For a look that’s as refined as it is relaxing, consider the simple appeal of the all-white room.
Purity. Innocence. Cleanliness. Peace. Western culture has a long tradition of positive associations with the color white. The symbolic opposite of black, white signifies good, honesty, and new beginnings. From a chromatic standpoint, white is a mixture of all the frequencies of the light in the visible spectrum and it’s one of the most common colors in nature, which perhaps explains we find ourselves so at home in white interiors. “White has an almost automatic calming effect,” says interior designer Ramsin Khachi of the Oakville, Ontario-based Khachi Design Group. “It’s very easy to live with, and of course ultra-versatile from a design perspective.” But, he warns, decorating with white isn’t as simple as many people think. To avoid creating a space that feels cold and stark, like a hospital or a laboratory, you have to choose just the right whites, and then add layers of interest with texture and natural materials. Here’s how to do white right.
“You might think that white is white and that’s it, but there’s a virtually unlimited number of shades to choose from,” says interior designer Evelyn Eshun of Evelyn Eshun Design in Toronto. As you look at white paint or surfacing samples or fabric swatches, you’ll start to notice the undertones in the white—creamy whites have yellow undertones; chalky whites have gray undertones; peachy whites have pink undertones; and so on. Which type of white you choose depends on a number of factors, but a good place to start is with the effect you’re trying to create. “If you want a modern look, pick a cool, gray-based white; for a more traditional or romantic effect, go with a white that has warm, yellow undertones,” says interior designer Lisa Mende of Lisa Mende Design in Charlotte, NC. Some whites are so well balanced they’ll work in any setting. “Cambria’s Torquay looks crisp and fresh against warm whites and warm and classic in a cool, modern room,” says Eshun. But all-white doesn’t have to mean stark white. “Cambria’s Kirkstead can warm up cooler tones,” she says.
White rooms come to life when you attend to the details:
think layered texture, rich carving, and contrasting trim.
Keep in mind that the quality of light in your room can change the appearance of the white you choose. “For example, a north-facing room will look more blue, so to balance that you should choose a white with yellow or peachy undertones—otherwise the white can look dull or gray,” says Eshun. South-facing rooms will receive a more golden light, which can turn white yellow. If you don’t want that effect, pick a more neutral or cool-toned white. And consider the views from the windows. “I recently did a white room and kept wondering why the walls looked green instead of white,” says Mende. “Then I realized it was because the room had huge windows and all the green trees and grass outside were reflecting onto the walls. We ended up changing the paint color.”
“A plain white room can be very boring,” says Khachi. “To make it inviting, you need to add textural variety. Just remember, that everything stands out in a white space—just like in an art gal-lery—so you have to choose each element very carefully.” Start with the floor, says Mende, choosing a natural material like wood or stone. Dark finishes and materials will create a more formal high-contrast effect; medium or light finishes and materials will look more organic and relaxed. Next, pick a rug with rich texture, like a deep shag, or a nubby woven style. “For upholstery, go with soft, delicious fabrics like herringbone chenille or leather,” she says. “Choose a range of finishes, like eggshell on the walls and satin on the baseboards, or a glossy lac-quer on certain furniture pieces,” says Khachi. And don’t forget elements from nature, he advises: Plants, flowers, and driftwood add texture and liveliness to a white room. As you make your choices, remember that white shows dirt eas-ily, so fabrics and materials should be durable and easy to clean. This is especially important in hard-working spaces like kitchens and bathrooms. “I wouldn’t do a white kitchen or bath without using Cambria,” says Khachi. “Not only is it classic in design and low maintenance as a countertop, it’s really great as a shower sur-round, with minimal grout lines. Choose the right materials and white won’t mean more work—just clean good looks.
To determine the undertone of the shade you’re con-sidering, hold your sample or swatch against a piece of plain white printer paper. You’ll immediately be able to see whether it’s blue, green, gray, yellow, peach, pink, or brown in comparison to the paper. Before you buy paint for an entire room, brush two-foot-square test patches of several different whites on each wall, then watch how the color changes throughout the day. Need inspiration? Try one of designer Ramsin Khachi’s favorite whites from Benjamin Moore’s palette.
Pair with Summerhill™
White Opulence is a crisper white. It has a slight
pink undertone but it's still very clean.
Pair with Hampshire™
Pale Oak has even more pigment than Swiss Coffee.
It's almost a light gray. That tones a room down
so it's more comfortable and not quite as crisp.
Pair with New Quay™
Calm is a few shades cooler than Pale Oak,
and yet it still has a nice warmth to it.
Pair with Brighstone™
Swiss Coffee has a creamy gray undertone
with hints of both yellow and green.
It's a very soothing white.