Prep Meets Gothic Romance in These Dark Academia Designer Spaces

sitting room interior design by martyn lawrence bullard

Tim Street-Porter

Fall is synonymous with back-to-school and—even if you’re decades removed from getting your degree—there’s probably always some part of you that yearns for a preppy, crisp refresh as you swap out your decor for something a little cozier. Dubbed “dark academia,” this design trend is a studious-yet-sultry style that combines scholastic nods with 90s gothic touches. Think: plaids, vintage books and accessories, and well-worn leather with a moody, gothic color palette that would make Wednesday Adams feel right at home. It’s the perfect design solution for rooms with a masculine-feminine balance and it is easy to layer in cashmere, wool, and flannel for extra warmth. Bonus: Dark academia also pairs oh so well with your favorite fall flicks like Cruel Intentions and The Craft, making it the perfect scene for when the sun sets early. Ready to up your design education? Skip a pencil run and invest in your home instead. Whether you want to go all in on a dark interiors (more versatile than you might think!) or just an excuse to hit the flea market for vintage books, these 11 spaces are a masterclass in bold, bookish style.

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Ink black cabinetry (Tricorn Black by Sherwin Williams) and rich emerald walls elevate this home office to the top of the class. To keep things feeling energetic and inspiring, designer Denise McGaha relied on glam finishes (like the Arteriors chandelier) and decked out the built-in shelves with artwork, accessories, and—of course—books.

In true collegiate fashion, wall-to-wall shelves of books decorate this studious space dreamt up by Romanek Design Studio. To allow the tomes to take centerstage, a taupe-y hue—which closely mirrors that of the nearby velvet couch—was chosen to coat the custom shelving.

The next time you’re looking for palette and print inspiration for an office, look no further than academia’s uniform of choice: plaid. Here, designer Corey Damen Jenkins marries a graphic wallpaper from Rogers & Goffigon with a chocolate-colored ceiling and tailored furniture for an office befitting a headmaster or head CEO.

The unofficial hue of dark academia rooms everywhere, black has a way of upping the drama in every space it coats. This city apartment, designed by Nanette Brown, wins “Most Likely to Succeed,” thanks to a dynamic charcoal paint hue (for similar, try Black Tar by Benjamin Moore), preppy plaid curtains, and restrained accessories.

Whether you’re cramming for a presentation or just want to finish the latest book in your TBR pile, this studious space is dark academia 101. A cozy corner in designer Shavonda Gardner’s California home boasts a welcoming vintage Eames chair, an inky paint hue (Caviar by Sherwin-Williams), and personalized accessories.

For a playful take on all things academia, look no further than a fantastical wallpaper. Designer Martyn Lawrence Bullard transformed this sitting room into the likeness of a floor-to-ceiling library using Fornasetti’s Ex Libris wallpaper and a few tailored accessories, including a pleated task lamp and quill mirror.

For a foolproof design that falls atop the bell curve, strive to find a balance between dark and moody academic-inspired decor and details that jive with the rest of your home. In a midcentury abode, designed by Studio Shamshiri, lead gray walls (Down Pipe by Farrow & Ball) team up with vintage MCM accessories and custom walnut shelving for perhaps the most successful (only successful?) group project in the history of academia.

Even the most serious among us need a distraction every now in then. This dark academia-inspired space from designer Andrew Brown sets the bar high, with library-worthy accents (like a marble bust) and dramatic finishes, like a veiny marble countertop and floating brass shelves.

If there was an interior embodiment of collegiate comfort, this room would be it. Like an impeccably worn-in varsity jacket or the perfect wool set that’s also dining hall appropriate, this office by Kari Arendsen blends comfort and academia style into one seamless design. An almost-black shade of green—Rookwood Dark Green by Sherwin-Wiliams—brings intimacy and dimension while birch accents and a roaring fire channel cool days on campus.

To transform a 1920s Spanish Colonial into a space that would look at home on any Ivy League campus, designer Regan Baker choose a hue reminiscent of said climbing plant (Holiday Wreath by Benjamin Moore) and low profile furniture straight out of the coolest teacher’s lounge ever.

This the bedroom we either dreamed of having… or dreamed our tortured teenage crush would have (Jess Mariano from Gilmore Girls anyone?) growing up. But designer Stephen Shubel’s literary-inspired room is equally appropriate for the adult-set with a vintage mirror and moody black ceiling.

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