“I think there is something wonderful about white,” says Linda O’Keeffe, the author of the new book Brilliant: White in Design (The Monacelli Press, $50). “It transcends fashions and fads, it’s perennially in.” The former creative director for Metropolitan Home, O’Keeffe — who maintains a small New York City apartment but spends “about 90 percent” of her time at her High Falls home — points out that no other color has white’s incredible versatility. “It can be calming or confrontational, sterile or sensual, humble or sophisticated,” she writes in the visually stunning, 224-page book.
O’Keeffe acknowledges that many people find decorating with white intimidating. “If you are afraid of using white, start off by putting a white table setting together. See how gorgeous food looks on white,” she says. “You can have your grandmother’s Wedgwood terrine against a four-dollar dinner plate from Crate and Barrel. No other color has the ability to unite so many disparate materials, patterns, and things. That is the strength of white.”
Those just getting started with white accessories should focus on textures, and forget about trying to match shades of white, O’Keeffe advises. “There is something wonderful about having different textures of white together,” she says, noting that in her bedroom an off-white silk throw lives beside a ruffled, knitted IKEA throw. “They’re slightly different shades and radically different textures, but they are a family.”
Today there are an overwhelming number of white paint shades on the market. The trick to choosing one, according to O’Keeffe, is deciding if you’re going for a warmer or a cooler look. “Cooler whites have more blue to them, warmer whites have more sienna,” she says. “Paint is still the quickest, cheapest way to completely transform the character of any room.”
Photograph by Anouska Hempel
And what about the age-old argument that white just gets too damn dirty, too damn quickly? O’Keeffe quickly pooh-poohs that. “In this day and age there are so many fabrics that are really bullet-proof — they are completely child- and pet-proof,” she says. There is also the well-known designer, a huge fan of white, who paints her living room table once a year to keep it fresh. And if these solutions don’t do the trick? “I know people who have decorated their house in white specifically because they have white pets.”
Anouska Hempel is known for designing seductive white bedrooms in houses and hotels throughout the world. At left, she fashioned a four-poster bed out of Indian sandstone and draped its canopy with 18th-century French linen. “This is another good example of mixing cold and warm,” says O’Keeffe. “There are a lot of different depths here, a lot of linen and bleached wood, too.” White bedrooms are particularly relaxing, says O’Keeffe. “We have such frenzied lives right now, but there is a spa-like, restorative vibe that comes from white that is very appealing to people these days.”
Check out our favorite white “finds” below: