Special Nonexistent Furniture

How to decorate with white: your questions answered

Whitewarmbedroom If you've chosen a white paint with warm undertones, repeat these warm tones in furniture
and decor. Styling – Allira Bell and Jonathan Fleming. Image – Denise Braki.

The purest of colours can be anything but simple when it comes to choosing the perfect tone for your walls and décor. We asked Sydney interior designer and colour guru Christine McCoy to share her expert tips with students in our brand new online T&W Style School course, Colour Essentials for Interiors, launching May 1. Here are just a few of the highlights she shares on how to get it right with white.

Is there a single 'go-to' white that suits every space?
Every space and everyone's preferences are different! I gravitate towards earthy whites, because they have natural undertones that fit a lot of different situations very easily – like natural lighting and the natural surrounds outside the space (try Temple & Webster 'Pavillion' or 'Chateau'). But sometimes the architecture of a space demands something different – like a more stark or cool-toned white, so that's when I would deviate (try Temple & Webster 'Lighthouse').

Christine portrait Interior designer, colour guru and T&W Style School guest expert
Christine McCoy. Image – Chloe Overhall.

How do I choose the best white for a particular setting?
The key is to choose a white that works with the light in all parts of your space. Always test out whites before committing to them, whether it's just on a sheet of paper that you can look at in the space, or you paint part of your wall. The biggest things to consider are the light in the space and the surrounding environment. Whether it's inside or outside, the natural light in a space is going to be different everywhere in your city, and it's even going to differ with your neighbour's home because something like having greenery outside a window can change the light. The architecture of your space – such as high ceilings or windows – will also affect it.

What are the most common mistakes when choosing whites?
The most common fault I see is when people don't recognise that there are undertones and actual colour in whites. Like any other colour, whites and the undertones in them are affected by the light and the environment they're used in so once you understand that, it takes a lot of the mystery out of working with white.

Whitesofa All-white inspiration from one of Christine's interior design projects in Redfern, Sydney.

I want to go all-white in a room and tie in paint and furniture – how do I choose whites that work together?
Once again it's all about the undertones. If you've chosen a white with a warm undertone for the walls, choosing warm-toned neutrals for your flooring, furniture and other finishes will always work because they're all coming from the same tonal family. The same would work for cool-toned whites.

Does white always make a space look bigger?
White alone won't necessarily make a space seem larger. Contrasting whites with deeper or bolder colours can help to manipulate a room, to make it look wider or bigger or smaller.

Whitestairs It's important to consider how the light appears in all areas of a space,
as seen in the stairwell of Christine's Redfern project.

Are there any rules I should follow when choosing a white for ceilings, architraves and skirting boards?
I tend to use tints and shades of the same white we've used on the walls, but create contrast where it's needed with different textures. If the architecture is simple, keep the colour scheme simple with a half or quarter strength of the wall colour on the ceilings. If the architecture is more ornate, or calls for contrast, you could use the same white in a matte finish for walls and a gloss for skirtings and accents to bring out that contrast.

Learn to create dynamic colour schemes for your own home with our new T&W Style School course, Colour Essentials for Interiors.

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