While I was looking for my first apartment, I was warned by friends and family that I would likely have to surrender myself an environment painted entirely in “Landlord White.” Surrender isn’t really part of my vocabulary, so when I did find a bright, spacious bachelor pad on the 19th floor of a highrise in Ottawa, Canada, one January long ago, I embraced my white environs. “This is not Landlord White,” I told myself. “It is Winter White…and the landlord loves Scandinavian design, as I do, and he knew I would appreciate this desaturated palette.” (The power of imagination goes right to my head.)
The light from the floor-to-ceiling windows in my bright little box in the sky was so beautiful and warming that I wanted to add more white to my decor. And so I bought lovely, white cableknit throw cushions for the sofa and bed, painted the ugly brown cabinets in the kitchen a deep ivory and only bought houseplants that would produce white blossoms. My 22 year-old self took it a little far, in hindsight, but it was a great experiment in self-discipline. Challenging myself to decorate within a restricted palette honed my tastes and sharpened my focus by training my eye to edit.
I’ve outlined some tips to keep in mind when going for an all-white space. Since white rooms have the potential to feel uninviting and sterile, here are some ways to keep frigidity at bay.
- Consider painting the trim (mouldings, baseboards, doors) a slightly different shade of white than you used on the walls. This will give the room definition.
- Entirely white rooms can feel cold and clinical if they are not warmed by other colours. To keep the palette restricted but still warm, consider ivory, gray, beige or pale pastel accents. Jolts of bright colour or hits of dark black and brown can also add lots of personality through hits of fun punctuation. Warmer tones and colours also allow the eye to travel to a point of destination.
- Remember texture! Texture is essential in white rooms and can really add warmth and coziness without the use of colour: textured white blankets, knitted elements (like my cable knit throw cushions), plush carpets and rugs, the grain of wood floors or architectural elements such as crown mouldings and decorative accents that can create shadow and definition.
- Let the light in! White rooms are meant to be bright and open. Using white indoors reflects outdoor light so window treatments should be clean and simple, no matter how traditional the space is. Let go the idea of dark, heavy drapes if your rooms are painted white, unless you have the benefit of a very large space to make them work.
- Bring in natural elements, such as stone, wood or foliage, to contrast the sleekness of white. You don’t have to use a lot, but the organic gnarl of an orchid’s stem or the rough-hewn texture of a driftwood lamp will tone down the severity of an all-white space.
Below are five rooms that use white very effectively. Pay attention to how the rooms use texture, colour, pattern and detail to keep the white from feeling frigid.
Andrew Ritchie is the creator of Martha Moments, a blog devoted Martha-Stewart related content and her community of supporters. He lives and works in Toronto, Canada, and has been a longtime friend of Brent & Josh, Beekman 1802 and Sharon Springs. Each week he’ll scour the world (wide web) to find the 5 most beautiful things to inspire you. Follow Andrew on Pinterest.