While color trends come and go, Leanne Ford of Leanne Ford Interiors and the star of HGTV's Restored by the Fords, who specializes in decorating texture-rich, ivory-infused homes, says all white is timeless. "Even when you see a white space and you have no idea what country, year, or era it was designed, it will still look relevant and modern. Because white is universal. It's forever," Ford tells MyDomaine. We couldn't agree more—for example, this master bathroom she designed on the show proves it. Ahead, Ford shares her tips for creating the ultimate all-white interior along with the one thing you should never do.
Meet the Expert
Leanne Ford is an interior designer and a co-star in the HGTV show Restored by the Fords
Texture is Your Friend
When it comes to decorating a white interior, there's one rule Ford swears by for visual interest and warmth: Texture. "A space can feel good and look nice in all white no matter what, but the texture is what makes it feel warm and inviting," she notes. "It can be anything—wood, brick, tile, molding, marble, cowhides, furs, cotton, silk, wool—it's all texture. These elements combined make a room feel special and alive. Small or large (room), the rule doesn't change."
Take Your Time Choosing Your Favorite Shade
Picking the best white paint is a veritable minefield. If you're unsure which one will work best for your space, Ford weighed in with some of her favorites:
Pay attention to the subtle differences in shade. They can make a huge difference when you apply the paint to your wall.
"You can get this one right off the shelf from Home Depot. My friends will write me constantly to ask which paint to use, and that's my forever suggestion. It's the perfect white, no tint, and it works well in high gloss and/or flat. I love it. And you don't have to think about it or mix it; it's sitting there waiting for you. I've done two of my houses top to bottom in this white."
"This is a new favorite. I am using this on my cabin project in Echo Park, L.A.—it's a warmer, natural-feeling white. It has a kind of ceramic feel to the color. I love how the wood looks soaking through this shade."
"It's a lovely, happy, and clean white with just a touch of warmth to it—a nice option for 'pretty' homes."
"We used this in a farmhouse project in Pittsburgh, and the white was perfect for the space. It felt fresh and clean but slightly more vintage. It worked incredibly well with the woods and bricks that we had throughout the house too."
Don't Be Precious
While we don't like telling anyone what to do in their space (you're the one who's going to live in it after all), there is one thing Ford would never do in a white space, and that's "be precious." "White is actually a very livable color. It's easily repainted, washed, or bleached, and it is not as precious as people think it is," says Ford. "I never understood the concept of not using white because 'it gets dirty.' If you love it, use it! And let it wear and live a little. White brick gets better over time as it starts to fade off, and white wood floors get better over time as the paint wears off. Even white fabrics [age well]. Once you get past that first oh so painful spill or mark on it, you realize it’s going to be lived in and it's meant to be enjoyed. I am not much for rules."
White Makes Everything Else Look Better
Ford goes as far as calling all-white her "secret weapon." "White has more power and more importance than you realize," she notes. "White is like this special secret service man doing his job without you even realizing it. Painting a space white makes you notice the texture, the brick, the wood, the room. It makes you notice the light coming in through the windows, the art, the furniture, and the people in the space. It's pretty magical, actually."
Add Warmth With Natural Pieces
If you want your white space to feel more comfy than cold, Ford recommends introducing natural décor items and furniture to welcome in warmth. "Anything natural and from the earth—wood, stones, marble, plants—will bring warmth into any space, no matter what color it is," she said. "I use them throughout all of my projects. It’s the camp counselor in me. No matter how glam the space, you will always find an element of the outside that I've brought in."
Ford's other go-to is vintage. "Lived in, weathered, just plain old," she said. "These are the things that bring life, character, and warmth in. You always need something from the past to ground the space. Also, cowhides, sheepskins, textiles, and blankets are great to layer in."
Mismatch Your Whites
This sounds like a major no-no, but layering light, tonal hues will diversify the overall look of the room and add dimension. It's one of Ford's favorite things to do. "There's nothing more beautiful than layer upon layer of mismatched whites and creams living together," she said. "I even mismatch my bedding, different shades and fabrics living together feel so luxurious." The best part about this process is there are no rules. Just play. "Whatever it is that's beautiful, special or interesting (and makes me smile) is welcome," she mused. "I think if I had to come up with a rule for layering whites it would be, the more the better. Don't be shy."
Don't Be Afraid of Color
If you just can't resist throwing a splash of color in there, then go for it. Playing with all white in a room can be tricky to get the balance right, so don't be afraid to experiment with other tones. "Personally, I'm not drawn to color, and maybe that’s a phase (though it’s been a while), but I wear black and white, cream, and naturals in my everyday wardrobe, and I decorate in the same color story," Ford said. "Where color comes in for me is in the woods and the natural elements, all those never ending shades, but I'm not afraid of color. It's fun for me when a client wants to play with color. It actually gives me an excuse to experiment and come up with creative solutions. I love clashing shades together, but I always keep white handy somewhere somehow in the space."
Let Your Art Do the Talking
When you need to mix it up, artwork is the perfect complement to a monochromatic space. "That’s the best part," said Ford. "Any and all art will work in a white room. Think of a gallery. The white on the walls lets the art do the talking. Any style, any size, any color, it looks right. So my tip would be, support the arts. Paint your walls white, and buy more original pieces." If you need advice on how to hang it, this is how the cool kids display art.
Add Visual Interest With Sentimental Objects
Finally, in order to break up the monotony of a white interior, Ford says it's important to sprinkle in sentimental objects and personal mementos. If you're not sure how or where, she also has the perfect tip for that. "I think that visual interest comes naturally when you let yourself relax about the concept of white," she explained. "Your books, your vacation finds, your shoes—all of these things in a home will help it come to life and make it feel good. When done right, white simplifies the space but doesn't dull it. With white, it's all about the lines, the shapes, and the lighting (always on a dimmer, please)."
This post was originally published on March 29, 2017, and has since been updated.