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How to Choose White

Vancouver’s Colour Expert Advice; White is a Snob

By 08/02/2009January 26th, 201830 Comments

The following is an excerpt from Janice Lindsay’s book; All About Colour;

Good white rooms always meet three demanding criteria. They must have Good Light:

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Harmonized Proportions

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and a Few Attractive Objects artfully arranged:

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This is why white rooms are a challenge, not to be taken lightly by those not up to aesthetic discipline.

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. White will look grey. 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.

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White walls offer no place to hide, no camouflage. They create an art gallery effect, spotlighting attention on every object so each must be worthy. White walls highlight shape and colour and tolerate no chaotic mess. Each object is part of the composition and so has to be selected and positioned with a curatorial eye for arrangement. White walls are not the avoidance of colour. They are the embracing of the most demanding colour of all.

Bad white spaces are those where white is not used as a colour but in the misguided notion that it is the avoidance of colour. This is when white looks bald and empty, cheap and unfriendly. Or it can look unfinished, a beginning still waiting for something to happen! Janice Lindsay

Anyone serious about the colour business, should definitely own this book!


Related posts:

A Light Colour will never come to Life in a Dark Room

Interview with Colour Expert; Janice Lindsay (Washington Post Blog Watch, July 9)

Is White a Lonely Colour?

White; Messages & Meanings

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  • Design Esquire says:

    Maria, another fabulous post. You made me think about white rooms in a different way. Thank you!

  • Julia says:

    I love reading your blog; you put so much into every post. Each one is a jewel. Thanks!

  • Ideezine says:


    White on! Great snaps and I'm always up for a color refresher course when I stop by Colour Me Happy!


  • Velvet and Linen says:

    I agree. I never have thought of white quite that way, but it makes complete sense. I am learning so much from you and Janice's book! It really was worth buying.


  • Windlost says:

    A very funny and insightful post Maria. White demands great light, great architecture, and interesting THINGS, in my opinion.

    And thanks for clarifying the white in dark rooms thing…that it goes muddy.

    I like insightful posts like this, that are full of little axioms and hard-learned rules. Saves us novice decorators a lot of time, but I will say, I am slowly learning these things for myself, which is always the best way to learn, isn't it!?

    Great post! Terri xo

  • Things That Inspire says:

    Remember when I was thinking about painting my dark family room (dark because there is a screened in porch off it) white to make it lighter (it is BM harbour town). You told me NO – don't do it – it needs the color. Great post – you always teach us so much!

  • hzgrace says:

    Thank you for this post. I've never been able to say why someone's white room just doesn't cut it. So many times the reasoning behind it is 'to make the room look larger' Instead as you point out it looks unfinished and sometimes I felt sterile. You have made me wiser.

  • Brillante Home Decor says:

    White is a snob, I like that.
    White needs perfection, I think.
    Color needs courage and embracing life.

  • Ann says:

    Great post…white is really a challenge but makes a room look really inviting and fresh if you can pull it off. White can also be so stylish… and I love it because it makes a space look really relaxing.

  • Annie says:

    OMG, look at the cornices and ceiling detail in pic 5, I'd be happy with any of these great rooms, but I'd love to do something as spectacular as that ceiling in my new home!

  • Vitania says:

    Such a fabulous post – I love white rooms – and I have seen many done extremely well, in magazines. But when I walk into a white home, it always feel like something is missing.


  • lolly-jolly says:

    WOw everything you said here is so useful and interesting! and right… love that post! really love it

  • chanteusevca says:

    Maria, I feel that you are always reading my mail when I read your blog. I was thinking of painting our family room white because it's light challenged. Now, I realize that would probably be a mistake. Funny how every design question I have lately I find the answer to on your extraordinary blog!

    Thanks again for the wealth of colorful information you bring to us.

    ~ Victoria

  • Tracy @ comfortandluxury says:

    Great post, Maria.
    I completely agree that a room with limited light should not be painted white. Especially if it's a small room and the white is meant to make it appear larger. I don't know who came up with that "rule", but, in my experience, it NEVER works. A smallish, darkish room needs color to fill it up and give it some life and enough stuff in it to obscure the fact that the room itself is small. Oh and, by the way, bright white rooms scare me a little and don't seem very friendly so that probably "colors" my opinion of white as well!

  • Rachel says:

    The “white cube” aesthetic was developed by Alfred Barr of the New York Museum of Modern Art in the 1930’s to present artwork as timeless, eliminating the use of saturated walls as was popular earlier in the century. But as Maria via Janice so astutely mentions, it's not appropriate in every situation. I can't tell you how many clients i have consulted who fall back on white because they think it's the "safest" solution and will lighten and brighten their spaces. Not true!

  • kathleen says:

    I kind of crave white, but after reading your post, I see why it would not be a wise choice for my house. I'm learning a lot from you!

  • viera says:

    Great post Maria, very interesting educating and insightful.
    .. and Thank you so much for a tip on my blog.

  • DesignTies says:

    My son just moved into his first apartment… they've been told that they can paint but that they have to prime any walls they would have painted when they move out. I was thinking that it might be best for them to just forget personalizing the space with paint… but after reading your post, I think they should paint it white! They have wonderful light in the apartment and, with their wood floors and predominantely brown furnishings, I think we can make it look pretty good!! Thanks for the inspiration, Maria 🙂

    Thanks also for dropping by DesignTies and commenting on the transformation of my nesting tables. Yep… a primer would have been good, but because the tops were so rough I would still have had to sand. Considering that you're the colour guru 🙂 I'm happy that you like the colour that I painted them!!

    Hope you're well…

  • DesignTies says:

    I should add… about my son's place… I'm thinking that if they paint it white they wouldn't have to prime when they move out…

  • Maria Killam says:

    Hi Victoria/DesignTies,
    I agree that if the space is light and bright your son should go for it but I think to have white walls truly work you also need to repeat it in the space (just like it's done in every photo above).

  • Between you, me and the Fencepost says:

    Wow. White the snob. That's why all rental places look so . . . cheap and horrible with their white walls. It's not white that's the problem. White is a snob I love it.

  • Danika Herrick says:


    This post had perfect timing! We are moving to a new house and the LR is one big room on the north side of the house (horrible light and large eaves over the windows too). I have always had a dream of doing a white LR with great colorful accents & I have been killing myself trying to find a white for it. Thank you for the refresher! I definitely need that book! Great post.


  • Lauren says:

    love this post!!! I totally agree that white is a conscious choice— definitely not the choice to make when you're scared— quite the opposite.

    need to bookmark this for reminders!!

    awesome post


    Hello, Maria!
    I came to read it over again, after our conversation.
    I find the pictures on this one so alluring that I really have to struggle to read it instead of getting lost in my dreams of dream homes….

  • Lisa says:

    What about white kitchens?

  • Christine says:

    This has to be by far the BEST article about white I have read. I love the ways you described white, I have always always said white was a bold “color” but I couldn’t have said it better than your title, “white is a Snob”.


    • Maria Killam says:

      Can’t take credit for the headline, it’s from Janice Lindsey’s book after all! Thanks for your comment. Maria

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