Where did the time go? A year ago yesterday, we moved into our current new-to-us, really old home, a house we didn’t originally intend to seriously consider buying, but that we all really love.
(Me: Is it annoying that I keep telling you how much I love our house? Will: Nope, because I never want to move again.)
The house was built in 1912, but the interior was completely redone the year before we bought it. We hear it was a gut job. (They even moved a staircase!) And every wall in the house—with the exception of an attached porch off my office (beige)—was painted white. Specifically, Benjamin Moore’s Simply White.
A quick note about these photos: I love you muchly, but I am not a home blogger, and this is not a house tour. I hope these pictures give you an idea of our space and how it impacts our white wall satisfaction level.
Clean slate on moving day
We’d tried white walls in the past, and weren’t happy with the look. In our old homes—built in 1939 and 1960—they didn’t look pleasingly simple, they looked unfinished. My previous white spaces looked blah, no matter how much texture or pattern I worked into the room.
I thought white walls weren’t for me.
But then we saw this house. It’s a 1912 Craftsman, with lots of light, ten-foot ceilings, and interesting architectural details. We decided pretty quickly to leave the white walls for the time being. Moving is exhausting, and not painting is easy.
Our living room six weeks after we moved in. Don’t worry, the tv hasn’t been over the mantel for a long time.
But also, we liked the look—and when else were we going to get the chance to live in an all-white home for a while with so little work? We viewed it as our opportunity to experience the house with a neutral-ish backdrop so we could decide how we wanted to move forward. My friend Myquillyn calls this “quieting the house.”
What the pros say about all-white walls:
I was surprised to discover that professional designers don’t like all-white walls. House Beautiful calls it “a paint color mistake you should never make,” and they’re in good company. Designers say it’s rare that a single color—no matter what it is—truly suits every room in the house. People are drawn to all white because it’s simple and easy, but that doesn’t mean it looks good.
Looking into the library from the living room. Read more about our library here.
But wait. What about all those gorgeous white rooms on Instagram and design blogs? Well. It turns out that designers also say that white photographs really well—so much so that it often looks much better in photos than in real life. The Wall Street Journal even calls white walls “Instagram gold,” because they look terrific in photographs and easily combine to make a unified grid. (Psst—it’s also easy to artificially amp up the lighting for photos, and most of those design mag white wall photos I love get serious lighting help.)
Flat paint is best for looks. More on that in a minute.
The salvaged wooden island warms up our all-white kitchen. I take a lot of book stack photos here because the light is amazing.
What I know now about considering the all-white look:
• Our instincts were good: when choosing paint colors, the bones of the house are important. White walls highlight the architecture, so you need to like it.
• Natural light is a must. Bright white rooms are lovely, but dim white rooms look institutional. (Rule of thumb: if you need to turn on lights during the day, there’s not enough natural light for white walls.)
• What I didn’t realize: what’s outside the house affects how the walls look inside the house. Of course a big tree in front of the window blocks light, but they also cast a green glow into the room. Ditto for our exposed green rafters, and the trees whose leaves turn orange and red in the fall.
It’s easy to add pops of color to a neutral backdrop.
• Texture is important or your place looks sterile. This comes from the house itself, like in that very top photo with the painted wooden wall boards, or the fireplace and mantel. And textiles, and also furniture and floors. (Ours are hardwood throughout, with area rugs, except for the sunroom, which has wooden floors painted a medium gray. I wish I knew what the actual color was.)
One year in, here’s what I’ve learned about living with white walls:
• It’s easy. So easy. We have four kids and a dog, but we can touch up paint on the whole house in ten minutes because we just need one can of paint, or two if the trim needs help.
• Except when it’s not. Our walls are flat white, which can’t be cleaned. The trim is eggshell, which is easier (but not easy) to wipe off.
• More easy: having a uniform scheme (if we can call this a “scheme”) saved me from having to make piles of decisions at a time when I couldn’t afford decision fatigue. Plus everything seamlessly flows.
White walls are great for photographs, especially this textured brick. It looks yellow-ish here: we snapped this right after we moved in and didn’t yet know how to shoot the white walls. Shirt from Readerly.
• It photographs really well. I take 60% of my blog photos in one of our white rooms (with great light), often in front of a painted white brick wall (the only wall in the house that’s semi-gloss) like the one above. (I’m guessing I take another 30% in the library, which has good light, but not amazing light.)
• I was afraid all-white would feel boring, but it feels (mostly) serene. I did have to consciously add personality with accents, which stumped me for a while, but we got there. (Throwing a party gave me the nudge I needed.)
Our living room: white walls, neutral bones, lots of texture.
• Everything goes with white walls, right? Nope. Our white walls read as “cool” in our space. When we moved, I was so excited about bringing our adored taupe sectional into our new space. The warm tones we carried over from our previous house clashed with the cool tones in our new place. I was flabbergasted. (That sectional is in the basement, replaced with grey and brown leather sofas I love with our cool white walls.)
• Houseplants look amazing against white walls.
• The lighting matters so much. My favorite white rooms are the ones with light on two (or three) sides. It’s hard to get great light in a room with light on one wall only. My urge to paint over the white correlates perfectly with the amount of light a room gets.
The fireplace, decked out for Christmas. Even without the stockings, the stone, brick and wood provide texture and visual interest.
Where we go from here:
I haven’t done anything to our home for a while, and while we’re definitely settled in, the house isn’t remotely “finished.” Not that a house is ever finished—but after a six months reprieve from thinking about our space, I’m ready to dive back in and finish some halfway-done spaces and hang a lot more art and photos, and I’ll definitely be considering paint options. After a year with white walls, I have a good feel for where white is perfect, and where pretty neutrals could better serve the space.
We’re about to de-white at least one room: my daughter and I are planning a mini makeover for her room, she wants to paint. I agree. Her room gets gorgeous light—for about two hours a day. The rest of the time the white looks blah, so we’re choosing a nice neutral that better suits her space.
And for what it’s worth, the pros say we’ll see more dark, moody colors in the years to come. When it comes to my home, I’m not trendy—but I do like to look.
I would love to hear about your experience with white walls. Have you ever lived with all-white, or de-whited your own living space? I would love to hear about it in comments.