There have been literally thousands of articles written about how to decorate with white. Given that it is the most frequently used – and often deemed safest – color for interiors, why is it so hard to get right? Perhaps it’s precisely because white is so ubiquitous that its risks are under-estimated.

I know that when I use white, it takes several attempts and a lot of tinkering before I’m truly happy with the effect. And yet, most of my favorite interior images are predominantly white. So I decided to tackle the problem head on and devise some easy-to-follow rules for using the interior decorator’s most faithful hue.

White on white

Via This is Glamorous.

I think this is the easiest way to use white – IF you follow the rule to the letter. To work, this look requires a strict palette of different whites (all cool or all warm) and, at most, neutrals like grays or beiges.

Via Peacock Feathers.

Via Decor8.

This look is fantastic with lots of natural textures like grainy woods, leather, stone, rough linens and soft wool.

Via Pure Style Home.

Painted surfaces can be chipped, scuffed or weathered for even more texture.

Via Remodelista.

Alternatively, you can go for high gloss white and glass, metallics and mirrors or sequins.

(Photo by Marc Gerritson via Desire to Inspire)

A combination of both rustic and sparkly looks great too. And don’t forget about shapes – using a combination of curvy, boxy and star-like pieces can keep the interest level up.

Via Bochenko Artdeco.

Photo by Anna Kern via Beauty Comma.

Via Decorology.

White with pastels

Via Peacock Feathers.

This is a really pretty, feminine look and a relatively easy way to use white. Combining white with one pastel, like rose pink or mint green is the safest option. I like to paint walls in a pastel and then use white for all the furniture, fabrics and flooring – again using a variety of textures and styles.

Via Canadian House and Home.

But you can also mix a few different pastels with white, providing they’re all of the same intensity.

Via Simplified Bee.

Or, ensuring that they all have the same amount of gray in them also helps.

Via Bochenko Artdeco.

For a more harmonious look, I would choose pastels that are closer together on the color wheel – blue, gray and green for example, or pink, peach and yellow.

White and one other color

Another good option is to use white with a single other color. Blue and white is a traditional example.

By Feldman Architecture via Houzz.

You can combine lots of different patterns small and large, if they stick to this same time-honored palette. Try to use similar blues, though, unless you are very confident in your color skills. Or, if you want variety, go with a very pale blue and a very dark blue like navy, along with the white. That will prevent conflict between the various shades.

Via Desire to Inspire.

Red and white is a good alternative to this recipe. Turquoise, emerald and orange also work well in isolation with white. Whichever you choose, though, try to use the colors in slightly different proportions: a room that has exactly the same quantities of red and white, say, just looks contrived. And you might want to throw in a few elements of black or dark brown to anchor the whole thing and stop it from looking to matchy-matchy.

White and black

Now established as a firm favorite for many of us, this bold combination would have required a bit of courage a couple of years back. That said, it’s relatively easy look to pull off. Again, think about proportion and try not to have each color in equal measure.

Via A Room Somewhere.

Think about texture, pattern and style and mix things up to keep the look interesting.

Via Slipcover Your Life.

Via Casapinka.

If you get the urge for a splash of color, temporary accents like flowers are the best bet or the whole effect will be diluted.

Via Desire to Inspire.

That said, I do like seeing the odd splash of yellow, pink or red in a black and white room – and gray-blue works well as a backdrop for spaces accessorized in only black and white.

White and brights

You’d think this would be easy – a safe white background should allow you to use whatever combination of brights you like, right? Wrong. Of course, you should do what you love and feel right living with. But my point is that it’s hard to feel comfortable with this look unless you get it right. In my experience, the use of several brights can just make the white elements look dull and boring – like a non-choice. The key is in the proportions. Either go for a predominantly white room with a few accents of brights (lime green pillows, a vase of pink peonies and a splash of yellow and turquoise art, for example).

Via Kika Reichart.

Via Coco + Kelley.

Via Ill Seen, Ill Said.

Or, really layer in the brights and use the white for negative space only (which means you probably don’t want any white next to white unless it’s a different texture.

Via Peacock Feathers.

Again, sticking to bright colors close to each other on the color wheel (pinks, purples, reds for example) helps pull it all together.

Via Beauty Comma.

What’s your experience of using white? Do you agree with these guidelines or do you have better suggestions? I’d love to hear your thoughts. I’ve made enough mistakes with white and know plenty of others who’ve done the same so some simple rules would save us all a lot of heartache!

(First image: source unknown)