Originally published in STIR®
As Americans seek peace and tranquility in this time of economic and geopolitical upheaval, white is seeing an upswing in popularity.

White is a perennial favorite for home decor, and for good reason. White suggests a clean, open and breezy space, even when a room is limited in size. It evokes timelessness, clarity, innocence and hope. And so, in today's atmosphere of stress and uncertainty, it's only natural that white is playing a starring role in home decor, as Americans hunker down and seek to make their home their sanctuary.

Economic impact

Layoffs and the stock market collapse have led customers to be more hesitant in their big-ticket purchases. Cautious about buying a sofa or bedroom set in colors that may go out of style in a short period of time, designers and homeowners alike are playing it safe by choosing white for these pieces. Not only is white timeless, it's adaptable – easily combined with other colors, textures, sheens and materials – enabling designers and homeowners to add punches of color in more economic and less risky ways.

"Creamy whites and grayed whites are most important because they are a neutral palette that allows the consumer to bring in color and design through lower-priced purchases such as pillows, art and decor," says Krisann Parker-Brown, Merchandising Manager for Design Centers, Consumer and Product Trend division.

"John Quelch writes in the Harvard Business Review and The Economist about the 'simplifier' consumer; a newly emerging buying group that is focused on simplifying lifestyle and surroundings, in a minimalist 'less is more' approach," says Parker-Brown.

Consumers are focusing on key pieces with interchangeable accents, as they seek clarity in the present and try to be forward-thinking about the future. In both a practical and spiritual move toward improving both their homes and their everyday lives, the simplifiers are cleaning out the clutter; knick-knacks and unnecessary items are going by the wayside to create cleaner, more open spaces.

White fits everywhere

White furniture can have an impact in every room of the house. An old farmhouse-style white table with rough-hewn top and matching chairs will make a small dining room more cheerful and welcoming. A white upholstered sofa or easy chair with bright throw pillows will balance the dark leather furniture in a study or living room. A white pickled-wood framed mirror or chair will immediately freshen a bathroom, while a distressed white armoire or upholstered white headboard will brighten and lighten a bedroom.

Look for "upholstered sofas and chairs, most in clean, transitional silhouettes with a twist, such as an unusual fabrication, combination or an accent like upholstery brads," says Parker-Brown. "Many of these pieces are also distressed, with a nod to the 'green aesthetic' and an organic and 're-used/repurposed' feel."

How to use it

"The terrific thing about whites is that they work with everything, and instantly brighten the room," says Parker-Brown. "Whites can be mixed with dark finishes for stark contrast, or blended with other neutrals to allow key accessories to come to the forefront."

And don't worry about matching the whites in a room. Instead, consider blending warm, yellowy whites with cool grayed whites to create a welcoming space that avoids the sterile feeling that can result from using just one tone. When working with a white palette, be sure to incorporate lots of different textures – such as combining a white leather sofa with pillows, curtains and other upholstered furniture in linens, velvets, cottons and sheers. It's a great way to give a room depth, tactile character and a lived-in natural feeling.

Versatility

Being the classic it is, white can be a natural, inspirational choice for your clients, even those with small children – not only does white furniture show less dust than dark does, but many of the new white fabrics are stain-resistant and washable. White gives your clients the ability to adjust their tastes and make minor changes to a room without having to completely redo every element within the room. A simple wall color update can take a room furnished in white from serious to playful, from sophisticated to cozy, and vice versa.

The accents in a room really shape the feel of any piece of furniture, and white items are no exception. And what makes today's white pieces so exciting and versatile is that they often incorporate their own unusual designer "accents." Case in point: "At the recent World Market in Las Vegas, The Robert Allen Group showed a classic wingback armchair, upholstered in an unexpected white patent leather," says Parker-Brown.

For more information:

  • Color, Space, and Style: All the Details Interior Designers Need to Know but Can Never Find by Mimi Love and Chris Grimley. (Rockport Publishers, 2007)
  • Color Planning for Interiors: An Integrated Approach to Color in Designed Spaces by Margaret Portillo. (Wiley, 2009)