Nordic cabin from Dream Retreats feature. Photos by Eliesa Johnson
Ready for a clean slate, interior designer Brooke Voss wanted to paint her downtown Minneapolis loft white—all white (with the exception of the hot pink bathroom) But her husband thought white would feel too cold, and sometimes marital peace must be prioritized over paint. “I gave my husband one thing,” Voss jokes of their home decorating decisions. That thing was Benjamin Moore Revere Pewter. He should enjoy it while it lasts.
“I think I might be repainting,” Voss admitted—on live radio, when we recently talked home design on Shop Girls, myTalk107.1 (Jan. 3, 2015, hour 1).
That conversation got me thinking about white. It seems so right, particularly in magazines and on Instagram where bright, white, minimal spaces look so appealing—especially as I view them while surrounded by Legos, trucks, and unfolded laundry. What I want is not just those white walls so much as the calm, clean, cool surroundings those spaces evoke. Spaces where dirty socks are never left balled up by the sofa and laptops, bills, and endless stacks of school papers do not interfere with the natural light that spills onto spare surfaces.
In the real world, is white wrong?
Voss acknowledged that it can be risky. “If you walk into a home with yellow woods, oak millwork, or beige carpet, white can fall a little flat. You need some pigment on the walls to balance those woods," she says. "But if your millwork is white, it doesn’t matter what color the floors are—white is good.”
While white is “usually the answer,” especially in a room with interesting moldings or great windows, Voss adds a caveat. “I lean away from everything being white. I love to see a white space with a leopard print rug. White is a beautiful palette for layering.”
Craving more light (and fewer baskets of laundry) in the depths of winter, I asked three other interior designers about their philosophy on white.
Andrew Flesher, of Andrew Flesher Interiors, and a former contestant on NBC’s American Dream Builders: “I don't think you can ever go wrong with white. Sometimes I think color can be superfluous unless it's used boldly, and works with your overall design concept. Benjamin Moore Super White has been my go-to for many years— It's the purest white I know of, without any undertones. The main thing to consider when using all white is that you have to have either a lot of moldings to create shadow lines and interest, or it must be a very minimal/gallery-like space without ANY moldings to avoid the look of a cheap "builder's special." I've personally lived in several all white spaces (including the floors) and I don't think anything feels better.”
Lisa Peck, of LiLu Interiors: “White walls can work, but I prefer a nuanced white—there are so many shade variations. We have white walls in our studio but it is balance with other color and pattern. In Minnesota, when we get so much white outside, I think we can develop white fatigue if we don’t have some other color or pattern to balance it out. Consider how the natural light comes into your room!”
Robb Whittlef of Historic Studio interior design services and showroom. “I’m a white wall guy—Farrow & Ball Pointing is always my go-to: white enough to feel modern; warm enough to feel comfortable. White gives you a template to drive home a secondary color or specific metal finishes, like brass. My old vacation house in Palm Springs was all white with a punch of blue that reminded me of some great scuba diving trips and also worked in the climate. But living in an all white room in Minnesota is a challenge, as it means you have negated the environmental influence that is a given to any interior. White walls with grey accents, or grey walls with white accents is a good ping pong on the look that feels current.”