Pure and simple white interiors offer a calming retreat

Gold and black make a contrast on a white wall, from an image in White Rooms, by David Harrison and

Gold and black make a contrast on a white wall, from an image in White Rooms, by David Harrison and Karen McCartney, published by Penguin Lantern. PA Photo/Penguin Lantern - Credit: Archant

Colour may be cool currently – but if you prefer to dance to a different decor tune, and yearn for light-filled, calm, easy-on-the-eye rooms, then a white palette’s the obvious choice.

Ignore the ‘white is for wimps’ wisdom; that only the brave stylishly splash on fashionably bright shades and enjoy a technicolour world, while the rest of us scaredy-cats pale at the sight of colour charts and scurry back to the safety of neutrals.

What this theory fails to recognise is the simple fact that white works.

What’s not to like about a palette which makes spaces appear lighter and larger - and with such a huge variety of shades on offer (yes, really!), from subtle and warm, to crisp and sharp, there’s bound to be at least one, or more, that suits.

“White, combining all the colours of the visible spectrum, is a dramatic, affirmative choice, rather than a passive one,” declares Karen McCartney, champion of a white palette and co-author of White Rooms: Decorating With Style, Pattern And Colour.

“White creates the sense of a blank canvas, a fresh beginning upon which we can impose our decorative style,” she adds. “Light reflects off white; it bounces around and has the effect of lifting the spirits.

“And its credentials have been proven over time - white’s been used for generations and in many cultures, to symbolise honesty, purity, perfection and spirituality.”

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She firmly believes white has the power to “set rooms free” and suits any style of home, from modernist to Moroccan interiors, country cottages to industrial lofts - examples of which all feature in the beautifully illustrated book.

“It may be, of course, that other factors are needed to make a white scheme work - textured neutrals against a soft white background, a hint of pink in the paint to tie in with a key decorative feature, or being clever about the way in which gloss and matt contrasts. There are all sorts of additions which can enhance a white space, whether its sheer white curtains or shutters at a window, or lighting, from natural light to LED.”

Sound all-white to you? Time to freshen up those rooms...

Dip into white

Bewildered by the vast array of white paint shades? Follow a few simple guidelines to ensure a white scheme works.

“Simple white reflects light and helps to make a space appear bigger, but can feel cold and impersonal,” says Marianne Shillingford, creative director at Dulux. “Try a combination of pure white and a warm off-white with added light-reflective properties, such as Absolute White and Morning Light from our Light & Space range.

“Layers of subtle neutrals make a different kind of impact on a room than deeper shades, but they’ll still make an impact. The creative use of light from floor to ceiling brings subtle shades to life at night too, and of course, you can add colour to a neutral room in accessories. “

When you’re not using much colour in the room, you need to excite the senses with texture. Use a velvety flat matt on walls and layers of sensuous fabrics on furniture, with warm, smooth wood flooring. Use tester pots and view in all lights before making a final paint choice.

White magic

“What’s so appealing about white is its great democracy. It doesn’t discriminate between high architectural art and a warehouse interior, where garage paint can cover every surface, rendering ugly pipes, bricks and stained floorboards invisible,” says McCartney.

“White allows the eye to float over every surface, and the furnishings, art and objects to take centre stage. Patterned pastels, bold artworks, antiques, sculpture, designer pieces and found objects all work stylishly within the context of white.”

If a white open-plan room with large floor-to-ceiling windows is eye-wateringly bright, use tints to soften the effect. A touch of grey/brown for paint and a low-reflection flat wall and ceiling paint will help.

White cluster

Interesting white objects in a group act as an eye-catching feature in a space.

“The joy of grouping white objects together is that while they may vary slightly in shade, this only adds to the interest they provide when displayed in a pleasing cluster,” says McCartney. “Pay particular attention to the shape, materials, height and placement of objects, to ensure that, whether they’re showcased in front of a dark or light wall, their form is easily defined.”

White Rooms: Decorating With Style, Pattern And Colour by Karen McCartney and David Harrison, photography by Richard Powers, is published by Penguin Lantern, priced £25. Available now