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5 Reasons You CANNOT Paint your House Art Gallery White

By 02/13/2018August 16th, 201954 Comments

The decision to paint your house art gallery white has just hit mainstream. In a BIG way.

Even though we’re almost 8 years into the grey/fresh/white trend, and black is quickly replacing grey as the ‘trendy neutral of the moment’.

Vancouver Art Gallery


5 Reasons You CANNOT Paint your House Art Gallery White

At the same time, I have NEVER received as many questions and emails about white since January arrived.

When I say WHITE in the context of this post, I am pretty much talking about the look when you paint your house art gallery white (above).

Which is in the realm of true-white and off-white. 

And this time, I’m not talking about white kitchens and trim, as I said, it’s white walls that have suddenly become all the rage. See below for what it looks like to paint your house art gallery white.



Here are 5 reasons art gallery white walls are a bad colour choice:

You have existing earthy tile or granite with no white in sight, and no plans to replace

We recently helped a client choose new colours for her kitchen. She had painted the walls BM Cloud White but she had existing earthy tile. She was NOT happy, until we chose the new correct pale neutral that actually related to her tiles.

Therefore, if you have tile that looks anything like the one in this entry? Stark white walls are NOT in your future.


You have an Earthy Stone or Brick Fireplace

Studio McGee recently posted this transformation:


And here’s the after (below). See the earthy stone fireplace and dirty carpet from before? It’s gone. And notice how light and white the new decor is.

If you have a living room that looks anything like the one above (carpet included), white walls would instantly make all your furniture and carpeting look OLD.

Older and more dated than it already is.

After {interior by Studio McGee}

And that brings me to my next point:

It Doesn’t Work to Paint just One Room White (in your main living areas)

You can’t paint only one room BM Chantilly Lace (a True White) or SW Snowbound (an Off-White), because if the rest of the main rooms in your house are painted any darker, it will look like you have just primed this room and you haven’t painted it yet.

Therefore, if you don’t have fixed elements that will support painting your walls white AND you aren’t planning to paint all the main rooms of your house white???!!!  It WILL most assuredly look wrong.

I just received this comment on my Instagram account because I’ve been talking about this whole WHITE phenomenon for a couple days:

Thank you for your instastory. I painted my house BM Simply White and it looked simply unfinished and simply horrible with my off-white cabinets. Bottom line, the house is no longer white!!

I understand that everyone wants to go as light as possible right now, but the correct GREIGE is way better for most homes than WHITE.

Because White is a Snob

Janice Lindsay said it best in her book All About Colour, which I talked about in this post years ago, and her advice is still accurate today.

Adding colour to a sunny room is like putting makeup on a beautiful face, totally unnecessary. Besides, why have paint’s one colour when you can have lights many? It is poorly lit spaces that need colour. The white will look grey.

The colour white is typically used in basement rooms or in windowless or dark rooms in the misguided hope that it will make light but it won’t, so get out the colour.

White is a snob that likes it’s own company best. Interest comes from a variety of textures and sheens and from natural or uncoloured materials – wood, stone, fur, metal, glass. It likes other neutrals and finds black, it’s colour complement, incredibly exciting.

If other colours are pale enough, white considers them part of the family. If they aren’t, the white tries to make them look bad: bold and boisterous, like vulgar intruders.

Colour gets blamed for being loud but white is the mischievous culprit. Janice Lindsay, All About Colour

Your House is Undecorated

The worst colour for your walls if you’re missing a look and a feel is white. Just read the above post I’ve linked to about white. That’s the reason.

White highlights EVERYTHING. Just like really dark espresso or black hardwood floors will also highlight all your furniture that isn’t awesome yet. Kind of like a wall full of black framed artwork. It’s highlighted right? It does not disappear into the wall.

Painting your walls white or installing dark hardwood floors should be a design plan, NOT a knee jerk reaction to a trend.

I posted some instastories about greige vs. white the other day and one of my readers said:

“I feel pressure from my decorators to go white. They feel like greige will be out in less than 5 years and I will hate it like I hate the dated peach I have now. And it’s expensive to paint, so I don’t want to be doing it very often”.

Okay so first of all, if your walls are currently peach, then they probably haven’t been painted in the last 10 years because peach is an 80s colour.

So here’s the thing.

There is little point in painting your walls art gallery white if your house is not designed to work with white. Ergo, greige is probably the best answer for you if you want a fresher look.

Why is greige the answer? Well because darker shades of grey or simply choosing beige are your other choices. There’s no place else to go unless you start painting your home green, blue or purple, for example.

If you want a timeless colour scheme? Start with choosing a sofa in your favourite colour.

Yes I’m back to that, but seriously, buying a charcoal or black sofa because it’s trendy, will not make you happy anyway unless that room is completely decorated.

Speaking of trends, let’s look at this gorgeous bathroom in Nate Berkus new home in Los Angeles which is featured in this months Architectural Digest.

Here we have black and grey marble with a mural painted in shades of green beige, taupe and pink beige  that overal, visually relate to the hardwood floors in here.

Based on this bathroom, we all might scream “beige is back”, or worse, we might say “It’s OUT, along with the tuscan inspired mural!!”

But in this case, most of us aren’t saying that, because every detail here has been considered.

Good design is all about how you pull it all together to create a beautiful room.

The reason I would advise you not to copy this bathroom (or any other trendy bathroom out there) is because it wouldn’t look like this in your house unless you hired the same designer or were really creative yourself.

The Problem With Trends

The problem with trends is that the consumer, who is not a designer, tries in vain to copy the look they see but they miss the details that would turn that bath from perfectly nice to perfect.

In addition, what they also miss is that not every new trend can be incorporated into YOUR house.

Does it work with the style of your house? This is just the start of the questions that your designer [should] ask you.

Or even worse, you renovate one bathroom when you move in, the next one three years later, and both often end up wildly different because the trends have changed again.

And then what most people end up with is a busy, bossy, and trendy bathroom that you will get tired of long before it’s ripped out by the next homeowner. And how do we know this to be a fact? Start shopping for a house on-line and tell me how many bathrooms or kitchens you could live with.

And I would just like to save you from that.

If you’re a design professional or colour enthusiast and you’d like to transform the way you see colour my live training will teach you how!

Register here.

Related posts:

What Everyone Should Know About Grey

The 4 Best Whites for your Open Plan House

What’s Next After the Grey Trend?



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  • Cathy D says:

    It’s really easy to buy into the newest trends because the media is flooded with these perfectly presented images. However, one needs to look seriously at what colours we prefer and respond to emotionally. And in Canada there are a lot of grey days and winter white. Can you live in and feel alive in and in love in a house that’s white? All the time. The older you get the more apt you are to be true to yourself and be able to say that, “That’s nice … but it’s not me.” Cathy

  • rm says:

    Maria, good post. Do you consider Accessible Beige a greige? My house is this color everywhere and trim is Alabaster. Do these two play well together? My kitchen cabinets are close to Dover White. They look yellow most of the time! Any suggestions? Should the cabinets be the same color as the trim?

    • Penny says:

      Have you read Maria’s ebook “white is complicated”? I would start there.

    • Maria Killam says:

      Hi RM, it might look greige in your house if you have a lot of light, but I don’t generally consider it to be a greige, more like a green grey. Dover White is cream, that’s why your cabinets look yellow, painting your trim the same won’t change the read of them (you’d have to go really dark on the walls in order to make them look whiter. Hope that helps, Maria

  • vicki says:

    Maria, I have been keeping up with you ever since I came across your blog when I was starting from scratch on a new home 8 years ago. This is one of the best things you have written in my opinion. It gets to the root of why some things work and some just don’t. White is my first love. I chose BM “Horizon” for the walls of my home except for the kitchen which is Titanium. It’s a little deeper color as you know and the kitchen is on the north side and is open to the living room/dining room and I love the look the look. Your blog helped me along the way and I just want to thank you for your hard and very interesting work!

  • Betsy Suposs says:

    Fantastic post Maria!

  • Julie S says:

    Like a lot of people we couldn’t afford to renovate the whole house at one time so the renovation clearly stops when you leave the main hallway and you go from white, black, and natural materials to 80’s wallpaper and yellowed fixed elements, to be updated a room at a tiime as the budget allows. Our house and design plan are well suited to white paint and I have no regrets, but I do take to heart what you said about painting other rooms white as well. I already had plans to do that in the hall bath, and was previously undecided about the master bedroom. It has tons of light and will be white too now but I’m sticking with light greige for the rooms on the north side 🙂

    • Maria Killam says:

      Hi Julie, White should be in the main, open areas of the house if you’re going with white. Colour is fine in bathrooms, bedrooms, etc. Hope that helps, Maria

  • Elizabeth says:

    A couple of years ago I visited two vacation homes by interior designers who had chosen bright white for their wall colors.
    Why? I asked my self what did these ladies know that I was missing out on? Maria, to your comment – it was the context.
    This was a color selected after a complete interior remodel as part of a design scheme. The homes had saltillo floors and unfinished beam ceilings, lots of colorful art and furnishings everywhere.

  • Mary-Illinois says:

    Great post, Maria.
    I have never been in a home that’s been painted white. The only homes I’ve seen painted white are in magazines or through social media. So I don’t know how a white home would feel. Maybe it would feel unfinished. Like the walls are just primed & not yet painted. I don’t know.
    I do know that the pictures I’ve seen have been altered by the photographer. They’ve been brightened up. That’s as bad as photoshopping pictures of models. It leaves me feeling like my space could never look as good. I’ll stick to my colored walls & appreciate my home as it is.

    • Maria Killam says:

      THat’s exactly right, it’s something most consumers don’t know, all those blown out rooms are created by using ‘available light’ photography, and are definitely not the way that room looks all day long! Maria

  • Michelle says:

    Hi Maria! Thanks for another fantastic post. It brings up a question that’s been bugging me. It’s about picking a sofa in your favorite color. I don’t understand how picking a sofa color vs a neutral would not end up being “bossy.” For example, if I choose a pink sofa won’t it really limit what I can do in that room decor wise because everything (wall color, draperies, art, accessories, etc.) will have to go with pink?

    • Maria Killam says:

      When I talk about ‘bossy’ I’m talking about fixed finishes, where if you chose a trendy, busy pattern, you’ll be stuck with it forever until it gets ripped out.

      That is a different conversation from choosing your favourite colour for a sofa which will live way longer without looking trendy than a ‘trendy’ neutral like brown from the tuscan trend, charcoal from the current trend, and black from the trend that’s coming.

      Yes of course everything will have to coordinate with your pink sofa but what’s wrong with that? Sounds like happiness if you ask me!

      If you need help pulling it together, we can help you with our ‘Get me Started’ home decor package on the eDesign shop page.

      Hope that helps!

  • The thing that gets me around here is when people say “I want it to look beachy,” and then they paint the kitchen seafoam green with colors with Tuscan/earthy colors. Umm, those colors don’t go together…ugly costs the same as pretty! Get professional help!

  • Lucy Haines says:

    Good advice Maria! When we moved into our present home all the walls were painted stark white. It looked like a hospital infirmary. I couldn’t wait to put some color on the walls. It gives a softer effect and like you said ” you don’t feel you are living in an art gallery”. Trends have a purpose and that is for people to spend money. So many people get hooked on HGTV and think that they can just copy a look so they don’t need to hire a designer with color training. Case in point is a friend who remodeled her new home and bragged that she copied the Property Brothers home. Scale, color and everything else was off. So sad because she spent a fortune and ended up with a mess!

  • Kay says:

    Great post, Maria. When we moved into our house, the living room and hall were painted linen white. For some reason, the walls always gave the impression of being dirty. We didn’t have time, energy, or money, so didn’t do anything to change things for a long time. Finally I had the walls and low ceiling painted a pure, full-spectrum yellow, with white trim, and everything looked completely terrific against that color. It still does. My sister who took your course in Boston says that a person coming in doesn’t even notice the color of the walls. She just feels warm and welcomed, and perceives the room (now our dining room) as beautiful.

  • Nicola says:

    Thanks for a great reminder, Maria. I find myself needing to hear this over and over again. White seems to be one of the big default go to colours and the question ends up being ‘which white?’ rather than ‘is white a good option?’. And I love the quote by Janice Lindsay – very wise.

  • Susan says:

    So…If one does have an earthy tile that looks similar to the one pictured above, what pale neutrals might be worth a try?

  • Sandy says:

    Hi Maria,

    Thanks for this post on the white trend. I am attracted as to how folks in NYC are able to decorate small spaces with white as the backdrop.
    You noted to use greige and so I put into practice the valuable tools provided from your training (class Vancouver 2017) to view griege on your color system wheel and noted that it was one of the classes of whites. I then went through the white BM and SW color boards however I did not find any greige color boards. What would be some examples of BM or SW greige colors ?


    • Maria Killam says:

      HI Sandy, There are only a few greiges in the Core Collection the rest of them are found in the VIP Collection, colours like Soft Chamois, Classic Grey, Ballet White, Pale Oak, Balboa Mist, Maritime White and Clay Beige. And yes the reason why greige is one of my 5 gradations of white is because it’s so pale. And should be what most people paint their house instead of ART GALLERY WHITE.

      Hope that helps, Maria

      • Maria Killam says:

        Also that apartment in New York has no fixed elements that would dictate a different colour, and no other colour except a seagrass rug and a yellow beige sofa along with white curtains. Yes in this case the decorating is so basic that white looks fine.

        I’m not saying you should NEVER, EVER CONSIDER ART GALLERY WHITE. But if your house or your clients house has any of the issues I’ve listed above, then it’ll probably look wrong.
        Hope that helps,

      • Sandy says:

        Thanks Maria for the list of greige colors ! Wishing you and Teereeia best travels. Continue the wow factor girls !

      • Theresa says:

        Hi Maria, I know this is an older post, but I’m in the process of renovating my home. Do you consider Benjamin Moore White Dove as an “art gallery” white? I was considering using this in my main rooms and for kitchen cabinets. Great post, I have two of your ebooks and have learned so much. Thank you

  • Jill says:

    Could someone explain the use of white (exterior and especially interior) in the Santa Barbara Style? To me, some of those white walls look pretty white, and I think they look really good with warm/earthy/tara cotta elements like red tile roof, Spanish or Saltillo tile floors, or warm colored wood floor and warm colored wood work. I really feel drawn to that contrast; it seems very dramatic and yet also very classic to me.

    But maybe those white walls are not as white as I think they are.

    Could someone please tell me (generally) what the undertones usually are in the Santa Barbra Style? I still have trouble really seeing the different undertones of whites. And I think there is is still a little part of me that want to paint the House Art Gallery White!

    • Maria Killam says:

      Well sure if you have solid orange tile you could potentially paint the walls whiter, but I think cream would still look better with that style. And having said that, it’s all in how you style the house, good styling can hide all kinds of mistakes with paint colour, it happens every day, all you have to do is open up a magazine or start looking at Pinterest.
      Hope that helps,

      PS. Do you have my White is Complicated eBook? Almost 200 pages of tutorial with images and a bonus book of go-to whites will explain white a lot better than one little comment posted here.

      • Jill says:

        Maria, I do have you White is Complicated eBook! And I went out and got the actually paint chips from Benjamin Moore that you mentioned in the book to try to see and understand undertones better. I think I have some slight color perception/color blindness re: colors that are kind of neutral – based on tests like this: This article suggests looking at images of paint samples on your computer to better see the difference. I can see more difference using this trick, but I’m not certain that this method is accurate enough for the purpose of choosing wall colors.

        I also wanted to say that I was really moved by this blog post where you talk about the possibility of treating Saltillo tile floor “like a pair of blue jeans”. I kind of love that concept but I understand that things like Saltillo tiles (and I want to say by extension, some other rustic/natural/warm elements) are always quite as simple to deal with as blue jeans, which we tend to ignore in terms of matching to the rest of an outfit or treat as a neutral – although I think there might be some situations where is that simple . . and maybe knowing the difference is the real trick. Also, I may be coming away with the idea that really white colored walls might in some sense be something other than “neutral” in some sense, because they are so dramatic (and perhaps hard to make work with other elements). I still like really white whites!

        I could see the 3rd from the top photo of the warm colored hallway having walls that were white-er than they are now at least, (if that is what the homeowner liked) and if it were not for the gold frames and those kind of dirty toned stools and that dog statue on the floor. The hallway is lovely the way it is, of course, but I could also see treating the floors, the wood work and the chandeliers like jeans or natural elements and painting the walls a whiter color . . but I’m not sure how much whiter is would be safe to go – very likely not “House Art Gallery White”. And perhaps that change would not be as optimal from a color expert/designer prospective but it might make some home owners happier.

  • Kellie says:

    Just wondering… I have been hooked on BM Ivory White (same color as Acadia White). . And I just love it. Maria can you divulge on that color and let us know what you think of it. My trim is White Dove. The two look really clean without looking too white. Thank you, Kellie

    • Maria Killam says:

      It’s in the category of cream in my system of whites. Not sure if that answers your question but that’s what I have to say about it. Maria

    • Cindi says:

      I have this color in my Hawaii home also, and love it. Everyone says “I never liked white walls, but this looks great”. Sometimes it reads as really white and sometimes as creamy. But it seems to match both warm and cool colors.

      I’ve had some form of beige in my other last 3 homes and am so tired of the dirty look! I am planning something more white in the new home I am designing, and I didn’t know it was a “trend”. I just want a great backdrop for my modern house full of colorful furniture, rugs and art.

  • Phyllis E says:

    Thanks for the informative post, Maria. Perhaps one reason that so many people thing that they want white walls is that, so many of the beautiful interiors that we see these days on HOUZZ and on shows like “Fixer Upper” appear, at first glance to have white walls. But I have noticed that when you look carefully, and look for something that truly IS white in the room (a tip I learned from your blog, Maria) , you can tell that they often aren’t really a pure white after all! I am surprised by the colors that you consider to be “greige” (in your reply to Sandy above.) I was surprised to learn that “Classic Grey” and “Ballet White” fall in that category. I always thought the “greige” was something in between gray and beige–like Edgecomb Gray or Accessible Beige(?). Perhaps you could do a post on greige and explain it all for us. (or perhaps you have already, and I just forgot? )
    Would you say that climate might also affect appropriateness of a color scheme? I mean–people living in cold climates might not exactly get the same comforting “vibe” from a pure white room during chilly winter days, that people living in sunny Texas might during their relatively warmer seasons–regardless of how much light and appropriate decorating was in the room! Just wondering your thoughts on this. Thanks!

    • Maria Killam says:

      Hi Phyllis,
      Here’s a post that might help:

      Also, your comment at the end about ‘cold climates’, really has not that much to do with wall colour. It’s all about having a look and a feel, if you paint your walls white and you don’t have any elements that clash or make the white look wrong, as I mentioned in this post, then it doesn’t really matter how cold it is outside.

      People will often also say things like “Don’t paint a north facing room blue, because it’ll feel colder!” Well which blue? Battleship grey blue or turquoise? Both are in the blue family? If that bedroom has a look and a feel and makes you want to be in there all day long, it won’t matter what shade of blue it is as long as the room is well decorated and the colours coordinate. Take that same blue room and stick a bed frame in it with a bad duvet and yes, you’ll think the problem is the blue walls, when really it’s that the room is not decorated.

      Hope that helps,

  • Kim says:

    Hi Maria, it’s funny I would come across your post today, as after years of playing it safe with neutrals, we just bought a sofa in a favorite color – turquoise – and we love it! It’s in our 15×15 sunroom along with two chairs covered in natural linen. We wanted to have a little fun with the space. The rest of our house is accented with turquoise, navy and green, so it works with our other stuff. The room is currently chartreuse, which was selected by the previous owner, along with the floor tiles that lean pink. I am thinking to paint the vaulted ceiling SW Tidewater and going with white walls. I think we can pull it off because the room is mostly windows all windows with very little painted wall. The adjacent kitchen is Bleeker Beige (also previous owner pick, maybe 5 years ago). We are in the upper Midwest and have a cold winter, so I’m considering warm whites. Am I on the right track? Thanks! P.S. I will download White is Complicated today! Thanks for that resource!

  • T says:

    Would you consider SW Origami as a “greige”?

  • Devika says:

    Hi, you have written an amazing post and it was really useful!

  • Kim says:

    I’m gutting my 5’x9′ bathroom with tub/shower combo. There is a small skylight in this room but no windows. I plan to paint the walls BM OC-118 Snowfall White (off-white) as that looks best with the off-white shower tile and flooring (as determined by using your large paint posters I ordered). My question concerns sheen. I read your 2009 post about paint sheen and wonder if that advice still holds true. I want the walls, trim and ceiling the same color but am unsure as to what paint sheen I need. I anticipate it will take several coats of paint to cover the currently brown door.

  • Shelia Roberts says:

    Your Blog is one of my favorites, THANK YOU!!!!

  • Susan says:

    What about painting some rooms cream, if the hard elements so dictate?

  • Rachelle Seguin says:

    Hi Maria,

    This is a great post but it doesn’t answer my dilemna. I have an open concept home with high ceilings that create many angles. I was told that because the white ceilings of this main living area ceiling white, and textured, that I need to paint all the walls in that area a matte white so that thw walls blend in with the ceiling. However we have tile floors that have a travertine look. How to I accomplish this if white does not read as earthy?

  • Gail says:

    Yikes. I’m out of date. I thought the Studio McGee room looked cozy and nice as it was.

  • Cindi Anderson says:

    What about a brand new, modern style house, with huge windows and views, which will be filled with bright colors (from abstract art to furniture and accessories?) Is it white right then, or will it still feel stark and cold? Many modern homes do have that feeling, and we are working hard to ensure a lot of warmth.

  • Edward Rusky says:

    Dear Maria,

    Thank you for your help! But I have a question. You said painting a dark room white will not brighten it much. We have a room with off-white trim and and an off-white ceiling (and dark blue walls). The room tends to be dark, with relatively little light coming through the windows. Would replacing off white with more true white help? (I think we know that the walls darken the room but we love its color).

    Thank you !!


    • Maria Killam says:

      Going from an extreme dark colour to any shade of light or white will certainly feel brighter, however the point of my post is that your colour should relate to what’s happening in the room. Taking any room and simply painting it a bright white is usually not the answer for most spaces. Maria

  • Alicia says:

    In the Mediterranean, I felt my mood lighten as almost all of the trends included white and marble. Coming back to the states, my mood drastically shifts as “griege” or gray is becoming the new popular trend. I find it dull and blah as an artist myself. I think white has always been around and you honestly can go wrong with the shade and undertones but choosing the right one will brighten any mood! Plus, pair it with a pop of color and you cannot go wrong. Trends flourish because they are widely liked and accepted. Maybe you should try some art gallery white walls yourself ????

  • Jordan says:

    Great post. I was just in a friend’s new house this weekend. When they first moved in, the dining room was a beautiful calming sage green that suited the place really well. When I went this weekend, they had painted it a stark white. And since they don’t have an eye for decor, it just looked sad and unfinished. It’s a bummer that many unique spaces end up being completely neutered by people who can’t think beyond Chip & Joanna, but don’t even have the eye to make it passable. As a side note, it’s difficult for me to not judge people as inept and unimaginative who merely parrot whatever they see from the Gaineses or from famous Instagram mommies who think stark white and some dried flowers tacked on the wall is the height of cozy.

  • Rosella says:

    This is a very useful article! Came across this link after purchasing your E how to choose color. Wish I had seen it earlier as I already purchased a greige green sofa☹️ I have terra-cotta tiles in the kitchen and was hoping to paint cabinets white and wall color white as the backsplash has a bright white field. Now I’m not so sure after reading this that I can do that. Trying to make white work with a fixed “bossy” surface won’t work. Then what to do my dear??? Paint bottom cabinets with white on upper perhaps?

  • Terri Lewis says:

    This was a very informative article. The room I was considering an off-white for is paneled and directly flows into another room with wainscotting. I was thinking of taking the White Dove trim color onto the paneling and treating it like trim. Now I am second guessing that decision because the elements in my house are earthy. I know Swiss Coffee is a green-gray griege–so would that NOT be considered art gallery white? Is it OK to treat paneling like trim in all the other rooms in the main living area have wainscotting that color?

  • Ginny says:

    Hello! I have found this post too-late!! Last year, 2022, my husband and I bought a 5 year old farmhouse-style home, but with more traditional finishes. When we purchased it, the yellow-oak floors were paired with VERY yellowy off-white walls AND ceiling, and very off-white trim. The few existing lights were also very warm. The result was a screaming yellow hot mess! We had heard so much about avoiding the GREY trend, that we fell into the WHITE trap. With the help of a “color consultant” we painted whole house all walls and trim Chantilly lace. A year later and I’m still struggling with the starkness in several areas. So! My question for you: Will you write a post for all of us attempting to recover from the WHITE trap? Pretty please??

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