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As soon as she signed the lease on a 12th-floor high-rise apartment in New York City’s Harlem neighborhood, Alison Rudnick, CNN’s vice president of communications, went out to lunch with her friend and designer, Anthony Gianacakos. The topic of conversation? Color—specifically how to infuse as much as possible into the space to fit her bold style. They went back and forth on finding the sweet spot between vivid orange (Rudnick’s favorite) and something softer, eventually landing on coral as a more subdued backdrop. Then Gianacakos got to work layering in years’ worth of her travel keepsakes and flea market finds. “It was truly a puzzle,” he says. In fact, the only throughline in the apartment—where a floral Turkish rug coexists with rainbow-striped poufs—is another powerhouse hue: jet black. In a home peppered with distinct colors, it’s the unifier, made all the more statement-making when paired with these three shades.

Peacock Blue

When it came time to choose accessories for Rudnick’s teal sofa, Gianacakos turned to snake-emblazoned sconces and a set of African tree bark panels. Framed in glossy black, the patterns pop, not to mention the inky hue amps up the jewel tone of the upholstery. “I’ve always loved this combination,” says the designer. “It feels fashion-forward and nonconformist.”

Brilliant Coral

“Color in general is hard for people, but the payoff is worth it,” Gianacakos explains. He balanced out the brighter pastel with black-painted furniture, like a bar picked up antiquing in Connecticut that now anchors a corner entertaining station. Coupled with a lamp that seamlessly blends in with the table, it’s a match made in high-contrast heaven: The vibrant walls mellow and the darker cabinet keeps the focus on treasured collections.

Crisp White

Instead of using the lighter shade of this classic combo on the walls, feature it in small, impactful doses. “To not make white feel boring,” Gianacakos kept it to the base trim, which creates definition between the walls and floor; a drum shade; and a pair of patterned stools (coupled with black, of course). “That’s my biggest advice: Don’t be scared of taking a chance,” he says.

3 More Unexpected Places to Paint Black

Floor: Preclean and sand the surface first, then apply a semigloss sheen (marine-grade paint is extra-durable) to ensure your flooring stands up to muddy boots. Ceiling: It may seem counterintuitive, but coating the surface overhead in the darkest hue will make a tiny bedroom seem to go on forever. Radiator: Eyesore no more. Turn the valve off before giving a blah heater a sleek matte makeover to match your hardware—just be sure to use a metal-friendly paint.

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