Why are You Obsessed with White Walls?

Photography by Amy Batog

Okay, inquiring minds need to know, I have been thinking about the 2018 obsession with painted white walls a lot lately.

I can’t help it, in our eDesign consulting, whenever I specify the palest colour our client can get away with in their home, they often ask for an even lighter shade which brings us back to. . . you guessed it, white.

And not every house can pull that off.

Especially if your house is still decorated in the Tuscan brown trend.

Which means it has a lot of earthy fixed elements in tile, backsplash and countertops. If that is the case, ‘Art gallery white’ is rarely, if ever a good solution.

Anyway,  I realized that while I might have a bunch of theories on why the planet is obsessed with white, I haven’t actually asked YOU, my lovelies.

Coffee table | End Table | Carpet | Ottoman | Console | Sectional   {Photography by Amy Batog}

So here’s what I would love to know:

Have you painted your house something in the realm of ‘art gallery white’ similar to the images shown in this post in the last year or so? And if so, is it fabulous? Do you love it? If not, why not?

What had you arrive at the decision to go WHITE?

Or

You have scheduled a painter and your house (interior or exterior) is about to be painted WHITE.

Why? What series of events, magazine photos, Pinterest or Instagram photos (or HGTV)  had you decide that art gallery white was THE answer for your home?

Please post the answer in the comments below!

And don’t forget, if you are about to choose a white, better to be informed and know what you’re doing, you can find the answer in my White is Complicated, A Decorators Guide to Choosing the Right White eBook here.

image source

Is it because there are so many rooms like this everywhere (above)? Rooms filled with lots of light?

Image source

However, notice that the walls in this room (above) are actually a pale yellow beige and not white it all (just compare them to the blue white ceiling)

Also, please leave a comment on blog topics? What burning question/s do you have that I haven’t already covered?

And, it’s been awhile since I wrote an Ask Maria post, but I need photos!! Please email photos for my ‘Ask Maria’ column here. Please include real dilemmas not just “What colour should this be?” since I’m looking for questions that have not been previously covered on the blog. I want this to be as helpful as possible!

Can’t wait to read your comments!

Related posts:

What Everyone Should Know About Paint

When to Break the Rules Around Choosing White (or Cream)

Trend Alert: Paint Your Walls and Trim White (or Cream)

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  1. No white walls inside my home, but I did just mention to my hubby that when we reside our house i’d like to consider white. Mostly because I love the classic look of a White house with black shutters (which we already have). And our house is a colonial so I think we could pull it off?

  2. I lived in a little house with low ceilings in Seattle. Most of the windows were small and on the north wall of the house. My ex had it painted art gallery white because he was majoring in photography and he had a freshly printed array of photos from his senior project to display. It looked so grim and grubby on a gray day, and many of our winter days are gray. It looked stark at night with our lighting, too.
    I think a lot of the current popularity of white is driven by the Fixer Upper look, and it works great in the warm, bright light of Texas, and I love how fresh the white rooms look on my computer screen, but it just doesn’t work in my house with my stuff and my lighting. Maybe the problem is that I don’t have Photoshop installed in my living room so I can’t turn up the brightness and bump the contrast?

  3. For my new build, in anticipation of it, I studied your White is Complicated, plus your other materials.. I was coming form an 1855 farmhouse with saturated color in all of the rooms (because of massive millwork all previously painted antique white…so they could take the color). For the new house, I chose Simply White for the walls and mill work, with Opalescence for the ceilings (recommended on another blog, I think Laurel Bern’s blog). I’m pleased with it. HOWEVER: I do get reflection from the greenscape outside in some rooms..but that’s only in the summertime! I think I just needed a break from the color and am enjoying the use of texture in this house where I can do exactly what I want (the other house was my husbands so I was totally restricted, but did my best there)

  4. Angela Vogt Schellenberg

    We bought our house 4 years ago. It had beautiful hardwood floors (red-orange undertone) and beautiful wood shaker cabinets (orange undertone) and the whole house was painted yellow with white trim. There is also no place to stop painting in my house (all the corners are round) so once you pick a color you are committed to a large space. The yellow was light absorbing and it made me feel like I lived in a cave so 2 years ago I decided to go white. I spent several months with paint chips on my wall and realized very quickly that a white on my walls with that floor was not the answer. Finally I found Benjamin Moore Muslin OC-12. This is not even close to white, except in my house. The dining room looks cream, my living room looks like a fresh white, and my lobby looks pale grey. My house feels light, fresh and relaxing and all the wood in my house looks beautiful without looking heavy and dark.

  5. Obsession with White Walls: It took me years to get to this obsession. After years of having color, I realized White would give me the most options when I felt like changing out the decor. White also makes things easier when it comes to changing our pictures, paintings, frames. It’s just an empty pallet where everything matches because it’s against a white wall. I hope this comment make sense.

  6. We build custom homes on Mt Hood in Oregon – one of our customers worried and worried about her “white walls” and after multiply samples of paint she finally chose one…………..the only problem was when she turned on her kitchen pendant lights the RED Glass in the fixture turned all her walls PINK! She loved it.

  7. George Costanza’s dad said it best in his plea for “Serenity NOW”! Like yourselves, I’ve given this ‘white room’ thing quite a think. Just what is it the common thread that runs through such a large percentage of home or shelter images featured on line, Pinterest as well as Instagram. The rooms and subject matter in the shots vary so widely and yet they all ‘hold together’. If you were to produce a printed piece, say, a catalog, you would strive to have such consistency in you photography. It helps the reader to understand the seller’s point of view. But, here, we have thousands of photographs by thousands of unrelated photographers! So, what gives? Although we have certainly experienced trends before let’s set aside the other concurrent trending we see in home and shelter on line images and focus on the white aspect. We know that in order to establish a space that we truly respond to, we have to establish either for ourselves or our clients the key questions…”how do we want the space to ‘feel’ “How do we want it to make us feel” It’s all about the ‘feelz’. Architecture and art, music, fashion and design are typically responses to what is happening in our environments. And lately, things have been fairly uncertain, unpredictable and unnerving. Cue the calm. There is an uncluttered, organized calm depicted in today’s high key ‘white’ shots that we’re responding to with a sort of “oh…yes, please”. And it’s not just that they are white. But that they are bright. This light and bright look can also be perceived as a more spare and attainable aesthetic for those who are unclear as to how to connect the dots and pull their rooms together with a more varied palette with more moving parts. Just looking at many of these images can create a sense of hope that we too, in due time, can achieve greater control and calm over our immediate environments. And that’s always a good place to start.

    • Hello Jo, you are precisely on point. The white wall ‘trend’ has to do with feel as established by humankind through sound as well as resting the eye. As time constraints mounted, technology filled our every minute and the vast majority of people are glued to screen where movement, color and sound (unless muted) overwhelm our brains, humankind craves something blank where the mind can rest. Think back to the 70s where colorful appliances, wallpaper, fabric and italian, portuguese & spanish & delft tiles where all the rage. People were calmer and could absorb/handle additional outside stimuli. Today, that isn’t possible. Without a reversal away from technology the white wall ‘trend’ will not be a trend at all but becomea ‘classic.’ Thanks for being uber observant! Time to get the rest of humankind to realize just how stressed our brains have become!

  8. I have admired white walls for 30 years since I started buying Country Living magazine. So, I don’t think it’s a trend- at least not with country/cottage style. I finally painted my bedroom Alabaster White and I love it. I also think white is popular because houses are being built so close together with not enough windows, and white brightens up the space. White feels clean and fresh.

  9. I recently bought a house (3 years old), that has very soft, warm griege walls throughout, soft white ceilings and mid brown floorboards. Much like an office I worked in, it is very soothing. Alas, no details of the paint colours were left by the previous owners. I have moved from a home with soft buttery yellow walls and feature wall of terracotta/Chinese red. I left the decorator’s advice with paint chips and the original greeting card that expressed what I loved for the new owners. They may or may not use them. I have no intention of painting the walls here, so I worked backwards to your advice Maria, and did not start with the fabric and work towards the paint colour. BUT, I have been very aware that I needed to take undertone into consideration. In my head I wanted corals and greens in my furnishings. As winter approached I knew I needed to warm up the huge area that is my kitchen, dining, living area – typical of new builds here is Oz. I naturally lean towards warm, fresh colours. My search for fabric has taken 5 months. Last week I went to the fabric wholesalers and have had much larger samples of my choices, originally found in smaller samples at the upholsterers, draped over my lounge , kitchen island and against my walls, in all lights – sunny days, grey, rainy days and the artificial light of night. I’ve moved the sofa around to different points in the large space. There are no greens, I have saved those for my smaller lounge on the northern side of my home, but I have a fabulous botanical print that encompasses all the neutrals of this room (my kitchen is not white, but griege and taupe), of leaves with occasional ‘berries’ in coral and soft gold. So Maria, here I am, happy with these soft walls which the untrained eye may call white, and feeling very relieved. I will have two sofas, one in the print and one coral. I will also have two casual chairs in the print, as I have created two seating areas. The basis of the room is decided. There are rugs, cushions and throws yet to be found. My art works are not yet hung. But now it is all systems go. I kept referring back to your site so often, and my overriding anthem is when I walk into this space, will it make me happy? Yes it will. Thank you so much for all your sage advice over all the incarnations of your blog – I must have found it very early in your blogging days.
    Would I have white walls? I have the soft greige version and am very satisfied.

  10. Four and a half years ago I was in my grandmother’s home in LA. I looked at her flat gallery white walls and the way they made her artwork pop and decided then and there that my next home would have white walls. Three months later we lost our house to a fire, and I stuck to my guns. Everything went white. It was the cusp of the trend but now I see I was just sensing what was to be the upcoming trendy design aesthetic. White walls, brown hardwood, mid century furnishings. Love it but never thought it’d be everywhere. Still reminds me of my grandma (exquisite taste) and my mother’s houses, always white. Not so much of a trend in calfornia.

  11. Most of my house is painted an off white– Glass of Milk by Martha Stewart. It’s a small boxy house–built in the late 40s in Edmonton.

    I believe I painted it four years or so ago throughout the house with the exception of my bathrooms and stair well. Reading “White is Complicated” actually gave me the courage to do it. The only hard finish I had to take into consideration was my 70 year old beat up orangey oak hard wood floors.

    I chose it so that the focus would be on everything else. And because we don’t intend to paint the house again. And because I wanted to maximize the light. Technically, my rooms are too dark for “white.” I do need the lights on during the day. But the shadows aren’t dingy like they would be with a stark white like Chantilly Lace.

  12. I think it’s at least partly a regional thing- i’ve noticed several of my friends in the south and southeast love the all-white look. I think it’s pretty in pictures but we have a black dog, a cat, and kids. Also long winters when it would lack warmth. Not happening here.

  13. Hello, I am one of your clients that wanted a lighter, brighter, cleaner look after the gold/brown/tans of the Tuscan era. While its true that my tan tile needed to be addressed, I couldn’t find myself happy with the BM Manchester Tan (TOO dark) or even pinky-tan BM Feather Down and the closest thing to it SW Moderate White. After much agony and dispair and testing of so many colors, I did decide to choose a warm off white. By cutting the red oxide and sampling SW Steamed Milk, I am now so happy with my lighter, brighter, cleaner and fresher look on these walls. I did the baby’s room and the entire upstairs in SW Creamy and I LOVE the freshness, the neutrality of knowing that any furnishings and artwork are going to be lovely and the ease of changing things in the future. Beige is back! And I plan to stay here because the truth of the matter is that painting a home is expensive, time consuming, and unsettling a bit.

    • Hi Rhonda,
      It should never be necessary to tweak the formula of a colour, and you would have had to cut out the red from SW steamed Milk because it’s very pink to start with. The Feather Down that we specified (which is far from pinky-tan) would have given you the same result.
      Anyway, I’m glad it worked out in the end, that’s all that matters! Painting is definitely stressful because it truly impacts how you feel in the room! Thanks for your comment! Maria

      • Does Feather Down look pretty and white when on the wall? Because on my poster board it looks not as nice as Standish White, though I did think I wanted to go lighter.

  14. Contrast with current furniture and accessories, flexibility if one wants to change F & A, white is so cheerful!

  15. So I had to pipe in here BECAUSE, I painted my walls white only because of Maria! I am finishing up a renovation, and we added a ton of windows to the south and west side of our house. I put a white kitchen in with black and white counter tops/ a black and white fireplace, and had a lot of white slipcovered furniture from pre-renovation. I hit indecision stage quickly, but finally decided to paint the walls white (BM Simply White) as it matched my cabinets. When I first moved into my house 5 years ago, I painted it BM Edgecomb grey, and I really never loved it. So when I went to repaint after the renovation, I DID NOT want a grey. but did not want a warm neutral. and given that I didn’t have any other items picked out, I went with the one color that coordinated with an existing finish: White. Now I will also admit: I didn’t paint my whole house white, only the southern/western rooms that get a TON of light and it is bright enough to support the wall color. However, in The rest of the house went a green/grey or a navy that coordinated with the rugs in those rooms because those rooms don’t get enough light to make it feasible. but I LOVE the white.

  16. My floors are dark brown,my couch is soft beige and green and i have a picture window in the living room, there is not enough light in the living room.In the evening the sun shines in the living room,it’s so hot we have to close the curtains ,so at super time the living room is very dark what color of wall should i choose to lighten the living room?Please help me painted are already chosen,to come to paint.

  17. My house in Hawaii is BM Acadia White (formerly Ivory), which I believe you call a white. The ceilings are Simply White. I love it.
    Yes, there is tons of light in the house. There is also a lot of wood and bamboo (teak parquet floors, Sapelle cabinets, wood and bamboo furniture), and a lot of color in the art, rugs, and of course looking out the windows. I have had several neighbors copy the paint color, and many people say “I don’t normally like white walls but I love these.”

    • I forgot to mention, two of my rooms are yellow (a bedroom and a den, the two that get the least amount of sun). I also have and orange/papaya accent wall in the dining room, and some green accent walls (master bedroom, living room and hall.) I know accent walls are supposed to be out of style but I love them. They add a lot of color without being overwhelming, and the crisp white looks so good next to them.

    • I have teak parquet floors also!!!!! ( from Bankok teak in 1979)…. they are certainly bossy but beautiful. Most wall colors die next to it. Will check out your color choice! ( we live in san diego…. but not enuff sun comes into house..)

  18. Hi Maria,

    I think your question relates to the zeitgeist of the moment, which is overwhelmed. I just got back from a one week holiday in a waterfront cabin which had the most minimal colours: brown wood, white, greige, and a bit of blue in the duvet cover. Along with the sound of the waves and lack of TV or computer, it was very calming. When I returned home, my house seemed saturated in colour. While I can’t put wood panelling on my ceiling right now (like the cabin), my next impulse is to remove as much clutter and colour from my house as possible. This means eliminating some colour from the walls. I have read all your publications, and know with my hard finishes, I cannot have art gallery white, but I am looking at creams and off-whites. Maybe some just want the most white possible because a lot of the books about decluttering are from Scandinavia and Japan, where walls are typically white. I really think as a culture, we are fed up with too much everything: social media, news, consumerism, and even colour.

    • P.S. I am rereading Patina Farm and donating other decor books which focus on a lot of colour and pattern.

  19. Yes Yes yes!

    I have a new obsession with white in my home. We live in the dessert (lots of natural light) and built our 1500 sf home in 2008. At the time it was all beige beige and Tuscan travertine. Thank goodness the travertine I picked was off white since it looks ok with white.

    I kept seeing people on the blogs take their gray walls and change them to white the past few years.. I then noticed it happening a LOT. I started to fall in love! First I started getting white accessories and then I was one day staring at my off white walls and decided to go white in almost every room. The exception was my son and daughters rooms. I also painted the bathroom navy (another trend I’m seeingbwith Moody colors) a few weeks ago💗

    My husband thinks it’s funny that the color “white” can be a trend and he rolls his eyes when I get serious about it. Love it!!🤗

  20. I recently built a new house and struggled with wall color. I was tired of the gray I had in my entire house. Looking in magazines, blogs and Pinterest I realized all the rooms I liked best were some shade of white. I eventually settled on a creamy white. As the house was being painted I feared the rooms would be too light if there is such a thing. But as soon as the furniture went in I love it! I did break it up by painting my study and powder room RH Silver Sage. Have lived in 11 houses and never before had a white wall.

  21. Yes! I painted white recently, and got it right the first time thanks to you, Maria! I did a LOT of testing before I painted. But it’s not stark art gallery white. It’s luscious and a bit creamy. I simply love it. I’m fortunate enough to have 12′ ceilings and light streaming in from all directions. The white is a great backdrop for art. And I love the way shadow and light plays with it. It’s elegant, historic, and dare I say—a bit Parisian! 🙂

  22. My whole house is painted Snowbound including the exterior.
    It is a new build, which I designed and decorated myself. It is flooded with light and has lots of windows. I have read the White is Complicated book countless times while planning my house. Here are the reasons I arrived at the decision to paint everything white, which was by no means an easy decision, but here it is.
    1 Carerra marble backsplash, fireplace surround and laundry room floor and bathroom floor.
    2 Snowbound had to be my trim color because of the kitchen cabinet color the builder offered, which could not be changed.
    3 No place to stop and start with different paint colors due to open concept kitchen, dining and living area.
    4 High gloss Snowbound painted raised paneling.
    5 Sheer terror of any other color turning pink beige.
    6 Fear of a grey or greige color throughout soon dating the house and identifying it as being built in the grey trend.