Rx: How to Make White on White Not Feel Like a Hospital

Too much white can feel very sterile. It can also be boring. If people use "vanilla" as an adjective for your decor, it's not a compliment. Alas, you came to me. I have an easy-to-follow prescription for making white on white work.

Personally, I'm not a fan of the shabby chic, bleached, knotty wood look. I prefer my whites with more shine. Lacquer, high-gloss paint, and white glass are great examples of shiny white. The key is to compliment shiny (cold) pieces with textural (warm) accents. 

For many people who rent, painting walls is simply not an option. In my situation, where the walls are highly textured, it would simply be too difficult. If you have the ability to paint your walls, but are too afraid of experimenting with color, try this:

Using a stencil, stripe pattern, or ombre effect, take the same shade of white, but apply different gloss levels. Start with flat white paint, then do stripes or stencil pattern in a higher-gloss finish of that same shade of white. Painting stripes is easy if you follow this guide

But, which shade of white paint, you ask? Stay away from cream. Blah. Go as bright as possible; it keeps the energy lively instead of dull. 

For a crisp, cooler white, try Benjamin Moore Chantilly Lace (OC-65) or Distant Gray (OC-68). For something a tad on the warmer side, try Benjamin Moore White Opulence (OC-69) or Mountain Peak White (OC-121). Just don't do anything resembling cream or, worse, beige.

Experiment with texture! Put a white fluffy pillow on a lucite chair on a cow hide rug. Place some ceramic vases on a grasscloth table runner on a white kitchen table. Put a finely-embroidered pillow on a tough, leather sofa. Flank it with breezy white curtains (presumably framing a window!). Then add some beautiful hydrangeas, peonies, or lilies.

And, lastly, top it all off with a white dog or cat. It'll add a certain je ne sais quoi

Note the various textures and finishes.

Note the various textures and finishes.

I have a pair of these sitting on top of white, shiny wood nightstands. I love them. West Elm "Turned" Table Lamp, $149.

I have a pair of these sitting on top of white, shiny wood nightstands. I love them. West Elm "Turned" Table Lamp, $149.

This lacquered wood credenza can be super sexy, if accessorized correctly. Remember to add warmth to modern, clean lines to make it more home-y and less sterile. Fuel White Credenza, CB2. $499.

This lacquered wood credenza can be super sexy, if accessorized correctly. Remember to add warmth to modern, clean lines to make it more home-y and less sterile. Fuel White Credenza, CB2. $499.

These faux fur pillows add definite texture. In everything but the paint, you can use creamier whites. I encourage mixing shades of white! Restoration Hardware Luxe Faux Fur in Arctic White, $29-$49

These faux fur pillows add definite texture. In everything but the paint, you can use creamier whites. I encourage mixing shades of white! Restoration Hardware Luxe Faux Fur in Arctic White, $29-$49

Ghost chairs are great in that they add high style without taking up any visual space (which is great for smaller rooms, where you shouldn't have bulky furniture). I love the glossy white, as it a bit more substantial than the clear. Kartell Victoria Ghost Chair, from $330. 

Ghost chairs are great in that they add high style without taking up any visual space (which is great for smaller rooms, where you shouldn't have bulky furniture). I love the glossy white, as it a bit more substantial than the clear. Kartell Victoria Ghost Chair, from $330. 

Keep it crisp.

Keep it crisp.

Layering whites.

Layering whites.

A mix of stark white with cream.

A mix of stark white with cream.

Fresh and clean.

Fresh and clean.