A year ago, I struggled to become energized for home improvement projects on our list. In particular, the last of the dark brown trim, built-ins, and doors had to be addressed. We had still not touched the family room even though it only needed a facelift. Why the procrastination? The fact we’re no longer 39 and suddenly fond of hibernation mode in winter probably had something to do with it. But there are also psychological and sensual implications about natural vs. unnatural and considering that line between hushed and ho-hum. The thing is, the inspirational photos I share of soft, subtle, serene interiors help me find confidence and motivation as an aging DIYer. Let’s discuss.
Soft, Subtle, Serene Interiors & Soulful Stories
Painting dark wood trim is a serious consideration; but for me, the payoff was priceless. Light oak that we could bleach or whitewash would have been swell. But we inherited layers of dark cherry stain. Sanding layers of toxic varnish? We did that with the flooring, and…omg, nope! Demo? I’m way too sensible. When you know yourself well, you can be trusted to make the proper design decisions that suit your unique needs. So today, let’s think more deeply about how pale neutrals and white endure as favorites and tell a story about sensibilities.
When Texture is Your Color
For years I have wanted to follow the cue of the Giannettis at Patina Farm and skim plaster over the walls. The appearance of Old World style plaster walls has the added benefit of introducing subtle texture.
I love storied rooms. Subtle textures whisper the story. Authentically aged finishes bring soul to the story.
Ruth Gay’s unforgettable Houston home is graced with the most exquisite reclaimed materials sourced in Europe and available through Chateau Domingue.
While these rooms may not be hundreds of years old, they were crafted with materials that are. They tell an ancient story about a place and time held dear.
Since most of us don’t have access to a budget for reclaimed stone or even custom plaster, we need to call upon creativity to call up the atmosphere that resonates with our inner landscape.
I independently selected products in this post—if you buy from one of my links, I may earn a commission.
Scandinavian Whites, Antiques & Romance
I’m a huge admirer of how Tracie of My Petite Maison effortlessly mixes whites with a feathery light touch and restraint. Notice how her spaces make you feel.
Clutter would be noisy in the small spaces.
Heavy window covering would eliminate the dancing light. And maybe one of her secrets is the rotation of decorative objects with the seasons. When you own a home-related shop, there is always a freedom to create fresh looks!
But even if you’re not a shop owner, maybe principles here can guide choices.
Rotating furnishings and favorite objects is what makes sense for me and makes layering easier since I have an inventory of choices. (And I haven’t stocked my Etsy shop or offered art for sale in years so I can shop my basement.)
Old World’s Airy Side
Why does heaviness spring to mind when some of us hear “Old World?” We may think of dark iron, dark woods, and bulky rugged silhouettes.
But that’s only part of the story. If a serene mood is the goal, a freshened take on traditional style is possible.
Serene Timelessness & European Influence
I like this next inspirational image as a reminder to not overthink the process. Mindfulness is great, but home is also about heartfulness and space for growth. Mixing whites, mixing textures, keeping it all unfussy, and getting the bones right eliminates need to add ornamentation.
The more delicate bench upon the stone floor creates the right sort of tension. The curves of the hanging rack soften the entry with the varied textures surrounding it.
Bringing nature indoors can do wonders for softening the surroundings…
White Effectively Strikes an Elegant Chord
If you love the look of snow as I do, then you know. There’s an elegance white exudes. could stare at this cool toned bath forever, and not just because it is swathed in expensive marble.
The color story captures my imagination and immediately quiets my nervous system.
How how how do you put a value on something as powerful as that?
All White & Mostly White Kitchens That Just Work
Watch any home related design television show and at some point a discussion will arise about the dangers of kitchen cabinets or white countertops without colorful counterpoints.
Arguments will be made that contrast is a non-negotiable, that design elements will become “lost.”
And sometimes these arguments belong. But of course I’m always thinking as a serial renovator how much easier it is to modify color stories down the line with white as a primer if need be. Some of us will simply never tire of the fresh slate.
Not everyone is seeking a highly dramatic or energetically dynamic story to rev up the senses.
Personally, I admire gentle quietude because of the drama of modern life as well as that of my immune system.
Design is deeply personal, and its ability to add quality to our lives is wondrous!
White’s Humble Side
While there is an elegance white can introduce, psychologically speaking, it also has a way of conveying humility. A white Smeg refrigerator is an expanse of white that can’t seem to show off. It is nostalgic and smaller in scale, beckoning me to engage with it. (But maybe that’s just me and my appetites – hahahaha.)
Not even garden blooms can resist it.
White has an inherent restfulness inviting creativity and dreams.
While most of us find ourselves without the architectural wonder of say, Patina Farm, studying its color story holds promise. (See this post if you’re looking for a crisp white paint color.)
White Decor With Warmth
Whenever I hear echoes within the marketplace that white kitchens are five minutes ago and all wrong for resale, I wonder what “new freshened take” is being conveniently packaged by retailers.
What “problem” will be uncovered and how will the new thing address our dissatisfaction and soothe us? And what solution will restore our contentment? What price will it cost!?! Hahahaha.
It’s important to recognize recycled marketing techniques. We’ll more easily discern when we have a problem and when a problem is being fabricated for us.
Psst. As if you even need more reasons to love neutrals, but it’s easy to decorate seasonally with a neutral palette. I don’t decorate with jolts of contrast, but I use a little. I’m creating soothing poetry at home that’s more lullaby than rhapsody.
While black framed botanicals would stand at attention in this serene laundry room by Brooke Giannetti, the serene art whispers instead. Statement walls don’t have to shout their importance; they can be cooperative and gentle.
(I have crushed on a country style sink like the one above for so many years. Maybe someday in my own laundry room.)
European Country and Modern French Influence
Is it a blessing or a curse how the internet has given us easy access to fine design and exposure to cultural diversity? Before it, we had to travel and seek the right books. Future generations will marvel at how we managed before the globe shrunk!
While Swedish painted antiques like the one below (repurposed as a vanity) are rare and expensive, there is something very sensible about having the audacity to enjoy and use it every single day as opposed to simply admiring it as an object and checking it for dust.
By now, I’m hoping you can sense how our values and relationships with objects and art affect the choices we make in design and daily living. Do you have a distaste for formality or antiques because you grew up with them in a hands-off environment? It can help to reflect.
Unfussy European Country
For years I admired Charlotte Reiss’ former French farmhouse kitchen. Since she never fussed, the look remained authentic and relaxed but not messy. A mix of natural materials and aged objects, simple touches keep everything calm.
You feel a similar effortlessness in this Swedish immigrant’s cottage where a laid back story is communicated with white. When objects are collected for color, there is little worry about how they will harmonize!
Light & Bright + Belgian Linen
I have lived surrounded by Belgian linen for many years, yet it doesn’t grow boring for me. How and why is this possible? Is it that it offers relief from the pattern and colors I review for work?
Certain textures or patterns can become touchstones for home.
Belgian linen (such as what you see used as panels for closets above) exudes a certain sensibility, character, weight, and even cadence. For me, the love affair is for keeps because of a deeper connection from a mysterious place inside. Is it any surprise my ancestry is Northern European?
We don’t always have to know why. It’s okay to acknowledge a reverence for wordless wonder we feel in our bones.
Rhythm, Movement & Transitions
When it is serenity you are after, it pays to consider transitions from room to room. How does the color palette flow between spaces? (And notice the relief emerging from what is NOT there…wood trims which could date this home.)
Here’s another example of plaster walls with an absence of outlines and trim on windows.
Vintage Style Nordic French
A serene look for a bedroom can help it become a retreat, and this works even when it is a departure from the rest of a home’s decor. What a smart place to experiment with white and a calm look if it is new to you!
Are there dangers of an all white coming off as cold?
Taking the time to understand the range of white paints and layering pays off.
White paint can be cool with blue undertones, muddy with green undertones, and even soft and delicate with a touch of pink. Colors with “gray” in the name can read as whites too.
Noticing your response to warm whites is telling too. Not sure if you have noticed, but after years of cool modern farmhouse shiplap whites, there is a growing appetite now for warm moodier whites.
Warm whites can be suggestive of stone as you see here.
Paint Color Ideas Suggestive of Limestone
I’m still fond of this kitchen’s cabinets (they were changed to a moody green) suggestive of French limestone. While many of us would welcome limestone into our kitchens were money no object, why not emulate the color of the stone with paint?
Need proof that you can achieve a French farmhouse look outside of France? Dig into the archives of Velvet and Linen and buy all of the Giannettis’ books!
Collecting pieces for color can be a great way to build on a tonal look.
To age a room (even a brand new room), simple and paintable beaded board panels help. This lovely porch looks timeless and is pet-friendly.
There are a myriad of ways to work with white that can be chic yet informal. Wood ceilings work so well with white to add instant age and character.
And I love it when folks are bold enough to change the color of existing ceiling beams to create the look they’re after.
It isn’t even a “modern” look to paint over wood…when you learn about the history of homes, you’ll find paint was traditional. (And no need to be historically accurate in every instance unless your shelter is a historic landmark. Your home in the 21st century is its own evolved entity!).
Imagine having the vision to build something like this that looks as though it has existed for centuries!
Spare Sophisticated Simplicity
Mood is everything, and if you’re after a whispery one, turn to a mix of soft creamy whites and natural linen.
California sun-washed walls are a thing to behold!
Do All Interiors Require Black for Contrast?
I am certainly not an authority on such a matter. Still unraveling the mysteries of working with black and high contrast, it is a personal thing. Sometimes black framed photos and art with black feels serene, and sometimes it doesn’t. I’d love to hear your thoughts.
I am still not sure about the neutrals in our own renovated bath. I love the tile we chose, but SW Repose Gray on the walls sometimes feels gloomy to me. It could easily change.
Shades of grey feel serene in the bath for me, and I’m unmoved by trend forecasts or suggestions that it is boring to make safe decisions. (It is wise for bathrooms to be as safe as possible.)
Do we need an entire post devoted to a response to “playing it safe with white?”
YES. Yes, we do.
Touches of Pink
For a feminine note, pinks just feel at home with white.
Elegance, Age and Character
It seems that even when textures are rough, a quiet palette keeps the mood cohesive and serene.
Need additional evidence?
Happy to oblige.
White Roses & Modern French
I always think of Pamela Pierce when I see white roses in a modern French space. They are a lifelong favorite and impart understated elegance and quiet purity.
Why do you suppose there are such strong feelings about the psychological implications of living with white?
Because in my experience, living with white rooms is quite a different experience than say wearing white from head to toe to do chores around the farm or make marinara at the stove.
There’s an honesty and a certain reverence for home when it’s a sea of light. You can’t easily overlook a stain or dirty paw prints.
But do I aspire to overlook mishaps or do I aspire to SEE, to attend to them?
Hahaha. Since we’re doing psychoanalysis today, you are free to take that analysis as far as you like!
Peace to you right where you are.
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