Winning White: The Color that Makes Walls the Perfect Artistic Backdrop
Don’t be afraid of creams, ivories and snowy hues, say color experts.
“White is not a mere absence of color, it is a shining and affirmative thing: as fierce as red, as definite as black.” — G.K. Chesterton, English philosopher
Indeed, area homeowners, interior designers and paint experts have a lot to say about the color white, especially when it comes to wall colors.
“Seasonal light changes a white wall, and white absorbs the most light,” said Bloomfield Township artist Fran Wolok, who prefers white walls in her lakeside home because they make an excellent backdrop for her art collection. "The color accents in our home are in the art and in the furniture,” she said.
“White walls are a great background, as I am constantly changing paintings on my walls,” Wolok added. “I have white walls because the color reflects the passage of daily light.”
Wolok, whose landscape paintings often depict verdant scenes outside Wolok’s window overlooking a lovely canal that flows into Long Lake, likes to tell the story of how she and her father would paint her bedroom when she was growing up.
“My dad would say, ‘OK, let's paint your room, I have white paint.’ So we would take a Sunday and paint a room. Molding could be pink!”
Rhonda Levine of Birmingham also adores white.
“White shows my art collection so well,” said Levine, who lives in The District Lofts in Birmingham. She moved there from a home on nearly three acres in Bloomfield Hills.
Levine takes her passion for white beyond walls and adorns her home with white furniture as well. “Ninety-five percent of my home is white,” said Levine, who works at Quatrine custom furniture in Birmingham and has purchased white-slipcovered furnishings there.
The savvy homeowner adds dashes of color in the way of green sofa pillows and a fabulous old gilded chair that she and her husband fell in love with years ago. They reupholstered it with a floral print that features green leaves and white flowers.
“I never get tired of white,” she said.
Interior designer Sally Matak understands Levine’s and Wolok’s attachment to white. “White walls are great for featuring artwork (photographs, wall sculpture, paintings, textiles, etc.),” she said. “They allow a great diversity in decorating.”
Beautiful monochromatic rooms can be created in white, “but you have to use the right shades of white so they all look cohesive,” said Matak, who owns Matak Design in Bloomfield Township. “In monochromatic rooms, it’s important to inject interest via texture or pattern.”
Rick Carmody of Au Courant Interior Design also is a fan of white. “I like white,” said Carmody, whose business is based in Ferndale. “I work with many art collectors, and white is a fabulous background for their collections,” he said.
West Bloomfield native Susan Shapiro definitely prefers white walls. The renowned author, who today lives in Greenwich Village in New York City, comes to West Bloomfield for most of August to enjoy time with her parents, extended family and friends.
“I love white walls,” said Shapiro, whose recent book is Overexposed (St. Martin’s Press), a twisted tale about two strong women who switch lives. “We decided to keep the walls all white and let the books and artwork bring in the color,” she noted. “We wanted to use natural woods in our apartment, and then there's black leather, which looks great with white.”
Those calming white hues undoubtedly keep Shapiro focused as she writes her next novel or prepares lesson plans for her writing classes at the New School and New York University, both in New York City.
To be sure, decorating with white, a most versatile hue, can take you in many directions — including the beach.
“White most definitely lends itself to the beach theme when paired with blues and sand colors,” said Jackie Jordan, director of color marketing at Sherwin-Williams. “It is also very contemporary, lending to a clean, uncluttered application such as a modern European-style kitchen or an open loft space.”
“It’s intimidating for a lot of folks to commit to a color that they’ll be happy living with,” King said. “We’ve made it a lot easier with larger paint chips and sample-size paints. With that, white or off-white is still the choice for most. It does give you a lot of flexibility when choosing colors and designs of furniture, accessories, flooring, wall decor and lighting.”
Many of Matak’s own walls in her Bloomfield Township home are white with a green cast.
“White walls can be the base to create many environments: modern, contemporary, Miami/South Beach, Caribbean,” Matak said, adding that white can be accented with neutrals or colors.
Warming up white
“For me, white walls don’t work when a very cold white color is chosen for the walls and everything else, such as the floors or furniture, are muted or drab with no punches of color or, in monochromatic environments, changes in texture or pattern,” Matak said.
Kristen Catto Armstrong of Kristen Catto Interior Design in Birmingham agrees. One of Armstrong’s favorite whites is Sherwin-Williams' 6140 Moderate White, "because of its overall warm read," she said.
There are hundreds of white colors out there, and selecting the right one is key, whether it has blue, pink, yellow or green undertones, added Matak.
As for what types of floors look best with white, Matak is all about the darks. “White walls look fantastic with dark brown or ebony floors, but less so with wood floors that have yellow hues, such as maple or oak,” Matak said.
WHITE WALL TIPS
- White walls can create a very airy and bright space, whether for the kitchen, sunroom or family room.
- You can create interest on a white wall by installing molding in an interesting pattern, also painted in white, Matak said.
- For white walls, be sure to use an eggshell finish, which is easier to clean, said Matak. “Eggshell is more durable than flat.”
- “One thing to remember when painting with white is that it makes a room seem more open, larger,” said King. “If you have a smaller kitchen, for example, it will help open it up and make it feel larger, whereas a darker color in a study or living room may feel cozier.”
- Sherwin-Williams’ Whites and Lights collection has colors that can be used alone, with other Whites and Lights or as a neutral pairing with your favorite color.