Five Myths about White Walls & Ceilings

Five Myths about White Walls & Ceilings

1.  White makes a room look larger.  Not True.
2.  White is the best color for ceiling.  Not True.
3.  White is the best color for displaying artwork.  Not True.
4.  White is restful. Not Necessarily True
5.  White is best for sale and rental units. Not True

Consider the following sets of pictures — Each a “Before” and ” After”.  The first 3 sets are from homes that I remodeled for clients.  These pictures represent areas that had the smallest structural changes but in each case the original white walls/white trim were repainted with more color and contrast.  In each case the home looks larger after the white walls were painted with color.

Set 1:  Living Room

Taupe Walls Provide Contrast and Definition
“After” – Taupe Walls Provide Contrast and Perspective
White Walls Make Your Home Look Smaller
“Before” – White Walls & Trim Make The Home Look Smaller

Notice how the distances between the furniture and the walls and the front room and room behind feel larger in the “After” photos.  This entire effect is created with color and contrast.  The contrast of the off-white trim and the taupe walls as well as the smaller area rug make the living room feels larger.  The Sun Room, behind, is painted a much lighter color and therefore feels farther away – making the whole home feel larger.

The artwork has changed between “Before” and “After”.  However, you can also notice how the darker walls, help intensify and therefore make more noticeable the contrast with the creamy color of the mat and also the family photos used (although rearranged) before and after.

Set 2:  Living Room

Color Enlarges Your Home
“After” – Color Enlarges This Home
White Walls & Trim Make the Home Look Smaller
“Before” – White Walls & Trim Make the Home Look Smaller

You see exactly the same effect by use of color “Before” and “After”.  The room behind looks further away and the artwork is more defined and more of a focal point because of the greater contrast and definition.  Our eye requires definition in order to perceive distance.  An all white room lacks definition and therefore is actually made to feel smaller.

Set 3:  Bedroom

Color Enlarges Room
“After” – Color & Details Enlarge Bedroom
White Walls Make Bedroom Feel Small
“Before” – The White Walls Make the Bedroom Feel Smaller

We painted my client’s formerly white condo, several saturated and pale shades of green with a very saturated reddish brown entryway and accents.  Everyone who comes in thinks the condo looks much larger.  One even asked if she purchased the unit next door and broke through!

Our eye needs depth landmarks to perceive size.  In the “Before” image, the individual large pieces of furniture against the off-white walls makes things feel crowded and close together.  In the “After” picture, the contrast and details make the room feel larger.  In addition, the light bounces off the semi-gloss paint of the built-in bookcases sending light further into the room.  Granted, some of these effects would be true if the built-ins had been painted white but the effect is accentuated by the addition of color.

Notice, also, that the objects displayed in the open shelves also take on more definition against the deeper color.

In the “After” room, the ceiling is painted a bluish-violet.  It reads as a nice shadow effect and also enhances the green of the walls.

Set 4: Living Area
I’ve taken the next 3 images from the web.  I’ve doctored  the “After” image by adding an intense blue ceiling and an accent of deep rust.

Blue Ceiling Lends Perspective & Scale
“After” – Blue Ceiling Lends Perspective & Scale
White Ceiling & Walls - No Focus
“Before” – All White Ceiling and Walls is Devoid of Scale

In the doctored image, the room feels larger; Our eye needs boundaries to perceive scale.   When we don’t see boundaries and something beyond the boundary, we perceive areas as smaller.

In the image, below, from the same home, the white is balanced and given scale and depth by the black and white checkerboard floor in the background and the foreground straw color of the seat cushions.  Although, again, an intense blue ceiling would add additional perspective and depth to the room.  Click Here to see read more about this home.

Contrast Adds Perspective
Contrast Adds Perspective

Set 5: Colored Walls and Artwork

Colored Walls Enhance Artwork
Colored Walls Enhance Artwork
White Goes With All Artwork - But enhances Few
White Goes With All Artwork – But enhances Few

The first image is accurate; I doctored the 2nd image to achieve a “white” wall.  To my eye, the artwork is enhanced by using the greyed-green on the walls  — a near complement to the predominant rusts and reddish-browns in the paintings, the mantle and sculpture.  Even the artist commented that the paintings never looked better than in this setting.  Gallery walls are white because no single color will enhance all artwork.  And white will not clash with any particular artwork.  In your home, though, you have the flexibility to select the right tone to bring out the best in your artwork and furnishings.

Now on to the last 2 myths:  All white can be unsettling and not restful if there isn’t sufficient contrast and focal points on which our eye can rest.  Imagine the room, below, without the accent of the yellow desk and the high contrast of the artwork on the back wall.  Our eye would be searching for a place to land.  As it is, the dark floor serves the same purpose as the blue ceiling in one of the photos above – the ability to perceive boundaries.  And the yellow focal point and the graphic art gives our eye the contrast and resting place that we need to feel comfortable.   See more of this office here.

White Needs Contrast to Work
White Needs Contrast to Work

It is for all these reasons that it’s not always best to paint your interior all white or beige when you’re getting ready to sell your home.  You certainly don’t want to paint the ceiling turquoise but you do want to provide sufficient contrast and interest that the buyer perceives the size and scale – or ideally perceives even greater size and scale that what you offer.

I’m not in any way suggesting that you shouldn’t use white.  But when you do, make sure you add sufficient contrast and detail to relieve boredom.

Here is some additional reading for ideas about how to select a color scheme that works.



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