The White Wall Controversy: How the All-White Aesthetic Has Affected Design

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Over the past 11.5 years of blogging about interiors, I’ve seen a few core controversies pop up over and over again. But few have been as incendiary — and representative of larger issues in design — as the lightning-rod issue of all-white walls and homes.

Whether you call it modern minimalism, a reaction to the pattern-heavy aughts, the Marie Kondo effect, the Kinfolk-ization of design or just a love of classic neutrals, it’s impossible to escape how popular all-white homes and walls seem to be right now. The reasons are rich and varied (we’ll get into those below), but the depth of the trend’s effect is astounding. At least 90% of the homes we see every month (we reach out to and get submissions from hundreds of people around the globe on a regular basis) have “that” look: white walls, a mix of vintage Kilim rugs, lots of house plants and a carefully curated selection of found/salvaged objects. Whether you love it or hate it, this aesthetic has defined the zeitgeist of the past 5-6 years of the online design world.

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Much has been said (both gleefully and angrily) about this look. Typically, I let those extreme reactions go in one ear and out the other because if I’ve learned anything, it’s that the Internet is great at producing intense reactions to nonessential things. But lately, I’ve seen a swell of well-thought-out and reasoned responses requesting a move away from this aesthetic and a desire for something different. So today I wanted to talk about this look, what I think it means (and why it gets fairly and unfairly blamed for some problems), and how we can both embrace and understand this style while also making plenty of room in our hearts — and our publications — for color, pattern, stylistic difference and abundance in addition to minimalism.

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Images above, top to bottom: One Eleven East Tour, Dawn and Ian’s CA Home, Audrey Bodisco’s SF Home

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Image above: Sarah’s kitchen

The Origin:

Let’s start at the beginning: all-white walls and homes are not a new thing. Throughout histories and across many continents this look has been celebrated and prized. As with most design trends, things are cyclical and memories are often short. You don’t need to look much further than the incredible Greek, Japanese, Moroccan, and Scandinavian interiors (among many others) of days past to know that while walls and a sense of clean minimalism (often offset by more colorful handmade textiles and artwork) have been popular and coveted long before the contemporary take on this trend that we know right now.

That said, I find this current interpretation to be inspired and in reaction to several different ideas (these are just a few):

  • A reaction to patterns of the past: In the early 2000s, pattern was everywhere. Quirky plaids and retro prints dominated the first ICFF shows I attended and brands like Flavor Paper made us fall in love with mylar wallpaper, flocked designs and as many over-the-top patterns that we could find. Was there anything wrong with all of that detail and highly decorative style? Absolutely not. But with most swings of the pendulum comes an equal and opposite swing in the other direction. For me, that swing led us to the current trend of minimal, simple interiors.
  • Budgets and finances are tight: With the economy suffering at home and abroad, most of us are tightening our belts and spending less on decoration and more on essentials. Having spoken with thousands of homeowners (and renters) over the years, I have heard from more and more people that embracing white walls and this simpler found/thrifted aesthetic can be more cost-effective and budget-friendly.
  • Risk aversion/idea overload: As design becomes a more everyday and pervasive idea, people have more control over their spaces, and have a wealth of ideas at hand. Just load the home page of Pinterest and you’ll see what I mean. With all those ideas, sometimes it’s easy to get lost in options and the simplest thing feels the safest and most realistic. Hence, white walls with an emphasis on furniture and art that can easily be moved and changed without a lot of work. Re-painting or investing in a bold wallpaper is a bigger undertaking, and I’ve found a lot of people want to find something safe and simple that won’t make them want to redecorate next year.
  • Craving an in-between space: Because we’re all so used to “perfect” interiors being shared online in every possible place now, we often expect all people to live the same way — as if we’re all preparing for a huge photo shoot at all times with our rooms “finished” down to the last detail. But most of us aren’t living like that. A lot of us are in transition, moving to a new city, embracing being somewhat nomadic or just not knowing what pieces around the house we want — or are ready — to invest in. Often times that stage comes with embracing what’s already there in our homes — which is typically white walls and bare floors. We might add to that and make the best of what we already bring with us, and for a lot of us (myself included), that’s more than enough. Sometimes this look is intentional, but sometimes it also just means you’re waiting to find your dream sofa or waiting to save up for the wallpaper you’ve been dreaming of.

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Image above: Renata and Henrique’s home

The Reactions and Interpretations:

No matter the origin story or original inspiration, some people just can’t stand (or get enough of) this particular minimal/all-white aesthetic. Much has been projected onto it and about it, and I thought it would be interesting to break them down here.

  • The negative reaction I hear the most often about these homes is, “These people/this home has no soul, no character and no personality.” For some, it may feel that way, but it’s very important to acknowledge and accept that not all people define “soul and character” in the same way. Is it everyone’s cup of tea? Nope. But an all-white room does not inherently equal less personality and character. Just in the same way having a “maximimalist” home with lots of color and accessories doesn’t automatically equal a fascinating personality or style. They’re just different choices and the people (and stories) behind them are what usually reveal a space’s real personality and intention.
  • The positive reaction I hear the most often about these homes is, “This looks so clean and fresh!” I always feel slightly offended by this idea because in this statement I hear the assumption that white/minimal = clean, and colorful/carefully cluttered = dirty. That may not be the overt intention, but it’s often the feeling and meaning received. Cleanliness has nothing to do with color, period. A dark red room can be just as clean and neat as an all-white room. And an all-white room can be just as cluttered as an electric orange room. “Clean” has a lot of different meanings to a lot of different people and wall color rarely has anything to do with it.
  • The reaction I’m most intrigued by these days is the idea that this aesthetic is somehow inherently American or, more specifically, tied to white Americans. There is most definitely some truth to the idea that this aesthetic is associated with young white hipsters, as they’re the ones most often shown (in print, TV and film) living in and around this aesthetic. But they are, by no means, the only source of origin or the only people who enjoy this aesthetic. I’ve seen (and published) homes that have this look from as far away as Tokyo and with inhabitants that represent a wide range of races, religions and backgrounds. That said, it’s interesting that the mainstream media chooses to often show this aesthetic in the form of home tours, interviews and features that highlight white “hip”-looking people. But you could also say that the media favors stories about those people in general (which is a whole other problem and story on its own), so I’m not sure that this look is necessarily is to blame…

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Image above: Caroline Kim’s bedroom

My Conclusions:

I like my inspiration (design, food, friends, music) from as many diverse sources as possible. I often fall into ruts and moments where I play the same song over and over or find myself window-shopping the same style of pillow over and over again. But like a lot of us following design online, we know those moments and trends and obsessions wax and wane and get replaced by entirely new ideas and exciting moments every week, month and season.

So what does that mean for white rooms and the all-white trend? I think this look is one of the many styles in this particular zeitgeist that will be beloved and revered by some for years to come, but changed and moved past relatively soon for many.

If the Internet has taught us anything, it’s that people like to see the art and design community change, grow and react to new ideas and sources of inspiration. So while this look may be highly pervasive for those of us obsessively refreshing our Instagram and Pinterest feeds, this style is something that will continue to work its way down to the broader community at large and change and grow as it does. And for those constantly looking for the next new thing? Hang in there, it’s coming. Trade shows like ICFF are always a good indication of where things are moving, but a quick look around social media feeds and student design shows are a great reminder that color, pattern and new ideas are ALWAYS happening. It’s just a matter of broadening your sources of this inspiration and finding more ways to step outside the current trend bubble.

Here at DS, we’re well aware of the desire to see MORE of MORE. More color, more pattern, more diversity of home styles, budgets and locations, and we’re working double-time to bring that to you. We’ve never had more people working on home tours alone and we’ve never spent as much time scrolling through social media platforms, recommendation lists and exhibition lists looking for exciting people and interiors in unexpected places. Our goal is to provide a wide range of styles and aesthetics, without judgement, that can inspire as many of you reading as possible. For those who love the all-white look — fear not. This look is firmly entrenched in a large portion of the design community and we’ll continue to share homes in this vein for as long as they inspire us and introduce new or clever ideas for everyday living.

But we’ll also continue to work hard to bring you homes that are colorful, cluttered (with purpose) and embrace a slightly more “maximalist” look. We know all of these looks are important and life (and interiors) are never just white and black. So much of what we do is about exploring the grey area in between (often literally), and we promise to always work to bring you a wide range of interiors that represent all facets of the design community and all the different forms — colorful and not — that it may take. xo, grace

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Image above: Colina’s home

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Image above: Bennett and Ariele’s home

  1. ashlee says:

    Please make a Best white paint color list !!! Would be very helpful to hear all the feed back.

    Thanks

  2. ashlee says:

    Please make a Best white paint color list !!! Would be very helpful to hear all the feed back. Updated, the last list i see is from 2014

    Thanks

  3. Becca says:

    I know I’m a bit late to this party, but I just wanted to mention the interesting book Chromophobia by David Batchelor. It investigates how/why white came to equal purity in Western culture historically. His thesis is that ‘colorfulness’ has traditionally been seen as inferior, assigned to the other, the “‘foreign body’ – the oriental, the feminine, the infantile, the vulgar, or the pathological – or by relegating it to the realm of the superficial, the supplementary, the inessential, or the cosmetic.” Ties in to all sorts of theory on racism, sexism, colonialism, museum studies etc. — not necessarily relevant to contemporary design trends but potentially of interest to anyone really intrigued by this conversation!!!

  4. Barrie-Lee says:

    Thank you for reporting the pulse of American pop design today: To Whitewash, or Not To Whitewash, ’tis the question. By picking up on, and exposing some of our thoughts and fears behind our collective unconscious aesthetic and color choices, your essay reviews and reveals what we who are out here in interior landscape land are indeed worrying over and wondering about: Am I to make a mistake? If I paint my entire wee home white, may I just as well “paint it black” as the Rolling Stones say? Am I avoiding and and banish color, save for a few splashy pillows? We who love to watch the handwringers stand up and take hold of a paint brush with the same impunity as Penelope Cruz in “Vicki Christina in Barcelona”, implore you to Please do continue encouraging us to take design and choice risks. Thanks so much!

    1. Angelina Eileen says:

      What I find interesting is the number of White Shades and how they might make a home look quite different. With the number of folks moving often and perhaps renting rather than owning, that might also account for the all-white trend. I’ve read that young people especially move very often — if you paint a rental a striking shade of blue, you just might not get your security deposit back. And I am heartened to read of “Prairie White” with shades of green undertones as even if I paint my next apartment that color I don’t believe my future landlord will put up much of a fuss (and I am about to relocate to Fort Collins from Manhattan). So personally, I’m glad to see all these decorating ideas around a white canvas.

      1. Maria says:

        Late to reading this; similar reaction. If home ownership is down and renting is up, it makes sense. Wallpapering a rental or painting the walls different colors, often isn’t worth the hassle or loss of deposit.

  5. Shasha says:

    have you read the interesting article on color, chromophobia and colonialism? you mentioned your interest in the relationship between the white aesthethic and white Americans…thought this piece might interest you.

    http://www.apartmenttherapy.com/color-chromophobia-and-colonialism-some-historical-thoughts-185710

  6. Luci says:

    After giving up my old Victorian house full of Oak and colorful walls, I have found myself in white apartment after white apartment. I have grown to love neutral walls, I find them best for showing off my art collection, however, I have always found white to be a cold color and since I now live in a cold climate, I prefer the slightly pinkish cream or barely beige. A stark white I find to be better in say a desert climate or at least where it is very hot. White cools you off. I do get tired of the sameness of approach to design elements which are included in the white house or apartment. But white or not-white, minimal or cluttered one can always tell when an interior is a personal statement rather than an interior decorator’s statement. In homes I prefer the personal.

  7. Scott says:

    I definitely find myself drawn to this aesthetic. That said I also love color, but I am in no position to buy a home and rental apartments invariably come with white walls. So I take inspiration from ways to bring color, texture and pattern into a room when I’m unable to easily change the wall color. I’m not saying that is the reason for the trend overall, but it may have something to do with it?

  8. David says:

    I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been hammered by friends and family for having plain white walls throughout the house but I’m glad to see people here appreciate the clean and fresh look and feel this colour can bring on its own. I think my family are slowly warming to it as they can see how it also serves to make small spaces feel larger. You can also throw any colour sofa etc against it, and it’ll look fab!

  9. David says:

    I thought it resulted from all white rooms looking better in print and on computer screens. Outside the digital world there is no “auto white balance”so it never looks as good in reality. Everyone bought the trend before they figured that out. The medium is the message.

    1. lc says:

      Yes! Grace, you touched on this point in the article. Most people get their interiors images and inspiration online and in magazines. White rooms are fashionable now, but that has lot to do with the fact that they look good online and in print. A white space where the furnishings and objects pop more will ‘read’ more easily in these mediums. Color is more variable, especially on a screen, also, colors have more personal associations.

      I’ve always loved the simple, light-filled quality of white spaces with old wood furniture and have collected hundreds of interiors images, and 95% of those have that combo. After buying my very humble circa 1872 house I assumed that the interior would be mostly white. But in the slow process of renovating room-by-room, thinking carefully about what would work for the space, the light, and the use, not once has white seemed to be the ‘right’ color for any given space. There are a few white ceilings, but not one room has white walls.

  10. Nyree says:

    One thing that you have overlooked is that is it so much easier to pain in white. Yes, a decorater can get clean lines up to the ceiling or woodwork but an amateur with a limited amount of time is going to make a bit of a mess. White means you can paint up to and over that white woodwork and often straight from walls to ceiling without getting out the dreaded masking tape.

    Speed is the benefit of using white for the amateur, and lets face it we are all busy and time-streached. I believe that is the real reason white walls will always have a place.

  11. Allegra says:

    OMG this article is Ah-Mazinggggg. Essential reading! Loved it both for its refusal to pick a side and for someone finally putting it all into perspective. I’m a color person, through and through—and a MAXIMALIST. I think the white-walled blown-out trend is just that: Looks clean and status-quo, but pretty cookie-cutter uninventive. I’m rolling out the red carpet for DS’s to feature more maximalist style infusions! YASSS, QUEENS!! 💗

  12. Jen says:

    This aesthetic is easy to emulate and difficult to fully resolve. So often it looks good and feels soul-less. I think many believe it is a cheap and easy way to appear stylish however often the space becomes an entirely unpleasant experience. It takes a sophisticated eye for detail to accomplish.

  13. Jane says:

    As a designer, I would have to say that the majority of my clients are very, very bad at picking colors. They may have wanted a yellow room… but had no real concept that some yellows will be gorgeous and others will just look ugly… so after a lot of paint and effort to paint, they settle on white.

    Also, I’m in NYC and there are so many dark apts… that scream for a bright, highly reflective white that won’t suck up what little light there is in the room.

    1. thelady says:

      Not a designer but as a new home owner this was my experience as well. I wanted to paint the two largest rooms (master bed and dining) in my home two different colors. After trying 15 different shades of blue-green and gray I found one blue-green paint color I liked and painted both rooms the same color. My initial mistake was choosing colors that I’d seen on decorating blogs but in person they looked way darker or bluer. Fortunately I used paint samples to figure out what worked. I completely gave up on finding a gray paint that worked in my space (the white trim and ceiling have a yellow undertone). When it was time to chose a second color (living room and hallway) I was much better at picking what would work in my space and found a lovely green.
      I love color and don’t want to living in an all white home but I understand the frustrations of those who give up and settle on white.

  14. Erik says:

    The rise of white interiors directly parallels scientific discoveries in hygiene and science, particularly advances made in the early 20th century which helped us understand “germs” and contagion. With a white space, like a laboratory, you could literally see that a space was clean and hygienic. Think of the white tiles bathrooms of the ’20s. Also, a shift away from coal burning made white interiors practical in ways they never could be before. New cleaning products, durable paints and construction methods that eliminated the need for trim and moulding enabled this minimalism – architect Richard Meier owes much to this. It simply wasn’t possible before. Gwendolyn Wright or Lewis Mumford are good historians to read on this subject. Mumford also discusses the use of white paint on the exterior of American domestic structures.

    The discussion about polychromy and primitivism is well debunked. Ornament & Crime by Loos is still a provocative essay.

  15. Claudia says:

    For me, it’s not the white walls – we have off-white walls here and I find they work for us because we use a lot of color everywhere else. It’s the macrame, weaving, kilim, mid-century modern overload I’m seeing now. I totally understand that it’s the current trend and I don’t dislike it. It’s just that it’s everywhere and one home blends into another and into another. For what it’s worth, I’d love to see more design showcased here that comes out of individual quirkiness – which is non-trendy, very much that person’s aesthetic – something that can’t be duplicated because it reflects that person’s life and history and no one else’s.

  16. Esther says:

    Well writen article about a subject that haunted me for a long time now. In Europe the white-wall-/house-phenomenon is actually almost only ascribed to the Scandinavian interior tradition of mixing different shades of white (yes, and greys…). These days it seems like an inevitability – open up any interior magazine, it “all looks the same” or “Scandy”…

  17. beyondbeige says:

    Well, I am 58 and have been living with white walls , killims and succulents for years. My floors are unfinished white wood that I never sealed ( because I’m lazy) and limestone. I put them in when I was 30. I have collected blue and white before it was a thing and what I call hot climate furniture which is all beat up and comfy. I do live in the fucking desert which might explain my obsession. It just feels better to my psyche after coming home from work with temperatures hovering at 115. I’ve thought about this some and maybe this aesthetic is a reaction to Global Warming? Hmm. I don’t want to think it’s a white privilege thing because ummm I’m not white. That said, no macrame please. And I hate mid century furniture and Whole Foods. I must have a problem with my parents. lol. Got to go to therapy stat.

  18. Tom says:

    Can’t believe that no one has mentioned that white (or light colored) walls make a room look bigger and darker walls make a room appear smaller. If you like a more spacious feel to your rooms, definitely go with white or a very light color. Lighter walls also help sell a home, if that is your goal. You can get away with painting a room a dark color if the room has a lot of doors or windows with white trim.

  19. Malaika says:

    This was a very satisfying read. I love the fact that you wrote a well thought out essay on a trend that I, as a home design enthusiast, have noticed and embraced over the past years. I don’t have much else to say about the actual topic. I just really, really loved the fact that this essay exists because I got to cozy up to my computer screen and read something long and engrossing about a design aesthetic. Also, I’ve recently noticed that DS has been making a particular effort to include people of color (or maybe it’s an effort to not automatically only include white people) as the subjects of its posts. I love it! Maybe it’s been happening the entire decade plus of DS’s existence and I’m only noticing it now. Either way. It’s a good thing.

    1. Ashley says:

      Amen, sista!

  20. Janelle says:

    The trouble with print and online photographs of homes is that they rarely capture the amount of colour that goes on outside of the home which, in person, is often visible through windows. Often light floors and white walls are only part of the equation – when ample windows frame trees, brightly coloured neighbouring buildings, green fields, meadows of flowers, mountains and lakes, a much more colourful and patterned overall appearance emerges and the feeling is less stark than just the white interior on its own.

  21. phelisia says:

    Great conversation here.To go white or not will remain a tough decision as one considers other factors.To compliment or to accessorize will play a big debate here.But at the end we will still have so many white walls.

  22. Janey says:

    I love white walls, but admit that I’ve noticed a sameness to the homes featured on this blog as a result of so many having white walls. Many of the spaces look cold to me, and I don’t think that’s the look they were going for. I’m wondering if it’s the photography that’s contributing to it? I think the key to white is finding the right one for your particular space. The light is a major factor. That said, I’ve seen so many houses in person, and can’t recall any of them having stark white walls.

  23. Nance says:

    Of course there is nothing new in our current and historic associations of the color white with purity, innocence, new beginnings (the blank canvas), spacial emptiness and cleanliness. And as we all know – “Cleanliness is next to Godliness”. So it might be more instructive to ask why white has become such a powerful collective choice at this particular time. I think color trends are a pretty good indicator of where we are as a collective, be it in a more localized or global culture.

    People may need white right now because it offers hope, a new beginning, a sense of connection with something which is whole and greater than ourselves. In volatile times it offers peace, simplicity, calm, clarity and unity. However all this white wash also, ironically, hints at an encroaching fear of the dark.

    I’ve experienced a sort of elitism with this reverence for white and minimalism, that seems to be associated with being spiritually superior, free of the bonds and attachments of the material world. Ahhh…Nothingness. Where for art thou? It is also wrapped up in the decluttering movement (also interpreted as minimalism). It says to the world one is free of the messiness and imperfections of the mundane. But this seems rooted in some deep insecurities and is perhaps more akin to therapy for some who have a particular fear or phobia connected to being swept up in chaos or overwhelmed by a complex and fast changing world that they can’t control. This can lead to a ‘white austerity’ which can become extreme in its puritanical quest for perfection which gets expressed as a cold sterility, isolationism and disassociation with the general messiness of life. So for some perhaps being surrounded by white helps to counteract or fend off a looming darkness and simplifies a complex, layered and noisy external and internal world.
    Perhaps we are struggling with accepting our own humanity while also coming ever closer to recognizing and acknowledging our own divinity. I’m so curious and excited to see where this colorful journey takes us. Spoiler alert – there seems to be a growing trend toward translucency….

    1. Kirsty says:

      Beautifully put!

  24. Kirsty says:

    Thanks for this- very interesting topic. Read for half an hour and essentially – everyone just loves white. I appreciate white, but so much white in design has a soporific effect. It is easy, and sometimes exciting design is not. Room for all, I’d say.

    I have to admit I find it tiresome when people extoll the virtue of “natural light & white” as if they were the first to mention it. Plenty of people have made magical things happen in small rooms with saturated color.

  25. AdrienneG says:

    My entire home is painted “Atrium White.” I love it….plus I can’t afford to hang crap all over the walls and the open floor plan and 21 foot ceilings would look odd with various colored walls visible from one vantage point. I truly love the look of somewhat barren walls. I have wood floors and wood ceilings….which really set the look off. My sister threatens to paint the walls every time she house sits. I guess it is a preference. Her home has several small rooms…all painted different colors. It is lovely, but I find it unsettling. Different strokes for different folks.

  26. Ellen says:

    One point that wasn’t touched on: A lot of artists don’t have studio space. Many use their homes as backdrops or sets for their work, especially designers or photographers (who are often featured on DS.) White is an excellent choice for people who use their home for projects because it doesn’t impart reflected color onto their paintings or subject matter. Have you ever tried to take photos near of a bright green wall? That green gets around. Sometimes that’s not a bad thing, but it’s nice to be able to set up for a shoot without having to account for any unwanted colors showing up in weird places or having to light-correct digitally.

    In my case, I’m a designer and casual photographer. I don’t want to have to set up backdrops and a light kit every time I want to capture something. Furthermore, I don’t have space in my house to designate a permanent photo area. I’d rather have white walls and floors that serve as instant backdrops.

    In fact, I bought my house with the intent to turn it into a living studio. When I purchased the 1000sf slab foundation house, everything inside it was brown. The shag carpet, the walls, the kitchen, the vinyl flooring… all medium to dark brown. Even the textured ceiling was slightly dingy from cigarette smoke. Most of the windows face directly into the vinyl siding of neighboring homes (only 5’ away on both sides) and let in very little light. It was utterly depressing and disgusting. So, in my quest to lighten and brighten the place (and make it seem less cramped) I ripped up the 3 different types of flooring and unified the space by painting ALL the floor white. I also painted a few rooms white, but the main areas are a warm light grey. Even people who aren’t on board with the idea of such a white-washed space have admitted to loving it. My parents, who initially thought I’d gone mad, have since changed their tune. My goal was to create a space bright enough to serve as a neutral backdrop for product photography and sustain my vast collection of plants. White walls, white floor, and copious mirrors made that possible.

  27. Melissa says:

    I switched to white becaus eI got tired of repaintinf my interior every 2-3 years, tired of buying/ selling furniture, looking for trendy accessories. Tired of consuming. I like the restfulness of the natural pallette and appreciate the textured and handmade. I like that it feels easy and uncluttered in my home, that it feels light and bright compared to the dark dinge of all the brown/ tan/ maroon/ hunter green I grew up with. I like that it’s simple and it’s done.

  28. Jo says:

    My mother studied interior design in the early 60’s. Her style was to mix antique decorative arts — primarily French, from Louis XVI through Empire — with a wide range of fine art. In our dining room, I remember a pair of 3ft tall Italian Renaissance boys holding candelabra, and a translucent neon pink op-art sculpture. She kept things balanced and uncluttered so each piece, whether furniture or fine art, had its say. She worked color with precision, e.g., bringing a burst of red into a room by placing a bright red lamp in one room so that it would be reflected in a mirror in another room

    With very few exceptions, she was adamant about white walls only, or more precisely blanc-casse, tinged imperceptibly with the appropriate undertone. That said, when I was a kid, she and I would ooh and ahh over David Hicks’s books, with his high-gloss eggplant or vibrant orange walls.

    I always thought that this white-only aesthetic was drummed into her at the NYSID, but she did hail from a Mediterranean country, where walls were whitewashed in a bright pure white.

    In any event, with that home training, I have a hard time conceiving of colored walls, or believing that I wouldn’t get sick of them soon enough.

  29. Nicole says:

    I’m with BeyondBeige up there. This aesthetic is in my blood, and I often joke about how happy I am that this stuff is “in” because it’s the exact look I grew up with and take the most comfort in. I also grew up in the desert, where everything is neutral, the intention is to keep things cool and light, and too much of anything –color, textiles, pattern, etc. seems massively out of place. Now I live in the dreary PNW and wood, white and plants has been a natural extension of the design philosophy I unknowingly absorbed as a kid. In my adulthood however, it also revolves around the simplicity, lack of a desire to consume and redecorate constantly, and the very simple truth about my personality in that I get bored VERY quickly of any color (hell, I can’t eat the same cereal two days in a row) and white/neutral backdrops mean I get to change things around as often as I want without committing to painting or changing everything out. There’s nothing better than a big clean white bed (clean meaning freshly laundered), straight out of the bath with freshly shaven legs, for me. I’ve held these ideas since I was a child and I imagine I’ll still like antique rugs, a mix of antique and mid century furniture, and crisp white walls for a while to come.

  30. Cat says:

    I’m just coming across this post (as I try to decide what color to repaint my living room) and one other thing comes to mind. It seems like part of the all white/minimal trend is a reaction to our culture of overwhelm. Between the competing daily priorities of work, kids, spouse, health, family, friends, home finances and upkeep, not to mention what often feels like a literal and constant assault of information from the half dozen media channels I consume daily, my brain sometimes feels like it’s short circuiting by the time I make it home at the end of the day. Because I feel so overstimulated much of the time when I’m outside of my home, I want my experience inside my home to be the opposite…. Hence minimal decor and neutral palettes. Curious to know if anyone else feels this way?

    1. LadyD says:

      Yes! White for me represents calm, a not-there quality that doesn’t make demands on my already-fried mind. The same reason I’m decluttering like mad: there’s already so much to focus on without my house being a visual smorgasbord.

      Which is why I completely overhauled my bedroom a few years ago, threw out everything to start back from scratch. It had become a space meant for rest, but with all the colour and clutter I couldn’t still my mind as I wanted. I replaced all the bedding with white fabrics, and removed all the furniture except the colonial bed and the built-in wardrobe. After that I slowly added back into it the things I found I couldn’t live without in my bedroom, all in restful white or light colours. Added in a few plants for colour and now I have a bedroom that actually helps me leave the day behind and recharge.

  31. Jill says:

    great article Grace! Two more reasons this is a huge trend:

    1) So many homes have open floor plans these days, where the kitchen spills into the dining spills into the living and up to the second floor balcony, and so on and so forth. When you have that much drywall, it can be hard to choose another color, even if it is soft or subtle. There’s a reason that bathrooms are still “interesting” because they are some of the only spaces left that are small and contained enough to experiment with.

    2) IT PHOTOGRAPHS WELL. If you think about it, it wasn’t really until about 10 years ago that “normal” people began to have their spaces in the media, in blogs and on instagram. A professional photographer can make us drool over a golden mustard dining room, or a chocolate library (that we would love to inhabit in-person) but those same spaces are very tricky for the average iphone user. Now, take a white room on a sunny day, and all of a sudden that same amateur photographer looks like a genius. As a designer who loves color, I sometimes find myself pulled towards white, because shooooot it would just photograph so easily.

  32. Melissa says:

    To each his own. There are some instances that I love a simple, clean white room as a retreat. It takes me away from the chaos where there are fingerprints and toys strewn about. Other times when I’m most creative is in a colorfully, inspiring space.
    I do need to know where to get the pillows on Caroline Kim’s bed! Those are priceless!

  33. Sharon says:

    How about the fact that all white walls are simple, beautiful and take so much of the design guess work out of the equation by not having to decide on a color? Although, there is still the dilemma of choosing just the right white.

  34. My view on this is very different. I wish I could do white but I just can’t. That is true for most. My Dad is a country Veterinarian. He runs his practice from our family farm, Sunset Hill. I spent my entire childhood traveling dirt roads on Farm calls with my Dad. I have a unique perspective on the all white/grey trend and the “Farmhouse Look” that is so desirable right now. I hate to be the bearer of bad news. Farmhouses don’t look like that. Nobody that lives in the country has white walls. Or grey. Most of the time their homes are filled with things that have been in their family forever and their paint color doesn’t change with the trends. They typically lean towards warmer colors. I moved to the suburbs kicking and screaming 10 years ago. Nobody in town has white walls, either. Grey is the new beige. Because they’re raising kids and fingerprints aren’t so obvious with those colors. I think Jill hit the nail on the head. I loved reading the comments and they were very insightful. This shows you how powerfully influential bloggers are. These trends are so popular because they do photograph well and give bloggers a neutral palette to work with. But it doesn’t transition very well to real, everyday life. It’s not even real for bloggers. They have stylists and professional photographers. I don’t hate white. The images are stunning!!! I can appreciate the simplicity and the beauty of it. What I think is interesting is that many of the trends right now: simplicity, thrift, sewing, hand-made have roots in rural life. The economy is bad now and it has caused a beautiful renaissance in the Home Arts. I love it! You want to know what the walls of our Farmhouse has been painted for 25 years? A pale, buttery yellow. I’ve painted mine the same. Kids love it! Sorry for the War and Peace sized comment! The essay was thoughtful and beautifully written. It was one of the rare times I’ve felt compelled to comment.

  35. Viv says:

    Thank you for a thoughtful essay. Color is indeed tricky to work with pulling together a room and not all of us have the time or knack. I agree – in northern climates you want a natural or warm white to capture the sunlight and not to reflect a depressing gray or beige. Warm white walls and couch show off my and my mother’s art work.

    However, why not have fun with color in bathrooms and kitchens? These are smaller wall spaces. It’s easy to paint walls in kitchens and bathrooms! Keep the appliances neutral. Colors are fun and should change to reflect the mood. (My question is how do people keep those white kitchen cabinets from clipping and staining over time? I do prefer nice wood for this reason.)

  36. Monique says:

    I became a fan of D*S some years ago, but have to say I’ve been disappointed at the sameness (read: white, white, white) interiors I routinely find here now. While I’m not advocating maximalist, I do crave variety in my design fix. Thanks for addressing.

    1. Grace Bonney says:

      Monique

      I hear you and I agree. We’ve actively changed the types of homes we feature and I hope that change becomes more apparent as we move forward.

      Grace

  37. Patricia says:

    All these sterile white-walled homes make me feel like I’ve wandered into a gallery – great if your intention is to showcase a few large art pieces, but I prefer home to have more going on than viewing objects. Color is emotional and adds to the experience of our most personal space. When you get color right, it so enhances the feeling of a space. And to ‘get color right’, I mean right for YOU. Don’t let fear of judgement from others cloud your decision.

  38. Kelsey Royer says:

    I’ve always thought that another reason the look might be currently popular is because it makes for great lighting for phone photos. Quick phone instas of with a nearly all white background take a lot less staging and editing!

  39. Katie says:

    In December 2013 I visited my grandmother for Christmas. Her house was always my favorite of any I had ever been in. Built in the 1950’s in the hills of West Los Angeles, it was a classic California rancher that oozed Mad Men coolness. She and my grandfather had a fondness for Scandinavian design long before Ikea’s popularity, when the style first arrived on the California scene thanks to Eames and other minimalist designers of the time. Her house never changed, the beautiful designer furniture transcending the trends of the day, be it the florals of the 80s, the Tuscan look of the 90s, or the blue-brown overload of the 2000s. It remained in its original state of white matte walls, textured fabrics, exquisite art, oversized greenery, wood detailing. Oh, and one giant stained glass asian screen. Perfection. There’s a reason this aesthetic has come back with full force: it is at once peaceful, impactful, and tasteful.

    When our house burned down four months after that Christmas – spring 2014 – I knew immediately that I wanted to style our new home after my grandmother’s. Perhaps it was because I was unknowingly on the cusp of the new trend – something we can usually sense without being fully aware – but I like to think it’s because taste always wins out.

  40. Teesa says:

    I have always struggled with a low mood and depression. I once lived in a duplex where the dividing wall completely cut off any southern light. After that, I knew white walls and southern light were good for me. Thankfully, I have that.

  41. Liz says:

    I think there is another huge reason this style is popular and prevalent at the moment– pure OVERLOAD! Life is so overloaded now with internet, cell phones, 500 tv channels, commercials, advertisements, population rising and overcrowding in cities. We just want some SPACE, some quiet, some respite from all the noise and commotion. It’s the longing for a break. Some visual, mental, emotional space.

  42. Brita says:

    As a renter who has had both white walls and colorful walls, it’s a lot easier for me to decorate my rental when the walls are white (or beige! I love a beautiful beige too). In the first rental my husband and I shared together, it was a house that couldn’t sell, not a house designed to rent. We had to decide how to decorate based on what matched the existing colors. While the pale, sunny yellow of the family room was easy to coordinate, the dark, ugly wallpaper in my office and in both bathrooms were almost impossible to decorate. We didn’t want to buy too much new stuff as newlyweds, so we just made do, which resulted in some attractive rooms and some ugly ones.

    Now we rent an all-white townhouse, and different rooms have different color schemes that more truly reflect our tastes. Staring intently at the carpet, walls, trim, and ceiling of my office, the ceiling and trim are a true white-white, while the walls are a soft, almost-beige white, similar to the carpet. All of which beautifully offsets my gold-painted IKEA metal & glass bookcase, my pink, white, blue, and green office supplies, my random assortment of plants and planters, and our wedding pictures.

    Just ignore the corner of stuff that doesn’t have a home yet, a year and a half after living here…

  43. Poppaea says:

    I’ve enjoyed reading this essay and comments, but I’m a little puzzled because a couple of different looks seem to be conflated here. I make a distinction between the “all-white”, minimalist, modernist look, where the walls, floor, ceiling, furniture, window coverings, and everything else are white, and usually there are relatively few accessories, and the “neutral background” look, which usually has white or off-white walls and wood floors combined with colorful textiles and furniture and plants and stuff.

    The room shown in the first photo is not, to me, an “all-white” room. Only the walls are white; the floor is brown wood, the trim is brown wood, and the fabrics are in shades of red and black with bold patterns. I would call that a “room with neutral background and colorful accessories.”

    The truly all-white rooms, the ones I associate with mid-century modern style, are the ones that seem cold and sterile to me — and highly unnatural; you have to work pretty hard to get rid of every single thing with a color. This is actually one of my least favorite looks.

    The neutral background rooms, on the other hand, seem a lot warmer to me because they often showcase handmade fabrics, old-fashioned furniture, art on the walls, stuff from around the world that would never be seen in an all-white, modern room. I love this look because it seems both decorated and unpretentious at the same time. There’s cool, often old, stuff, which I like, and color, which I like, and the stuff with color is highlighted because it stands out from the neutral backgrounds. And there’s brown wood furniture, which I also like (and which I understand is considered highly uncool by the MCM crowd). To me, this is a completely different look from “all-white” and “minimalist.”

    So I see two different looks being thrown together here, and they seem to represent two different mindsets to me. One is all about control and is very high concept, and the other seems more relaxed, warmer, and welcomes different cultures along with all the colors and stuff.

    That said, most of the rooms in my apartment have colors on the walls (or will when I get around to painting them). And kilims. And lots of wood.

  44. Toomuchsugar says:

    My most recent favorite house was mostly white walls, ivory leather, wood floors, beige textiles. OK, maybe blah, but I found it so restful. I had moved across the US, from a bright sunshiny state to a dark rainy state and was suffering. This house with a beautiful fake fireplace and some big green plants saved me, I swear. I still miss that little house.

  45. Maurine says:

    The most accurate thing I’ve read all day: “the Internet is great at producing intense reactions to nonessential things.” Great post!

  46. May says:

    Great essay, thank you
    For a quick historical look…white began with a vintage white stoneware pitcher mid 1980s to a white bathroom, and slowly building to white decor preference. (Budget prevents me from going that way in real life.) Analyzing those eras…disease scares began with herpes, into HIV and now all sorts of germs and bacteria in the news almost daily. White is sterile germ bacteria free symbolism. I believe our desire to be safe from disease is the greatest force behind white decor popularity.

  47. sandyc says:

    Just found this column this morning. Came upon one too many Scandi minimalist white rooms and went googling for WHY? Everything in this article and responses is okay BUT why oh why is there absolutely no mention of the fact that “white” is not “just white” just as “beige” is not “just beige”. Designers at least should read color expert Maria Killam’s book “White Is Complicated” and learn something about undertones in every color from her previous work. I love white but my white is absolutely never stark white – it literally leaves me cold. A creamy white is warm and alive and makes me smile every time I walk in the room.

  48. Sandra says:

    Personally, I think many white-walled rooms look bleak. Especially the rooms not photographed by a professional. And let’s face it how many of live in a photoshoot with perfect lighting? To me the corners of these rooms look greyed-out.
    As for white being cheap, I remember when all the magazines said the cheapest way to perk up a room was to buy a gallon of paint.
    But then, I adore color.

  49. Judy says:

    I’m probably one of the few who would never have white in my home; I love color…color brings a happy and warm atmosphere;
    white reminds me of a hospital atmosphere…I do love a cream- color, though…it also brings warmth into a room, but to each his own…I love coziness, and color does that!

  50. Judy says:

    I’m probably one of the few who would never have white as the main color in my home….I love color; it brings a warm and happy atmosphere; white reminds me of a hospital atmosphere…but I do like a creamy, beige color; it brings warmth, too…to each his own, but I love coziness, and color in a home is what creates it!

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