Is this a recipe for disaster?
September 3, 2012 7:01 PM   Subscribe

Living with white decor - what is it really like? Is it as intimidating as it seems? Do you have tips for keeping things clean? Will all the white seem cold and boring after awhile?

I've always decorated with warm, rich colours (think browns and reds). But I'll be moving soon, and I'm thinking of going with a cooler palette this time, with lots of white, maybe some cool blues and tans. In theory this appeals to me - it looks very spa-like - but I know it won't FEEL spa-like if it looks dirty or if I'm stressed about getting it dirty!

I'm considering going with light walls, bright white trim, light carpet, and white accent pieces.

I have two pretty clean kids (age 8 and 9), and two orange cats that don't shed too much. I am reasonably clean myself, but not a neat freak. Can I do this? Should I do this? Please tell me what it's like to live surrounded by white!
posted by yawper to Home & Garden (23 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
No personal experience, but you may want to check out the blog Chez Larsson, from Sweden. Not everything is white, but pretty much. Seems like a lot of maintenance goes into keeping things ship shape.
posted by nanook at 7:09 PM on September 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

I live in a cream colored world. I find it incredibly relaxing. Totally worth it for me.

You do clean a bit, but I have no children furry or otherwise.
posted by ibakecake at 7:14 PM on September 3, 2012

I vote no. Especially to light carpet. Is there any way you can get an alternative flooring material? Like wood laminate or tile, or real wood or bamboo?

I would not have a white couch or white upholstery. White slipcovers are another story if they can be laundered.

I think you can still go white and bright. I had white walls and just recently painted them Softer Tan by Sherwin Williams. When my walls were white it was a mix of Linen White and White Dove by Benjamin Moore. It was pretty but shows dirt. My kids had a bad habit of touching the walls. There are high quality paints out there that deter smudging and finger prints. Buy the best quality you can and don't choose flat paint. The designers love flat but it's a mistake with kids in my opinion. I would choose eggshell finish. Or a flat that can be scrubbed.

Console tables, lamps, accessories can be white and light. You can even buy white and light colored throw pillow slipcovers that can be laundered. I have some from Pottery Barn that say "spot clean" but I spray Spray N Wash on them, launder them on gentle cycle with Tide, and air dry and they are fine. White curtains or sheers that can be laundered should also be fine. I would not buy anything that you sit on in white.
posted by Fairchild at 7:18 PM on September 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

A tip: Buy area rugs and upholstery in the color of your pet if you can. Especially rugs. Orange or tan or beige. Love the carpet tiles from FLOR. Look for ones that are fit for heavy traffic. FLOR carpet tiles can be hosed down and scrubbed. You might not want rugs if you have wall to wall carpet but thought I would suggest it because we all have good intentions to vacuum on the regular but it's nice to have a little camouflage when we can't get to it.
posted by Fairchild at 7:29 PM on September 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

I know several people (with kids) who've been very happy with white leather couches - they look very clean and spa-y, and are very easy to wipe down if they get dirty or scuffed.
posted by Kololo at 7:30 PM on September 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm considering going with light walls, bright white trim, light carpet, and white accent pieces.

This is not white decor. White decor is white walls, white flooring and white furniture. I know more than person who still embraces that aesthetic and it requires a full-time housekeeper.

You'll be fine. Use satin paint on the walls and gloss on the trim and make sure you have multiple coats. The carpet will be the biggest issue. Light hardwoods are easier to keep clean, but otherwise: carpet cleaner or there's probably some fancy-pants hoover these days.
posted by DarlingBri at 7:35 PM on September 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

We had a white sofa and a gray cat. It was not a good plan; the sofa was constantly covered in fur. And we were constantly having to scrub out dots where we'd spilled sauce from Chinese take-out and the like. Even so, the fabric yellowed over time, presumably from skin oils and the like. We still have it, but it has a tan faux-suede slipcover now, which we can put into the washing machine. Way more livable.

We have completely white walls in a bathroom now, and I'm constantly wiping up smudges on the door and walls left behind by little fingers. Not that they're toddler-style constantly coated in Cheetos dust and chocolate, but even the graphite left behind on a hand after doing homework winds up leaving marks behind.

White is lovely but it genuinely takes quite a lot of upkeep to keep it white. And if you don't keep it white, the dingy is really kind of depressing.
posted by Andrhia at 7:49 PM on September 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

I have light carpet; I also have cats. This has proven to be a terrible idea, what with shedding and claws. (The incompatibility of carpet and cats is making me think about replacing everything with wood, in fact.)

Seconding the idea that color-matching with your cats, silly as it sounds, will reduce the amount of fur-related eyesores in your life. I've done that with my couches, and it works quite well.
posted by thomas j wise at 8:00 PM on September 3, 2012

I knew someone who had a white white white kitchen, totally pristine. I asked her how she kept everything so clean. She said, "darling, I don't allow cooking."
posted by kestrel251 at 8:15 PM on September 3, 2012 [4 favorites]

Even the cleanest of people will turn light carpet into dark beige over time. If you want the bright white feeling, I'd go for accessories and try something else for the floor.
posted by frizz at 9:42 PM on September 3, 2012

My home is Hamptons/French provincial style. I have a baby boy and one cat, though I had two first. The walls and all the furniture is white, with blue and silver accessories. The kitchen is white, with pine floorboards. I made the white call as a conscious decision because believe it or not, I thought it would be easier to clean than other colour choices. So far I've been right. How do I do it? All the walls are washable pant, perfect for cats that rub against it and grubby toddler hands.

The white downstairs lounge suite is slipcovered so I can throw them in the wash and it comes out like new. The upstairs lounges are white micro suede. The cushion covers can all be thrown in the wash, any stains on the arms can be wiped down with a bit of oxyaction washing powder in water. Our floors are white marble covered with jute/ hessian rugs. This adds to the beach vibe, but more importantly, the cat claws those, not the couches. We deliberately chose them to appeal to the cats, to save the couches. The cats themselves were chosen for my husbands allergies, they're Bengal which means they shed less. I hardly see cat hair at all, except for their moult at the start of summer. So much easier than normal cats.

Our other furniture is all painted white. Should junior enter his artistic stage and decide to scribble on them later on, I'll just paint it white again.

The one negative I will say is that white floors show up dirt more than regular carpet etc. and I don't vacuum as much as I should, which becomes pretty obvious pretty quickly. Aside from that, white done right (wipeable/washable surfaces) is actually very easy to maintain. It doesn't seem practical but it really is and for some reason, people think its a show home because it's white! No, I just chose it because I was lazy and it's a look that never dates, so unlike the current modern look, I won't have to update my furniture every 5 years. The other upside is that if you want a new look, swap out your accessories (lamps, rugs, cushions etc) for new coloured ones and you have a completely new look for not much at all.
posted by Jubey at 10:53 PM on September 3, 2012

No white carpet and furniture with kids and cats. It will be especially NOT be relaxing to your kids if they are not allowed to walk on it or your cats as they are shooed away from this pristine room. You will end up with what my dad used to call a (certain ethnic group) museum, a living room nobody lives in, just for important company and show. For anything that was actually sat upon, this involved plastic slip covers that never came off.

Even my super neat freak friend with no kids and no pets would not attempt this. It isn't worth the misery to all in the home trying to keep that spa look in what is supposed to be a comfortable place to live. Spas have full-time professional cleaners. Most of us do not. I'd agree with those who say go with the white accessories and washable white walls, but keep floors, rugs and furniture in more people-friendly colors.
posted by mermayd at 5:14 AM on September 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Just moved into a place with light colored carpet. I DESPISE IT. It NEVER looks clean. Moving asap. Don't make the same mistake. White is NEVER a color for floors.
posted by sexyrobot at 5:27 AM on September 4, 2012

I love how light-colored carpet looks. I HATED living with it.

My teen daughter and I lived in an apartment for several years. The management had just installed new carpet; nowhere near white, but more beige/tan. I had a doormat outside and a larger one inside. We were not strict about shoe removal, but did take our shoes off at the door anytime the weather was wet or snowy. Regardless, within 6 months there was a path of dirt through through the apartment. Vacuuming did nothing to lessen it, and I wasn't about to start steam cleaning every few months. I ended up buying dark-colored runners and throw rugs to cover the mess and prevent it from getting worse.

As far as walls, trim, and accent pieces, that could be ok. Make sure to use washable paint for the walls and trim. I would also use a gloss paint on the trim, since doorframes and baseboards soil more quickly. With washable paint, a quick sponging when things look grimy should work. You may also find that when you move a picture or furniture, you'll have to clean the walls of accumulated dust.
posted by The Deej at 6:34 AM on September 4, 2012

Response by poster: Lots of food for thought here. Thanks everyone. It sounds like I definitely won't go for light carpet and sofas (except perhaps white sofas)!
posted by yawper at 7:19 AM on September 4, 2012

Agreed with others who say for traffic areas, do not do it.

I have a cream rug. You don't want to know what it looks like with a 3.5 year old, a slob husband, and 2 dogs (along with 2 former cats).

Cream couch because like you, I just thought it looked beautiful. Ruined in 2 months. Grandma came over and her Depends leaked. Cats? Puked on it. Dogs? Got up on it when we weren't home.

Trim, walls, lamps, tables---rule is if you can wipe it with water and it cleans in a jiffy, go for it. But anything walked/sat on? Unless you can wash it (slip covers) DON"T do it if you're neurotic. Leave that look for furniture stores and Crate and Barrel catalogs. :)
posted by stormpooper at 7:22 AM on September 4, 2012

Response by poster: egads...I meant to say "except perhaps white LEATHER sofas", since they seem easier to keep clean.
posted by yawper at 7:33 AM on September 4, 2012

yawper: "except perhaps white LEATHER sofas"

How can I say this from work? White or light beige leather furniture gives a certain... San Fernando Valley filmmaking feel, if you know what I mean.
posted by Rock Steady at 7:40 AM on September 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

We have all white walls and the Magic Eraser is a necessity. Plus it's kinda fun!
posted by missjenny at 7:50 AM on September 4, 2012

I've got the country cottage thing going in my house. All of the woodwook and case goods are white. Easy to clean with a spray of Mrs. Meyers.

For the upstairs, little used living room, I got white sofas. I'm not sure I'd do that again in a hot hurry.

Our black kitty Malcolm adores depositing his fur on them. Our brown kitty Eartha, also enjoys contributing to the fur level on the sofas.

So either get leather (if you don't mind the San Fernando Valley filmmaking vibe), or a nice print that will hide boo-boos.

I had an olafin white carpet when I lived in Florida. I bought a steamer to clean it, otherwise it got and stayed dirty. I cleaned with water and bleach. It worked fine, but on olafin, your feet deposit oils on the fibers, then dirt is attracted, let's not even start if someone came in with dirty shoes. What a disaster. So even with an easy-to-clean carpet, white was not optimal.

I'd recommend a light, natural wood, white-washed Pine, or brich if you want a light, airy look with low maintenance.

We did our walls in a blue color called Air Kiss, and had the intensity taken to 50%. It's very calming and light, while remaining warm.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:03 AM on September 4, 2012

The dye in blue jeans can rub off on the seats of chairs and sofas. It happens for quite a while, not just when the pants are brand new. The light-gray passenger seat of my car has a permanent blue tinge in the shape of my husband's butt; I wish I'd gotten darker upholstery.
posted by wryly at 9:45 AM on September 4, 2012

You can do a white couch if you have slipcovers you're willing to bleach once every few weeks or so.

My mother has white carpeting, and has for years. It's still white. However, I'm pretty convinced that she's not entirely human when it comes to cleaning (aka, she's a bit nutters about the cleaning thing). She's down on her knees at least once a day with the OxyClean stain remover and paper towels, muttering over this or that spot in the carpet. The carpet came with the house and she doesn't want to pay to replace it. I swear to the gods, one of these years, I'm going to pay for the replacement myself.
posted by RogueTech at 1:01 PM on September 4, 2012

White leather gets very dingy in my experience, and that's without a cat. It's not that easy to clean. When kids get crud on it, or draw on it with pens, or spill and don't wipe it up for hours... it's not like you can use solvent on the leather.

I have a light beige leather couch and I still love it because it's so comfortable, but I don't think it's the same color it used to be. My friend's white leather couch is definitely grungy.
posted by fingersandtoes at 9:47 PM on September 4, 2012

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