favourite in that combination,” says Elmy. “It still has that ’80s feel to it.” Still, if you must, the designer says it is possible to tastefully add a shot of red to your living room if you do it “intentionally, and with commitment.”

talian furniture designer Seletti (top right) features subtle variations on the theme with their Trip 3 Drawer bureaus.
talian furniture designer Seletti (top right) features subtle variations
on the theme with their Trip 3 Drawer bureaus.

Elmy suggests starting with a red coffee table book or a piece of art with strong hits of red. “Less is more with red,” he says, “and we feel that small bold punches in the room are what make it stylish.” In his world, a red sofa or a large chair would be too much, but “perhaps contrast piping in red or an accent chair or just the seat cushion in red.” If that doesn’t satisfy your obsession with fashion’s palette du jour, the designer says to consider letting it play out in your powder room. “That room can be somewhat of a departure and can be a bit more bold without overwhelming an entire home.”

Roberto Cavalli’s Fall 2013 collection featured the hottest palette on the runways.
Roberto Cavalli’s Fall 2013 collection featured the hottest palette on the runways.

Kevin Mitchell of Douglas Cridland Interior Design in Calgary embraces black, white and red (he’s bold enough to admit he might have been a Loverboy fan, as a pre-teen in the 1980s). One of his favourite interior combinations is “black floors, white walls and pattern, pattern and more pattern that incorporate all three colours.” Finding harmony, he says, is key. (That and finding a patterned sofa that includes a red tone to hide the colour of wine stains, he adds, half-jokingly.)

Mitchell advises letting a seasoned pro help you get this difficult combination right. “It’s one of those colour schemes you either get or you don’t,” he says. “The tricky part is finding a balance between white and black without making it look like you’re on safari hunting zebra,” he says, “You don’t want so much red that your friends wonder what types of sacrifices you’re going to be doing after they leave.”

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