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Photo Courtesy of DLC-ID

Why Charcoal is the Most Popular Shade of Gray for Interior Design

This monochrome shade is an indispensable and luxe neutral that’s here to stay.
Roxanne Robinson May 19, 2021
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Charcoal color is a (dark) star on the gray scale. Much like the natural substance, it has versatile uses. Named for the ubiquitous substance that changed the course of history—first used by cavemen as far back as 25,000 BC—and its prevalence as a heating element, an industrial fuel, fireworks, in cosmetics, medicine, horticulture, for art and recently in trendy purification, prove its genius. Charcoal color is about multi-tasking as the material. Nest Casa takes a look at this color that stays one step ahead of black.

What Exactly Is Charcoal Color?

Because it bears the name of one of those dark, puffy pieces of carbon residue—familiarly,  the genesis of an old-school, BBQ fire—charcoal is often mistaken for black. Though a deep, dark gray is more fitting, it is easy to confuse since calling it a shade of black is accurate. Charcoal colors, indeed, resemble black with their low lightness and relative luminance.

A shade is pure color that, when mixed with black, results in off-black tones. Ebony (first coined for the color in 1590) describes the tropical hardwood used for fine furniture; Davy's gray (named for Henry Davy) is made using slate, iron oxide, and carbon—as developed in the 19th century. Dim gray became synonymous with the internet when created for the first computing color chart recorded in 1987. Charcoal was a color that represented the dark gray color of wood burned at an intense temperature. And it was dubbed so in English in 1606.

What Colors Go With Charcoal?

Charcoal is considered a neutral shade—much like its cousin black. In fact, Nest Casa founder Sara Colombo considers charcoal the perfect neutral. "It's softer than black but equally versatile,” she says. "I especially love charcoal and tan to stay in super neutral territory but still supply visual impact." Black and off-black colors are used in interior design to create stark drama as these colors suggest dignity and formality.

That said, specific colors lend themselves to coordinating with the hue more than others. One of the most classic combos is charcoal gray and pink. In fashion, picture this: Charcoal gray flannel combined with pink silk or cashmere, conjuring a timeless, classic look. Applied to interiors, it can be ultra-modern. For example, this concrete-floor living room has a post-Modern feel, combining Contemporary art with a curved, Art Deco mood couch in charcoal This fabulous scene is given a sensual accent with a rose pink area rug.

One reason pink works is because its lightness is almost the opposite of charcoal’s darkness. Thus, soft yellows, mint green, and practically any version of light blue pairs beautifully with the moody yet rich, off-black hue.

Where to Use Charcoal Color in the Home

Rather than considering where to use the color charcoal in the home or a commercial space, one should probably ask, "Where not to use charcoal?" This hue lends itself to myriad of rooms. It exudes relaxed sophistication and class. No wonder gray tones in general—increasingly sparked by the prevalence of stainless steel in home appliances and accents—have been the home interior color of the last decade.

In this boho-chic, Hawaiian kitchen, the rustic feel of the horizontal wood planking that extends from the walls to the ceilings is given an elegant touch with charcoal cabinets and counters. The dark hue doesn't result in a depressing room as the wood balances it out. Instead, the result is sleek and inviting.

This home office sets an intriguing mood while still being filled with light, thanks to a large window and unique ceiling lamp fixture. Furthermore, the burlwood desk in light, ash wood tones, and the colorful floral ceiling keep things from getting too heavy. Airy open shelving also alleviates the risk of a dark room effect.

Sometimes, somber is a good thing—like in a bedroom suite. The super-high barn ceiling keeps this master bedroom from feeling cave-like, instead offering a soothing place to escape to. The furnishings counterbalance the charcoal walls with shades of cream and oatmeal on the pale, oak floor to oppose the dramatic effect.

How to Style With Charcoal?

Whether or not you are ready to bathe your walls in charcoal—or, perhaps, revise your kitchen in the shade—there are ways to incorporate this color into the home with less commitment. There is something to add to every room when using this off-black tone, from a sofa or a desk to kitchen trays or desk accessories. Our Editor's Picks demonstrate how you can easily bring a bit of charcoal into your home for a simmering, sultry, luxe touch.

Editor's Picks: The Best Charcoal Furnishings

For the Living Room

Lulu And Georgia

Tobi Swivel Chair
$1,798.00 BUY NOW

Kathy Kuo Home

Ava Modern Classic Black Upholstered Cushion Back Sofa
$1,949.00 BUY NOW

Rani Arabella

Dillon Cashmere Throw
$1380.00 Buy Now

Missoni Home

Oman Pw Leather Cushion_49
$1495.00 Buy Now

For the Home Office

Design Within Reach

Eames Aluminum Group Chair
$2,745.00 BUY NOW

1st Dibs

Modern Grey Oak and Leather Top Desk
$3,540.00 BUY NOW

Lucrin

Office desk set in Crocodile-style Calf leather
$1,500.00 BUY NOW

L'Objet

Crocodile Paper Clip Box
$65.00 BUY NOW

For the Bathroom

Ann Sacks

Eros Grey Mosaics
Price upon request BUY NOW

Tina Frey Designs

Round Trash Can
$345.00 BUY NOW

Parachute Home

Fouta Supreme Towel Bundle
$288.00 BUY NOW

The Best Kitchen Accessories

Lulu And Georgia

Lakshmi Bowl
$158.00 BUY NOW

GioBagnara

"Phorma Rectangular" trays
Price upon request BUY NOW

Artemest

Small Black Marble Mortar And Pestle
$220.00 BUY NOW

Hermès

H Deco Dinnerware
Price upon request BUY NOW

For the Bedroom

Parachute Home

Sateen Duvet Cover
$150.00 BUY NOW

Missoni Home

Coomba Pillow
$265.00 BUY NOW

The Citizenry

Tesoro Black Alpaca Throw
$275.00 BUY NOW
Roxanne Robinson
Roxanne Robinson is an award-winning Paris-based American journalist covering luxury and fashion industries with over 25 years of experience. I spent over 18 years at WWD, covering sportswear, accessories and fine jewelry. My career witnessed the shift from print media to the digital age. I gained expert knowledge of the design world, wholesale and retail markets as well as the marketing that supports them. I met endless creatives and business people who create luxury from inception to POS with the consumer. My work has appeared in Forbes.com, BoF, The Hollywood Reporter, CRFashionbook.com, The Jewelry Journal as well in-house publications and websites at Bally, Pomellato, Au Depart and Editorialist.com among others.
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