Your Guide to Decorating without Color: All-White, Done Right!

An all white room sounds so easy.
It's all one color, so how could you go wrong...right? 

Creating a successful all white room requires a little more thought and effort than just painting the walls white and making sure all of the furniture and accessories are the same. You still need to give the room some life; to achieve elegance such as you see below, you will have "mixed it up a bit" with varying shades of white, textures, finishes, and accessories.

My husband always tells me I should never even wear white; inevitably I end up with paint or coffee on it - I'd like to play defense and say he exaggerates but shamefully, I must admit, its true - either that or I end up looking like confetti, covered with tiny shots of color and threads from all the fabric samples I lug around and projects I am working on that day.  So when it comes to my suggestion for white in our living room, you can imagine his response.  Still, I love all-white done right and admire those who are able to keep it looking just so...

So how about you? Can you handle it... can you maintain the pristine elegance and dare to decorate in the absence of color?  If yes and going all white is in the cards for you, here are a few tips to guide you in doing it right!

 Photo: Country Living 
Think beyond white as a simple color.  Within this one color there are a variety of shades and hues.  There are grayish whites, yellowed whites, blue whites, and beige whites.  There are cool whites and warm whites.  White has the same diversity that any other color has.  Think about the range from light pink to crimson red... white has that same range, albeit in a more subtle way. 

Use these different whites in everything from the walls to the bedding to the upholstery.  Imagine that the distinctions amongst the different whites is the same as the distinction between a yellow and a blue, for example, and use your whites accordingly.  Two different tones of white mix beautifully when combined in a tone on tone stripe or damask wallpaper.  Add interest to your walls by using these different whites in paint and wallpaper.

Texture is possibly the most important aspect in putting together an all white room!  The fabrics, linens, upholstery, and window treatments in an all white room must be different enough that it does not look as if you have draped the entire room in a white sheet. 

Texture is the key to achieving a different look in every piece.  A knubby knit throw on the sofa, voile sheers on the windows, a rugged leather on an ottoman... each piece represents a different textural element in the room that will distinguish all of the whites from each other. 

A white matelasse or textured coverlet is the perfect foil to a sea of embroidered and ruffled accent pillows.  

    A textural linen blend upholstery on a sofa contrasts beautifully with smooth silk accent pillows. Use the different characteristics of fabrics and materials to create a landscape of textures.

    The finishes you choose to use in the furnishings and accessories in an all white room will also bring an element of interest and diversity to the sea of white.  A glass lamp base, a lucite chair, a metallic coffee table... these clear and silver or gold elements add a touch of glamor and contemporary style. 

    Add a romantic, cottage look with whitewashed wood and crystal accessories.  White porcelain sculptures of quirky animals (think Jonathan Adler) or handmade white pottery adds a youthful touch.  Incorporate finishes and moldings into your woodwork.  Bead board, wide plank flooring, and driftwood all look beachy and natural when done in white or whitewash. 

    Photo: Country Living via Apartment Therapy

    Use light woods to create an airy look and dark wood to tone down the starkness of a pure white, glossy, white lacquer on chairs or tables or a mirrored chest or nightstand to add elegance.   Remember, its all about creating depth and interest. Vary your shades, shapes and textures to add visual interest, personality, and style to your all-white, done right room.  
    I continue to dream that one day - perhaps upon retirement when I drink less coffee and am less likely to be covered with threads - that I too will be enjoying an all-white room of my own!

    Bringing Harmony Into Your Home

    “Is there anywhere in your home that brings you a sense of harmony and peace?”   I just asked a client this question.  It really caused him to stop and think.  The answer, after thoughtful consideration, was “no”.  There was not one single space in the home that provided a sense of comfort or contentment.  He could pick a favorite room, but even with that there were things that really bothered him.

    Think about it.  Your home is your haven, right? So when you go home at night, are you thrilled to be there or do you find yourself going through a mental laundry list of the things that annoy you or you want to change?

    Your happy life - the things that bring you joy and make you smile - should infuse the design and d├ęcor of your home; let it shine through everywhere you look.  Think I’ve been sucking on too many lollipops?  I haven’t... it's true, really.  Take a look at these expressionist environments.  They just scream of personality and joy, don't you agree?

    Photo: HGTV

    Your style and what makes you happy might not be so bold and colorful though.  Thinking about Ted, he likes clean lines, hates prints... no paisley or spheres or really much of any pattern at all.  He's an engineer, likes simplicity and the color blue.  A space like this would work well for his personality and taste:

    Beth, on the other hand, wants a space that feels, in her words, "complete".  She wants it to show her feminine side, without being too "girly".  Her favorite color is pink.  She wants a place she and her husband can retire to, after a long day of carpool, work, dinner-making and getting the kids ready and off to bed.  The color pink is her biggest concern... is there a way to satisfy her desire and taste without creating a space her husband defiantly objects to?  Mmmhh, I think something on this idea might do the trick, though I might suggest switching out the two white chairs to a shade of mocha and adding some darker pillows on the sofa:

    If I asked 100 random people if they had peace and harmony in their homes, how many do you thing would say yes?  For those who would respond, “no”, I can guarantee that some of the reasons for their discontent would include disorganization, walls that needed to be painted, furniture that they didn’t like, not enough space and/or rooms that just didn’t work because they had no idea how to put them together.

    If I went on to ask, “Why?” – which I have on many occasions in my day-to-day work,    “It just wasn’t in the budget”, "I have no sense of style" and “I just don’t have the time” - life’s number one reason for everything that is not working or never happened, by the way - would be (and have been) among some of the replies I would receive.

    They say the first step is the hardest, right?  You need to just make the decision that you are going to do what it takes to create your harmonious home. Figure out where you want to start and take the step.  You can make some changes now and have fun in the process too.  Here are some ideas to get you started:

    Project Homework
    Several years ago, I held an event at my home that I called “Project Homework”.  I sent out invitations with a list of what needed to be done.  In return, we had a full buffet (that was quite amazing I might add.... more like a feast)… and bottomless beverages.  We stripped wallpaper, spackled walls, moved furniture, built worktables for our basement and garage!  It was amazing.  It was overwhelming to think about doing it ourselves, but with added muscle, energy and comedic input from our friends we tackled and completed projects that would have taken my husband and I months to finish on our own.

    Hire a Decorator or Designer
    Yes, you knew that was coming didn’t you?  Seriously though, when your car needs to be fixed, do you do the repair on your own?  When you have plumbing issues don’t you call in the professionals?   A professional can save you time, lead you in new directions and help you in creating a manageable plan.  If you ever thought working with a designer was not for you because your family never did, your friends don’t or you have a perception that it can not be afforded, its time to shift that mindset.  Sure I could call upon my friends to help with our "handy-man" list and grunt work, but I certainly wasn't relying on them for the overall design of my home! (sorry, no offense intended.. love ya'll!)

    Do Some Homework
    You may still however decide that DIY is the route you want to take and/or you just don’t see yourself working with a decorator or designer at this time.  If that is the case, start collecting and planning on your own.  I have a series on this blog, Interior Inspirations on the Web, that I started in order to provide clients and readers with great sources of design ideas.  Check them out.  Start collecting images that you love.  If you do this for a period of time you will undoubtedly begin to see patterns emerging and the natural style you are drawn to will reveal itself.  With that you can begin to map out a plan, budget and time line. 

    Do it.  What are you waiting for?
    I kept thinking about that question, “Is there anywhere in your home that brings you a sense of harmony and peace?”, for several hours after my client meeting and wondered why we allow ourselves to live in spaces that not only DO NOT provide a sense of peace; worse, ..... they make us crazy!! It's time to fix that.  Don't go home feeling like Ted & Beth; think about what you want and choose to make it happen.

    Now, tell me, what changes will you make to bring harmony to your home?

    Shed-tastic! Your Great Escape is ...where?

    Do you ever find yourself wondering what if? What if you could purchase a perfectly fitting swimsuit online? What if your morning coffee could make itself? What if you could win mega-bucks ...ahh, I digress!  But here is a realistic dream and it seems a pretty simple one.  What if, like Virginia Woolf suggests, you really did have a room of your own? Away from everyone else in your house? 

    It doesn't necessarily need to be in or attached to the home though.... did you think of that?

    Yes, this is what I'm talkin' about... what about sneaking away to your shed? Yes, your shed. Take a look at what some folks have done to transform their once-purely-utilitarian space... who knew what a shed could be?  You'll be planning a shed remodel (or building anew) stat!

    Granted, the shed below was converted into a guest house for a San Francisco home, but even if you aren't planning for guests, can you see yourself worthy of such luxury? .... Yes, of course you can.

    BEFORE - Looking especially bleak in black & white

    AFTER - Um, yeah, I could be perfectly content as a guest here!

    Designed by Jeremy Levine Design, this green guest house conversion features an amazing bathroom.

    I love the thinking of these folks.  They re-designed their sheds for entertaining. A place to entertain, wine & dine; what do you think about having your own little pub?

    To the untrained eye, its a simple shed......
    but take a look inside... its a pub.. its a party!

    This next shed is just too cute -- definitely a getaway from life's chaos. Not sure what's with the rainboots, but if it does indeed rain, you'll adorably coordinate with your surroundings!

    Here is another great "shed" that also has an element of dollhouse fantasy, however a bit more bold.  In either space, it really does give the sense of a weekend at the cottage!  Embrace escape!

    This funky shed won International Shed of the Year in 2009. Oh yes, there's a competition for sheds. The shed people know their stuff. To be fair, this wasn't a conversion, but instead was built by an architect and his painter spouse (hence, the studio space). The exterior is a work of art in itself.

    I often joke with my husband when he is on my nerves - or I on his, I admit it -  that I need an apartment to sneak off to.  I don't know why the thought escaped me, all we need is a shed!

    So if, indeed, you could have a room shed of your own, how would you use the space? Office? Personal gym? Spa retreat? I'd love to hear how you would indulge!

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