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

by Grace Bonney

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 , the effect, the -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.

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.

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

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 shows I attended and brands like 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.

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…

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

Image above: Colina’s home

Image above: Bennett and Ariele’s home

Suggested For You


  • I made an anti-white wall comment on one of your home posts years ago, when this trend was coming back in fashion. I am still in the camp that believes white walls are boring, especially when that is the theme of your entire home. You can love a clean, minimalist look and also find an actual color in the palette to embrace… even if it’s a subtle shade just off of white or a neutral. Paint color is cheap, you can buy samples to find a hue that works for you… take a risk.

  • Thank you for this insightful editorial. I confess that I wasn’t aware of the controversy over this color trend. For me, it works in specific sites very well, and less in others. Isn’t color selection part of a response to the space, and part of an effort to create a sense of unity? If that is the case, then white is perfect for some expressions and practical applications. The risk is that if it isn’t combined with artistic furnishings, white can easily become too generic, especially those white walls found in rented living spaces that are sometimes a big challenge to live with.

  • I tend to take an Amy Poehler stance on this kind of thing: Good for them. Not for me. I like the look of many of these interiors, but don’t seem myself living with some of them for more pragmatic reasons that happen to show up in my life. I love design as much as the next gal, but I am surprised that it causes such strong reactions.

    (And Grace: I do hope you do that story on who the media represents and how it tends to be extremely homogeneous. The former communications major in me would love it!)

  • I agree. It’s cyclical. White walls, patterned or highly coloured rya rugs and ‘found’ Victorian clutter were very chic in the 60s and probably a reaction to the muddy colours and clutter of the 50s. As for being a young, white hipster trend, I do believe I saw pictures of Aretha Franklin’s living room a few years ago that was all white: furniture, carpets, walls, the works.
    My problem is the pantone colour of the year which filters through clothing and décor, making it difficult to find a good selection of colours. I end up waiting to buy some things until ‘my’ colours come back into vogue.

  • Interesting article. For me, this is nothing new; no trend will be to everyone’s taste and the more widespread any trend becomes, the more you will see a backlash. And that’s great – it’s why trends move on!

    The reality is that white walls do reflect light, help spaces appear bigger and brighter and are easier to coordinate furniture with. They’re also somewhat stark, less rich and vibrant and do show up dirt. When trends move on, some people will leave them behind, some people won’t. No biggie – each to our own!

    • I completely agree. The reason why we have all white walls in our home is because we live in the PNW, where the days are very gloomy and dark, and having all white walls helps reflect light. Just because someone chooses to have all white walls doesn’t necessarily mean they are adhering to a certain “minimal” or “Kinfolk” lifestyle. It could be because they are renting and don’t want to invest or perhaps they just like the way it goes with the rest of their furniture.

      I believe that what you choose to put in your home is more important than wall color. Artwork, textiles, ceramics can add just as much life as colored walls do. I think it’s an interesting subject and I have nothing but respect for Grace, but to me this article almost feels a bit cynical — especially showing pictures of previous home tours as examples.

      Just my input! :)

      • Taylor

        I’m sorry if this felt cynical, that was not my intention. Those examples I chose are homes we ran here. I would never run anything we don’t support or love, period. And we don’t do satire here. So my intention was not to show them as cynical examples, but as examples of how the look can be done well and how widespread it is from coast to coast. If that came off differently I apologize.

        I don’t think anyone who likes this look is trying to replicate Kinfolk, etc, necessarily and I mentioned those examples of all-white interiors throughout history for a reason- to remind people that this look has existed (and been loved and appreciated) way before the contemporary versions we often associate it with. Those reasons you listed (renting, etc.) are the same reasons I listed- I think we actually agree that there are a lot of (very valid) reasons that people embrace this style.


        • Thanks for getting back to me! I know you didn’t have any negative intention while writing this post, and I applaud you for bringing up these topics. I admit I am a bit sick of some trends I see everywhere, and I am ready for some change in the design world. All white walls, all West Elm, and a few kilim textiles is playing it pretty safe (and you’re right, it is getting a bit old). What I would like to see more of is people bringing what they truly love into their homes, even if it doesn’t necessarily fit in with what is on trend. And thank you for clarifying on the reason you shared past home tours — they are all good examples of white walls.

          Thanks for making D*S a place for thoughtful and constructive conversation!

          • Taylor

            Always happy to have a constructive conversation- I live for them :)

            I agree with and share your desire to see more homes with things that aren’t “on trend”. Those sorts of homes are harder to find because they often take years to create (we’re actively and intensely reaching out to older home owners and renters) and they don’t necessarily pop up on social media or get submitted as often as younger renters/home owners. You just can’t create that sort of look overnight. One of my favorite examples of that style is this home tour. http://droits-humains.info/2015/10/mimi-pond-wayne-whites-creative-los-angeles-home.html

            Mimi and Wayne <3


            • Oh I agree — and I wasn’t saying you guys don’t feature them! I was just saying in general when I’m scrolling my Instagram feed, that is what I see a lot of. Sorry for the confusion there. I love the homes you feature!

              I am actually about to submit my home for a house tour (it’s a lot of white… but I promise there is some life in there ;) It’s taken a whole year to get it together, and like you said, it doesn’t get like that overnight… so I’m excited to share it finally! :)

            • Your reply made me smile because I definitely consider myself “older” these days! We have an old house that we’ve been working on for sixteen years now – and that will make you “old” really quickly! And you’re probably right – we might not be as quick or connected to get photos out to share.

              I love your house tours – maybe I’ll send over some photos of ours when we get through this next bit of renovation. Slow and steady.

  • It’s also important to remember that, especially in a post-housing market crash, people are buying homes later and later in life and as renters, are often not able/are hesitant to paint. White walls drive me a little nuts, but I’m also not willing to invest the time and money into painting a space that I’m likely not going to stay in for more than 2 years. Many landlords are also unwilling to let tenants paint, even if it’s not explicitly prohibited by the rental agreement. While I favor more of a ‘maximalist’ look, I appreciate the styling inspiration of individuals who are also working with white walls (though I do have trouble identifying with those homeowners who don’t take advantage of their freedom to paint!).

  • Fab article Grace! It may be interesting for your readers to cheout The Selby…fantastic inspiration for a wide range of homes and their inhabitants…from around the globe. There is some serious
    eye candy here…and not your typical design shelter mag.
    Donna E.
    Portland OR

  • I enjoyed your thoughts, I also had no idea it was such a controversy! Something I’ve been curious about that maybe you have a read on, do you think the “Pinterest-ization” of styles makes them cycle faster now? In that people are exposed to so many more style- and design-related visual content that they begin to feel overloaded with a certain look and it switches to the next thing more rapidly?

  • Wow, Grace! This was an excellent read on this issue. When you guys featured our home, we were so excited! (Ours definitely wasn’t an all-white aesthetic.) This blog does represent a variety of styles.

    As an visual artist, I find that placing artwork in homes is much easier in an all white room. Also, the all-white room phenomenon to me is more about philosophy. All-white is for people who deeply care about this things in the room (the art, the furniture, rugs). If their favorite color is orange, they won’t paint their walls orange. They’ll paint them white and pick up an orange lamp to express that love.

    Lovely article as always.

    • Thanks so much for this comment, Joseph. I grew up in a home with two visual artist parents, and I can’t imagine either of them ever painting a wall something other than white. I live the same way now as an adult in my own home, with the occasional black wall here and there. It’s the only way I can truly *see* all of the artwork and treasured design objects I choose to surround myself with. It’s not at all about minimalism!

  • This is such a wonderful, thought post. We’re about to embark an renovations on a new apartment and recently decided we’re doing the all white thing. First, we’ll be on a tight timeline and just don’t have the time for painting beyond that, second we’ve come to terms with the fact that we are “stuff” people and maybe all white might calm things down, and third, our new place doesn’t get as much light and we’re hoping this will brighten it up. It kind of kills me to feel like I’m on the white, young hipster bandwagon (I am a brown person in my thirties), but it makes sense right now for us. It makes me feel very:

  • I love the white walls look in photos, but find that it rarely has the same bright/calm/soothing effect in real life…. instead it can look harsh and unfinished (to my eye) unless the lighting and proportions of the rooms are just right. I much prefer to live in my space surrounded by greys, ochre and adobe color walls.

  • I do adore the white walls, from an architectural perspective (as an architect) it’s all we are taught to love. From a realistic and usability standpoint, it is so very unrealistic to keep clean! I have a rental with an all white kitchen, and even though I thought it was awesome when I moved in, I quickly learned that it is a nightmare for those of us who are particular about not having little stains on everything. My fiance and I both cook a lot, and the sheer amount of time I have to spend wiping counter tops, cabinet faces, walls, and appliances is just unreal.
    I also adore those white rugs that are all the rage, but again I know that I can not even hope to keep one of those clean for any length of time. The same for fluffy white bed linens! I had to purposely go over to dark colored sheets because of my fiance’s penchant for sweating in the night and all the hair product he uses.
    I often wonder how on earth these folks can actually live in these all white spaces and not be in constant fear of making a mess??

  • I’m so glad to read some critical analysis of both sides of this trend. Thank you for starting the discussion.

    I’m less in the design world and more in the product/designer/maker world – but the trend relates here too. I’m particularly interested in diving deeper into this issue of “soulless-ness”. As a retailer I see tons of product submissions and my experience viewing (cheerleading + critiquing) hand-crafted products, I used to feel that gorgeous well styled photography gave an obvious nod to “this product has soul and quality,” but the sparce/Kinfolk/clean aesthetic has become so mainstream that often I really need to see the product in person and get to know the designer for a while before having a real sense of the quality and soul.

    In any event, thank you for starting the discussion. It’s the perfect antidote to the lack of substantive comments that often accompany gorgeous photos.

  • So this begs the question: What IS next, for those of us not on the cutting edge of design?

    We just closed on a home last week, and my grand plans have included lots of white walls. I happen to love the look, and I usually go against trends! That said, as someone who doesn’t have an unlimited decorating budget, I worry that my white walls (painting the fireplace white, too) will now look dated shortly. How do I avoid that?

    • Tracie

      I think white walls are never a bad idea, especially when you’re working on your first home (congrats!). You can always paint and add things to them- it’s harder to undo.

      As for painting a fireplace or any other textured surfaces, classic choices like white/black/grey are usually safe choices if you’re worried about regretting it later. Or you could just live with it for a bit and see how you feel with it unfinished?

      Grace :)

  • I think we should all live and let live. Literally. ;). I think white walled homes are not for everybody but anybody can still cull inspiration from them. And same with colorful homes. Also, I echo what Alex M sad about renting. And as long as people are comfortable in their homes, that’s all that matters, right? :)

  • Thanks for this article. Interesting viewpoint(s). All-white is a go to solution that’s extremely charming in combination with wood and textiles and almost everything else. Easy for new homeowners. It appears to be the aesthetic for most my-first-house decorators. Nice blank canvas to start off with. And yes those are the interiors we see on the internet. Only some of us know what’s awaiting (their walls)….!

  • I recently painted my living room white, purely out of the lifestyle I saw on online publications. I saw the people, the cool, the clean and fresh living..it was all a lifestyle I wanted. Turns out, I hate them very much. I mean, I don’t completely despise, they are nice in photos, but I hate that I was influenced by a popular design movement. I wish I would have chosen a color that inspired me deep down, not something I saw online. It took me forever to paint those walls, so it’s not a change I’ll be making anytime soon. I have been heavily focused on bringing in color elsewhere in the space, which seems to be helping my happiness about the space.

    I recently finished my powder room makeover with pastel yellows and a hand painted (attached to the white living room actually), and I am so happy I followed my aesthetic, and not what was popular online necessarily. (I submitted it to you actually :) ) Anyways, Thank you so much for posting this, it’s a topic that has been on my mind. Can’t wait to see what’s to come!
    -Lauren Dahl

    • Lauren

      We’re all influenced by trends, it’s totally ok! I know what you mean, but it’s pretty impossible to not give in. I should send you photos of my blood red, then navy blue, then patterned kitchen. I tried to replicate 3 kitchens from Domino Magazine back in 2009 and failed, miserably. Then I had to remember that my space had different light, texture and layouts– all things that make it impossible to ever really replicate the same feel from a picture (which is almost always photo corrected and brightened)

      Grace :)

  • Great article Grace! And I’m looking forward to your new book. I love looking at the photos of white walls etc, but haven’t been too successful making it work in my home. Too much seems to depend on choosing the “right white” and I haven’t gotten it yet! But then I am also one of those who vehemently refuses to paint over my beautiful cedar ceilings or turquoise kitchen walls. Guess I will remain a color junkie. Thanks again for your insight. You remain a trusted voice of design reason.

  • I love this post. Very thoughtful! I also think that often the design of a space is largely dictated by the space itself. My husband and I lived in a 600sq/ft, factory conversion loft with 14ft ceilings, a wall of windows and polished concrete floors. It was begging for us to keep it minimal. We don’t generally like clutter so in a small space it made sense to stay with a minimal design. We kept some personality with objects we chose to display and casually leaning artwork but for the most part we stayed neutral and it was our little sanctuary. Now we are renovating a house that was built in the 30’s and we are embracing a more classic/traditional design approach just to honor the house and its old school charm (it came with a clawfoot tub). There will always be big opinions about design of all kinds and I like the “live and let live” approach…to each their own I say…but I think you know in your heart what feels authentic in your private space and if you can honor that for yourself and your family, then you’ve done your job.

  • As someone who owns a rowhome that’s nearly 150 years old, I find that white CAN makes old homes look fresh and clean. Warm colors can make plaster walls look dingy (especially when you only have windows in the front and back of a house).

    When we first moved in, we weren’t 100% sure what we wanted to do with the walls. We ended up painting all of the walls with a good high-hiding primer (we were covering up everything from pepto-bismol pink to mustard yellow) and figured that we’d keep the primer up and then decide what colors to choose after we’d done some more projects and got used to the space.

    We liked the white so much that I’m in the process of repainting my entire house in a creamy white (with real paint – not just primer) with bright white trim – it was great because it helped us decide that we did like white and we already had the walls primed so all that’s left is to paint!

  • I loved this article. Very well written and brings in both viewpoint.
    Personally, I love white walls mainly for practical reasons – I have multiple wood tones (floor + doors/trim + furniture + decor) and I love rich colors (also my style includes craftsman + mid century + 70s + ikea). If I had painted walls, it would be a lot more difficult to create cohesive looks & there would be too much visual clutter. Therefore I don’t think it’s fair to judge a home’s soul-having by just the wall color. But at the same time, I HATE beige because, for me, I grew up with the beige suburban box home and the beige crappy college apartment. To me, beige has no life in it. Which according to my logic is a silly place to stand – but stand I shall (with my mouth shut). To some, they had white on their crappy apartment walls and now hate white. And I’m sure some young millenials will feel the same way about grey/greige eventually.
    All too frequently we forget that our actions are truly just our reactions to the world around us. We also forget it’s just style.

  • Grace, that was an excellent post- balanced and thoughtful.
    We have three wallpapered rooms (thanks to Hygge & West, Miss Prints and soon-to-be ordered CommonRoom), but I’m cognizant of the fact that we are only *now* able to infuse pattern, color, and design into our home because we own it. We were renters for decades and for many years we were’t even allowed to put up mirrors, much less paint! Also, at that time we simply didn’t have the budget for decor- we had Brooklyn rent to think of…
    Regarding the “all-white aesthetic” – it’s a bit frustrating from a design perspective and a little bit boring due to its redundancy, but what I really lament is the demise/loss of individuality and personality…which I don’t think is limited to design alone. The “kinfolkization” of spaces extends well beyond design and into the categories of food photography, fashion and travel. (If I had an extra hour to write I would comment on the role of social media here…)
    But yes, trends go in cycles; I hope the next one embraces varied design voices that reflect the diverse aesthetics of humankind!

  • Thank you for the article — it definitely caused me to pause and consider my point of view. As Kathryn echoed above, coming from a background in architecture, I am very drawn to the minimalistic look of white walls and the canvas they create for pieces you love.

    Currently, my husband and I are renovating our first home which features the original 1950’s stucco and knotty pine paneling. I opted for a slightly warm flat white — in efforts to streamline the many textures at play. A large inspiration for this choice was my grandparent’s 1920’s Florida Mediterranean home’s white, stucco walls – architecturally a far departure from our modest Midcentury home.

    After reading this article though, my brain is definitely buzzing thinking of ways to push the design!

  • Gosh I never knew there was such a dilemma over white spaces and white walls. Personally I am a fan of colour. White just doesn’t work in all spaces, we all know that. Trend or no trend, space and light sometimes dictate the colour palette, it’s so personal that it shouldn’t even be up for discussion, whether you’re decorating for yourself or a client, it’s how you want the space to feel and painting walls in a colour changes everything. White walls, minimal spaces, oozing with taste and tropical plants will always be around but we have different choices now, darker, more sultry colour paints are popular and work in spaces where white just doesn’t cut the mustard.

  • I really appreciate such a well considered article. I seem to have found myself on both sides of this argument at different times in my life, so it was a very interesting read. When we first bought our current house we knew the interior needed a lot of drywall repair and a fresh coat of paint. We decided to have the whole house patched and repainted by a team of professionals since we knew it was a big project (it took a crew of four people nine days to complete the job). There was no way for us to know how the light would change over the course of the year, so we opted to go with a bright white on all of the painted surfaces (there is one room that is paneled with wood milled from the property). It has turned out to be the best decision we could have possibly made. We had always planned to add color as we came to get a feel for the place, but I truly don’t see that happening anymore. We collect artwork and the fresh, white walls have given us the freedom to arrange and rearrange our pieces without fear of having them clash with the walls. And about a year ago, I bought a second-hand sideboard and painted it an eye-popping coral color that looks amazing in our dining room. I never thought I would be an “all-white-walls” person, but I’ve come to truly love and appreciate the flexibility that we’ve gained with that choice. It may not work for everyone, and I acknowledge that, but I’m a convert.

  • The clean comment!! Aggghhhh! Thank you!

    I worked for two years in a tile showroom and wanted to pull my ears off at the mere mention of the “cleanliness” of white tile/marble. Yeah, it’s clean right now. Wait until you dry your hair/dog walks in/kids take a bath/spaghetti night/rainy day/etc. If you like it, you do you! But it’s not a magical repellent. You’re going to be hitting those floors, Cinderella!

  • Thoughtful post, Grace. I think your attitude about trends is quite grounded. It’s a bit odd that people hate some styles and root for others as if they’re favorite teams or political candidates.

    I also love your observations about everyone styling their homes as if ready for a photoshoot — so true!

  • This was such an interesting read! I get tired of the “Kinfolk” look – particularly all the house plants and macrame because they remind me of my mom’s style growing up – but I think white walls have their purpose and it’s different for everyone.

    In my 20s, I wanted a lot of color and pattern all over the walls, and loved bright, mid-century things, and “low brow” art. I am now in my mid-30s and we have all white walls and I am very selective about hanging art and photos. I am a designer by day and I get inundated with a lot of pattern and color all day (as well as the glow of the computer screen and bright overheard lighting), so there is something rela about going home to all white walls and letting my eyes rest.

    Keep up the good work, Grace and team, I think you represent a variety of styles and that’s what has kept me coming back since 2007!

  • Grace, thank you for this post.
    For me the trend in white seems rather new in North America compared to where I grew up in in Switzerland. For nearly 30 years of my life I lived with white walls, because that is what Swiss landlords provide and in most places you were not allowed to paint your walls, therefore the paint selection at the hardware store was very limited. I believe that might have changed a little over the past decade due to design shows, but generally Swiss homes are painted white.
    When I moved to Canada 12 years ago I embraced coloured walls because of having lived with white walls all my life. I took the chance to paint my bathroom blue, my bedroom sage green, my kitchen a brighter green, etc. Since then I’ve toned it down again, but when you featured my home last year you saw grey walls in most spaces, with my blue accessories standing in for colour. So while I see a lot of white around me and do love the look – I think I’ll always have a soft spot for a splash of colour on my walls.

  • There is also the simple fact that white walls, lots of light, and minimal decor translate well in small photographs online. They shine out of your computer screen as literal beacons of light. In person they may not feel as inviting and comfortable as rooms with warmer walls and more colorful decor, or even dimmer lighting. I look at these white minimal rooms as more of a presentation of elements, much like a furniture catalog or showroom, rather than a way to actually decorate.

  • What a great topic- I grew up in a home with white walls – my mother had lovely taste and it seemed that the white walls were a perfect palatte for her beautiful antiques and art – and that’s how I decorate as well. I think colors can be so trendy and trends fade so fast . It appears wallpaper is popular again and all I see when I look at it is someone 5 years from now ripping it down as they wonder why anyone would ever put it up in the first place.

  • I loved this. As somebody who has been fi up houses for 30 years I have ALWAYS loved color. Red, Orange, Chocolate Brown, and Dark Grey walls.. For me to go all white 5 years ago was a HUGE risk. And I was sick over it. I made myself live with it for 6 months and ever since then there is no looking back. When we moved to another fixer upper and had a blank slate we painted it all white again. I am hooked. I feel much calmer and serene in an all white space. I am curious to see where I am in 5 more years.

  • Thank you for this post – it comes at a great time for me. I am a collector and maximalist by nature, and have tons of cute, vintage things that I adore. I’ve always said, “if it’s worth having one, it’s worth having 100!”. But lately I’ve been feeling overwhelmed by my “things” and realizing that I feel like my collections are controlling me instead of me enjoying them. I’ve started to very nervously get rid of things, and a clear, open space sounds just marvelous to me.
    I was even thinking of painting my dusky-hued walls white, but after this post and reading the comments I think I’ll stop at just paring back and will work to embrace the coziness of the PNW instead of fighting against it.
    Thank you!

  • Color absolutely can and does contribute to cleanliness. By nature white shows blemishes which allows you to see when something is dirty and needs to be clean. It’s silly to say that color has nothing to do with cleanliness when all you have to do is step into a hospital (or look at their products like gauze and bandages and sheets) to see that color greatly affects not only our perception of cleanliness but also the reality of cleanliness as well. No one is saying that you can’t clean black tile as well as white tile, but you can’t deny that you will know a lot quicker when white tile becomes dirty again. People can certainly keep their colorful or dark houses clean, but that doesn’t mean that lighter colors aren’t inherently more helpful in showing what needs to be cleaned and thereby give greater peace of mind (for many people) that they will take note of things that need cleaning. This principle has been demonstrated for centuries…and if you keep hearing people react that way to white spaces, obviously they agree. If you have a colorful/dark space and you know that it’s clean because you are diligent to clean it, good for you. A general survey of people, though, will likely reveal that people intuitively feel that lighter, less cluttered spaces are cleaner because it’s A) easier to see what’s dirty and B) there’s physically less stuff to clean. That’s not being offensive to other spaces/styles, it’s just the way it is. And that’s not to mention that for many people having lots of clutter or overbearing colors is mentally draining and/or stressful so when people say it feels clean and fresh they may be referring to more of a mental state and a physical one. Either way, the popularity of white and minimalism is not really any different than any other trend…each comes and goes with their own set of influences and responses. Enjoy it if you like, embrace something different if you don’t.

  • Thanks for the thoughtful analysis! I had no clue this was such a hot button issue. I will say that this aesthetic is extremely helpful for people like me–renters! It is a true bummer that I can’t paint my walls but this type of aesthetic suits renters, specifically in small apartments, just fine. I can’t tell you how many DIY solutions I have tried (pin up fabric as a wallpaper, use decals…) and I always come back to less is more in my white-walled studio apartment.

  • I have three small children and live in the Chicago suburbs and we have white white walls and let me be the first to say.. white only looks clean from afar. Now that my youngest has drawn with crayons on our dining room wall and the other two have gotten their sticky fingers on stuff it makes me really want to hop on board with greige. Even for homeowners I would think white (or at a minimum light) walls are a sticking point for resale?

    Our house is tiny and it was built in the 50s and the windows are not huge nor the ceilings high so we stuck with white to maximize light and the feeling of the space. Plus I like stuff.. art and plants and stuff and with a dark color it gets very cluttered very quickly.

    I like design sponge because even though your posts can sometimes on focus on particular trends (kilims and white and plants etc) there is a diversity and it is not all just expensive and store bought. I don’t think the ‘all white’ thing is as pervasive if you are reading different sources like Elle Decor or Architectural Digest where clearly the spaces are expensive and more ‘high design’. I think trends vary according to age and region and income as well and with a certain cross section of the world the all white room is overdone but silk wall covering and marble is not available to everyone and white paint is pretty democratic.

  • There are some great points made above, including Lindseyh’s. I am torn because I’ve had an affinity for airy, light, Scandinavian-inspired spaces since I was a young teenager. I have a very active mind and am sensitive to a lot of external stimulation, so I crave spaces that are more on the minimal side (without being too sparse or cold). I think that a lot of the influencers in design deal with visual stimulation all day, and it makes sense why so many of them gravitate toward white on their off-hours. And the fact we live in such over-stimulating, and dare I say, over-inspiring times also affects most people these days, I think. I know it affects me! It makes sense so many would gravitate toward the simple, minimal, and whatever they consider to be soothing and visually restful.

    I’m conflicted because I also love cozy, vintage tchotchke-laden spaces like Sibella Court’s and collecting my own antique wares, but I’ve realized that I need to live in a pared down space to feel better. I’m trying to reconcile both these styles in my home–we’ll see how it goes.

  • It’s worth mentioning that paint is a privilege. It’s expensive and often not allowed in rental apartments. White walls minimal shabby pieces is, unlike lush velvet pieces in front of jewel-toned art walls, a look that can be done on any budget.

  • Hi Grace,

    Such an interesting post. I wonder if the strength of the trend is a symptom of our changing habits when it comes to finding inspiration. A white background looks good on Pinterest/IG/blogs and makes other products stand out. These are now the places we go to for design inspiration and therefore, we may want something similar in our homes. I wish I could say I was entirely original but, like it or not, these all have an influence on my personal taste!

  • Does it count as white walls if they’re 3/4 white and 1/4 color?! I read this in the mindset of “I love color” and then I realized my walls are 3/4 white and the room color is only the top 1/4th. What I love about my white walls is that I get to add deeper more intense colors on top. For example, my dining room is ORANGE, and it works wonderfully because I also have white to offset it. (also, living in 860 square feet, the white in each room brings everything together). Not a fan of the kinsfolk vibe, but to each his own, I do love West Elm…

    Fun read. Even more fun reading the comments!

  • I am LOVING all of this discussion!
    I think an important element (which Grace touched on) is that the all-white look is often one that suggests not only ‘cleanliness’, but luxury and wealth. People in boring rentals that lack architectural interest aren’t necessarily going after that super-luxe, minimal aesthetic because it’s neither practical or attainable. The all-white look definitely suggests a certain economic status.

  • I love this thoughtful discussion. For me, white walls, plants & kilim rugs are something I did in the 1970s. ( yes you read that correctly). Loved it then, just like others love it today. I enjoy seeing how others interpret it, so keep up the good work! … Side note: today I have British colonial style and am loving it. (For now)

  • What’s funny is that when I hear “all white” I immediately think of the all white rooms in 1960’s/70’s mod movies! The delicious era of impossible-to-keep-clean white shag rugs and glossy white mod furniture. Where once all white implied utter modernity or even futurity, your article shows that it now often means background to minimal bohemianism. But the white walls I covet? Whitewashed old stone walls… I literally dream of it. Whitewash was the paint of the poor in many many countries, and you won’t find a whitewashed ancient Japanese teahouse, Mediterranean grotto, or 1700’s farmhouse that I won’t immediately desire with all my heart. (p.s. Our own white walls were featured here once, but I’d trade ’em in a heartbeat for stone walls)

  • As a design junkie, I long coveted the bright white Southern Califonia hipster look for years. When I finally had the opportunity to paint a room white, I chose a very bright western dining room and was so excited to see my dreams realized… except that it looked and, more importantly, felt awful. I have no doubt that the all-white look works in some places, but in my little Montanan farmhouse, it just didn’t work. That failed experiment taught me a important lesson that is albeit cliche: be true to yourself, in decor and otherwise. My family is not an all-white kind of family (if I may use such a label). We feel much better in a space with layered neutrals and curated color, even if that’s not the current trend. But the look would work in someone else’s home, if it is the right backdrop for the best representation of themselves.

    As always, I look to and am inspired by the wide array of homes on Design Droits-Humains on a regular basis. Thank you for keeping that kind of diversity on the Internet.

  • Very interesting article and discussion. I think of white paint, as it is used currently, as safe, risk-free, anonymous, inoffensive, renter-friendly, easily imprinted with the personality of the transient resident. An uncle’s tenant complained about the newly painted creamy white. My uncle repainted a white white and declared he would never vary.

    You could do most any style of furniture over white white walls. In the old country, walls were white plaster washed yearly to spruce up. I dislike how objects pop against white. Could be nice, I suppose if they are special, like black and white photos in a gallery.

    I love deep inky hues. Our living room is a deep teal (including the ceiling) (BM Jade Garden, Glidden’s Teal Zeal). I was inspired by my son’s painting of fantasy animals swimming in a deep pool, ocean, Jules Verne, the Peacock Room in the Freer Museum in DC. Each of my children requested and got a black bedroom (F&B Blue Black, BM Soot). Kitchen is a dreamy blue/gray/green (BM Palladian Blue). I like how you can build an atmosphere and foundation for a nurturing environment with color.

  • I loved this essay. It’s something I often think about as an avid user of both Pinterest and Instagram. As a renter, who has moved quite a lot, I love, absolutely love when my new abode is completely white washed. In my early 20’s in the 90’s (when landlords didn’t seem to care what color we painted our flats) I embraced full on color, the more the better, it was great experimentation and a great treat to get to express yourself through the color on your walls. Now, after many years of accumulating and collecting, (and making art) I so appreciate the whiteness of a place so I can then really design my home without worrying about all that clashing of color. My last rental had butter colored walls and I truly hated them. They made everything sort of muted and dark in a way that made my things look drab. So, just on a practical level, from the life of a renter- white walls are a total dream. I get to mix and match and design with everything from pillows to lighting, to curtains, and artwork…and it all works, no matter where I live. Thanks of this Grace…great discussion.

  • This post is exactly why D*S* is the top site on my list of home design websites. I love the deeper dive of these kind of articles.

    Personally, I’m in the white wall camp. It’s because my original art collection (if you could call it that) is my most prized possession and what makes me happiest in my home. Everything else is there to support that so I keep my color palette neutral to give art the starring role.

    That being said — to me it’s ‘live and let live.’ I would never presume to impose my personal taste on others. And I enjoy looking at others’ homes via D*S* and even if they’re not always my style, I find many things to inspire me.

    I just picture them in all B&W. ;)

  • I have loved white walls since I was little – now 40. Holidays in South of France, Swedish style, Dutch homes – beautiful whitewashed rooms. They can be chic or eclectic, cool and modern but I find I can’t get my house white enough. It makes me feel calm. White is always right!!
    Like a calming sanitarium! Lol

  • Big dilemna for me : I love all white rooms but also other colours, hues and feelings in my home. So, one of my storeys is rather minimalist, all white, with added (not too) colourful accessories and accents, and the other storey is more cluttered, painted with strong colours and patterns. I love different atmospheres in the same house, provided these spaces are separated. What can I do, I’m simply unable to choose and we feel good in a multiple house. Great post. (Sorry for the mistakes, I am not English speaking, but fan of your blog and related thoughts).

  • While the fact that many of us are renters did get a mention in the bullet on Budget and Finances, I feel like that small reference is downplaying the importance of renting.

    While I don’t know the demographics of the other readers of this site, I can say for myself that I know exactly one person in my social network, aside from parents and grandparents, that actually owns a home, or sees any prospect of owning one in the foreseeable future. And I’m well into my 30’s, not just starting out in life.

    As renters, white walls are simply the only option. The lucky few of us with landlords who allow painting have taken advantage of the privilege, if only to paint the walls a warmer cream color. I deeply enjoy Design Droits-Humains, visiting the site is a part of my daily routine, and it seems important to point out that proposing white walls as a major choice to make seems a bit out of touch.

    • Carrie

      I’m sorry if it felt like I was downplaying the importance of renting. I don’t feel that way at all. I was a renter for the majority of my life and inspiration that works for rentals has been a huge focus at DS and a large portion of our home tours for the past 11.5 years.

      I recognize that a lot of landlords don’t let renters paint, period. I lived in 7 apartments over the past 10 years and 5 of them let me paint (as long as I repainted when I moved out) so I don’t think white paint the only option for all renters, necessarily. That said, I totally understand that paint restriction is a definite limit to renting and that’s why included that in the essay above. I wasn’t trying to downplay the ‘importance’ of renting so much as I was trying to include it in a section on why white walls are often a necessity due to location, rental status and budget.

      Our demographic is actually split down the middle in terms of rent vs. own these days and the majority of comments and emails I get re: decorating these days relate to this topic and wondering why (or why not) people choose to paint or leave things white. So my goal today was to break down the topic and to explain why the look is a choice for some, but isn’t for others.


      • This made me chuckle a bit because as someone who has rented 5 apartments prior to & between owning I not once had white walls. The predominate color of so many rentals in Chicago is what I would describe as band aid peach. I would’ve killed for pure white walls! Usually I ended up painting but on at least two occasions the landlord like my new colors and never required reprinting.

  • I’m a black woman in her late 30s who likes white walls and minimal design! I really appreciated this essay, especially the analysis of white constantly being referred to as “fresh” and “clean” (I hate that!) and dispelling the notion that only young, white “hipsters” enjoy that aesthetic.

  • I’ve tried many interior looks over the years as a homeowner and a renter, but I always go back to the freedom and simplicity of the all white rooms as a way of freeing myself from complex and fussy visual distractions in my environment that colored walls seem to add to. I also see this increased simplicity in ‘uniform’ dressing. Maybe it is that we just don’t need so much stuff, so much constant change to distract us from what really matters in life.

  • I am of the other camp. I love color! It does not have to be bold, but a wisp of color is more interesting to me. Many of my friends are converting over to all white. I like white if there is texture or architectual interest. I agree with your statement that white does not equal clean. Maybe I am just not a minimalist.

    • You hit the nail on the head regarding texture and architectural interest. If you live in builder grade type housing all white isn’t as “clean” or even interesting looking. Also, sometimes things that photograph well aren’t as lovely in person. And my final thought is kids. I have a white dining room which I love, but the walls are by far the dirtiest looking in my house due to grubby toddler hands.

  • Love this article. Your Home Tours section is my favorite, and I love both the all white and maximalist homes you feature. Regarding the idea that this is somehow an American aesthetic, I don’t really see that. I’m an American currently based in London and have been traveling around Europe, staying mostly at Airbnbs, and I find this look is extremely popular in the European creative community as well.

  • Several things strike me about the all-white minimalist look:

    1. It isn’t necessarily “easier” than a more eclectic look with more color and “stuff,” because all-white minimalism requires constant maintenance (it can become “messed up” if a child drops his backpack on the floor or there are pet toys or even stacks of books sitting around, especially if they aren’t the “right” color or style).

    2. It’s much easier and more sensible to go with all-white if you are young and just starting out. Once you have kids, pets, travel experiences, family heirlooms handed down, etc., it seems harder and less desirable to maintain a minimalist look with very little color.

    3. Not sure I understand the notion that pattern and color=expense. I am in my 40s and have been on a very limited budget with my family off and on through the years, yet I have been able to create a very warm and lived-in, cozy look via thrift shopping, inexpensive travel finds from around the world, and certain family pieces that have been handed down. No, I don’t go out and buy wildly-patterned wallpaper and change it out every couple of years according to trends–that’s the kind of approach that takes money and time.

    4. I wouldn’t necessarily say that all-white minimalism is very Japanese. I lived in Japan for years, and I found that a traditional Japanese look is typically much earthier, darker, and more rustic (not to mention more cluttered, often by necessity in very small spaces). All-white is often a desire to have one’s urban decor appear more “American simple” or Nordic/Scandinavian. There are various “mooks” that address this style, just as there are those that go for an American Country look, complete with lots of tole painting and Raggedy Anne dolls.

    5. I would get bored looking at so few objects in my home. I look around my family’s current home (rented, incidentally, with mushroom and sage walls painted by our landlady) and am constantly inspired and enriched by looking at the many items around our home that have special meaning to me. Yes, my home is very bohemian-eclectic/collected, which is a style that evolves over time, rather than a style that requires a concerted effort at maintaining a certain “look.”

    Anyway, I have nothing against the all-white look for others; it just isn’t for me.

  • Love this analysis! I agree entirely with all the points you make about this look, which can be done beautifully but is half a decade away from being ‘eclectic’ (even though its still described that way). I think part of the hostility towards it is more broadly to the homogenization of style that has evolved as the internet popularized design and vice versa. I used to go to design stores when I travelled but I have stopped going anywhere other than shops that focus on local made because I kept seeing the same 10 curated items, and I swear the third wave coffeeshop ‘look’ is as standardized globally as McDonalds…..
    The biggest surprise to me was that this was generated controversy…. I thought this biggest hot button issue was how people arrange their books- there always seems to be so much judgmental hostility about that one!!

  • My city house is a color saturated mid-century modest with thrifted furniture, piles of inspiration, heirlooms and walls full of colorful art.

    Our cabin on the mountain has one paint color – white. It let’s the exposed log walls shine and makes the space bright!

    Swinging the pendulum in my own places was half the fun, but it doesn’t mean I like one more than the other. I find inspiration in all kinds of styles, so keep showing us the best style there is, regardless of the wall color.

  • Grace, you are such a legend!!!

    So many of my designer friends have had this very discussion, and I love that you’re talking about it! LOVE your take on this, and totally agree. The pendulum has to and always will swing in opposite directions. Thank you for so passionately encouraging diversity and open, thought-provoking conversation. You’re the best!

    Love from Utah. xx

  • Very thoughtful article. I have to agree with other commenters here. Different colors speak to different emotional sensibilities, so it seems unfair to deem the “white walls” trend uninspired. For me, I’ve always been drawn to the Scandinavian aesthetic. I remember looking through old design magazines and vintage Ikea catalogs as a kid. I have pretty much always been drawn to natural wood tones & earthy textiles (of 70s flair), stark geometric juxtapositions (of the 60s and 80s variety), and antique bits and bobs of all sorts (I grew up antiquing with my parents). I think what speaks to me in this current iteration is how these seemingly different flavors of design commune with one another and provide a free space for self-curation and expression that celebrates eclectic values and interests. Though I love deep, rich, muted jewel tones and indigos, I feel claustrophobic, overwhelmed, and stifled in colorful, busy, or saturated rooms. With the exception of the very extreme (albeit neutral) color black, too much color and pattern gives me anxiety. I have always slept best and thought most clearly in a neutral but cozy space. I appreciate design and don’t mind a little thoughtfully collected chaos and clutter, but I need room for my mind to breath and this white-walled, boho-modern, California casual, hipster moment is giving me an opportunity to wave my calm and my creative flags at once. The utility, frugality, and flexibility (as a renter) are just icing.

  • i have been asked about my all white home and products a lot so found this article very interesting. thanks for writing it. for me, it comes down to a sensory choice. i need my home and studio to be calm and simple as a way of recovering from the busy-ness of the outside world (say, the busy aisles of a pharmacy) and the onslaught of imagery we see on line. i have always felt this way but now also have an autistic son and am very aware of how much a simple palette at home helps him to recover from busy days and too much stimulation. just something to add…..

  • Thanks for this – especially the breakdown/hypothesis. I often wonder how much of my style is from within and how much is inspired by what I see and read. My palette has always been relatively similar (neutrals mixed with peach/pink and green) but I’ve noticed that the colors have gotten much quieter over the past 15 years – I guess I’m not the only one!

    I also think interiors have become just as trendy as clothes. It’s not so strange to see everyone with the same bucket bag, but the same bookshelf? Perhaps this is because while style is sort of just IN us, our generation seems much more open to trying on different styles – not just in fashion but in our homes.

  • Thanks for this thoughtful essay, Grace. It articulates what I think a lot of people are thinking about – both in positive and negative ways!

    I think one thing I am often surprised by is how infectious trends are – and sometimes in ways we are not aware of. About two years ago, I found myself suddenly drawn to indigo and navy (a colour I have never really liked), and to brass accessories (which I previously felt were too glitsy for me). About a year ago, I found myself for the first time ever seeking out accessories in pale shades of pink (previously I’ve never purchased anything in this hue). I’ve never really been one for pot plants, but now my home is full of them.

    I’m not changing my tastes on purpose because all of these things are are on trend – I’m just getting bombarded by them in magazines and online, fabulously styled, until they lodge in my mind and they feel ‘right’. Most humans follow the herd instinctively, and a lot of trends snowball in popularity this way.

  • I loved this essay. Maybe I’m in the more pessimistic camp, but to me, many of the “white walls, a mix of vintage Kilim rugs, lots of house plants and a carefully curated selection of found/salvaged objects” leave me wondering, so “who is this person? what are there interests?” Because these homes seem void of that, and instead, simply aiming to replicate another home they saw online.

    Trends aren’t just about what you wear, it’s in the home now. Found objects aren’t ‘found’ anymore but manufactured to look vintage. And minimalism-be-damned, once that trend moves on, so might that minimalist looking home style. What does any trend say about a person? Simply that you like trends I guess.

  • Love your blog.

    I am an sculptor/designer and I have always worked and lived in a white space. I find it rela and easier to focus. I do have one small room that is full of books and has dark walls.

    People who call this a ‘white person style’… should read more Art History perhaps ;) Was an expat kid and adult and many of the homes we lived in were ‘white washed’ and these countries had very few white people.

  • Thoughtful and interesting essay, Grace. I have always been a bright color, comfortable clutter person, but am moving toward more of a minimal and neutral home environment. There are lots of reasons for that, but one I wonder if you’ve considered is a reaction to all of the clutter of our internet/social media/ lives. It can be exhausting, and having a more streamlined home may be good for mental health.

  • This is the first time I’ve ever commented here, despite being a reader for years. Just wanted to thank you for this intelligent and informative article. DS has always been more than ‘just’ a design blog, and this essay is a great example. Most design blogs don’t ask me to think about whether or not it’s appropriate to call white “clean and fresh,” and I’m so glad you posed the issue. I’m going to come up with some other adjectives and encourage others to do the same. Keep both the beautiful patterns and the beautiful thoughts coming!

  • Thank you so much for writing about this. Personally, I used to love the all-white look, but after seeing it everywhere for the past couple of years, I’m turned off by it.

    It’s honestly pushed me to the opposite direction – toward dark colors and furniture. Sherwin William’s Caviar black is now on the main wall in my living room and entry way. Our living room will soon be Lakeshore blue. After all the white, it feels nice to have a dark moody color around. And dark colors work just as well with my art and collectibles.

  • I love seeing any trend done well, so even if the white wall look isn’t for me at the moment (after years of white wall rentals, that pendulum swung hard once we bought our first home), I still enjoy it. What I don’t love is when a trend starts to crowd out everything else, so that other styles and aesthetics don’t get recognition. This is, of course, why D*S continues to be one of my favorite places on the internet. I so appreciate the thought and diversity of style you share here.

    I do wonder if one of the other reasons for the white room look exploding is the presence of social media (let’s be honest, )? Light and bright rooms photograph so well and pop on a feed. Dark rooms obviously look gorgeous too, but I think it takes a bit more effort to get right.

  • Thoughtful post! I’m looking forward to seeing more home tours showing different styles, in particular, hoping to see fewer super-styled homes in favor of glimpses of people’s actual day-to-day home life (a la Selby). I hear that feedback a lot on Design sites, but it’s rare to actually see (although I totally understand that many homeowners would prefer to show a styled version of their home online, and that bizzarre hateful comments like “why is that toilet seat up, how repugnant” can be a turnoff for sure).

    • I agree about the appeal of seeing more ‘lived in’ spaces… There is an interiors magazine here in the UK called ‘Living etc’ which used to feature a lot of ‘real homes’ but now is primarily about heavily designed and styled ‘aspirational spaces’. As a result it’s a lot less interesting and inspiring – as discussed above, we can see any number of artfully styled architectural spaces on Pinterest for free! Lifestyle magazines (the simple things, coast…) offer a more eclectic insight than the increasingly homogenous interiors publications; there is a line between tidying up and ‘styling’ which these seem to walk more convincingly!

  • I’ve never posted a comment before, but this article has really made me think about why I love my white house with white walls. The choice was never really made because of design aesthetic deliberation, but rather for the “feeling” of the space, and the flexibility. I live in a climate that is cold six months of the year, and the go to style around here is beige/brown/taupe everything, which depresses me and pulls me down. I’m sure it makes others feel cozy and comforted, but it has the opposite effect on me. I prefer to use texture, art, intention to warm up a space, while keeping it light enough that winter blues don’t become an issue. And white also appeals to my sense of never leaving well enough alone. I can change bedding or art or throw pillows, rearrange the furniture, and have a completely new look in minutes. That’s a harder feat to pull off in a room with a specific color. More colorful/varied/”creative” design is gorgeous to look at, and I can appreciate all of the talent and beautiful styles out there. But at the end of the day, I want to be able to cast off all the noise and sink into the lightness and peace that is white.

    • I live in Dublin too, and half my house faces north but I have the whole house painted white – Woodies own-brand Brilliant White, in case you’re interested (it has no grey in it so it it’s not at all dull, is reasonably priced as it’s an own brand and the coverage is terrific). It works so well in both the north facing rooms (brightening them considerably) and the south facing rooms, and works in winter and in summer. If it really is a look you like, take the plunge!

  • Huh, to me the late 90s – early 2000s was an exception to white-as-norm. It seemed like everyone cool was painting every room a wild different color, I think inspired by HGTV. Now we’re just sort of tired of that and going back to ‘normal.’ Maybe all the design mags in the 80s-90s had more color on the walls than real people did?

    It’s certainly not a white people thing. White walls are default everywhere for everyone and color means you have the time and money to change that, and to have all the coordinating furniture and stuff. I’m trying to think of someone growing up that had colorful walls in their home and I can’t think of anyone. We had 80s dusty pink striped wallpaper in the kitchen and bathroom, from the people that owned our house before us, but everything else was white.

    • At 11 my mom let me choose my bedroom paint, but when I chose bright orange she talked me down to peach walls with an orange ceiling. When I was in high school and we had moved,
      I had a sunny room and a total wall of maple cabinets. I chose
      black there and she was freaked out but let me do it. Flat black with the wood with a red bedspread and accessories. When we had guests she always showed them that room.

  • Great article. I too have been contemplating if this trend is fleeting or not, and I’ve decided not to look at it as a trend. While it is indeed “trendy” right now, I believe white walls are a classic staple that’s been around for a century.

    That said, I think more and more people are embracing the look as a reaction to the busy-ness of life. We’ve never been more connected and constantly exposed to images filled with colour and movement, and so home takes on the purpose of being our oasis from life. A calming, white and soothing environment at home can help us decrease our feeling of overwhelm and bring balance back to our senses. Real life can and should happen within the walls of our home, and having them white can then be a ‘fresh’ start to live our lives displaying our own colour and personalities, not those that we see on screens all around us.

    Thanks for writing on this. These articles and the well-rounded coverage of different homes and design are why D*S is on top of my reading list!

  • Grace, just echoing what other have said… such a well-crafted article full of diversity of thought and perspective as always. You and your team have such an inclusive approach to design, and it shows daily.

    From another RVA to NYC design lover to another…

  • I am deeply in the camp of love love love white walls and a clean, Scandinavian aesthetic. It seems a bit crazy to me that people would have strong feelings against it, but I guess you would be the ones to hear about it, like show us something different already.

  • Grace,

    Great piece! I have been contemplating this for the last few years. While I love the all white look “on paper” it doesn’t seem to fit in my 1880 farmhouse. I tried the all white walls in my dining room about 2 years ago and it made me feel anxious. I ended up instead with a very saturated dark teal/blue/black. I love it. It feels very cozy and calm to me. I do however like my studio (I am a goldsmith) to be mostly white and maybe that’s because there is so much other clutter and visual stimulation and I need my mind to be a bit more clear when I am working.

    I am glad you wrote this article. I have been wondering what the longevity of the white walls might be. I am seeing a lot more dark walls lately.

    Best Blog BTW.

  • A thought on the white walls = “clean” issue you raised:

    That perception is complex and comes from a lot of places. Stark white is literally the absence of any color, and therefore can feel to some as blank/unstimulating and therefore psychologically calming/”clean”; the association of white with hospital-like sterility (e.g. the traditional white nurse’s uniform, lab coats and cleansuits, etc); and that people generally assume dirt/dinginess to be readily apparent on a stark white surface while potentially more difficult to see on a wall painted in bright/darker colors (this is most definitely not true, I can attest).

    And of course there’s the problematic associations of white with “purity”, “virginity”, etc. And for some, very unfortunately, white walls = “clean” could have racial implications (although I’d love to be wrong about that).

  • I rented small NYC apartments with white walls and light wood floors for years. When I got married and moved into a 3,000 sq ft home in VA I painted the walls white and had light wood floors installed throughout. It just made it feel more like “home” to me – trendy or not. And I like the simplicity of it.

  • White done right can be beautiful. I see a few examples of beautiful white rooms every time I open my Instagram feed. And I also see multiple examples of drab, depressing, and lifeless renditions of white rooms – one after the other on Instagram. To me, these are examples of white for the sake of white. Or white because everyone else is doing it. I’m sensing a bit of peer pressure here and lack of original thinking and taking creatives chances.

  • Dear Grace,

    What an interesting read! I didn’t know there was a “controversy” until now.

    Our home is all white but I thoughtfully went that route as we own a smallish 1950’s ranch home where rooms are often seen from one to the other. I thought it was timeless and we have a lot of antiques with pops of color but I hope its seemless and cohesive from room to room.

    I can see the trendiness with regard to white walls, mid-century, kilims, etc. and kinfolkish-ness, which is becoming oversaturated. I agree with live and let live and I can appreciate beauty. In ANY home decorated with thoughtfulness, heart, and soul.

    Best wishes,

  • Honestly, I like the white wall look. I even painted my cabinets white as a cheaper way to upgrade my home. But what I found calms be more is my front room, with dark navy walls, heavy teal drapes, a black piano, and a dark brown chesterfield. I like dark and moody and I’m slowly updating my home to reflect that. The white look, while pretty, in my home, doesn’t work because it isn’t me.

  • I think white walls and white decor photographs extremely well, and that’s part of the reason it’s so popular. I don’t care for white walls. They’re so boring to me in person, and often comes across as lazy design (by the lay-person who is not a successful blogger/designer/etc). But, yes, they are nice to look at (mostly)!

  • I’ve pondered this trend a lot … with great sarcasm. White walls, charcoal walls, black houses, fiddle-leaf figs, mismatched chairs. Artists have painted walls white for decades as a neutral canvas, and relief, to what we are working on. Fifteen years ago I would have referred to this as a “studio-look” … my friends shook their heads.
    I agree this is one more over-saturated trend showing up in images on social media. A safe trend and easy to follow to appear part of the tribe. Personally, I yearn for seeing something fresh and new.

  • We painted our home white 10 years ago when we moved in and I can’t imagine ever wanting to change it. Previously we had travelled and lived in a series of short term rentals, usually with either magnolia or yellow walls. I don’t think we ever had a rental with white walls.

    I don’t agree that white doesn’t work for families – we have three children and a German shepherd dog and white allows me to scrub marks off walls ( or whip out the standard white paint if I over scrub and the original yellow paint shows through). Our Ikea slip covers frequently get spot cleaned using whatever kitchen surface spray comes to hand – or thrown in a hot wash, which is much easier and cheaper than getting someone in to clean a fixed cover.

    White is like skinny jeans – the fashion forecasters would like to wean us off but we cling to what we know works.

  • One thing I find fascinating about this trend is the perception that it isn’t a trend. I worked as an in-house writer at an interiors magazine for several years, and visited a lot of white-walled homes, where the owners would tell me that the reason they’d gone for the look is that they could change the accessories and change the look of the room – seemingly not realising that this idea of “white with pops of colour” is a trend in itself. I think that’s fine – but I disliked the implication that it’s not a trend-driven look.

    • Andrea

      I agree that all-white is a classic and age-old concept/style. I mentioned that in the article (it’s been used since ancient times as a popular look throughout many cultures, including ancient Greece, Japan and in Scandinavia).

      That said, all classic looks come in and out of vogue over time, so they do have re-births as trends. Just because they have a historical precedence doesn’t mean they can’t be a trend. For example- chevron, herringbone, stripes– all of these are looks that come and go as trends, but of course are never discovered or “found” for the first time in their most contemporary iteration.


  • LOVED reading this Grace! Even more so since the title of my own home tour on D*S was “When the best color choice is white!” Ha!

    I find it interesting that you mention Marie Kondo since I KNOW that philosophy has influenced a lot of my decorating decisions. While I don’t go for a pure white anymore, I always seem to choose something neutral and calming. I adore pattern and mi and pops of color and I feel that a base of white or neutral walls allow me to experiment and be more adventurous in other parts of my home.

    But I will say that I am defintiely ready for some a new perspective on this trend. I will always love a simple, clean asthetic but would also love to see new creativity building off what has already been done. Thanks Grace. I ALWAYS love coming to your site. xo, Rebecca

  • I love the points you’ve brought up in this article. An intriguing topic so relevant to right now.

    I’ve adapt the white wall/white aesthetic based on the way I feel in a space. Dark, cluttered rooms (not saying all dark rooms are cluttered or vice versa) make my mind dark and cluttered as well. I feel in a light and bright space that my mood and my thoughts are fresh and clear. This is obviously subjective, and I know people who feel the same way as I do with dark interiors or with more pieces of furniture in their spaces. Ultimately, I would hope, it comes down to what makes you feel most at home, what provides the space for you to relax and be you.

  • I loved your point about the negative reactions. Makes so much sense.
    I’m a single mom going to school and working and caring for a special needs son and I can tell you my design choices have so much more to do with a lack of funds and my son’s special needs than anything else!
    The stories of people who live in spaces- so interesting to think about and see how that reflects outwardly in our home and living spaces.

  • I really appreciate this article. The all white look definitely feels aspirational for me – I love the look and my board is filled with all white rooms. But when it came time to paint my home (a first for me), I was drawn to color. We had just moved to Chicago from Los Angeles, and the light seemed different and less warm. White walls seemed suddenly cold and institutional, where in LA they felt bright and rela.

    There was a particular photo from Anna Potter’s home tour here on Design Droits-Humains that was a big inspiration for me (the one with the flower arrangement against a green/blue wall). I loved the mood that photo seemed to evoke, and I wanted to feel like that when I entered a room. (I ended up painting our dining room a similar color.) We ended up painting nearly every room in the house a different color. The living room is a pale, muted pink, the downstairs hallway is a dark grey bordering on black, an office is dark teal. We painted the bedrooms upstairs in more muted, lighter colors, but no white. And while it felt risky (and there are a couple of rooms that I’m not happy with and will probably eventually repaint), overall I love it. It’s warm and inviting and feels constantly surprising.

  • I live in Stockholm, Sweden. White has always benen arround, probably because of the long dark winter period. We have always been attracted to a light, airy decorationg style, because it works well during both the dark period and the summer period when it’s light almos 24 hours. The last 4 years the trend has been leaning torwards darker, moody colours like dark gray and navy. But the all white look will never be considered outdated here. I quess 90% of all kitchens are white, they are considered to be the safe option.

  • This was an interesting read. When I bought my first home I rejected white outright because I was so sick of it. I am much more open to it now but can’t use it in my current house because none of the rooms get enough light for most of the year. White without natural light can be very gloomy. So I have gone with lighter colors so there is pigment to reflect what light there is and that has made a huge difference. I think that is the one mistake people make with white.

  • Your article has made me smile: three years ago when we built our house and I chose to go with light grey painted floors and white walls, with four different shades of grey on various accent walls, our contractors thought I’d lost my mind. While I have a German mother whose love for all things Scandinavian formed my love for white interiors and painted furniture, here in Namibia the common aesthetic is beige or putty coloured walls and dark wood accents. Honestly, there’s only so much of that that one can cope with in one lifetime – given that we live on the edge of one of the oldest deserts in the world. All those browns left me craving something different. So, after a stint living in Papua New Guinea and traipsing home with a load of gorgeous dark wood carvings and then being fortunate enough to create a look from scratch, I realised two things: white interiors worked best with the rather harsh light we have here, and it also provided the best contrast for our inherited furniture and carvings (with the grey walls working to great effect to highlight certain pieces; grey+wood=win). While the white look made no sense to the contractors while the house was empty, the lightbulbs begrudgingly went on when the furniture and art were in place. I also find that the white walls provide the perfect backdrop for bringing in colour and pattern by means of artworks and soft furnishings. My biggest inspiration in terms of pulling everything together came from a magazine article about an art gallery owner living in London who represented a wide range of Australian artists – her home/gallery were white, but oh how the colours of the artworks and carpets and her jewellery displayed everywhere just leaped off the pages – it was gorgeous. And all these disparate aspects shone in their own right. While I agree that some all-white interiors ( kelims plants etc) can come across as somewhat deliberate, that holds true for other more colourful interiors, too. Authenticity, regardless of what the predominant colour is, is always easy to spot. Thanks for a great blog and article.

  • Awesome write up. I love it when I hop on here and there is a home with wild art and color and it looks unique and artistic but still uncluttered (thinking about one recently with the 2 guys that stole my heart completely). Minimalism is a beautiful thing (IMHO) but there are so many ways to show that with flair and a personal touch.

  • After seeing image after image of beautiful white walled rooms, I “updated” my home with white walls only to find it feeling cold to me. I lived with it for a while, but found myself going back to a warmer wall. No matter what the “in” trend is, your home has to feel good to you. You can bring in on-trend elements while still being true to your style, and your family’s needs.

    AND–my favorite image from this post has to be the boob pattern pillow. Oh my gosh!!! I would love to see the look on my boys faces when I add that to the master bedroom decor. :)

  • I didn’t realise there was a contraversy ;) so I appreciated reading this. As a Dane, white walls are important for a few reasons. 1. during dark days you want as much light as you can in your small space. White walls help with that. 2. Danes tend to collect a lot of art or use colour in furnishings/decor. So white helps to show that off a la art gallery.

    In all my home (and there’s been a lot both rented and owned), white walls and a white couch have been my thing. It’s not a trend I feel part of it’s just how I know to live.

    I just moved into a 1925 hunting lodge in Malibu Canyon CA and the first floor reminds me of Provence; stone walls, dark woods, slate floors. It’s the opposite to what I’ve known! (the upstairs is all white so I’m half good :) ). But now I see the draw of the dark room; the cosy, the more masculine, the ‘hygge’. I’m finding myself in the best of both worlds though my heart still lays with white :)

    • You are spot on, but if I can just add one more observation;
      in Denmark, when you rent an apartment, it is often painted white as default, and when you move out, you are required to return the apartment in the original condition (i.e. with white walls).

      So, moving in and out of rented apartments, it is too much hassle (and money) to constantly paint and repaint your walls, and therefore, many people just stick with white – also because it helps illuminate your living space in the dark months of Winter. :)

  • Thank you for this article. I find the idea that this is somehow a white American look fascinating. As an Aussie it feels like we have been owning the white wall, the grey wall and the beige wall since the 90s and I look with relief to the US for braver and bolder wall colours that I very rarely see here. I think a lot of us just get stuck at the White wall stage. We paint our houses a neutral colour to get ourselves a base from which to start afresh but then never have the confidence or stamina to go to the next stage of working with colour and pattern. I do worry that I am indoctrinated though. I worked so hard to NOT have a kilim rug on my floor: bringing home different samples to trial. At the end of the day though it was the kilim I ended up with. It just looked right. I wondered if that was because I had seen so many samples of the look online that I couldn’t get beyond that look. Claire

  • Just in relation to the reaction of “This looks so clean and fresh!” – I live in Ireland, which is the epicentre of beige (by which I include cream) interiors. My house is a beige-free zone and all the walls are white – I don’t have any killims but I do have lots of colourful furnishings and art. I think when people say a white-walled place looks “clean and fresh” they actually mean something else. It’s something I feel every day when I step into my house after a day in beigeness and it’s that there is a clarity, for want of a better word, to a white house. Beige collectively imparts a very slight (again for want of a better expression) clouded effect, so slight you don’t notice it until you enter somewhere that doesn’t have it. But when you do you immediately feel that effect of “clarity” which is very difficult to articulate and I think it just comes out as “clean and fresh”. I’m sure someone somewhere will come up with a better expression for this, and when they do everybody will say “Oh of course!”. Including me!

  • I agree, great post with good insights! I grew up with white walls everywhere in Germany and for some reasons never liked it. It always felt too cool, unimaginative and not cozy enough to me.

    What is interesting to me – as a web designer – is that this leaning towards clean white spaces is also present in people’s online homes, i.e. their websites. I have definitely embraced this trend in my work and my sites are all about being clean and well organized with space to breath and I use white backgrounds a lot. But I also enjoy playing around with colored and textured backgrounds as well, just like I do at home with my wall colors.

    Just like with minimalism I love seeing white walls in other people’s homes and magazines but I think I will always prefer a bit more color, coziness and texture in my life :)

  • Having lived with a mushroom colour for 7 years, I painted the whole interior a crisp, basic white. I love it. Billowy white curtains in the bedroom – a delight to wake up to. Kelim cushions on the sofa? Seagrass rugs? Timber window frames and baskets? Yes. Works for me. I come home to be calm and peaceful and the white look is great for that.

  • Does this trend have anything to do with the way we consume interior photos? An Instagram photo is such a tiny thing; squeezing in a lush Architectural Digest-style interior would never work. You would be squinting to see the tiny gold pug sitting in a vignette on the side table of a living room, whereas in a magazine spread you can pick out these details and delight in them. Same thing for Pinterest, Houzz, etc. And this is across subjects. Fashion bloggers set up all their product shots on fluffy white sheepskin rugs or white coffee tables. Food bloggers take photos of black coffee mugs on marbled white tables with black and white tiled floors. I mean, I was perusing a fashion blogger’s feed yesterday, and in order to match her Florida vacation pictures to her aesthetic, she made them black and white! As I’ve worked on growing my Instagram following, I’ve found that the cleaner and more monochromatic the picture, the more likes I get, without fail. It’s true that as the masses pick up on black and white, this trend might fade out. But I’m guessing to color blocking as opposed to white, because detail will never pop on Instagram or whatever tiny mobile media consumption technology comes next.

    • I think this is EXACTLY why white is making a comeback in a big way – and not just with the design crowd but with anyone who puts anything on social media. I had this thought the other day when i went to take a picture of something, only to have it come out looking strange because it was being photographed by a non-professional photographer (me) in a room that was painted light yellow.

  • I think, too, that white rooms are so attractive, because our lives are so frantic. Walking through our front door to a home with little visual distractions can be calming. Thanks especially for your comments to those who say that such rooms lack life, or soul. We are all different, and all require different things. And that, to me, is the basis of good design : determining how to best fill the needs of the home occupants, not just making a pretty room.

    • Your post reminds me of another good point about this style: It leaves breathing room for the occupants. Rooms are not just the empty spaces they appear to be in Pinterest photos, in real life they are decorated with the energies of their dwellers, their voices and movements. I feel like a room that has TOO much color/pattern/texture of its own doesn’t leave space for the personality of its occupants.

  • To get all psychological on the topic…white walls make furniture and objects stand out in relief, their forms and edges crisply delineated. And this decorating style’s typical minimalism exemplifies what you could call the “alone” look…because objects played against white walls often don’t seem to be connected or related, no matter how beautifully they go together. Often they stand in splendid isolation. Is this a symptom of our times? So many people today are fearful of genuine connection. Pattern-on-pattern connection. The kind of connection — unlike Facebook and texting — where you DO mush together, touching, all cozy and messy, edges blurring….White controls for this. It also makes each object stand out, like a star, instead of being a modest part of the whole. Symptom of our celebrity-driven culture? Maybe this sounds farfetched. but that’s at least part of what white walls say to me. Me with the white walls. (They’re BM Linen White…does that count?)

  • I suppose I think white walls are a bit dull, but what I tend to take issue with more are the all white interiors (furniture, rugs, walls, all of it). It seems like a status-symbol to me in some ways, especially in places like New York (where I live). Being able to keep everything pristine–especially with kids or pets in the mix–seems like quite a statement.

  • Coming from a culture that celebrates bright colors, I would love color on my walls, but I can never commit. A friend suggested painting the walls a warm white (NOT Navajo). What? She felt that I had so much original art, I should allow it to to express my style. It works. (On a side note, original does not equate costly. Most of my pieces come from very talented artists who appreciate selling their work so they can buy good supplies and at least nice meal. And I adore the one of a kind pieces. It all works out.)

  • We went white a few years ago and haven’t looked back. We live in New England and have more than our share of gray, low light days. In the past, I tried bright color. What I found was that whatever color I put on the wall, the day would come, sometimes sooner than later, that I couldn’t look at that color one more day. White gives me the flexibility to entirely change the look of my room with accessories, as the seasons change, and as my mood changes. We have honed in on a few whites that are tried and true for us, and it’s really freeing to not ruminate over a fan deck for days, weeks…
    Also, anyone who reads this great blog post should take a minute to check out “An Architect’s Guide to Color” for comic relief. : )

  • After 10+ years in our first home — where we painted every wall some bold color, just because we could — a couple years ago we moved into an apartment with the standard slightly off-white walls. I love the simplicity and the ease of it. I never thought I would appreciate the aesthetic. As a black woman, I don’t see the connection between white America and white walls. My Liberian MIL has a completely white home, lovingly filled with colorful items from her travels. It always feels cozy to me.

  • This was a great read! I have been a bit fascinated with all this plant life indoors. These houses all remind me of my childhood in Hawaii living in base housing! While I love a room with little color, just for the visual peace factor. The rugs, the brown woodwork all takes me back to rattan swinging chairs and bean bags! If you have lived on the planet awhile, you have seen this look. I would love to think it is a sophisticated turn but (wall aside) I feel like this “new” look is coming from the garage sales of my parents. Oh! did I mention all the BRASS I had to clean as a young girl??

  • I dislike that white walls are even a controversy, when they have been around forever. Everything in the media gets reduced to a fad, gets overused, chewed up and then spit out…as being not cool anymore. Lets not ruin being able to use white walls if we want to, even 10 years from now.
    But more importantly, white wall are never WHITE. The take on the color and glow all things around, the quality and color of light coming through the window, the furnishings, time of day, lamps, rugs…so the walls will always look more blended to the surroundings and enhance all. Where as colored walls will not. They are a set thing, an item…not an ethereal background that lifts everything else up.

  • I’ve always liked how clean the aesthetic of white walls is, although I find myself gravitating towards white walls with texture, rather than just plain plaster/dry wall painted in white – be it brick, wood paneling, or some other material.

    I’ve also started to notice exposed plywood/particle board as a finish, both in the US and in the UK (Glasgow, to be precise). Could this be a reaction to the pervasiveness of the all-white aesthetic?

    • I think the plywood/particle board trend ties in with what she wrote about white being cost-effective. Plywood and particle board is just the most cost-effective version of good hardwood. It’s like the modern take on those sexy but hugely expensive paneled wood rooms that high-end homes have.

  • I found the post to be really interesting and informative- I definitely suspected that this is a trend, but not as much in a way of white walls as in combining all those articles mentioned- kilim rugs, little trinkets, fig plants, etc. However, I don’t think there is anything wrong with it even being a trend. I like white walls because they go with any color and make it easy to decorate. Every room in my house is completely covered in flat beige and it drives me absolutely insane. I painted one room off-white and it made a world of difference (Camembert by Behr). My dark wood Indian dresser really stands out, my collection of turquoise jewelry looks so beautifully, a pink throw on a black Chinese chest, etc. I haven’t gotten to repainting the living room yet, but will do it soon because this beige is depressing and oppressive and pretty much mutes any decor that I have in my small living room.

  • This was beautifully thought out and written! Being someone who really lives and breathes interior design as an art form, I really enjoyed reading something that delved into the history and theory a bit.

    Another interpretation:

    Brightness/lightness can help us “brighten up”; minimalism can help us feel in control.

    The recession was truly traumatizing in American culture, with many people sinking into relative poverty and experiencing all the personal dramas that accompany poverty. Coming home to a room where everything is simple and bright, in a world that can seem so dark and complicated, is a way of creating a “safe place” to retreat to.

  • American design probably really has Elsie de Wolfe to thank for white walls (and white-painted furniture). She was, of course, reacting in part to the dark colors and the heavy ornamentation of the Victorian style, but instead of Kilims and a couple of mid-century pieces “to give the room soul,” she was having a blast putting Louis-style chairs, chintz, chinoiserie, trellis, and animal prints in her beautiful lightened-up rooms.

    Which gets to my main point – white walls look good with lots of different decor styles. White is the best color for reflecting light; this is very helpful in Northern light-hungry climates, and it’s also great for hot, sunny climates, just like wearing a white shirt in the summer is cooler than wearing a black one. I think it’s white’s light-reflective qualities that elicits the “clean and fresh” reaction.

    I don’t think white walls are ever going away… but the minimalist look might become a bit more absorbent/maximized when the Internet generation settles down, buys a house in the burbs, and starts trying to make room for lacrosse sticks, My Little Pony coloring books, and 18,000 Lego bricks, maybe the Art Deco bedroom set they inherited from Grandma.

    Or when their kids grow up and decide they really need some chintz.

  • I am 28 years old and have finally settled into a semi-permanent space. As a long-time color reveler, this all-white aesthetic has been troubling me for years. I feel like I should feel hectic, disorganized and unsure of myself designing spaces because I want things to be clean and crisp, but also want to embrace the things I own, because I cannot afford to replace them.

    I think that the all-white aesthetic in my age group specifically is heavily due to renting. Many more people are renting rather than owning right now, and renting for short stints of time while we move around trying to find jobs that will pay us enough to survive on. I do not make a bad salary, but student debt is crippling, so we cannot invest in a home and are working hard to save up enough to get married, even. It is important to me to pay off debt, but also important to make my house feel like a home.

    I have been considering painting my beige apartment all white because it is easy, but it’s just as easy to paint that beige colors that I love. I remember a bedroom wall in college that was a shade of emerald green that made me feel like I woke up in a magazine every day. I really appreciate a big internet voice like D*S stepping up to say “hey, color is still okay. You do not have to be a minimalist to be fashionable.” I know that it’s true in my heart, but in a pervasively-white world it can be hard to convince myself sometimes! Thank you D*S for embracing color too!

  • Thank you for the socio-economic perspective. I would say, though, that many design blogs tend to be a bit Euro-centric to begin with, and actually kind of narrow at that (“Scandinavian” is actually quite colorful at times–look up “Scandinavian Painted Furniture”).

    I think that the all-white aesthetic got picked up when people of other races and classes started going for the colorful interiors that they were being told (by design blogs) were popular–that is, once it filtered down to lower socio-economic brackets, the upper socio-economic brackets (in the US–that is largely white) decided to go in the other direction. I would argue, then, that it is a “white” thing, but only at present.

    I like Shaker, so I’ve always liked the white-and-wood aesthetic. But, now that the look is filtering down to lower socio-economic brackets, I’m quite sure that pattern will (actually, already has) started to come back in. This is because the upper classes are always seeking to distinguish themselves from the lower classes–and once their cast-offs have begun to drift down the social ladder, they will distinguish themselves once again by changing.

    I think that the important thing for people actually on a budget is to pick a style and stick with it–a classic style (I’ve chosen Shaker) can usually work well. Chasing the aesthetic of the upper classes is not only a strain on the budget of actual middle-class people, but it is a lost cause. By the time the look becomes affordable, the upper classes have moved on.

    I think they are moving on from all-white interiors. But, this doesn’t make “design blogs” any the less “white” (by which I mean upper-class and Euro-centric). The ones I’ve stopped following gleefully ignore the aesthetics of any other group–and while Design*Droits-Humains is the rare blog which features the best design and best art regardless of socio-economic-ethnic origin, I really don’t think this will change overall until others begin to assert their own aesthetics as something other than “ethnic” or “quaint” or “dated.”

    Or, “grandma”–that’s the one that irks me the most. Why are grandmas a group whose aesthetics are to be critiqued and mocked? That’s one I really don’t get. But, yes, thank you for the thoughtful discussion–it’s rare to get something so self-aware.

    • Bean

      I didn’t mean to imply Scandinavian design was only all-white. It has a long history of color and pattern (Josef Frank being my favorite example), but it also has a long history of those colors being used against white walls. That particular look was all I was referencing.

      Re: race and class, I’m not sure I agree with you there. But I do agree that most of the design and lifestyle blogs that get a lot of press are Euro-centric. But I think that is starting to change as bloggers broaden their gaze and knowledge-base a bit and the media (and other bloggers) finally wake up to the amazing wealth of bloggers/makers across the world.

      We don’t use the term grandma here, either. I agree it’s an unfair comparison and implies much about older women that is not accurate or kind.


  • I’m so happy to see this discussed in relation to societal trends as well as design trends. Great discussion in the comments, too. I especially appreciate the observation about how many of these spaces represent dwellings in transition, or at transitional times of our lives. I now live in a house in which every room is painted a different color and it makes me insanely happy, but I also realize that the luxury of surrounding myself with color comes with owning a house and being middle-aged enough to have collected lots of colorful STUFF. Who knows, I may be on the edge of a decade of deaccessioning and painting things white.

    Whether a room is white or color-saturated, what I do love to see in design blogs is variety, and some surprise within the parameters of a recognizable sensibility. And spaces represented as far as possible with the colors and light they really have, rather than falsely grayed out or sepia-filtered. Clarity! Keep up the good work, DS.

  • Thanks for this article – and the very interesting comments after! My husband and I have been slowly painting our home, finding that we lean toward white walls because it has an open feeling from room to room and lightens spaces that feel lacking in natural light. I never would have guessed that I’d be a “white wall” sort of girl, aside from the kitchen (I’m a painter and love a lot of color), but the more we’ve painted white, the more I’ve loved it. I go for color in other places now – wall art, furniture, etc., and I like that it feels a little like I’m curating a mini gallery. White also lets me switch things out seasonally without any worry about things looking crazy. Someone above mentioned that it might be popular because it feels more minimalist in the face of clutter, and as someone that collects a lot of things, as well as a mom with Thomas and friends, blocks, shoes, and puppy toys, everywhere, I have to say that the white walls and light colored flooring make me feel a little less like that clutter is closing in. Now that we’re working our way to bathrooms and spare rooms that don’t have a lot of clutter in the first place, I’m feeling more likely to choose wallpaper and darker paint colors. Anyway. Two more cents. Thanks for always sharing interesting things and a variety of looks!

  • I want to paint my house white (it’s now an 8-year-old muddy, taupe mess) but I find white to be the most difficult colour to choose! I painted the ensuite Navajo White (BM) but it looks so buttery and now I don’t know what to do for the rest of the house.

  • I hope no one interpreted my comment about “an art deco bedroom set inherited from Grandma” as a diss or an unkind stereotype of women of a certain generation. That was certainly not the intent.

    My point was more that there are certain life changes that have a big impact on the way we decorate and arrange our homes.

    One is being a home owner instead of a renter. Often this goes along with becoming less transient and maybe having a little more money and more space. Sometimes this also means moving to a space that is less urban.

    Another huge factor is having children. Some design is more absorbent of kid-clutter and kid-mess, some less so.

    A third factor is getting to an age when you begin to inherit some things. If they belonged to someone you loved, if you have fond memories of them, and if they are cool in their own right (like art deco bedroom sets) it is harder to be ruthless with them in an effort to maintain a certain aesthetic.

  • Great post! I know young “hipsters” aren’t the first generation to make lovely homes out of the little they have, but I agree that tight finances probably contribute to the all-white trend. Somehow white paint seems to cover a multitude of sins (aka: dated features, cheap finishes, lack of natural light), while being renter-friendly. It also plays nice with us décor commitaphobes. :)

  • I am one who loves the clean look of white walls because it allows beautiful objects in a room to stand out. Over the past 35 years I’ve been collecting everything from oriental rugs, textiles, and baskets to sand from beaches we’ve visited. I’ve also received beautiful copper and wood bowls, Irish linens, and silver pieces from my mom and aunt. These items all have a story – a history with me – so I love being surrounded by them. I only want items in my home that I truly love and that I have a connection to, but I also want my spaces to be uncluttered. When I walk in my home, I smile every time because every item brings back a memory and those white walls allow all those lovely things to shine.

  • After spending 6 years in Scandinavia my thoughts on white walls are mixed. I definitely understand why many people feel flooded by spaces that all feel the same because I don’t think it’s just the white walls, but the same “hipster” formula that is used in so many “unique” homes, but that is just a sign that more people really want their personality to shine through! Each one of us has a very unique and personal style that really represents who we are, where we have been and who we hope to become. We just need to give ourselves time to discover it!

    When we first moved to Copenhagen, I was SO excited about the white walls, but after I while I started to notice that when we left for a trip and came home that my home felt cold and distant to me. I began adding a little bit of color to my walls and then curtains (very un-Danish) and layers of texture. My Danish friends found it funny that I struggled with the white walls because that was all they knew, but they really enjoyed seeing what one of their homes looked like “Americanized.” I found that adding darkness to the light made everything feel more balanced to me, but really appreciated the Scandinavian white for bringing in light during the excruciatingly long and dark winters.

  • As a designer, I can’t thank you enough for taking the time to write out something like this, it’s why you’re the only design site I ever really read!

    After having spent an hour convincing someone that color matching guest bathroom hand towels IS NOT IMPORTANT, it became staggering to me how misinterpreted interiors have become and how we’re all so focused on Getting The Look, instead of finding value in our things, something I try to impart (with much difficulty) onto my clients.

    I’d love to see the slow home movement garnering more page views online, I know you’ve spoken about it before, and know that it’s part of your own home philosophy, but articles like this *hopefully* can get people thinking about what goes into their homes rather than the cute Target Collection (which I love, but is so so so wrong for so many reasons).

    A rambling comment, essentially to say thanks for giving our design world a bit more depth and meaning by talking about stuff like this.

  • “The only reason hospitals had white walls was because people associated white with cleanliness: it was marketing, effectively, and there was no point in marketing to a marketer. John would paint a hospital for marketers black.”
    – Max Barry

    Never understood the white/color debate. I’m strongly affected by light, and really only care about color undertones, meaning I hate some whites and adore others. Ultimately, I don’t care what color my rooms are so long as they don’t overly change the natural light in my apartment. I had a cream white living room that bounced bright yellow around during the daytime and looked dingy at night no matter what kinds of lightbulbs I used. Nearly drove me crazy. But for some reason, I had no problem with a slightly dusty, marigold yellow, which looked wonderful no matter what time of day it was.

    Maybe people who hate white can’t see/aren’t concerned with the undertones. In the alternative, maybe people who hate color have been subjected to the wrong ones for too long! To each their own. Happy color hunting!

  • It’s nice to see these thoughts written out. I know I have thought them!

    I remember as a younger person lusting for colored walls because I assumed white walls were a sign of hesitation – hesitation to own a style or color theme, and seeing it as a safety net so if we were to move, the bland walls would be best for potential buyers.

    Now I see white walls translated a few ways: a lesser focus on the location or ownership of a place and more focus on prized possessions, a clean slate for a busy mind, and negative space for other forms to pop.

    In a world of sights and sounds and so much electronic noise, maybe white isn’t hesitant after all. Maybe we gravitate towards minimalism in our homes and white walls because we are so stimulated these days. Maybe we aren’t so we aren’t grounded to one space as we are more connected to the world around us and look to travel and decorate with memories from experiences. Perhaps we are preferring transportable investments and decor that can be moved around easily on a whim as we change as rapidly as the electronics around us.

  • WHY white? white is not the only colour, nor is it ‘no colour’, it can play many roles, not just…clean, crisp or calm, eg-‘we are so stimulated’ ( so much electronic noise), that white is an reactionary ‘quiet’. Why equal white with ‘quiet’? …wave a white flag for cessation of violence, also the colour white on national flags often symbolises peace. Here in the uk we change our clock times to cope with lack of light in winter & we have small homes with many tiny rooms yet we love tartan cloth, William Morris patterns,liberty prints, Laura Ashley designs & Celtic knots, they are more than signs & symbols of our culture, they are an historical evolution of aesthetics. Indeed the origin of ‘colours’ meant your standard or flag! For example the Union Jack, a multi layered,time rendered, specific design. Such colour association is also reflected in our institutions eg- the NHS , our national health system evolved from the mire of military field tents, kaki became bleached canvas which progressed to Victorian pale blue walls(thought to deter flies), to mid century mint green(symbolising clean, fresh and rela). Then in an attempt to make hospitals less ‘sterile’ more user friendly, the patterned wall paper ruled until the people advocated the need for HOPE, sculpture & art on white walls adorned entrances. Today our treasured, free hospitals have walls of fluctuating , purposeful variety, chosen by the people, for the people.

  • My boyfriend is a minimalist and I am a maximalist. We just sold our last house that had intense bright and colorful walls. After all the re-painting we had to do to sell it, we decided to leave the walls in our new house lighter, and compromised on colorful trim and wainscoting, thinking. I loved this article, it nailed down a lot of thoughts I had in my head. A nice reminder to let go of what’s “in” and do what you want. Thank you! <3

  • Don’t understand why there would be a controversy about white walls. I was raised in an apartment building. Walls were white. No one would have dreamed of painting walls a color-they were white and you hung art on them. I remember the first time I heard people talking about painting their walls different colors–I thought, why on earth would you do that?

  • There’s also something to be said for the “art gallery esthetic.” You touched on it by writing about how we perceive people’s photos on social media. White backdrops keep lines clean so nothing “muddies” the visual impact.

    I’m not saying art HAS TO go on a white backdrop, but if you’re someone who owns a bit of it and likes to move it around (seasonally, for example, or just depending on mood), painting walls a colour can be at the expense of optimizing the art/flexibility of expression. Galleries host all sorts of art, they need their spaces open and blank. Blank canvas = less limitation.

    And, more literally, some people might want their house to look like an art gallery. Regardless of how much art they actually own, or move around.

  • This is such an interesting post! I love pondering the origins of a “movement” which I believe this minimalist interior is. It is more than just coincidence when so many home tours across design blogs are virtually identical – lovely, mind you – but so, so similar. Thanks for the editorial!

  • As a member of another maligned group of women – middle aged cat lady – I agree with those who reflect on the effects of age and a lifetime of collecting.

    The memories I cherish are so often triggered by the ‘things’ I have around me that I have come to realise that within William Morris’ advice is a hidden gem: even when I don’t find something beautiful, it can be useful if it reminds me of a person, place or experience now alive only to me. The aesthetics really don’t matter at all if the memory is strong…and I want a home that allows me to SEE those things (another thing that gets harder with age).

    Because my life has been spent wandering, the kilims/rugs/masks/tapestries/raffia cloths/shadow puppets and other sundry would make my homes familiar to those who read design sponge. They won’t change much with time, however, except to absorb more and new memories. This is it: the moment that my stuff makes me hip. I should make more of it before the cycle swings again!

    The age and finances bit plays in also: as is the case with many in Europe, I rent in the city where I work and own a home in the country for weekends and holidays. My rental came and will be returned all white. The items I chose to bring here reflect the style of apartment, the need for reflected light in grey winters, a balance of new acquisitions I treasure and old friends that make the house a home.

    My own house, however, will be different. The walls are now covered in lime plaster, awaiting a year of knowledge of the light and my use of the place to decide how to finish them. Some will be ‘finished’ in a more stable version of what is there now: a natural white colour drawn from the rocks of the area. Others will embrace the cosy corners of a house with both light and shade and could be quite dark. There might be some wall paper in hallways and WC and I might tint the limewash of the living room to a sort of yellowy ochre that has given rooms in other north facing homes a just-at-sunset feel all day and all year.

    I can take the time and play with the colour and texture of my own home since I know no one will ask me to cover it up when I move on. I can invest since it belongs to me and it gives me pleasure to do so.

    As to controversy? I wonder if the reactions here are not linked to the same forces that are seeing such polarisation in US politics. People feel judged when they are not part of the mainstream, when they are not reflected in others’ ideals. Sometimes the bitterness seems to be a thin veil for what reads to the outsider as insecurity. It doesn’t affect those of us who are not from the US as much, but looking at what reads to me as over-designed homes in other parts of the American design press I wonder about Bean’s comments and about how our homes act like tartans in Scotland and display our ‘tribes’ to the world.

    There is nothing wrong with this phenomenon but it is worth paying attention to the good and great coming from other traditions so that we can pick and chose when looking for inspiration.


  • My husband is an architect and when we first set up house,35 years ago, it was all white walls, simple furniture and then Persian rugs as we could afford them. Then came some black leather Kohl chairs, casts- offs from his office remodeling, now worth thousands, so says the internet. It happened without much discussion but at some point I realized I was never going to have chintz . Architects had and I guess still do a huge ego investment in how their houses look.They insist on white walls because they show art work better and if that art work is the architect’s own… well, you see how it all happens. Good thing I like it!

  • Great article and discussion. Relevant to me right now on account of an obsession with limewash which I sometimes tint with local ochres. One thing though in regard to your reference to the use of white walls in traditional Japanese architecture: the great Junichuro Tanizaki says in his “In Praise of Shadows” that white is not used and that the walls are the colour of sand.

  • Another practical reason for the rise of the white walls:

    More people are living in apartments, with design-minded young adults delaying a home purchase.

    With so many people unable to paint or paper their walls, no wonder the aesthetic is popular! Furniture and art you can take with you to your next place without struggling with your landlord over your security deposit.

  • 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!!!

  • 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!

    • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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?

  • 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!

  • 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.

    • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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!! ?

  • 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.

  • 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.

    • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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 mi 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”…

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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 of DS’s existence and I’m only noticing it now. Either way. It’s a good thing.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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….

  • 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.

  • My entire home is painted “Atrium White.” I love it…. 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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?

    • 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.

  • 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 . 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.

  • 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!

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.)

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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…

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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!

  • 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!

  • Okay, I can appreciate the minimalist, white/off white aesthetic. But what I can’t understand is when professional interior designers apply it to homes and buildings that clearly cannot support the look. I’ve seen countless cases where magnificent old interiors of oak and walnut joinery are unceremoniously ripped out in favor of cheap, and in some cases, no trim to achieve “the look” in order to be trendy. Some of these homes and commercial buildings are quite historic in nature, and these “improvements” are irreversible. Paint and wallpaper is one thing, but what are the next owners to do when the very fabric of a well crafted interior has been removed?

    • Loved you article but to bring race into this is totally inappropriate.

      I enjoy white walls because it gives me a sense of total relaxation. I don’t feel the same with a darker color.
      Yes you see immediately if your walls have a smudge or spider on then. So logicly they would be cleaner.
      Thank you for your article, but please don’t try interject race into this.

  • Although I greatly admire those folks who can go minimal it is not a style that I could embrace.

    I don’t have a white wall in my home and I have no desire for a white wall, there are just too many gorgeous colours in the spectrum for me to pick white. Right now I have this love affair with greys/pinks and blues

    I am collector and a retailer where my home doubles as my warehouse and so my home is constantly changing and I love that. My friends surprised when they walk in to my home as it doe snot stay the same for long, my look depends on what I find on my travel and what sells in my store.

    I am very open to having a home that is changing constantly and love the look of things that have a long and storied history.

    • White walls are not for me but there have been a few homes I have seen that I think look rather nice with white walls. One being the Audrey Bodisco’s SF Home shown above. I love that the wood around the the doors and windows is natural and not painted white too. I have seriously considering doing this in my home. It was built in the 80’s and has very little character. It think doing my trims this way would give it some life. I will not have white walls though. I just don’t like them. Maybe if I lived in Oregon, or some other place where it is gloomy a lot I might NEED white walls to bounce the light around during the day. Thankfully I am much farther south and so I will be painting my house interior a light variation of taupe . Thank you for this article it was good to read and has softened my stance against white walls.

  • One word: stuff. We have become overwhelmed with stuff. Both my husband and I have full-time jobs and we have young kids, our house is full of stuff, it is almost another job just to try to constantly get rid of all the stuff that comes in – the gifts, toys, clothes, books, etc. We don’t even buy much of it – it comes at holidays, birthday parties, school, art classes. Most of us don’t want to spend lots of time designing or “curating” our homes, we just want to live our life and focus on other things. These minimalist houses are the ultimate fantasy for the overwhelmed parent.

    • You read my mind.

      My mother is a wonderful designer and collects amazing pieces. I grew up with carefully arranged centerpieces and really nice wall art. When I grew up, I did the same and I felt that it was necessary to do so in order to make a house into a home.

      Then life happened.

      I was an only child. My kids were not. Throw in the cats and the dog (that I never had) and I got overwhelmed. Overwhelmed by noise and decisions and constant management of my brood. Visual “noise” added to the cacophony. Throw in the work necessary to maintain clutter (dusting!!) and suddenly that carefully thought-out design just wasn’t worth it anymore.

      So I did what any woman in my situation would do.

      I lost my mind and threw out ALL of my stuff. Everything that wasn’t necessary for living. No more centerpieces being knocked off the coffee during a wrestling match. No more wall art to dust and clean. No more collections to move to get to the never ending layer of pet hair that settled on every available surface.

      And I could finally stop fighting my family and relax. Stop shopping and searching for that illusive piece that would fit in a strange alcove. Cut my cleaning time by 2/3rds. (Believe me. A white/light neutral palate doesn’t hide anything and it *is* cleaner. I can’t count the times that I’ve been horrified to find grime that was camouflaged by an interesting pattern.)

      But the stuff keeps coming.

  • In the picture with the blue chairs, is the white used on the walls “true white” or white with something else in it (like black to make oyster white)? I’m am struggling with going with white walls and trim or something like antique white on the walls and white trim. Am afraid of the too-cold look of true white, but I hate some of the murky, greenish-whites too. What to do???

    • I had the same trouble.

      I bought tiny sample cans in the color range that I was interested in and painted 1×2 foot squares on all four walls of the room I was decorating. And in lots of spots on those walls.

      It’s amazing how much light messes with color. In one room, the same paint can look white, yellow, green-tinged, or beige with different light or even with the reflection of color from a nearby item. It’s also going to look different at night and different times of the day.

      The only way that I could figure it out was by investing in the samples and actually *looking* at the paint.

      I wish you luck. It’s so frustrating.

  • i grew up in a house with white walls. lots of colorful, rotating art, collectibles from around the world, & a mix of new & antique furniture. also, an open floor plan with soaring ceilings. white made sense. most definitely NOT soul-less. it kinda bums me out when people complain about the white-wall “trend.” white walls aren’t new.

    now i live in a 70s home with vaulted natural wood ceilings, a sunken pit, floor-to-ceiling brick fireplaces, & wood trim. i still love colorful, rotating art, collectibles from around the world, & a mix of furniture (i have a thing for funky-colored sofas). again, white walls just make sense. colorful walls would be overwhelming! like others have said, i love being able to swap out colorful furniture or accessories when i tire of a color. i like a blank canvas.

    that said, we do have a family room/den which we’ve painted dark blue! the room has a ton of natural light, & it makes it so cozy at night. also, the furniture in there is more neutral (a light gray sectional), so it really works.

  • I prefer white because it’s easy. I despise painting, don’t want to pay anyone else to paint, so if you use the same white everywhere it’s easy to retouch. I also prefer to use just a few colorful pieces on the wall for interest.
    I like clean & simple.

  • I embraced the white walls (although mine have a tint of creamy yellow undertone – omg – not grey!) about 15 years ago – we have been in 3 homes with this look. This look has never let me down – and I have received so many compliments thru the years as in “you should see her house” – we are not on an expansive budget anymore. I also embraced creamy couches about 10 years ago and then change pillow colors. Used rugs to hang on walls starting about 20 years ago. Started using less art (and I am a painter!) on walls. All I can say is this: I did not do this following any trend – it was instinctive as I became overwhelmed with all the loads of crap I have purchased over the years ( oh yes – it was at flea markets and it was not Michaels crap) – but in the end, it still felt like crap. I have edited so much and keep special books and beautiful things (to me) in mission cabinets I have had for years and on an open shelving unit. I am not trying to brag – all I can say is this look has set me free. I still have pottery collections and a few others…but I edited them and my entire life is better for it. Our culture throws so much useless junk at us. I began to wake up to this in my mid 30s – earlier than many friends. It is empowering and joyful to say “no” to Veranda and House Beautiful and any debt all kinds of purchases can lead to…. medium dark wood floors and tall milk sugar (an old Laura Ashley paint) baseboards and trim also work well for me. Add plain linen curtains in whites and yes – a light grey in one room. Oh – I just love it and I think while style always evolves – that this simple style is here to stay for me as it is 20 years later and I am still in love with it. Freedom from stuff is liberating. Start young and get off the buying train if you can. It is pure joy. Also – less dusting/maintenance. Heavenly!

    • You hit the nail on the head. “This simple style is here to stay…” Simple, timeless and classic, the look of clean white walls and trim work with natural wood floors will never date itself. It transcends trends and frees us! I, too, embraced this look about 15 years ago. We recently moved to a new home that has blue carpet and dark wood trim and cabinetry everywhere. Horrors! It feels sad and cave like for me. My delicate collections and soft toned accessories are lost amongst the heaviness. I am slowly transforming the house with walls and trim in BM Cloud White and eventualy the dark kitchen cabinets will receive that treatment, too. Nothing but a white kitchen for me! I have lived with both and know the white is essential for me. Then we will replace the dreaded carpet with wood floors in a natural finish. It will feel complete and like I am in my home again, nothing to change or “update”, as this style is timeless and forever.

  • As a woman of color who has had to take a break from the design world because of “white washing” (no pun intended) this post really means the world to me. Thank you for working to address the intersections of race/diversity and design. I am recently letting myself be creative again after having been worn down by the industry, and this inspires me to see people in the industry adjusting as well.

  • I think we are all so overwhelmed by incoming information, that there becomes a need to minimize “visual information” in our homes. I once worked as a store decorator and worked with so many objects, art pieces, and furniture all day that my bedroom at home was all white…linens, walls, and curtains. I just needed to just my brain off from so much stimuli.

  • I like that your reasons for the white wall, eclectic reach are largely practical: Transitional people with hodgepodge but still good pieces who cannot justify a large piece at this time and do not want to risk dissatisfaction in a few months. It adds the most humanity I have seen to this divisive topic.

    I am a prime candidate to absorb the white wall chic. In fact, at the time of this publishing I was reading Marie Kondo, dreaming about wall shelves/open cabinets/ going minimal and clean lines. Now though I am a time when I could really use some coziness, (I blame too much transition). I need a hug everyday and the appeal of a wide, bright, airy space is instead replaced by quite a vast, sterile, and museum-like place.

    Where once I sought to regain order and purpose (the appeal of minimalism to me) I instead feel the effects of lost history and misdirection. In my frustration, I am off-put by the emphasis on ‘serene’ sanctuary. Not calming: serene. The ones with spa design and meditative touches.

    The bedroom is not solely for sleeping. It is for waking up. It is for sex. It is for self-indulging luxury. Certainly, no one wants to come home and feel doubly burdened but the mood can be a big snuggle with its own character.

    I live on the shadowy side of my apartment with small windows. Copious natural light is a luxury that does not fit my lifestyle atm. Neither can I budget for the kind of home I’m yearning for but at least I can look at magazines and not feel envious.

  • I have decided to paint my living room gray. Not just a hint of color, but gray, with white baseboards. Am I already out of date and should be looking for a REAL color? I am also enamored with the lack of dust collectors in the homes. I have some antiques that I would like to sell, but am told that today’s people don’t want my hand-me-downs. What to do?

  • I live in a European country where renting rather than home-owning is the norm and landlords in most cases require walls be painted white for the next tenant upon end of the lease. White walls are the norm and very rarely somebody will put forth the money and effort to wallpaper a rented apartment, so the most you will see is an “accent wall” (quite overplayed and cliché by now) or wall tattoos (YIKES).
    So the white wall controversy is quite amusing to me… for a long time I’ve enjoyed this particular aesthetic (houseplants, ethnic prints and colorful art), as it provides an attractive and attainable alternative for making use of white walls to the regular IKEA furnished student apartments seen on this side of the pond. If it gets too old and overplayed something else will replace it here, but the white walls certainly won’t go away!

  • White has been my favorite color since I was a kid — was just always drawn to it. So now I live — finally!! — in a home with high ceilings, white painted walls, big art and a lot of white-white furniture. I find it so peaceful. The only other thing that drew me was paneled wood walls a la Eichler homes. Oh yes, and diagonal wood paneling on staircases. (But am beginning to feel a tug toward color.)

  • I think Airbnb and the likes also have a role to play in the rise of the “white walls/minimalist” aesthetic. It does make a flat look light and airy in pictures, it makes for a space where people can easily see themselves staying, and eliminates the problem of leaving strangers among your many treasured (and possibly delicate) possessions.

  • I agree with all of your points. I like the white-wall, minimalist design because it draws out simple geometric angles in decor, which I find rela and which also helps me feel more clear-headed (but that can also be said of any space, really, that is tidy and well-organized, so this feeling is not always contingent on design). But I also like colors and patterns. It really just depends on my mood. My biggest challenge in developing taste is that I can appreciate a wide variety of styles and don’t like to settle on just one. It’s the same for my wardrobe situation. This was so nice to read. It’s the first article I’ve read on interiors where someone has tackled the issue of the white wall epidemic. That you’ve acknowledged it as something to be discussed at all shows an awareness you have of your industry that a lot of other people in interiors haven’t, or just won’t, acknowledge. <3wren

  • GREAT article. Thanks. My bigger issue is all the pictures of homes that are DONE. The idea is “homes that are put together slowly, thoughtfully, over time.” Yet, the pictures of all the houses, DONE. My house is still in process. Sometimes because I cant afford to do the next thing, sometimes because I just dont know WHAT to do. Looking at lots of pictures of perfect houses can be inspiring and motivating, or discouraging. Design is my hobby, my passion, my love, but not my job. Im limited by time, money, and soccer practice. :)

  • Interesting read! I’ve definitely noticed the all-white trend and I have another theory to perhaps add– it’s easy to photograph, and it photographs well.

    I was scrolling through my Instagram feed a few days ago and noticed an over-abundance of white walls and white homes with a lot of the lifestyle & design bloggers that I follow. In our increasingly med and snapchatted world, white walls help make everything look true to color and they provide an excellent background for high-contrast photos and vid. They really help make things pop! More and more of us are also ditching our DSLR’s and using cameras on our phones to snap photos, and white walls help make photos easier to edit with even the most bare bones of technology.

    I don’t have white walls in my house–the majority are gray, taupe, and dark charcoal gray. To add to the fun, I also have reddish hardwood floors that reflect and give EVERYTHING a pink cast. As a blogger myself I am constantly fighting with color correction issues if I take a photo of anything in natural light in front of one of my gray/taupe walls, or if any of my walls are in the background of a photo. Sometimes they look gray, othertimes they look red or even green. It drives me batty, and I’ve been planning on painting a guest bedroom white just so I’ll have a better backdrop!

    If you can’t beat the trend you might as well join it–eh?

  • I moved to Florida two years ago from Philadelphia. There I had dark furniture and my walls were painted in various colors. Since moving to Florida; I have found my taste changing. I am now loving white walls, while using color in my artwork and decor. My furnishings are soft pastels and I actually have a chair that I love; which has flowers with colors both soft and bold, this is so new a taste for me. My mother always had her walls painted white and I thought; “how boring”. I told her this often, “there are different paint colors; so use them”. Sorry mom, I guess I don’t know everything after all.

  • I think part of the reason white walls are so frustrating for so many people has little to do with them not liking the aesthetic and more to do with not having the high ceilings and unique, historical architecture to make white walls work. Homes with those kind of features in my area are around $500K and up. Why are designers almost never tackling and showcasing really difficult spaces to work with such as 8 ft popcorn ceilings and rooms that are boxes without any interesting architectural elements. For people who can’t afford to spend $90K to raise their ceilings into their attic space, how can we make our spaces more interesting? The amazing thing about color is that it can bring interest to an architecturally bland room whereas white lets amazing architecture take center stage. I know people who can’t afford these huge amazing houses probably can’t afford design services. Nonetheless, it is still frustrating to be searching for inspiration and never able to find a home that resembles your own architecturally despite the fact that all homes in this era (60s ish) are exactly like it.

  • I too was wondering when the white trend (along with shiplap) was going to move on, so it was interesting to read your article and perspective. Living in the northern U.S. I feel people here turn to color to cozy up their winter months, which starts in November and ends in April. Much of the woodwork is stained, many homes have saturated paint colors. My sister and I both agree that we love the homes we see in magazines with white trim and walls, but in the middle of winter when all you see is white outside and the days are gray and gloomy a rich, fall/nature inspired color palette is warm and inviting. This is especially true when you have to paint a north facing room ceiling “Lemon Chiffon” in order to make it look like a warm white. The old “Buff” color on the walls looked like a dungeon, and is now replaced with “Tatami Tan”, a dusty almost terra cotta color. Some of the conversations I’ve had people say they go with white because they are afraid of choosing the wrong color and white is pretty safe if your using accessories to add color. It also probably depends on the type of house you have open floor plan or more rooms (1910 farmhouse here) and the lighting/climate. If I lived in a warmer climate I know I would feel differently and white would be on the agenda!

  • As a traveler who enjoys staying in thoughtfully designed hotels and homes, I’m glad for the eloquent and culturally astute insights you’ve presented. The all-white aesthetic is enjoyable as a guest, but I’d never do it in my own home. It makes me wonder if people are following this trend just to have an “Instagrammable” home, rather than a livable and personal one – and for the tiny prefab apartments where I’m from, it’s ironically about renovation firms selling trends rather than creating a home that’s uniquely yours.

    • I think you are definitely onto something here. Either making their homes or themselves more mable. White homes do look beautiful on camera but when I see a white wall in person it very much looks like unfinished drywall to me (or a primed wall, at least). It makes the room feel incomplete. More importantly, I am getting so sick of the catch phrase “light and airy” to describe these spaces. I have heard this so many times on design channels, it is dizzying. And kind of makes me want to punch something when someone says it.

      • Hi Yume

        I had to chime in regarding the language you quoted. Even as a working professional in this area, there are so many phrases that make me cringe when I hear them. I’ve actually cut way down on media & information consumption to just help me 1) stay sane and 2) to make sure my contributions to D*S aren’t simply pulling words from my brain that have a space there from media exposure. I think this is very real risk for those who create content.

        My favorite words these days are “amateur”, not goals and “experiment”, not plan. Thanks for your comment.


  • I’ve always been happiest in white rooms. Several years ago, I tried some popular wall colors, but I couldn’t stand it. I started repainting to white at 1:00 am after two weeks of color. It is clean, it is pure, and it is serene. Making racist claims is just another ploy at dividing Americans. I also love charcoal grey, as in pillows and clothes.

  • I just want to re-emphasize (as the article mentions) that white interiors can be a backdrop to many many looks. Its more about this particular combination of ITEMS in the white rooms has become somewhat uniform across the web. My parents are from Pakistan, and many South Asians (and Greeks, and South Africans, and Indonesians, etc. etc.) like the white walls look for the reasons cited above, but what they are DISPLAYING in the rooms differs pretty dramatically across households, so you end up with a very different look than what we see on all the design blogs online. No judgement either way, but I think white walls is a minor part of it, its more an issue of design becoming so uniform- the same rugs, same framing and pictures, same light fixtures. People shouldn’t feel pressure to fit in to an Instagram ideal! Life is not Instagram – Instagram is art + marketing! I’d like to see the “art and beauty” side of Insta represented in a more diverse way. Variety is the spice of life! Just my musings.

  • I like it all! Riots of color, muted colors, some dark, some pastel. Also white. But…. being from the Pacific NW, not so much the white walls. People talk about furnishings and accessories. But for me, the deciding factor is the light that mother nature supplies in different locations. To me, orange, cobalt blue, red, green and yellow all look great the closer to the equator you get. But up here in the NW where it’s rainy and cold and dark at 4:30 pm, white walls feel cold. They also look grungy and grey and reflect no light. I’m 70 yrs. old, have traveled all over the world and I’m still searching for the perfect color!

  • What an interesting and intelligent article this is. My husband and I recently had almost our whole house interior painted in Benjamin Moore’s Oxford White, after two decades (and two houses) of living with quite a lot of wall colour. For this house, we were motivated less by what’s in style (since it’s likely the tail end of the white walls movement, as you noted) and more by what the house seemed to want. After a traditional centre-hall plan two-story house and a mid-century-style bungalow, both in the city, we now have an open-concept, high-ceiling, casual rural house right beside the ocean. The previous owner had beige and taupe and charcoal everywhere. We had natural oak floors installed (a departure from our previous homes’ darker hardwoods) and made the walls a slightly softened white. There’s still lots of colour with furnishings, art and accessories, but the envelope of the house lets the ocean views shine, and the simple, fresh palette is delighting us. One of the things I like best about look is the capacity it provides to allow for fairly dramatic seasonal accessory changes. We swapped out our ocean blue and aqua stuff for holiday red and silver, for example, and when we put that away, will add some warmer touches to get us through the Nova Scotia winter.

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