How to Decorate with White in Any Room
White is more than just a neutral, white décor adds light and brightens up any room in your house.
Here I am on this lovely morning sitting on my patio listening to the birds and seeing how well my plants are doing after the overhaul I did a couple of weeks ago. The beautiful clouds are in the sky, big fluffy, and white. Which got me thinking about color, decorating, and how to make any room look bigger and brighter by using white to decorate.
We can learn a lot about decorating by looking around at nature. Take my potted plants for instance. The bright colors stand out against the patio furniture, but what really makes them seem bright and summery are the pops of white flowers. The lighter colors add sparkle and brightness to the garden and when you decorate with white you add the same sparkle to your home.
I’ve been applying these lessons from nature to the way I decorate. Knowing how to decorate with white can be a little intimidating at first, but it’s worth the risk. It brightens and lightens every area; I find white décor showing up throughout my house as I work on my living room, dining area, master bedroom, and bath.
Here’s what I’ve learned about why white is a great option in your color palate. If you’re wondering how to decorate with white (or worried that it’s impractical) here are the reasons why you should reconsider using white in your décor.
You Can Compliment Any Color Palette with White Décor
If you decorate with a lot of neutrals, dark colors, or even bright patterns, white always comes to the rescue. White adds lightness and brightness. White makes a small room appear larger. It makes lower ceilings appear higher. When you decorate with crisp white, you fool the eye into believing windows are bigger.
My go-to shade for decorating ceiling and interior trim is almost always bright white, and for walls and Ballet White & Chantilly White by Benjamin Moore. Not only is white paint easy to find and match, but it works like magic to instantly expand, lighten, and brighten the room. But I don’t limit myself to decorating with just standard bright white. There have been plenty of times when an off-white or tinted white shade has worked better to blend with the surrounding décor, and one of those trusted shades of white is Ballet White by Benjamin Moore.
There are so many decorating options when it comes to the white color palate. You can decorate with white in any shade from a silvery, icy blue-white, to a warm ecru, hint of eggshell, or creamy yellow-white.
Back in my Arizona years, I used a lot of brown and earth tones in my décor and in the color schemes I worked with. When you have a room that features a brown sofa, brown dining table, chairs, and tan accessories, it tends to get a bit…heavy. Using a creamy white shade on the ceiling and trim instantly lifts the room and lightens up the entire space. A few throw pillows with a white pattern and some pretty porcelain pieces added an airy, fresh quality to the room as well. Instantly the “earth tone” look didn’t feel drab at all.
If you don’t have much natural light in a space, dark or large furniture and decorating pieces often feel overwhelming and even suffocating. If you decorate with white, you’ll see space instantly expanded. This is also why you see so much white and light-colored furniture at IKEA—because modular furniture is designed for small spaces and apartment living. A pop of white on a pillow, a chair, lamp, or picture frame instantly opens up, a studio apartment and makes a tiny room feel much larger.
How to Use White Accessories in Your Decorating Scheme
Ready to lighten up a room? I hear the worry that white is hard to keep clean or it seems so stark. When used in the right way, this couldn’t be further from the truth. After all, white is literally the color of light. It can be quite warming. It’s all about using the right texture.
On a similar note, personally I love using white linens—towels, sheets, and blankets because they’re so much easier to keep clean! I can wash with scalding hot water, bleach them and they always look bright and beautiful. I am sure I have said it before, but what is better than white crisp linens?! If you want to add color to a bedroom or bathroom, use colors and patterns as accessories to complement your white, easy-to-clean linens.
Are you afraid to decorate with white because it seems cold or blah? To warm up white and downplay the sterile, stark factor, look for white accessories with great texture and in varying shades. Off-white pillows and throws are a great addition. Paired with an ecru poof, flowy linen or cotton drapes, or a luxurious lambskin fur (or faux fur) as an added texture to add plenty of warmth and cozy texture. Now a days, a crisp white wall, paired with White Oak wood floors, accents in black on the trim or certain furniture pieces and then pops of organic and softer earthy tones just adds the right amount of interest. Light oranges with warm undertones (nothing bright), but instead muted colors drawn from the desert landscape.
Here is an example of that color skim I am talking about that seems to really resonate with homeowners who are after a modern but warm feeling.
Decorating with white accents in softer, creamer shades will still create contrast and add brightness, but balance the room at the same time. Because white décor draws in the eye, it’s typically best to keep it evenly distributed throughout the room.
How do you know if you’ve balanced your white décor evenly? Once you’ve pulled the room together, step back, survey the room, and assess. You may even want to take a photo of the room to give you better idea of the overall feel (sometimes photos give you a better perspective).
Does one side of the room or area feel heavier? It may be because you’ve featured more dark pieces (furniture or accessories) in that space. Balance the color scheme of the room out by moving the pieces around. Create a visual symmetry by adding a similar volume of white, bright accents to the other side of the room as well.
Remember there are no rules that say you can only decorate with one shade of white. It’s perfectly fine to layer a few different tones of white in your decorating. A general rule of thumb is to limit yourself to a maximum of three shades of white per room. If you incorporate too many different shades of white in your décor it will start to feel disjointed, less cohesive and intentional. Still, have fun with different textures and shades of white décor as you lighten up your space!
An Example of How Decorating with White Could Lighten a Livingroom
In this room we see a great example of how dark colors overwhelm a small room. With tan walls, and a brown sofa (and brown pillows), the room becomes quite dark. Even the artwork on the walls (also framed in brown) is dark. The drapes are the same color as the walls, which can make a room look bigger, but in this case simply adds to the drab scheme. The coffee table and lamp have yellow undertones, which are wrong for this area.
Brown, beige, and tan feel safe and easy to work with, which is why so many people are drawn to using them in their color scheme. Unfortunately, with a couch this big and dark, the light is sucked out of the room. Although brown feels warmer than black, it has nearly the same effect as decorating with a black couch and painting dark gray walls.
BUT there are some pieces of this room that are working, and it’s mainly due to the including of white décor! White and light are coming to the rescue!
Look at the windows and the window frames—this is a great example of how decorating with white makes accessories pop. There’s a small amount of white in patterned pillows on the couch as well. What if some more pillows were added in white or off-white? Imagine them in great textures like linen, fur, or chenille. The frames around the artwork could be lightened up with white as well in a similar shade to the mat board or a contrasting shade to add interest. If the artwork you decorate with is significant to you (and it should be), then don’t weigh it down with dark, heavy frames.
In this room, I would even go as far as painting the coffee table white. At the very least, I would paint the top white, or add a large white tray and accessories. A substantial sculptural piece and some light accessories would really brighten up the centerpiece.
Similarly, this room could be lightened with a few white side tables or round tables. A chunky, white throw would add great texture and lighten up the couch too.
On the wall to the right I would consider adding a large piece of artwork with a substantial amount of white, with a touch or pop of a bright color. This would catch the eye and balance the light from the windows, making the room feel expansive, open, and inviting.
Using a few touches of white, off-white, and additional light, this room could go from blah brown to an exciting, dynamic space. A great aspect of decorating with white and off white is that it plays well with all other color schemes. Gray, green, and blue are all enhanced by white.
An Example of Decorating a Living Room with White
Now, here’s another example from House Beautiful, of how to decorate with white for an expansive, airy feeling. As you can see in this white room there’s also a dark couch (this time in a deep shade of navy. The designer has used off-white throw pillows to prevent the couch from feeling too heavy or dark. Notice how the dark chair (also decorated with light and white pillows) is balanced on the other side of the room to keep the space feeling symmetrical.
The sterling silver drapes make the ceiling appear much higher than it likely is, especially since they’re hung above the windows (a designer trick to open up the space). The white walls with a tint of platinum feel anything but stark and the bright white ceiling and white frames on the windows really keep let the natural light in.
A chair and stool are balanced again, in shades of white across from each other. The clear glass coffee table in the center keeps the feeling of openness and doesn’t hide the off-white rug. A lamp with a white shade sits against the back of the couch, and light artwork in a thin gold frame keeps the room feeling light and bright.
In a small space, a dark couch and chair could quickly overtake the room, but thanks to the addition of plenty of white, the space still feels quite expansive. The amethyst accents really stand out and compliment the purple undertones of the couch and throw pillows. The room feels sophisticated, rich, and luxurious, without seeming fussy or uncomfortable.
Decorating with white is simple as long as you incorporate plenty of texture and tone. White compliments most color schemes and will help your room feel polished, bright, and grown-up. If you have a dark couch, or another large, dark piece, lighten up the room by decorating with white.
Ok Peeps, that is my 2 cents for today. Feel free to write in, send your pics and ask questions, always love to connect.
Go out and have fun while you decorate with white!