Archive for Sunday, January 27, 2002

White done right can make a statement

January 27, 2002


I find it interesting that in the hundreds of rooms that Matt and I have decorated, we've only done one room in a simple white-on-white color scheme. Or I guess I should say it was decorated in an off-white-on-off-white color scheme.

It was a lovely guest bedroom with a string look on the walls, soft sheer fabric at the windows and layers of creamy bed coverings and pillows on the bed. In contrast, a black wrought-iron four-poster bed with black-painted furniture pieces and wrought-iron lighting gave the room depth and drama.

Simple though it sounds, a white-on-white scheme can be a challenge and does take some planning. Here's what we did to create a successful white-on-white scheme.

We started with texture and painted the room's walls in a string look, also called a combing technique. To create a look like this in your white-on-white room, start with a light off-white paint in a semigloss finish for your base coat. Once the base coat is dry, roll on a couple of roller widths of your topcoat color, which is slightly deeper than the base coat.

Your topcoat should be a satin finish, so the walls don't end up too shiny. Then, immediately start pulling the "comb" which is a window squeegee cut in a saw-tooth pattern through your topcoat color, creating a stringlike pattern.

After you've pulled through the paint several times, wipe off the squeegee, roll on a couple more widths of paint and continue "combing" the walls. Don't stop in the middle of a wall, because you don't want your topcoat to dry and leave a heavy overlap line.

Now, for the windows, wrought-iron drapery rods made sense because they matched the bed and added contrast. We simply measured from the floor to the top of the rod and back to the floor, added a yard and cut our pretty off-white sheer fabric.

This no-sew treatment allowed us to drape the fabric over the rod, pull the front half of the fabric to one side and the back fabric to the other, then dress it behind wrought-iron tiebacks. Our tiebacks were mounted unevenly, so the overall look of the finished window treatment was asymmetrical but very soft because of the excess fabric pooled on the wood floor.

Selecting the bedding was fun and easy, knowing we needed lots of cream, texture and a variety of layers. We started with a cream dust ruffle and cream sheets on the bed. A single coverlet and two variations of cream pillow shams added to the variety. Cream-on-cream patterned accessory pillows finished the bed with flair.

Is there a better way to get drama than to select an accent color in total contrast to the main color of the room? You can't get much farther from the white families than with black. The beautifully thin posts of the wrought-iron bed add strong but controlled contrast to the room.

Matt and I chose to add simple side tables painted black with natural wood tops. We used black wrought iron for lighting accents, and the dark antique trunk offers more than just additional contrast. For a guest room, it's the perfect place to greet guests with a basket of gifts. Try luxury bath products, or reading material of course we thought that homemade chocolate chip cookies would be the best way to say "welcome."

On the opposite side of the room, we added a 48-inch black wall shelf mounted about 24 inches off the floor. It held a couple of wrought-iron sculptural pieces and some magazines. We placed a wrought-iron and woven rattan chair in the corner, with a large multicolor abstract painting above the shelf. In this position, the wild punch of color was an unexpected surprise once you entered and then turned around in the room.

To have a simple white on white done right you need texture, pattern, layering, variety, contrast and something a little unexpected. Once again, the things that look and sound the easiest usually aren't. However, once you master the subtle nuances that define a white-on-white room, any other color scheme will seem elementary.

Shari Hiller writes this column with Matt Fox. They co-host the Home & Garden Television show "Room by Room." For more information, visit

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