Decorating & Design - Colour

The essential guide to all-white rooms

If you long for the serenity of an all-white space, find out how to choose the right white and how to determine if the look just doesn’t fit your lifestyle.

Ah, the pristine white room. Viewed from afar in a magazine or on a TV decorating show, an all-white colour scheme looks so inviting—clean, effortless, achingly romantic or as Euro-sleek as a brand-new Ferrari. But make no mistake: despite what many home decorators think, this is not an easy look by any means, and may even be unsuitable for rooms where you do a lot of “living,” says Robin Siegerman, interior designer and author of Renovation Bootcamp (Yorkshire Publishing, $25).

What is white?
What the eye sees as white is actually a whole palette of colours, Robin explains, which can produce many different effects, depending on how they’re used, the room’s exposure, and what you place with them. Cool whites have grey, blue or green undertones, and can be either crisp and bracing or dull and lifeless. Warm whites, on the other hand, have a yellow, peach or beige cast; while they can be romantic and soft, they can also turn dirty or dingy, or lose their “whiteness” altogether, depending on natural light and other elements in the room. So your first task is to decide what effect you want to achieve, and then go for the white (or family of whites) that produces that effect.

How to choose the right white
Do you want a crisp, modern look with a minimum of clutter, with graphic silhouettes and strong lines? Lean toward bright, cool whites, and opt for furnishings and other elements with simple lines and smooth surfaces. Finish with plenty of glass, mirror and metallics.

Or are you longing for white’s romantic side? Go for warm, creamy whites, nubbly natural textures and plenty of detail, such as lace, wool, unglazed porcelain and marble. Vintage furnishings could be glazed or distressed in white paint, over bleached pine or light oak floors.

Lead image courtesy of Stacey Van Berkel-Haines.


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