Do you ever walk into a room that just feels right? Maybe you can’t quite put your finger on it, but it has a certain something that makes it seem balanced and comfortable while still interesting. Betsy Helm and Kiley Braun of Shophouse Design, this month’s Next Wave firm, are experts in achieving that feeling—a skill they describe as giving a home a soul. While they’re best known for their expert use of millwork (as eye-catching decor as well as functional storage), the duo also have quite a few other design tricks that contribute to their gorgeous interiors. One of the simplest? Always use a touch of black in every room.
Yes, black. While the color might seem like a dramatic choice, Baun and Helm assure that, when used in small doses, it can actually brighten a room. “For us, it creates a layer of sophistication and contrast, which is always an underlying current in our work,” the do tells House Beautiful.
Black tape trim on curtains in a Shophouse project.
A touch of the hue in the right place is also a good way to achieve the same look as the right millwork (for a fraction of the price). “The touch of black balances our spaces and keeps them from reading too sweet or flat,” they say.
Of course, you don’t have to swathe an entire wall in Obsidian for this to work—Helm and Baun say the best way to use black is on small details. “We’ll ground the space using an architectural cocktail or side table,” they say by way of example. Or, they continue, “sometimes it’s as subtle as a black tape on an area rug to create a border, or trim on pillows or window treatments.” Talk about an easy upgrade!