Dark Academia: A Complete Guide to a Moody Scholarly Style

May 28, 2024



Hannah Haber

Do you ever picture yourself reading a worn book while sitting in a leather armchair inside an ancient library? The only sound is the comforting crackle of a nearby fireplace and the occasional rustle of turning pages. But this isn’t a scene from a forgotten novel—it could be your home, meticulously crafted to carry the essence of dark academia. This design aesthetic creates a space that whispers intellectual pursuits, timeless knowledge, and a touch of gothic mystery. 

Dark Academia and Its Origins

Dark Academia: A Complete Guide to a Moody Scholarly Style.
Photo from Pexels

Dark academia captures the mood of old, prestigious universities and the allure of classic literature. It blends elements of sophistication, history, and gothic details to create a space that simulates a scholarly experience. Dark colors, vintage collections, and  bold textures illuminated by candle light are just some of the elements of this moody aesthetic. 

But before it infiltrated our interiors, dark academia originated as a literary genre. Its themes can be traced back to classic works like Edgar Allen Poe’s The Raven, Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, and Donna Tartt’s The Secret History. 

Then, in the mid-2010s, it turned into an aesthetic popularized by the “Harry Potter generation.” Photos of romanticized education featuring gothic academy architecture, vintage clothing, and classic literature fostered a growing online community. 

This led to the emergence of a more established Internet subculture, where members celebrate independent lifelong learning and a love for the classics. More than adopting a dark, preppy look, the dark academia community fully embodies the spirit and actions of a real scholar.

And when the pandemic hit, the social isolation and yearning for a different reality further propelled dark academia’s popularity. People tried to bring back the traditional school experience online through book recommendations, outfit inspirations, and sharing their room designs. 

Because of its association with an initiated online community, this design might linger a little longer than other microtrends. Google’s Year in Search 2022 showed that dark academia made it to the top ten trending interior styles. Additionally, it taps into a sense of nostalgia for a bygone era while borrowing elements from other trends. And this adaptability allows personalization and individuality that will remain timeless for the people that inhabit them. 

How to Build a Capsule Dark Academia Interior

Dark academia is a very forgiving aesthetic because of its surprising ease of execution. Unlike some styles that demand precise layouts or specific furniture sets, its design prioritizes creating a lived-in feel. Imperfections are a crucial part of its aesthetic, taking the pressure off achieving a flawless, showroom look.

And to fully encapsulate its ethos in every corner of your space, here are some of the elements you can integrate.

Set the Scene with Moody Colors

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Dark neutrals form the foundation of a dark academia palette. Deep charcoal walls can become a dramatic backdrop for bookcases overflowing with your favorite reads, while a black painted ceiling adds to the gothic vibe.

Rich jewel tones create a sense of opulence and sophistication. Emerald green evokes the feeling of a lush library garden, while burgundy adds a touch of academic regality.

And to completely set the scene, it needs pops of warm browns and brass. These warmer tones add a touch of comfort and prevent the space from feeling too stark. Worn brown leather armchairs, a bookshelf crafted from rich mahogany, or antique brass accents on lamps and hardware bring a sense of warmth and lived-in charm to the scholarly atmosphere.

Build the Scholarly Bones with Grand Architectural Elements

Dark Academia: A Complete Guide to a Moody Scholarly Style.
Photo from Unsplash

Millwork adds a sense of grandeur you often see in old libraries and universities. You can add crown molding along the ceiling to frame your tall bookshelves and highlight the verticality of the space.  

Wainscoting, or wood paneling, applied to the lower portion of the wall adds depth and texture. This can serve as a warm backdrop for hanging artwork and antiques. 

And bookshelves, as the quintessential element of any scholarly space, provide both storage and a sense of permanence. You can line them up in the entire wall of the space and fill them with a pile of volumes and collected items. This creates a focal point and solidifies the room’s purpose—a haven for the written word and academic endeavors.

Along with the decorative use of wood, wallpaper can add another layer of detail that serves as a canvas for telling your space’s story. But it can’t be just any random wallpaper. Damask patterns, with their intricate floral or geometric designs, evoke an old world elegance. These also give off a formal and rich visual background for artwork or your personal curios.

On the other hand, botanical prints, featuring illustrations of plants and flowers, bring in the ambiance of nature and scholarly curiosity. These also exude a hint of love for science and exploration, like every hardcore dark academia fan is.

You can always combine millwork and wallpaper for a truly layered effect. For instance, pair dark wainscoting with a botanical wallpaper above it, creating a visually interesting division of the wall and adding depth to the space.

Cultivate Comfort and Ambiance with Classic Furniture and Layered Lighting

Dark Academia: A Complete Guide to a Moody Scholarly Style.
Photo from Unsplash

Having a well-worn armchair  speaks of countless hours spent reading and pondering. It’s a key element in losing yourself in a book or engaging in deep conversation.

Antique writing desks evoke a sense of tradition and thirst for knowledge. And you can give your current desk a slightly worn look by coating it with rich mahogany, antique white, or a muted sage green. You can further make it look distressed by sanding the surface or adding minimal, subtle cracks. 

As for lighting, partner your overhead lights with warm and inviting layers of light sources. Table lamps with fabric shades cast a soft, focused glow, perfect for late-night studying or curling up with a good book. Strategically placed floor lamps with adjustable shades allow you to control the light levels and create different moods depending on the activity. And for added dramatic gothic flair, consider including a candelabra. 

Curate the Collection of Scholar’s Treasures

Casa Gorordo - library

No Dark Academia space is complete without a prominent display of books. Aim for a collection that reflects your interests and sparks your imagination. You can also add leather-bound books and antique and vintage reads for a touch of history and intrigue. Old travel and scientific journals are also worthy of a dark academia treasury. 

You can also add exploration instruments like old terrestrial and celestial globes, telescopes, and orreries if you have them. Compasses, microscopes, and other scientific instruments also belong in your space. 

Build a gallery of ideas by displaying paintings depicting historical scenes, mythological figures, or landscapes. You can also decorate with portraits of your favorite historical figures, philosophers, scientists, or literary giants.

And to curate a cabinet of curiosities, you can fill shelves and side tables with heirlooms, an old-fashioned typewriter, busts of important figures, and ethically sourced taxidermy. 

Complete a Dark Academia Home with Lived-in Charms

Dark Academia: A Complete Guide to a Moody Scholarly Style.
Photo from Unsplash

Bring soft touches of comfort and history with throws, tartan rugs, and tapestry cushions, featuring intricate woven designs or historical scenes. 

Stationery tools such as quill pens, inkwells, and vintage notebooks serve as a reminder of the bygone era of handwritten letters.

You can also add a touch of life and natural beauty by incorporating leafy plants, such as ferns or snake plants. A collection of dried flowers displayed in a glass vase additionally showcases a love for nature and the passage of time. But for a more whimsical spectacle, you can add a  self-contained ecosystem in a terrarium. 

In addition, you can further highlight your personality in final touches. For the musically inclined, display any instrument you might own. Chess sets, darts, and other strategic board games promote intellectual challenges. And for travelers, this is a perfect chance to exhibit your travel mementos like postcards and maps. 

While dark colors are a cornerstone of Dark Academia, consider incorporating pops of cream or light beige to prevent the space from feeling too heavy. Maybe integrate them in anchor pieces like armchairs or smaller items like vases to give a visual break and balance. 

Strategically placed mirrors help to bounce light around the room, creating a sense of spaciousness and lightness. And to help attain brightness, opt for sheer curtains that allow soft, diffused sunlight to filter through.

Beyond aesthetics, dark academia offers a design language to delve deeper into a world brimming with knowledge and intrigue. It’s a meticulously crafted stage set for the life of the mind, and a sanctuary for the curious soul. It isn’t merely a style but an immersive experience where the pursuit of knowledge becomes a captivating adventure.

Read more: Artistry at Home: Heart Evangelista’s Collaborative Home Makeover

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