The essential guide to all-white rooms
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.
The secrets to great white rooms
Either way, the secret to a great white room lies in two important principles. The first is texture. “A monochromatic white room throws texture into high relief,” Robin says. “That’s the real secret to adding life to a scheme like this; otherwise it just looks boring.” Natural textures, such as wood, stone and fibres like rope, wool, linen, and cotton look especially rich in a white setting. For contrast, combine (or switch out) nubbly textures with sleek ones like glass, mirror, high-gloss, metallics. (One caveat with high-gloss surfaces such as white lacquer or enamel, Robin advises: beware of using them over large areas such as walls, since white gloss shows scratches, flaws and dirt easily. Either restrict this finish to white accessories or sidepieces, or opt for a slightly lower sheen such as Venetian plaster or semi-gloss.)
The second secret is to keep in mind that whatever you put in the room—from artwork to furnishings to accessories—is going to stand out against the white background, so make sure it’s worth looking at. “Basic accessories and art don’t work in an all-white environment; you should opt for items that are striking—especially if they have a personal meaning for you, such as carved wood sculptures picked up while travelling, perhaps, or artwork that really speaks to you.”
If your heart still longs for white, Siegerman has some final, down-to-earth advice. Just like white clothing, a white room shows dirt quickly, so be prepared to work to keep it spotless—even if it means washing your walls and furnishings regularly.
“I’d say it’s definitely not a look for you if you have kids and dogs and lots of activity in the room. When a client comes to me wanting a white room, I sit them down and ask them exactly what they’re after, and often it comes out that the look can be achieved just as beautifully with a more neutral or natural palette—and with nowhere near the maintenance.”