How to Pull Off an All-White Room

While white may come across as cold or impractical to many people, design professionals have been perfecting the art of using white for centuries. Learn how to bring this beautiful, natural hue into your space with ease.
White Guest Room With Geometric Mirror

White Guest Room With Geometric Mirror

Spaces packed with an abundance of natural light are the best choices for using white effectively. Once the light hits the windows and is then diffused by lined window coverings, it floods the room with a visual softness that immediately creates a cozy atmosphere.

Spaces packed with an abundance of natural light are the best choices for using white effectively. Once the light hits the windows and is then diffused by lined window coverings, it floods the room with a visual softness that immediately creates a cozy atmosphere.

Ask an architect or an interior designer which color they find to be the most beautiful in regard to light, and you're likely to hear the same answer: white. Although the color does indeed present challenges when it comes to proper cleaning, durability and practicality, when utilized properly, it can be breathtakingly beautiful and bright, and can also make a room feel much larger or taller than it actually is.

White Living Room With Exposed Ceiling Beams

White Living Room With Exposed Ceiling Beams

Exposed dark wood ceiling beams add color to an otherwise all-white living room. A brick fireplace, tufted coffee table, oversized white sofa, and ornate framed mirror add character to the space's clean look.


The issue many homeowners have with white is its tendency to show every blemish, stain, spill, nick or smudge. In order to utilize white effectively and practically, it all comes down to where and how it's applied. In order to be able to live with white-on-white, it's best to stick with lower-traffic areas, especially if soft goods such as textiles and rugs are the main white design element. Consider spaces such as guest bedrooms, libraries, sunrooms, home offices or even master bedroom suites. Two of the biggest issues with using all white in great rooms, entries, living rooms, mudrooms or dining rooms are the tracking in of dirt and dust from outside, and staining from spilled food and drink.

It's also common for homeowners to find white stark, impersonal and cold. To avoid a white-on-white room feeling one-dimensional or flat, it's important to layer various shades of white in different ways, using an assortment of textures and materials. Another way to add layering of white is to combine different finishes: eggshell paint on walls and ceilings, satin on flooring, high-gloss or reflective on furniture, as well as smooth accents or accessories.

Neutral Bedroom with Textured Bedding and Herringbone Hardwood Floors

Neutral Bedroom with Textured Bedding and Herringbone Hardwood Floors

Texture, rather than color, is what makes the design this master bedroom so interesting. From the subtle texture of the wallpaper to the tufting on the headboard and the herringbone pattern of the flooring, this neutrally colored space is anything but boring.

When it comes to white flooring, durability is key. To incorporate a white underfoot surface which is both easy to clean and packed with texture, consider whitewashed hardwood or, for a more affordable option, go with an engineered or vinyl plank version. Although wall-to-wall white carpet, especially nubby styles such as shag or tinted seagrass, packs both color and texture, it's much more difficult to keep clean. An excellent alternative to wall-to-wall white carpet is using a large-scale white area rug. This offers a similar look, but with much more versatility; the rug can be moved from room to room, and it can easily be cleaned by taking it to a professional rug cleaner.

Magnificent Master Bedroom With Fireplace

Magnificent Master Bedroom With Fireplace

This spacious master bedroom is decorated in all-white, giving it a bright and airy feel. The sconces, chandelier and fireplace all add an elegant feel to this luxurious master bedroom.

Photo by: Dilbeck Real Estate, a member of Luxury Portfolio International

Dilbeck Real Estate, a member of Luxury Portfolio International

While choosing the proper white may seem like an easy task, it's much more difficult than one would think; white comes in more than 100 different shades. Ultra-white evokes a modern, purist tone, and is best used in minimalist spaces. Yellow-whites and beige-whites often work well in traditional rooms. Purple-whites are feminine and can evoke a more formal feeling. Green-whites tend to come across a bit more earthy and masculine. For a cool, calm and glamorous aesthetic, blue-white is a popular choice.

The Right White in 5 Minutes 01:17

Here's how to pick the right shade of white in only five minutes.

In addition to different tinted shades of white, it's also important to take into consideration which direction the room intended for a white-on-white color scheme faces. North-facing rooms have cool light, which can cast somewhat of a blue shade throughout the space, especially if a blue-white is used on walls. South-facing rooms receive warm light, and work best with warmer white tones such as yellow-whites and beige-whites. East-facing rooms will receive sunlight in the mornings, creating a warm feeling, then becoming cool in the afternoon, causing the room to change moods once the light has faded. Ultra-whites and gray-whites are excellent for east-facing rooms since they'll remain true to their values all day long. West-facing rooms will receive sunlight in the afternoons, resulting in the opposite change as east-facing rooms.

With so many shades of white to choose from, once layered together, they instantly take on more colorful appearances. Furthermore, if a single color is introduced into a space which is otherwise all white, the entire space may reflect that color, instantly creating the impression that the room is a highly muted shade of a particular hue.

White Transitional Bedroom With Zebra Art

White Transitional Bedroom With Zebra Art

In this bedroom, the all-white palette is given contemporary crispness with accents of black and turquoise blue.

Photo by: Richard Leo Johnson

Richard Leo Johnson

An excellent example of a livable, all-white designer space is a guest bedroom I designed in West Hollywood, Calif. Geared toward mostly female guests, the room is layered with more than 20 different shades of white. To play with the abundant natural light streaming in from the corner windows, reflective surfaces such as mirrors and lacquered drawer fronts were incorporated. From the mix of textures on the bedding to the use of white-on-white to help mask eyesores, get an insider's look below at how to successfully put together a white-on-white room that's equal parts pretty and practical.

White and Whimsical

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Whimsical Guest Bedroom Retreat

The guest bedroom of a West Hollywood, Calif., home is designed using various shades of white. By painting the walls a shade of white known as blue-white, then introducing small touches of blue on the baseboards, window casing and doors, the room instantly takes on a faint blue appearance.

Reading Nook

Varying textures and shapes is an important part of keeping a white-on-white room from coming across flat or one-dimensional. Since the reading corner is made up of two pieces that each have similar smooth finishes (the end table and the lounge chair), it is important to ensure they have different shapes. The straight lines of the lounge chair paired with the organic, biomorphic, round shape of the tulip-style table complement one another, achieving proper visual balance.

Carrara Marble Table

The key to using white successfully, and in a sophisticated way, is to pack a space with interesting materials and textures featuring different shades of white. In the reading corner of this guest bedroom, a white Arabescato marble side table not only keeps books, reading glasses and coffee nearby, but it also adds a layer of organic pattern and texture to the room.

Textured Pillow

Since the streamlined stitched-leather club chair is sleek and smooth, a nubby throw pillow is introduced to add visual tension.

Layered Window Treatments

When it comes to lighting, white is used to add diffusion, resulting in a soft glow which is flattering not only to skin tones, but also color values in rooms. To help diffuse the strong UV rays from the California sun, the windows are layered with lined white dupioni silk draperies as well as lined white wood blackout blinds.

Inverted Box Pleat

Whites, mostly gender-neutral, can become gender-specific depending on tailored details. Although the draperies of the guest bedroom are sewn from dupioni silk, which tends to be a more feminine choice of textiles, a more masculine, menswear-inspired pleat, known as an inverted box pleat, is used.

Simple Ceiling Pendant

Similar to the diffusion used on the window coverings, soft, flattering light is also incorporated with a fabric-covered drum pendant. Once illuminated, the white fabric diffuses the yellow light of the 75-watt bulb, resulting in a more pure-white effect, which casts down into the center of the room.

Decorative Accents

Using decorative, sculptural white elements can help take the focus off of pieces not meant to stand out. In this case, an assortment of handmade ceramic sculptures is placed in front of a flat-panel TV.

Updated Dresser

Designers often turn to white to modernize traditional furniture and/or take a heavy piece and make it appear lighter. In its original state, this midcentury-modern dresser featured a dark wood finish. Thanks to two coats of white lacquer, the piece appears much lighter and fits perfectly with the room's white-on-white tone.

Flooded With Light

Spaces packed with an abundance of natural light are the best choices for using white effectively. Once the light hits the windows and is then diffused by lined window coverings, it floods the room with a visual softness that immediately creates a cozy atmosphere.

Ready for Guests

A four-poster canopy bed that appears pure white on its own, takes on a yellow-white appearance once introduced into the room and surrounded by blue-white walls, as well as ultra-white elements including lampshades, bedding and nightstands with glossy drawer fronts.

Various Shades of White

The bed-scape of this guest bedroom combines whites in many different ways; the bed pillows are ultra-white cotton, the Euro shams are made of a casual, washed beige-white linen, the accent pillow features rouged silk, the ultra-white duvet has a faint waffle pattern, and the woven throw blanket is made from yellow-white cotton.

Hints of Gray

Two of the standout design elements of the guest bedroom are the layered, multifaceted mirror and the contemporary gray/white nightstand. Since both of these pieces are completely surrounded by whites, they immediately take center stage when looking into the room from the bedroom door.

Dramatic Mirror

Using mirrors in white-on-white spaces helps reflect light throughout the space, creating the illusion that the space is even larger. Although this 10-by-12-foot guest bedroom is short on space, the mirror placed directly above the bed almost acts as a second window, creating the illusion of having slightly more square footage.

Whitewashed Flooring

White flooring is intimidating to many homeowners due to durability and white's tendency to show every flaw. An excellent alternative to white carpet, white wood or concrete floors is to choose whitewashed vinyl plank flooring. This material has the look and feel of hardwoods, yet is much easier to care for.

Pops of Icy Blue

The guest bedroom is north-facing which means it receives cool light all day long. Because of this positioning, blue-white is the shade of choice. To highlight this, the doors, casings and baseboards are painted a shade of icy blue. Once the cool light hits the trim, the blue-white walls take on a faint blue appearance.

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