We imagine that an all-white room is to an interior designer what a blank canvas is to a painter. The potential of a bleached-out backdrop is exciting, but the expectations are incredibly daunting. Before you begin decorating, you probably have so many questions: What colors pair well with a milky-hued home? How do you create visual interest and break up the monotony? Which furniture styles suit the ivory aesthetic?
To help answer our queries on creating a stylish yet serene white interior, we quizzed Will Taylor, interior designer and author of Dream Décor. He truly believes "beige is boring" and has inspired a legion of aspiring decorators with his accessible approach to color. So we put his knack for pairing intriguing hues with interesting textures to the test—and included some of our own personal tricks and tips as well.
Meet the Expert
Will Taylor is an interior designer, the author of Dream Décor, and the blogger behind the popular style site Bright Bazaar.
Read on to discover a few simple dos and don'ts for creating a dynamic white interior you'll love.
Choose Your White Carefully
You might think choosing white for your interior is the easy way out, but finding the right shade is never a simple process. Some whites have warm undertones, while others have a cool finish, and then you need to consider the architecture of your home.
"Yellow undertones give white paint a warmer and creamier appearance, while blue undertones give a crisper look." Taylor says.
Create a Color Palette
Once you land on the perfect white hue, it's time to introduce color into the space. When it comes to pairings, Taylor says there are three palettes you can choose from:
- Complementary palette: Pair any two colors opposite each other on the color wheel (for example, blue and orange).
- Split complementary palettes: Take one color, and match it with the two colors adjacent to its complementary color on the color wheel.
- Tonal color palette: Decorate a space using tones from the same color family (i.e., all gray or all blue).
Set a Theme
When faced with a white backdrop, most will adopt the "anything goes" approach, but that's when things get messy and chaotic. Regardless of the paint scheme, there should always be a theme and a carefully planned approach to any interior. The good news is, there are plenty of styles and themes to work with.
Add a Rug
Taylor says a rug can really help to anchor all the elements of a white room and bring some much-needed cohesion—just make sure to choose one that's the right size so it doesn't look out of place.
"In a living room, you will want to make sure the rug is large enough to stretch underneath all the core furniture pieces, including the sofa, armchair, and coffee table," he says. A rug is a great way to tie your design together. "Let it tell the color and textural story of the room so that the other pieces gently reference back to it."
Incorporate Pops of Color
The danger of styling a white room is the tendency to stay in line with the neutral color palette. While we've never seen a white room we didn't like, a bright pop goes a long way in any space, adding much-needed depth and variation. Taylor believes in the 60-30-10 rule for striking the perfect balance.
"Sixty percent of your room is made up of the primary color palette—think the largest surface areas, such as floors, walls, ceilings, etc.," he says. "Then 30 percent is the secondary palette, so this is for the furniture and soft furnishing elements of the space. Then 10 percent is your accent color or the pop of color."
Decorate With Greenery
When you need a break from the world, your home should be your sanctuary, and one sure way to create that is through greenery. Indoor plants can provide a great boost for your physical health and state of mind, and they also make for a great color accent to break up any white space. For that stylish, on-trend botanical feel, Taylor says there are two routes you can go down.
"You can choose varieties with palm fronds, banana plants, and succulents, or go for a country feel with potted herbs on the kitchen window," he says.
We realize art is very personal, but there are still a few considerations when choosing works for a white space. If you have a busy room, Taylor suggests a "lone piece of oversized artwork."
However, in rooms that are either lacking in interesting architectural features or have an overpowering feature (such as dark red brick), a gallery wall can work wonders to create a focal point or temper an existing one.
Take Into Account Your Lighting
In addition to selecting the right shade of white, you should also consider the lighting in your home. This is crucial to keep in mind because the shade you fell in love with at the home improvement store may look quite different in your house.
"A space with lots of natural light is likely to look warmer, so you can use a cooler shade of white to balance the room. Rooms that are artificially lit with LED or fluorescent lighting can look cool, so go warmer." Taylor says.
Try a Classic Black and White Color Scheme
While we are all for an all-white color palette concept, we can't argue that pairing black and white together is a classic move. It creates a sophisticated atmosphere that is clean, sleek, and a little dramatic in the best way. You can try white walls and accent with black dećor and furniture or even paint certain architectural structures black to allow them to stand out.
Try White With Wood Accents
The versatility of white is one of the many reasons we love decorating with it. Pairing white with natural accents, especially wood, is a great way to create a minimalist or rustic atmosphere. Using wood in your furniture, or even as an accent wall, are effective ways to make this pair work well for you.
You don't have to stick with plain, matte finishes in your white interior dećor. Incorporate marble into your design to add a level of elegance to your home. This works especially well in your kitchen or bathroom, but the possibilities are endless.
One of the keys to making white dećor work for you is by experimenting with different textures. Rather than sticking with bare white walls alone, try layering different types of cream linens and working with both glossy and matte finishes. There are plenty of combinations you can try that allow you to have a mostly white room that also has depth and complexity to it.
Combine White With an Open Layout
While white can be used to create the illusion of a larger space, it doubles its impact when it's used with an open layout concept. With open space, more natural light can reflect and give the appearance of much more room than is actually there. Leaning towards warmer tones is your best option here—it can give the space a cozier, welcoming vibe as opposed to a clinical one.
Try a Rustic Theme
For those who are a fan of the rustic trend, white is an ideal color to work with.
"For a more inviting and cozy feel, layer warm woods with weathered, whitewashed finishes and linen-covered sofas and armchairs." Taylor suggests, "A more country rustic vibe will evolve and pair beautifully with the white palette."
Make it Modern
If you gravitate towards modern styles, don't worry—white also works exceptionally well with a variety of styles. Start with white walls as a base, but accessorize them to work with your preferences.
Taylor agrees: "Choosing pieces designed with clean lines, hard corners, and colder materials like metal will give a modern, contemporary, and gallery-like feel among all the white," he says.
Embrace Your Minimalist Side
A neutral color scheme and minimalism go hand in hand. White walls and accents help create a clean slate and calming environment that works well with a minimal theme. Stick to the essentials and keep things simple—and use neutral tones like whites and tans to help create unity.
Another theme that you can easily incorporate white into is nautical. Use white shiplap on the walls or and accent with coastal accents. Your goal is to have the feeling of an open, relaxed atmosphere, and white is the perfect color to do just that.
Mirrors are another way for white to help give the appearance of a larger space. Whether you choose a floor-length style or hang one on the wall, mirrors and white are a dream team. They add a sophistication to any space and reflect light around a room to make things feel brighter and more energized.
Use White as the Backdrop
When decorating with white, consider using it as a backdrop—especially in rooms where you have a lot going on. White will work well with any theme or color, so using it only on the walls or floor can help create a backdrop that will allow any color or statement pieces to shine. Plus, it makes it easier to change things up once in a while if you want to try a new dećor theme.
Use White in Unexpected Places
Are you wanting to change things up? Instead of sticking solely to walls with your choice of white, try using it on your floors or certain walls instead. The color's versatility means there aren't any true limits on where and how you can incorporate it into your home.
Paint Your Brick
Giving your space a modern refresh can be easier than you think. If your home boasts brick walls that you want to change, try painting them white to give the room a current yet industrial touch. You can also opt to stain or whitewash them if you want to take a different approach, but the end goal will allow you to turn rustic, darker brick and lighten things up.
Add a White Backsplash
Another ideal place to use white is none other than your kitchen (or bathroom) backsplash. This is a perfect place to work white in, especially if you have dark upper and lower cabinets or cabinets with a natural finish, like wood. The tile or design can shine through and give a clean, streamlined appearance.
Create an Effect
If you prefer to stick with white walls, but don't want them to appear flat and bare, try creating a 3-D effect by layering thin strips of wood against them. Whether you choose to incorporate molding or layers of paneling, there are plenty of options to choose from that allow you to level up a basic wall without compromising the neutral serenity. The result creates a raised appearance that gives the wall depth without adding patterns or additional colors.
Pair White With Patterns
Pairing white with patterns, especially subtle ones, can give the best of both worlds if you love a classic white but want to add a little bit of flair. Choosing to do half of a wall in white (wainscoting comes to mind) and the upper half with patterned wallpaper can help white to stand out. It can also serve to ground the patterns you want to use and keep the room from feeling overwhelming,
Use White to Open Up Smaller Spaces
When dealing with a smaller space, white dećor and design can always lend a helping hand. For areas like nooks or small offices, painting them white helps open up those smaller spaces and bring them to life. You may also want to pair it up with other colors and use white as more of an accent, which can work well if you have certain flaws in the space that would only be highlighted by an all-white atmosphere. Discretion is key.
Paint The Ceilings White
In addition to the walls, give any room in your home an open feel by using white on your ceilings. Even if you're working with colorful walls, a white ceiling can still work its magic in giving the room a breath of fresh air. Drawing the eyes up is a common tactic used by designers to give the impression of a taller space, and it certainly does the trick.
Don't Neglect the Details
If you want to stick to an all-white color scheme, there are certain things to keep in mind. Ensure there are details that can bring dimension and intrigue to keep things from looking boring. In particular, details like ornate railings or arched windows can help make the space looking regal and sophisticated.
Showcase Your Gallery Wall
The term "gallery white" exists for a reason! This particular shade creates an ideal canvas to display a curated gallery wall. Especially if your chosen pieces are colorful and exuberant, a white wall will create the perfect base that allows your collection to shine—even without fancy frames.
Use White to Showcase Statement Pieces
We already know that this hue can be used as a backdrop for artistic reasons, but it can be used for much more than that. If you have a particular statement piece that you want to show off, consider using white in the areas surrounding it. Whether it's placing the item in front of a white wall or surrounding it with white furniture, this color does its best work when it's highlighting a specific area of your home.
Pair With Metallics
One of the easiest ways to turn a room into a modern or glamorous style is to pair white with metallics. White and gold can create a warm, decadent glow, whereas white and silver can set the tone for an industrial vibe. Especially in a bathroom or kitchen setting, these two make a dream team.
Don't Fear White Furniture
While it can be tempting to stick to only using white on structural areas, the color can be incorporated in other ways. White furniture like couches or even coffee tables can give a room a clean, fresh feel. While you may shy away from the idea of having white furniture, keeping them clean isn't as overwhelming as you might think.
Play With Pastels
Perhaps you like the idea of decorating with a mostly white color scheme, but you aren't entirely sold on it being the sole color in the room. Pastels are a perfect compromise that can give the space a little color without interrupting the serene and calm atmosphere that comes from a neutral color palette. Shades of pink, lavender, or even coral can continue the peaceful ambiance without being
Use Tile to Your Advantage
Using tile—particularly in your bathroom—is a great way to incorporate white without leaving the room flat and bare. Combining different styles (like the hexagon floor tile and the brick subway tile on the shower wall) adds some diversity without breaking from the color scheme. Plus, given how well it can work with various themes, you don't have to worry about switching it out if you change up your dećor,
Pair White With Brick
If you're going for a rustic theme, pairing white with brick is an ideal place to start. Exposed brick works well with a bright white color surrounding it, highlighting its stony texture. It's an ideal way to add texture and charm without distracting from the traditional simplicity of white dećor.
Install Wood Beams
If you have a white ceiling but want to create some depth, install dark wooden beams. Adding a few beams of wood to your ceiling gives your home some character, and brings life to a blank canvas in a way that's natural yet daring. The result is a balanced, symmetrical feeling that allows the dark wood to shine.
White is an ideal color to work with if you have statement furniture or fixtures that are already in a darker hue. Not only does white create contrasts that showcases dark hues well, but white helps open up the remainder of the space. It's a win-win.
Invest in Statement Lighting
If you're working with white, your best bet is to gravitate towards pieces that stand out. An often overlooked aspect is lighting—particularly statement lighting. Choosing something striking—whether in color or in style—is a perfect way to keep a room intriguing without sacrificing a love of white tones.
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