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How to achieve an all white interior that isn’t clinical!

Wait, what? You don’t want colour???

A little while ago, I was commissioned to do concepts for an all white interior for a client. Now this came as a bit of a surprise to me as I’m more well known for my use of colour. But she loved my style and great reviews and wanted to work with me aannnddd if there’s one thing I’ve learnt over the years is that you gotta know the rules to know how to break them (just ask any lawyer….I’m sure this is at least half of their work briefs LOL). Besides, I love me a challenge!

So, all the usual design rules and approaches for each space apply. Just sans the colour! Easy peasy lemon squeazy!

The brief

This house is a new build and a big one at that. There are 3 kids involved, so there will actually be a bit of colour in their rooms, but predominantly, the rest of the house will be pretty much white.

There is a formal room at the front facing onto the street, a compact media room, open plan living/dining, office/play area at the top of the stairs and 4 bedrooms.

The wall colour and flooring was already done, so I had to work within that framework, which was fine.

I was given a $70k budget (excluding design fees) to start with which had to include curtains and furniture, rugs and artwork. It sounds like a lot but it’s amazing how quickly it gets chewed up. Think about this: they had 3 spaces that needed sofas. If that meant 5 sofas at $4,000 each, there’s $20k chomped up already! That’s without a dining table and chairs, beds and curtains (totally necessary for privacy!).

So, where do you start?

The first thing I do is get the client to put together a Pinterest Board of things that catch their eye. I don’t want them to think too much about it….just scroll down and if there’s a gut reaction to something, then save it. I ask them to prepare at least a dozen images that we will drill down to get a clearer picture of the style they’re after (I also ask that they provide images of things they already have and want to keep and use).

From this collection of images, I can distil so much information, it’s crazy! It actually doesn’t take me long to see clearly what they want to achieve in terms of how it should look – and therefore which suppliers I need to look at. From there, we’ll establish exactly the items I need to source and budgets and timelines.

On the hunt

From this brief, it’s all about the sourcing and the mixing of textures. I think this process feels like a big spiral coming into a point. You start with lots of possibilities but as the process goes on, it becomes crystal clear which things need to be curated out until you’re left with the perfect balance of things.

The secret to success with an all white interior is a mix of materials – from shiny to matt, textured to smooth, textiles, woods, glass, marble etc. Have a look at the image of the mood board for this project – it indicates the overall look and feel and shows the client that I’m on the right track!

In this instance, I’ve used warm white boucle, fringing, gold accents, mirror, coconut wood, marble, silk, wool, linen, frosted glass and loads more. Loads of finishes to keep the eye moving around a space. Interesting lines and silhouettes for the various furniture items add surprise elements. And sophisticated but simple artworks are key to making this look super expensive (without the artworks themselves costing a bomb!). It’s all about being clever with the budget and knowing what looks expensive (but isn’t necessarily so!), knowing which pieces are the feature items and which items are to be the (beautiful) support act!

One of the key things with this particular look is to have loads of 'warmth' so it doesn't look or feel clinical. Layering and varying heights, adding plants and warm lamp light throughout are just a few things you can do to make it feel homely.

Each item is listed with dimensions and price so the client can prioritise the things to get first. It isn’t uncommon for things to happen in phases – starting with the most urgent and ending with the gorgeous finishing touches. This is almost always due to budget and no matter how deep the pockets, you always hit the seam in the end and is just something that needs to be worked out in advance.

Evolving spaces

Once the design is signed off and the ordering begins, it’s simply a matter of deliveries and installation. This can be a bit stressful but it is also the magical stage. Seriously, 99% of the time, clients love this part so much, they can’t wait to begin on the next phase as soon as they can. For this project, we’ll need to wait for Covid to settle down, but the great thing is that we know the direction we’re going in and are confident that it will look absolutely amazing when it’s done!

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