The design world always has an "in" color it embraces as its neutral; it's the color you see painted inside spec houses and rentals and popularized in catalogs and online. While white is always a neutral fallback, beige was favored in the early 2000s. For the past 10 years, it's been gray. Now many in the design world say there is a new neutral in town: black.

Sarah Fishburne, the director of trend and design at the Home Depot, credits the growing black-painted-room trend to the modern farmhouse craze of the past few years. The style updates classic "country" details by painting them black so they look more modern.

Fishburne plans to paint her dining room black. "I have always loved black rooms, especially when you have great molding and trim work. The black really shows it all off," she said. Fishburne's dining room has classic board-and-batten siding three-quarters up its walls and a 10-foot-high coffer ceiling, which she says "will really pop in black." Another thing she thinks will stand out against her soon-to-be black walls: her art collection. "Like white, black is a blank canvas, and it's super-versatile."

Briana Nix, a designer for the online decorating service Decorist, agrees that black is extremely versatile — a characteristic that is essential to any neutral. "Black is a great supporter of all interior styles," she said. "Whether sleek and modern or rustic farmhouse, black paint and decor offer a sophisticated air to many different looks."

Beyond making spaces look more stylish, black paint has another useful quality, some designers say: It makes rooms feel bigger. Houston-based interior designer Dennis Brackeen says this is contrary to what most people think. He says dark colors make a room's walls recede. Decorist designer Caitlin McBride explains: "Since the corners of a dark painted room can't be defined and there isn't an easy way to tell where they start or end, the walls feel endless."

McBride recently painted her laundry room black to make it feel bigger (she says it's about the size of a walk-in closet) and add contrast to the large white washing machine and dryer that dominate the space. She has plans to paint her 9-foot-high guest bathroom ceiling black, too. "I want to make the ceiling recede up and out, like you're looking into space."

Not for everyone

While many are embracing this move to the dark side, Patrick O'Donnell, Farrow & Ball's brand ambassador and expert color consultant, warns that black — or any very dark color — is not for everyone, and certainly not for every room. O'Donnell says you should first think about the primary use of the space you're painting. "You probably wouldn't want to paint a nursery in black, but in a bedroom, black helps embrace the nighttime darkness and induce a good night's sleep."

Another consideration is the direction your room faces. "If it's north or east, this is often a great opportunity to go darker, as the idea of painting an ill-lit space white or light can end up feeling dull."

When it comes to choosing the right black paint color and finish, there is some debate. Fishburne plans to paint her dining room in Behr's Satin Black (PPU26-1) in a matte/flat finish. She likes its soft, chalky look and says the flat finish is more forgiving for imperfect walls.

Nix, on the other hand, avoids using matte black. She feels it dulls a room. Instead she opts for a high gloss, which "will reflect light and give dimension to your space." Just beware: High-gloss paints show every imperfection, so your walls need to be in perfect condition. Nix's favorite black paints are both from Farrow & Ball: Pitch Black, which she says is a true black, and Railings, which has a subtle blue tint.

Brackeen's go-to colors are C2 Paint's Aperture (C2-981) and Benjamin Moore's Deep Space (2125-20).

McBride likes Sherwin-Williams' Tricorn Black because, she says, "It's a true black color with no undertones and looks good in every paint finish."

For color, O'Donnell recommends using a black with an underlying nuance — whether it's blue, red or green — so you get notes of different colors as the light changes throughout the day. Whatever color or finish you choose, he says it's important — especially when going from light to dark — to use a primer and undercoat in the same tone as the wall color so you get a rich and saturated result.

If a full-blown black room is too much for you, try adding touches of black. Fishburne suggests using black furniture, textiles and accessories in your design mix because "they add weight to very light rooms and additional depth to rooms already painted in a darker hue."

McBride likes to paint interior doors black, and she often uses black curtain rods because, she says, "they're like the eyeliner of window treatments. They draw your eye up the walls to the ceiling, highlighting molding and other room elements that may otherwise be missed."

Elizabeth Mayhew, a "Today" show style expert and former magazine editor, is the author of "Flip! for Decorating."