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’ (in my system for choosing whites I would call that a true white, like BM Chantilly Lace or an off-white like SW Snowbound) 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. I lived 43 yrs. in Europe (all over including 14 yrs. in Greece & 3 times in Vienna Austria). I have always lived w/white walls & would never consider another “color”—it fits us. . . just as your vivid colors suit your personality. I am not a big fan but to each his own. I do have lots of lime green on my deck outside, which I also love.
    I wish I knew how to post some photos so you could enjoy the serene tranquility of a home dressed in white. I lead a very busy life & need the calmness of light & white.

  2. I’ve always painted my walls a shade of off white as we moved often with the military. It felt like a clean, fresh take on someone else’s home. Then, when I sold, it presented as a clean slate for their furnishings. Note: My homes always sold quickly.
    Upon retiring I planned to paint my walls in colour but once in my new build I once again resorted to off whites. They just feel “right” to me.
    I might wall paper my main bath. I’m thinking about it…thinking about it…

  3. Hi Maria:

    You are right, everyone has wanted white for quite a while now. I prefer to do an off which, Collingwood, Stonington gray, Gray Owl, Baby fawn, silver satin (beaturiful silvery off white colour) as white can be very stark and the off whites should have an understone in them that works with what is in the home – the hard elements. I am slowly seeing a trend to go off all white at least in Vancouver. I recently used Sea Salt, which is a great colour with some depth and texture that works with almost everything.

  4. Hi Maria–We built our house one year ago and most of our interior walls are S/W Shoji White. I do have other shades of gray in bedrooms and bathrooms and run the spectrum all the way to my husband’s study being completely painted (walls, ceiling, trim) in S/W Iron Ore as well as the ceiling in our dining room. We have a lot of natural wood tones in our floors and cabinetry. The exterior of our house is also S/W Iron Ore (paired with Neutral Ground and Wheatgrass on our doors (yellow-green)). Our home (furnishings and artwork) are colorful to me. I have a fair amount of black/white/gray artwork, as well. I don’t believe anyone would look at this house or our last two and say they were void of color or boring. I just prefer a more “simple” environment. I also have dressed in mostly black, gray, white, and cream for many years, so my home IS a reflection of me, I guess. I certainly can appreciate others love of color…your home is top on the list, but it just leaves me feeling unsettled to have too much going on in our home. I get all the doses of beautiful, colorful rooms looking online and at magazines. 🙂

    • The Main walls of my house are also Shoji White which I consider to be very far from an ‘Art Gallery White’ which was what this post was about! Thanks for your comment! Maria

  5. We painted our entire first and second floors white (Benjamin Moore Simply White) a few years ago. It’s a matte finish and we took the trim to that finish as well. We have always loved the Scandinavian influence in homes and that was a factor in our decision. The other factor was the fact we live in a rural area with many trees. So much green coming in through large windows that tended to make our walls look muddy with certain paint colors and lighting. I know we would not have been able to recognize that if not for your blog!

    We recently hung Belgian linen curtain panels and it all looks finished – finally! The white fits well with our minimalist approach to furniture and open floor plan!

    We’ve always had a lot of natural light in our home (oversized windows and roof windows) but it often felt dark before we painted. Overall we love the bright, clean, airy look we have achieved and the contrast our furnishings and artwork provides!

  6. No white in this house but we might for the kitchen and dining room. The only room that has been white in our 3 homes over the last 7 years is our last kitchen that you helped pick with a consult. Pinterest is where I see spaces. In the last home I wanted white with black shutters for the exterior but as it was a condition of sale the buyer wanted gray which was fine by us. We recently moved into a house that is mostly gray inside with some medium blue bedrooms. In one of my parents homes in the mid 80’s, I had a large bedroom that had lots of light from the west and north. When we moved in it had light white oak floors with white walls and window treatments. I disliked it immensely and though I begged for years I was never allowed to change it. It was too harsh.

  7. Oh, hell no! I used to read a blog by someone who lives in Scandinavia or nearby. Her walls and furniture match – “pure” white. It looks nice in her immaculate home but how much free time does she have because everything looks ready for surgery? I’m surrounded with the condo developer’s Navaho White (every room) for more than 30 years and I’m sick of it. I have transitional “design.” I am deviating to cool colors (light gray, light blue, light gray blue?) but need to decide on fabric for my more than 30-year-old upholstery before I can do the natural bamboo flooring + fabric comparison which i learned from you. (Thank you!) Whatever the colors will be, no way am I selecting anything white/off white/beige.

  8. Okay, great question! Here’s my two cents on this topic.

    Almost every cover of Style at Home in 2016 and 2017 had white rooms on the cover. I’m sure many others did too, but that happens to be the one I was subscribed to for years. Then, there’s Studio McGee with their clean, white aesthetic and warm wood tones and lots of fresh greenery and often, navy blue accents. Plus, Joanna Gaines’ white shiplap craze still seems to be lingering.

    A lot also seems to have to do with the global economy and unrest. Dare I bring up politics? 😉

    Not to mention, the overwhelming increase in people generally being super busy with life, often feeling overworked; dealing with financial struggles (often due to trying to keep up with everyone else); families whose children are in all sorts of activities, leaving parents with little time for themselves; and multiple social media outlets constantly creating ‘noise’ in the palm of our hands and with us 24/7. And for the record, I’m not saying that I’m not guilty of such habits, for me it’s the latter point that hits home the most. But as you may have guessed Maria, I admit that I like being a part of the on line world and creating my own brand. That’s a big part of being an entrepreneur too.

    So, in my opinion, people want a break from all the noise and stress. The desire is for white, serene, fresh, uncluttered homes – or at least they love that idea. Haha, there’s my rant. Is that what you were after Maria? LOL

    • This is actually spot on for me. I have three little kids who have taken a huge toll on our walls in our narrow, old, mostly dark townhouse. The house feels smaller with three kids, and the walls look beat up, and I think I’ve come to assume that by painting the walls white the house will feel bigger and brighter and be a testament to the simplicity and order I’m parched for.

      So, I finally convinced my husband to let us go ahead and paint even though our kids are still really little and are bound to continue to mess up the walls. I went directly out to buy a sample can of Simply White, painted little squares on a few walls and thought, Huh, this is actually really boring in my house.

      I found your blog b/c I’ve been googling different paint colors. I really want that fresh, clean look of a white paint to help lighten up my house… No more grey. It’s just too sad in the winter! Any creamy yellows you’d recommend?

  9. Yup, I painted my home white and I’m in LOVE! It’s the best decision I’ve ever made.
    Now the Maria Killam part of this comment! I do have high ceilings and huge windows and our home is filled with light.
    Conversely, We have a theatre room, only 8′ high ceilings, no windows at all, I wouldn’t dream of painting that white, so we went with a beautiful navy blue and it’s perfect!
    Thank you for your mentoring Maria!

  10. I renovated 4 years ago and I still LOVE my “white” walls. But they are actually cream —BM seashell (they only read white). I have warmer tones (am not a gray gal so I have stuck with camel, sea grass type neutrals). My walls are a creamy white and I love them!

    Sometimes I wish I would have painted my moulding the same creamy white but a semi-gloss. It is BM white dove instead. While it looks good together and not super noticeable), the white molding feels a little dated to me (and my crown is colonial revival style, so not anything too special). Luckily I didn’t do too crown in my kitchen and family room renovation, so I think it looks fresher. The crown is just in the old parts of the house.

    My exterior is white dove and I love it so much. Our house was red brick and the new brick was not a perfect match. The white looks so crisp and lovely. Again, not a true bright white.

    I actually think people don’t know the difference between all various tonal whites and what they are looking for is something that reads white in their homes.

  11. Yes white is everywhere! What do you suggest for an updated tuscan color that is light tan like the one pictured above?

  12. I agree with the theory that you put forth previously: white became popular as stronger or more saturated accent colors also rose in popularity. Bold colors stand out best against white, and tend to make beiges (especially pink beige) look dull and blah.

    As to why I personally chose white: out of rebellion. ; )

    I’ve never liked dark houses, but after the tyranny of the Tuscan brown trend, I really grew to loathe them. I’d seen images of chic, trendy white rooms on Domino for years, and it appealed to me. About four years ago, I purchased a small midcentury house and painted it in all whites (with a few accent walls), and I LOVE it. I used Behr Falling Snow in the main areas, and Ben Moore Winter White (just a tiny tinge darker) in the bedrooms. There is tons of natural light, so it works. My rugs, side chairs, pillows and art are in jade green, fuchsia, coral and navy. I find it very cheerful. It feels like a beach house, without the beach.

  13. I painted my entire main floor Benjamin Moore Simply white when we remodeled our entire main floor (kitchen, family room, living room, dining room). I simply love it (pun intended!) but I have to admit, once it was painted and before I moved all the furniture back in, I freaked out because it looked too white and stark! But once the hardwood floors were uncovered, area rugs put in place, and my furniture moved back in, it was not stark at all. It was warm and inviting. My furniture is a mixture of antiques, modern and coastal but I tied it all together with furnishings, textures and the walls in Simply White. I did a ton of research on whites; I went round and round –do I use SW Alabaster? BM Cloud White? BM White Dove? But in the end BM Simply White was the winner.

  14. I strongly dislike white walls unless it’s a very modern house (which isn’t my taste). They feel unfinished and uncozy to me. I love cream though!

  15. First, I love wallpaper and wish it was considered to be as classic and timeless in the US as it still is, to some extent, in the UK. Nothing pulls a room together like a great wall covering, IMO, whether classic or contemporary.

    I’ve had a house with off-white walls, and now with colored walls, both with light to medium hardwoods, and in the cold blue light of the Pacific Northwest. I like both…but apparently contrary to popular opinion, I find a more saturated color to be a less “bold” choice than one might assume, in that it does not create such high contrast with furniture that is anything other than very light-colored.

    The contrast between furniture and white walls is too jarring for me. Unless the furniture is of very light wood and light upholstery, my eye bounces from furniture to white walls to furniture as it travels around the room, which I find to be inharmonious. Others clearly like a lot of “popping”, and I am in the minority, I do appreciate.

    I had an off-white upholstered sofa once, and it went wonderfully with white walls…but too hard to keep it clean, and I eventually feel starved for color.

    It’s funny that we call it “Art Gallery white”…since many art galleries have highly saturated color on the walls.

    • I love wallpaper here in the US of A! 17 years ago I wallpapered a dining room in a paper with deep red background and white Magnolias with awesome birds. I still love that wallpaper! However, as I prepare to sell that house now I am told over and over it has to go. I understand. Wallpaper is quite personal which is why it’s also so fabulous when it’s just right. I have been seeing fabulous wallpapers, but hesitate to spend the money since I don’t know where my forever house will be just yet. I enjoyed your comments.

      • I have rolls of an Italian wallpaper with deep red background and a floral pattern, maybe somewhat similar to yours, sitting in a garage cupboard for some years–and still love it. Sounds perhaps similar to yours, and now I can’t think why I never installed it! I’ve always thought it would go well in my dining room, or perhaps powder room.

  16. When we moved last year, I reviewed my Pinterest boards to figure out what elements my pins had in common. I’ve always pinned pretty randomly any rooms I like without necessarily thinking about why. It was glaringly obvious— almost all of them were white! So, most rooms are a soft creamy white in this house (which was not the case before). I love it because it feels fresh, airy and clean. Also, we have a lot of artwork and the white really does give the paintings a wonderful backdrop.

  17. Our walls are all shades of yellow. BUT I will confess, I lust after white on white in a Parisian pied-a-terre. I love the romantic look of an old Paris apartment home with tall windows, white trim, white walls w/white curtains blowing in the wind. A few very pale natural wood pieces, one or two pops of sun-bleached soft pink for chairs Romantic perhaps, but it’s stuck in my head. Realistic? Someday. Will I love it? We shall see.

  18. No I have not. I had white and it didn’t do a thing for my home which does not have a lot of light. I also have two fireplaces and wood. The white did nothing for the stone and the wood. I found a soft beige and the rooms lite up. Glad I didn’t go white. Not every house should be painted white there are other soft colors that will work much better with those things we are not changing or can’t change.

  19. I suspect it’s home improvement shows on TV, as was mentioned by others above. Me, I’m allergic to white. I can appreciate it in pictures and in homes of other people, but would not be able to tolerate it in my own home. I need COLOR. And colored walls are fantastic for artwork. I buy art when I travel. I have no problem finding a place to display my art.

    • I love artwork on saturated walls…and we certainly have ample precedent in that regard, in so many of the world’s great art galleries. I vote for “Gallery red”, Gallery green”, etc…not just “Gallery white”!

  20. I like all of these! It is too late to go to another color of white for me! I have painted the entire open area of my living room, dining room, kitchen and hall way with SW Alabaster. Two of my bathrooms (I have 3!) I also painted with the alabaster and painted my vanity SW Pure White. I like how they look. Now for my kitchen cabinets I have not painted them white yet b/c I’m hesitant that the Pure White might be too bright a white. Because I have a dark brown counter top then the pure white might work.The alabaster goes with my honey beige Tuscan tile I think.
    Now I just have to decide what white to go with b/c I am determined to do white! I love love white! It is so airy and fresh and you can do all colors with it in your décor.
    Thank you for all your emails on painting. I eat them up. Always looking for new ideas that are simple and inexpensive. Like in painting I may not paint ever again since I am almost 74 and my budget will not allow me to make big renovations. My kitchen cabinets will be pretty expensive (I have 26 doors) but I will make a way to do them!
    I really enjoyed the pictures of Italy too!
    Thanks again Maria.
    Linda Trammel

  21. I recently painted my dining room Pure White SW. I have box molding above and below the chair rail around the entire room. I had painted it in a different white years ago with a semi gloss finish, but I recently did a satin finish which is so much softer yet it still makes my walls look like wood rather than drywall. The inset tray ceiling is SW Black Fox. I made the decision to do all white because I wanted it to feel brighter as it gets very little natural light from the window, and I wanted the tray ceiling to stand out. I love it and feel like it gives a cleaner, brigheter feel to my home.

  22. While I am a color junkie, in the last year or so we have painted the MBR pure white, as we had previously done in the foyer and stairwell. The reason is that I wanted some areas of my house to “just breathe,” as well as be more adaptable seasonally.

    I think the reason some of us who are suddenly craving pure white spaces is the current national climate (U.S.). You may choose not to publish this, and it’s your blog so I understand — but sometimes after watching the news, especially this week, we all feel like we need a bath. Or a baptism.

  23. Hi Maria
    I am so tired of all white walls and furniture everywhere these days. One of the reasons my DH and I bought a house was to have the freedom to paint the walls whatever color we wanted. I get that people want a fresh look after the Tuscan brown followed by Greige trends, but I think just as with those trends white will play it self out. I wonder where we will go from here? Shelter mags on occasion do a “color” spread but imo they are overdone and lacking in style.

  24. I painted a long rectangular room with little natural light “Greek Villa” white. My hope was that it would make the room feel brighter. WRONG. The room felt stark, cold and had a “hospital-vibe.” NOT the vibe I wanted. By the end of the week I had re-painted it (Edgecomb Gray) and it’s been that way for about 3 years.

  25. New construction home, tons of windows, light-stained white oak floors, white/marbley quartz countertops, white cabinets, white trim, and…all white walls! All walls/trim/ceilings/cabinets are Ben Moore “Simply White”. Could not be happier with my choice, it has been a year with three little kids and so far so good! Your whites e-book was extremely helpful in bringing all of the hard finishes together. We did use some black-brown stained hickory for some of the built-in cabinetry in the living areas and plenty of color in the soft finishes, so it is not stark at all. Just light, bright, and cheerful. I feel lucky to have such a nice space.

  26. White bedrooms! This is the biggest surprise for me reading the comments in this interesting discussion. While I have been looking at off-white & cream colors to paint my master bedroom to work with existing finishes, it never crossed my mind that other people love their already white, off-white, cream, or griege bedrooms! I spent the evening browsing homes for sale in my area to see if the walls were some of version of white, cream, ivory, or greige as I plan to list my house in the next 6 to 10 months. When I bought my current house two years ago here in NC almost every house I looked at was painted BM revere pewter. I am also preparing a Chicago suburban house to sell in the next year. I do not think I will paint a version of white unless I have have enough fabulous furniture, art, accessories and architecture to carry it off. With Venetian Gold countertops I am indeed limited in my current house with white kitchen cabinets. BM Pale oak or Elmira white were my original choices, however, in the past few months I have been leaning toward an off-white or cream not only for the kitchen but the entire downstairs, stairway, and upstairs hall. Perhaps I need to spend less time on Pinterest, Houzz, and Instagram!

  27. “Gallery white” – Yes! Since I look my best wearing black and a true white with pops of bright colors, I fill my home with these as well. Its many windows fill my house with plenty of sunlight on most days of the year. Maria, perhaps our personal coloring has something to do with our preference for which “white” and colors and how much contrast we prefer. That could spell trouble. Might this be a good subject for a post?

    • Adding to the comment I made above… All white walls work for me because: 1) “Colour” on walls gives me a closed-in feeling whereas white gives me space in which to breathe. 2) I do not want my house to look like the interior painting has not been completed so, I prefer painting ALL the rooms white. 3) Many large windows with lots of year round natural sunlight, high ceilings, cool-toned and bright white hard surfaces, white fabrics, a variety of textures, plants, brightly coloured and also black and white art, modern/minimal/organic decor,and light natural woods are what I have loved for many decades. 4) Bright white walls are just a natural extension of who I am and what I love. It’s part of my story. Authenticity, not an obsession.
      A little tip: Avoid selecting paint if you have cataracts. Cataracts will tint everything a bit yellow or brown, especially the whites.
      Maria, thank you for asking such interesting questions.

  28. Hi Maria,

    First of all, welcome Home! And, I can’t thank you enough for your blogs and e-books!

    I have two thoughts on why we’re obsessed with white. Yes, one is because a we see so many lovely photos of houses with so many huge windows and natural light. (Ah, wouldn’t that be nice…)

    But, also, perhaps it’s a reaction to the past several years, before the more recent gray trend, when we were painting the rooms in our homes all different colors and really experimenting with color for the first time. We were letting loose and getting bold by watching HGTV, Trading Spaces and the like, and giving ourselves permission to express ourselves in our homes. I know myself and many others who are longing for white or neutral color throughout our homes for the cohesive feeling it promises after living with the choppiness of (I’m describing my previous home now) a green living room, yellow kitchen, brown laundry room, and various bedroom colors.:)

    We live in a busy, complicated world. Maybe all white is a reaction to that, too. Just some immediate thoughts. 🙂

  29. I just painted all my walls SW white duck. I was ambivalent because even though all my finishes are clean and neutral- white kitchen, white bathrooms, mid tone woods floors- my ceilings are wood. It came out great! When I was young, my parents always had bright white walls and I hated it, not relaxing.