Decorating With White Decorating With White

Sarah Van Arsdale

When considering colors for home decor, there is not only a rainbow from which to choose - there's a whole palette of shades to consider, shades that hover between the colors of the rainbow, a panoply of tones and hues with which to play.

And yet, sometimes the most helpful - and even the most exciting - exercise is to go back to the basics of interior design, striping out all color in order to start with a clean slate; sometimes the most interesting and surprising thing you can do is to go back to good old white.

As many interior decorators know, white isn't just one shade; there's off-white, eggshell, ice white, snow white and bright white - and that's just for starters. Just look at this all-white room: the sheets on the bed are a slightly different shade than the walls, and the walls aren't exactly the same as the ceiling fan. The pattern on the spread stands out, and the light from the window will change the tones of white throughout the day.

This is the first caution in using white, whether it's choosing wall paint, a carpet, or fabric for a sofa: not all whites are the same, so you have to be just as careful in matching white to white or to another color as you would matching mauve, sky blue, or emerald.

The second caution is perhaps more obvious: white shows blemishes and scars more readily than any other color, so of course you want to hold off if you have young kids, a lot of pets, or visitors who like to put their muddy feet up on the sofa. But when the kids go off to college, redecorating the living the room in white can be a wonderfully liberating way of celebrating.

Or, look at the next photo on the left. Here, you can see how the white walls, ceiling, and sofas draw the eye to the multi-paned windows, the towering plant, and, most of all, to the collection of international artwork. A white background is most often the best way to show off any stunning work of art, whether it's a painting, a sculpture, or a piece of furniture you love. White will offer a clean background that will most enhance the viewing.

A completely monochromatic room of white, such as the one shown above on the right presents a cool airy feeling. Notice how the colors of the clothing on the person seem to "pop."

However, you don't have to ask white to take over the whole room. Sometimes just a bit of white here or there is all that's needed to add an energetic, elegant splash to a room design. Notice the white tulips pictured here; the silver vase further enhances the white, as it too is reflective, making the green stems stand out even more.

In small doses, white can help brighten up any dark corner of a room. Think of a spot where you'd like to add a window or a skylight, and before you call the contractor, first try hanging a photo done in white, and held in a white frame, on the wall. Under this, place a small white table with a white pitcher, and see if that doesn't change the whole mood of the interior.

Whether it's white tulips in a silver vase, a bunch of white glass grapes, a white cup and saucer, or a small white slipper chair, white can add a bit of uplift to any room.

Tip: White works so well because it reflects back a great deal of light, so other colors you use with it will really stand out. Try looking at the photo of the white bedroom again. Obviously, the interior design of this room makes it not as welcoming as it could be. This time imagine infusing the room with just one color: A terrific painting over the bed in blues and a blue striped duvet cover. Or a bedspread patterned in bright yellow and white, and the door painted bright yellow. You can see how starting with an all-white room can free an interior decorator to choose and play with color.

Reprinted with permission from the Sheffield School of Interior Design.

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