Design Thoughts: The Psychology of White Rooms

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about why white rooms seem so popular on social media feeds and Pinterest, but not as much in the “real world”.  Have you noticed this?

White Rooms of Instagram

Instagram feeds that feature predominantly white rooms seem to be unusually popular with thousands, if not tens of thousands, of followers.

Summer Adams Design Instagram white and pink rooms Psychology of White White Rooms
Summer Adams Design


Bright White Homes Instagram Psychology of White Rooms
Bright White Homes  Also from Summer Adams


my.burleigh.reno Instagram white rooms Psychology of White Rooms



The Instagram white rooms Psychology of White Rooms


The Ranch Uncommon Instagram White rooms Psychology of White Rooms
The Ranch Uncommon

Now, don’t get me wrong – I think these are all beautiful feeds. Many of these are their own homes or work. This is not to ‘dis them at all. But, I feel like if I followed them, I’d be seeing what seemed to be the same thing, over and over again. But, my feed, which has all kinds of color and content has relatively few followers. So, there is something to this consistency of color – or lack of it.

Linda Merrill Instagram Phsycology of White Rooms

Designer’s Own White Rooms

Vicente Wolf designer at home Editor at Large White apartment
Vicente Wolf in his own apartment (by the way, we interviewed Vicente on our podcast The Skirted Roundtable back in 2009 and it’s still a great bit of listening!).

One of my favorite designers, Vicente Wolf, has a famously white loft apartment. You can see more photos here on Editor at Large. Per the article:

The gallerylike white backdrop has remained unchanged over the years.“I wanted it to be a canvas for the things that are inside of the apartment,” says Vicente. It was this simple yet purposeful gesture that set the stage for a home that is light, airy, and constantly evolving…

Is this the lure of white rooms? The potential for change? The endless possibilities?

Of course, we all know that white kitchens have been hugely popular for a long time.

christopher_peacock_cabintrey white rooms
Christopher Peacock Cabinetry

Christopher Peacock Cabinetry has long been synonymous with the classic white kitchen and the perennially popular white kitchen in Something’s Gotta Give certainly became a touchstone for nearly a generation of white kitchen lovers.

This month’s Traditional Home magazine’s cover story features a white kitchen with several other white rooms. Interestingly, a few years ago, an editor for Traditional Home was speaking at the Boston Design Center and they were begging for non-white kitchens… Looks like they lost that battle. Over on their Facebook feed, TH routinely posts a photos of the day. Much of the time it’s some version of a white room. And, the comments all seem pretty consistently positive/swoony – except for those who complain about “another white room??”

Traditional Home August 2018 cover white rooms kitchen
Traditional Home August 2018 cover
Traditional Home Lillian August Interiors Vermont Farm House
Lillian August Interiors

Hold the phone… This is a white room in the farmhouse style. Hmm… where have we seen many white farmhouse style rooms…

Magnolia Homes Joanna Chip Gaines White rooms
Magnolia Homes / Joanna and Chip Gaines Google images

Ah yes, the über popular Joanna and Chip Gaines aka Magnolia Homes aka Fixer Upper purveyors of all things white, rustic and farmhouse-y. Giving them their due, Suzanne Kasler said she’d hire them when she was speaking at the Boston Design Center a few weeks ago. And I don’t think she was being sarcastic. Suzanne tends to prefer a white background in her interiors as well, though it’s a background (like Vicente) not all the furnishings as well.

So, what about the Psychology of White Rooms?

I came across this article on Very Well Mind on The Color Psychology of White which I think is pretty interesting. Of course, it’s important to note that color associations vary from culture to culture, but in our Western culture, white often symbolizes purity, safety, cleanliness, innocence. While some will see it as sterile and bland, others see the more positive traits.

Favorite Color?

Since we were children, we’ve usually had a favorite color and it’s a question we’re asked a lot. (Green is mine, btw.) And rarely does anyone ever say that their favorite color is white. However, when asked what a favorite color for one’s own rooms, it appears that white is more likely to be the answer.  I don’t recall ever having a client who had a predominantly white space that they weren’t anxious to change nor has anyone ever asked for white rooms and furnishings (except kitchens and bathroom, of course). More often than not, when faced with white furnishings, the response is a quick no, because “how will it ever be kept clean?”

So, white is popular, safe and innocent – but also not so safe when it comes to keeping it clean. Is the allure that we think our own lives can’t support a white space so we’re fascinated by those who do?

And, is white really safe and innocent? Not according to those who point to a torture technique – White Torture – where the detainee is kept in an all white room for long periods, wearing all white, eating all white foods, hearing no noises aside from their own voice, the light level never changes. Apparently the deprivation of color and sound is desolating, deafening and deadening, leaving the detainee unable to remember faces of even their own parents. I can see this happening. One thing that makes white rooms actually work decoratively is the addition of materials that have texture, the warmth of wood and the quality of the light, natural and artificial.

So, I’d love to hear from you – do you live in a white space, or dream of doing so? Do you swoon over the near white-out feeds on social media? Or, would you feel like a torture victim – devoid of stimulation and interest.

xoxo Linda

16 thoughts on “Design Thoughts: The Psychology of White Rooms”

  1. I love white and we moved into a brand new home almost three years ago. I had all the walls and ceilings painted white and actually had to pay for an upgrade to do so. I had never lived with white walls before and have found it to be totally soothing and a great backdrop. I like high contrast and medium value colors so I use black and blues as a base and then pop accents of pinks, yellows,greens changing them up seasonally. I have to have color with my white.

    • Hi Irene – I think you’re right about fearing making a statement. But I think those people tend towards beiges and grays. White to me is a big statement. Thanks for visiting!

  2. Yes!! I love my white 🙂 The thing to remember to point out to clients is white isn’t just white. There are THOUSANDS of “whites” in all kinds of undertones. Some may not even look like a “white” on a paint chip but bathed on a wall it’s a light hue that reads as white!

  3. I do love white walls and white cabinets, always had them with children and big Goldens. We also have bare windows (shocking) and I love the greens and blues outside with our white walls. It is so much easier to wipe down a cabinet or wall than it is to remove stains from furniture. So dark furnishings with colorful pillows and white walls works for my family of hooligans. My house is casual and will always be casual and white walls and minimal tchotches but lots of action is our lifestyle. We’re going to paint the living room again and while I considered many colors, I’m pretty sure we’re going with some sort of white. Speaking of Fixer Upper, I am glad she stopped painting the walls that dark green. I am not comfortable in rooms with muddy colored walls. Muddy colors are not my thing and the worst is a beige paint with yellow undertones. That’s my take on white walls and that’s why I have them.

    • I either read or was speaking with someone once who said the reason why all white wasn’t as hard to live with is because it forced you to clean up messes and stains immediately which ultimately protects everything even better. Made sense to me.

      • Thank you for featuring both of my Instagram feeds, Summer Adams Designs and Bright White Homes. So interesting to hear your thoughts. Living in the Pacific Northwest where it is so dark and gloomy many months out of the year, it has been such a blessing to have a bright happy home. It is not typical in designs around here. People are loving it. I loooove being in my home!!! ☺️ And yes… It forces you to clean up messes right away. I agree and think it keeps a house cleaner, and I have children. So thrilled with my design choice! What’s really fun is having clients nervous to do white but want to do it…and then they love it! And changing my pops of color throughout the year is easier against the white and oh so fun!

  4. I love white! It’s my favorite color to wear and live with. I read once that Kirstie Alley (who is/was a terrific decorator as she was developing her acting career, and has a tapestry gifted to her by Sister Parish that I covet to this day) decided to reject white as a scheme for a room because she felt it made people think they were cleaner than they actually are – as time unfolds, I realize that’s a sentiment of the roaring 70’s-’80’s, when excess and (personal) unclean living were considered benchmarks of wealth. I think living with whites/neutrals is a way to appreciate the essence of certain things – fabrics, wood, stone. Here in Texas, it’s also a way to imagine being cooler. Whites also make way to make a home comfortable and stylish if you simply can’t afford expensive textiles for entire pieces of furniture – they support an entire cast of decorative characters.

    • Interesting about Kirstie Alley – I’m not sure I’d ever heard she was a decorator but will look into it. It’s giving me a fun idea for a series of blog posts. I can see how white schemes are easier on a budget as well.

  5. Hi Linda. I am SO glad you wrote this post!!! I have been so behind on this constant White kitchens, white rooms, white homes trend. That is until Instagram and following so many designers. Now I notice it everywhere!

    Me as a person, artist, designer and home owner, color and texture are my middle name. We only have one off white, more cream room and that is our master bedroom and bath, now our Airbnb. We kept it light and airy cause it has vaulted ceilings, lots of natural light so with the walls almost the same color as the ceiling it gives it a real expansive feel.

    But all other rooms except our back and white guest bathroom have coloref walls. Deep sage, blue green in living room and open kitchen. Rich caramel for high ceiling family/dining room. And my one red wall in a hallway.

    BUT, I feel myself weighed down now by the colors. Weve had them for 16 years. And with all the Before/After pics I see on Insta, it really shows how a brownish den can become spectacular and fresh in white. So, are you ready for this? I might paint our rooms white!! And i might even paint our kitchen cabinets white!!

    I dont want our entire interiors to be white, but everthing now (even tho the paint has held up beautifully for 16 years) looks all brown, red, tan. It just all looks the same now and I want to freshen it up with crisp whites and blues. But I have prob 5 wall paint colors to select cause we’re repainting interiors this summer. Hopefully my pal, interior designer Patrick Landrum, is going to help me decide cause im horrible at picking wall colors.

    Now, onto your theories and Instagram. Thank you for saying its SO boring looking at a feed that is ALL the same!! White, white and more white. But youre right, they are the most popular, whereas mine is filled with color and texture and not one unified monochromatic color. I love the white Instas too, but they lack something and often feel too staged for my liking. But i also understand the point your friend mentioned of having white walls so that the beauty of the objects, art, textiles, IN the room can stand out.

    Soooo I’m kind of in a conundrum. I feel myself being pulled toward white cause its so fresh, young, clean, new….but I wonder how I’ll feel w/out colored walls??

    One thought is to keep the colors but freshen up our decor with different furniture and textiles. Like for green breakfast nook i could have blue & white striped window seat cushion instead of the red/brown Ralph Lauren paisley. And ALL our antiques are brown and heavy so Im craving lightening everything up. And I fell in love with a 1930s white kitchen with black soapstone counters in a home for sale on our street.

    But I hear you!! Im not sure what Im going to do. The only room im pretty sure I want to paint a pretty French blue is the guest room.

    And we are not a super clean, tidy homeowners. So will a white kitchen make us pick up better? It might?? You raise a lot of great points and good questions. I love so many colors, I think I’ll stick to picking out the textiles and have Patrick decide the walls. Wish me luck!! Cause I really have no clue what we’ll do.

    Great post Linda!! Thx for writing it and bringing up the topic for discussion! Obviously, I could go on and on about it. Lol!! 🤣

    • Hi Deborah! It’s exciting to contemplate a whole house makeover – even if “just” paint. But, a big commitment to go from more saturated colors to something like an all white palette. I’m sure Patrick will do a great job for you – we all need help with our own homes! My own cottage, which is a rental, was painted almost all beige. My landlord told me it was all white when his mom lived here and after she passed away, they “refreshed” it with all beige paint. It’s open floor plan except the two bedrooms, one was a different beige/tan color, the other was bright blue. I kind of wish they’d repainted it all white, but at least the beige is a nice one. I painted pink accent walls in various spots and then repainted the bedrooms – one a bright green and the other a pearly off white (called Sand Dollar) which is my office. But I keep thinking how I would have decorated differently if it had been all-white. It’s a coastal house with a water view, so a fresh all white would have been nice. But, I don’t do blues in my own house at all, so it would never have been traditional coastal. Ah, to dream. Let me know what you decide to do with your colors. I think you could freshen up the caramel and reds, maybe even the deep sage (though that’s one of my favorite colors). Good luck and thanks for commenting!


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