The white fantastic: The enduring appeal of pale interiors
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Colour fads come and go, but the enduring appeal of white remains the same. Richard Burton found out why we can’t get enough of this crisp, clear colour…
Colour preferences change by the season. In fact, every year begins ritually with experts predicting the shades and colours that will decorate our walls and everything that sits within them.
But, differing opinions apart, they usually agree on one plain fact – you can’t go wrong with white.
And that doesn’t mean whitewash white – or even showhome white. Certainly, clean is preferable to clinical, and with the incredibly varied hues and textures now on the market, it’s easy to think less in terms of a blank canvas and more about those that embody a richly textured and welcoming open space.
It’s true to say those who spend their days pouring over pantones are even now predicting, for example, that the Scandinavian tones we know and love will give way to dark, moody interiors that create an intimate ambience.
House Beautiful magazine cited the likes of paintmaker Benjamin Moore’s warm oak-hued Salsa Dancing as the next big thing. And Elle Décor wrote enthusiastically about the dusky blue of rival Sherwin Williams’ Endless Sea or the Green Blue of Behr’s Jade Dragon.
But others, including – poetically - Red magazine predicted that whatever else we do, we will be favouring imperfect, organic whites to tie in with a “love of all things natural”.
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It’s a look that’s long been on the minds of everyone in the design industry, from those who make blinds or bed linen or hand-crafted furniture. Murray Clark, Director of The Shutter Store told me only last week that it was a “perennial favourite”, particularly as it enables them to offer what he described as “a clean, crisp finish” needed to bring “bolder colour in through utensils and kitchen products”.
Widening the straw poll further, Lucy Ackroyd, bed linen manager at the online store Christy, insists: “The crisp, white look has - and always will be - a classic staple piece for summer,” recognising that it’s one “which can be easily updated by adding colourful accessories”.
John Sims-Hilditch, co-founder of the furniture maker Neptune, felt it was important to choose the right shade of paint. “It’s all about personal preference. Before selecting, size up the furnishings you will have in the room. A neutral palette will work best with warmer undertones of pink. If there is a lot of colour, a cooler white with undertones of blue is better suited.”
Asked for her view, the interior designer Amelia Carter felt the key was to use different textures and focal points to add interest. “White works particularly well with the present trend for tribal sculptural pieces,” she said. “The artwork really pops. If you have white sofas and chairs in a white room, they play with the textures and create a focal piece, such as a wood coffee table or a functional art piece. White can also be used to make small spaces feel bigger.”
Locally, there’s a lot of inspiration around in terms of furniture. Raft, a company I normally associate with natural woods, has a wide selection of white hand-made sofas, chaises and corner units available via its Chequer Street store and there are a fair few neutrals among Habitat’s armchair range in London Colney.
At the affordable end, Bedknobs at The Quadrant are showcasing a couple of furniture ranges, including Harlock, a two-tone one blending ivory with American oaks.
But it’s not simply a case of, er, all black and white. Chrissie Rucker who a few years ago took an idea for a mail order brochure and built the empire that is The White Company with 28 stores, including a highly popular St Albans branch in Christopher Place, sees it more a case of recognising the strength of the neutral over the garish.
She recommends opting for warm whites rather than cold, bluey-white tones, citing the likes of ivory, alabaster and chalk.
“I like a home to feel natural, warm and peaceful. The walls throughout my house are painted either a warm white or very pale grey,” she said.
“A bonus of a predominantly white scheme is that it tricks the eye by expanding space visually, so it can effectively make a small space seem bigger. And, of course, it is the perfect plain backdrop for your home accessories and statement furniture.
“The real beauty of white is that whoever we are, whatever our style, wherever we are from, there’s a place in everyone’s life for white.”
How true. Only this week, much to my envy, one friend described her surprise arriving in Dubai to review the newly opened Jumeirah Al Naseem hotel, only to find the latest jewel in the world’s bling capital not another monument to glitz but “a haven of cool in white chalks and natural stone”.
How Chrissie gets white right
Chrissie and her team are always being asked for her top tips so these five come fresh from the white-board:
- For walls and surfaces opt for soft whites - those with a hint of warm colour rather than those with a hue of blue or harsh “snowy” white.
- For a smart wraparound look whitewash your floorboards or opt for limed oak which works well in both a modern and a traditional setting.
- Remember the light in a north-facing room will look quite different to a south-facing one.
- Keep things simple but using just one or two complementary shades to add interest.
- Remember you can add colour with a lamp, picture, throw, cushion or flowers as accent.