Living with the colour white

by on May 19, 2010
Eames RAR (rocking armchair rod base), £365, Vitra at Occa Home

Reflecting light, stretching space, and revealing architectural form, a judicious application of white can quietly make a room express its full potential.

Applied to the walls or floor, white provides a silent surface on which anything goes.

White is as much a friend to poky rooms and dark corners as to grand, sun-filled studios. And you don’t have to be an obsessive minimalist to enjoy it. Used in the right way, white will make space for the red wine drinker and the sticky fingered kid.

Living with White and Kids

While all vinyl matt paints are wipeable to an extent, Dulux Endurance is extra hardwearing and washable without loss of colour. Developed to deal with kids horsing around at home, Dulux also recommend the Endurance range ‘if you fancy yourself as a bit of party animal’.

With their arsenal of crayons, if you’ve got young children and you want to go in for white furnishings, it’s wise to choose sofas and armchairs with removable covers. The Sorrento range at John Lewis has removable and machine-washable covers, in a classic Jacquard stripe. At Ikea, the majority of fabric sofas and armchairs have removable, washable, and replaceable covers (just don’t take the kids with you). Bemz also create bespoke covers to fit Ikea’s most popular sofas and chairs.

White can be great for kids’ bedrooms, particularly if space is an issue. With white walls and furniture as a base, introduce colour through accessories. The Little White Company offers simple, good quality white furniture. For the design-conscious child, the iconic (and wipe-clean) Panton chair comes in a diminutive ‘junior’ size, while for toddlers the Eames Elephant makes a cheerful companion. And if you’re getting up for night feeds, an Eames rocker might just make it more bearable.

Jonathan Adler Ceramic Turtle Box, £130, Heal’s

Making White Work

From walls and floors, to furnishing and accessories, the key to making white work is in your choice of materials. Whether you want to create an all-white house or use white sparingly as an accent, engaging the senses with variations in texture, natural materials, mirrors and lighting, will prevent white from becoming alienating and clinical. Sculptural plants cast dramatic shadows against white walls, for example, while mirrors enhance the capacity of white to highlight structural detailing.

Paintwork: For walls and ceilings, choose paint with a chalky, soft matt texture to avoid a glaring finish. The Little Greene Paint Company’s Acrylic Matt Emulsion is particularly good, while their ULTIMATT® formula is also washable. For wood and metalwork a high gloss finish makes a striking contrast, but if you want something softer, go for a lower sheen with silk or eggshell. Little Greene’s Acrylic Eggshell gives a subtle sheen to complement matt walls.

Flooring: White walls look fantastic against the rich tones of a real wood floor. The Natural Wood Floor Company has a beautiful selection, but if you want a white floor and you’re lucky enough to have floorboards in good condition, try Ecos Organic's hardwearing floor paint. Floor tiles are also a great way to achieve a white finish using natural materials. The Limestone Gallery will cut and finish their extensive range to your specifications. A rug in bleached cowhide or with variation in pile depth will add another layer of texture to the room.

Soft Furnishings: The White Company has layering pretty much sewn up, with a sumptuous range of cushions and throws in cashmere and chunky knits, hand-quilted cotton and silk, each with individual textural details. White leather can look stunning, but to avoid the Miami effect, go for a design classic like Robin Day’s Forum sofa. Reissued by Habitat, the wooden side panels in ash or walnut soften the bright white Italian leather.

Accessories: Anything geometric or highly textured will take advantage of the striking contrasts of light and shade achieved in white. JDS Architects’ crushed bowls are particularly impressive, while the quirky and tactile pottery animals in Jonathan Adler’s Menagerie add a sense of frivolity to a highly styled white home. A faceted Asteroid table lamp by Koray Ozgen will refract light across white walls, and the corrugated shades on George Nelson’s wall sconces, reissued by Modernica, invite interesting shadows.

vases and bowl
Crushed Bowl by JDS Architects, bone china, from £36

The Off-Whites

If you don’t want to go all in for brilliant white, the off-white palette is softer and more forgiving, particularly in period homes. Fired Earth and Farrow and Ball offer excellent choice in off-whites and subtle shades. Particularly lovely are Bone White at Fired Earth and Pale Powder at Farrow and Ball. For wood and metalwork go for a brilliant white gloss to create a contrast or for a complementary look, go two shades lighter or two shades darker than the walls. A brilliant white ceiling will make the room feel larger. Choose accessories and soft furnishings in varying tones in the off-white palette for a calm and relaxing space. The Rug Company has a particularly good collection of cushions, wallhangings and pale carpets.

Living with white can be liberating, stylish and practical. Have a go, and if the worst happens, it’s the easiest colour to paint over.

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About Catherine Gregg

Catherine Gregg Catherine is a Features Writer and intern at She graduated with an MA in Design History from the Royal College of Art in 2009 and has a market stall in London selling 20th century pieces for the home.