A living room with white walls might not sound like the most inspiring of spaces, but opting for a simple white lick of paint for your living room provides you with ample design opportunity to turn your space into something spectacular. In fact, white is the perfect living room color idea, creating a blank canvas on which your decor can really take center stage, where wall art and furniture can really shine.
‘I personally love featuring white walls in my interiors because of the beautiful range of different ways you can style them,’ says interior designer, Nina Magon. It’s a flexible shade too, adapting to any kind of interior design style you might want to go for, from Scandi-inspired to maximalist, white is the perfect foundation. Read on for the interior design experts’ thoughts on their favorite ways to decorate a white-walled room.
Oonagh is a content editor for Livingetc.com, bringing her experience in writing on luxury properties and an enviable little black book of designers to offer professional advice. Here, she asked designers how they make sure white walled schemes don’t underwhelm.
How should you decorate a room with white walls?
1. Use bold wall art to elevate your walls
White walls in the living room provide the best background to showcase your collection of wall art, where a patterned wallpaper or bolder color on the walls might distract from the art itself. In this project, by State Studio, designer Laura Arledge added interest to the space with pieces of art that spoke to her tastes, and found that white walls allowed for her to display art in varying heights throughout the room. ‘I sprinkled in layers of art stacked on the floor to make the space feel more like a rotating art gallery,’ she says. ‘We also have a low wooden tray next to the coffee table stacked with coffee table books and then we used the fireplace hearth to stack magazines and lean art up against the stone. Starting low and working high helps to keep your eye moving around the space and keeps things interesting with unexpected placements,’ she says.
Keep things interesting by mix and matching frames, all shades and tones will work against a white background, and textured wall hangings also add a nice softness to a white wall. ‘In the family room, we worked with a local weaver, Sarah Neubert (opens in new tab) on a weaving that climbs up our vaulted ceilings so your eye is also drawn up.’
2. Create a foundation for neutrals
One drawback of an all-white scheme is that it can often look stark and cold, with cooler lighting casting blue tints that need warming up. Look to the color wheel for inspiration. ‘To balance coldness, and to add warmth to an all-white room, I like to feature neutral earth tones for a neutral color scheme,’ says Nina Magon (opens in new tab), who used a spectrum of beautiful rich brown tones in this scheme.
Layering off-whites, neutral tones from a white foundation can really develop a beautiful palette of pale and muted color. Think beige, light browns, pale shades of pink, and creams on top of your white base to take away from the coolness of the white. This might be in the form of furniture, or accessories like cushions and rugs, but also think about the materials you might want to use too.
Natural hardwood can bring warmth to the scheme and will look really beautiful when paired against white walls – think hardwood flooring, timber beams, wooden worktops to embrace the color palette and the natural materials will really shine.
3. Create a color contrast by painting the ceiling
By its very nature, white goes with everything and everything, so it’s a great foundation from which to build a pop-colored palette – and the good news is any color can work on top of white.
Why not go for a bold look and paint your ceiling, keeping the walls white to really highlight the color choice. ‘The ceiling always get overlooked, but it’s the fifth wall,’ says Denise Davies, founder of D2 Interieurs (opens in new tab). ‘You can use a different color in any room on the ceiling, especially in the living room, dining room or master bedroom, it adds interest, depth and warmth. Keep the walls stark white for extra drama.’
This scheme is from Natalie Papier of Home EC (opens in new tab), who has gone all out with white walls paired with a bright green ceiling, adding cheer and playfulness to the scheme, and helping balance the grandeur of the home’s architecture.
‘With keeping the walls white throughout, the painted ceilings add an element of drama and fun to the formal architecture,’ she says.
‘I am a color lover but to keep the open flow of our home from becoming too overwhelming, I chose to incorporate bold color on the ceilings in two of the downstairs spaces. This keeps the walls cohesively fresh and white throughout the main, public spaces.’
4. Let the furniture do the talking
Crisp, white walls offer up a great opportunity to let your living room furniture shine, so decorate your white-walled living room by accessorizing with key investment pieces. ‘White walls become a lovely blank canvas to add a dose of drama via furniture,’ says Nina. ‘Color is a great way to liven up an all-white interior by featuring an exciting pop of color in a lovely sectional.’
As well as standout color pieces, a statement piece of furniture that is interesting for different reasons can really stand out when placed in a room with white walls – creating a dramatic centerpiece. Think an elegant curved sofa, a marble coffee table that steals the show with incredible veining, or a beautiful Persian or Kilim rug. If it’s a piece of furniture you’ve invested in and you’re proud of, use white to let it be the main focus of the room.
5. Decorate with bold houseplants
Bring a touch of the botanical to your white-walled living room with some bold houseplants. This will bring bold green color and give your home a lived-in feel, undoing any starkness from the white walls. The good thing about white-walled rooms is that light will bounce off the walls, which means plants stay happy and healthy too.
‘Bringing greenery into any home adds a layer of nature and beauty and a way to exhale. From a design point of view, it’s a stunning piece,’ says Bridgette Romanek (opens in new tab). ‘However, you can’t buy any tree you see, you have to learn about the tree’s needs – the light it needs, the planter size to ensure it will grow properly. Keep in mind the sunlight, height, watering needs.’
Pick three and dot them spaced out throughout the room. Keep things varied and go for one tall plant that adds height – a fiddle leaf fig tree or money tree make beautiful statement indoor trees – perhaps a trailing plant that doesn’t require much maintenance like devil’s ivy, and a pink houseplant that might bring a bit of color like a Medinilla rose grape.
6. Add texture
To counteract the coldness emanating from the lack of color, texture is essential in a white living room. Color is often the first thing we turn to when our living room needs a helping hand, but texture is an equally powerful tool, adding interest and helping the space feel cozy.
Textural elements range from accessories like cushions to curtains. ‘I like to add textural elements through textiles, rugs, and accents,’ says Nina. ‘It creates an inviting and cozy aesthetic that is also light and airy.’
Layering soft furnishings, accessories and materials is key to producing a cohesive scheme that is full of depth, where a simple white-walled room might feel lacking in depth. Think about the different materials that are tactile to the touch – velvets to boucle, or a shaggy high pile rug. Don’t be afraid to go for different colors too, but keep your color scheme to three different colors at most and always look to the color wheel to see which three colors work together. Texture also doesn’t necessarily mean fabrics and materials, and might mean raised paneling on the walls, made from wood and painted white.
7. Paint the wall trim
If you have white walls but are looking to refresh and decorate with a touch-up of color, look to the trim on your walls for inspiration. Wall trim is typically painted white, but painting your trim, from crown molding to crown roses, from dado rails to baseboards, is a simple addition that doesn’t require much work and can create a really neat border around your living room. If you’re fortunate to have these kinds of architectural details in a living room, then celebrate them with a bold color pop.
‘I love to use white on interior walls, but it can be quite stark and put a lot of pressure on large artworks to add warmth,’ says Cortney Bishop of Cortney Bishop Design (opens in new tab). ‘Colorful trim is a great solution as it brings interest along with a sense of playfulness and approachability while maintaining the freshness of white walls.’
When it comes to the best color for wall trim, look to your key pieces of furniture for inspiration. Go for a subtle, muted color that complements the tone of your sofa or rug for example, or go bold with dark greens or yellows popular. Black can also make quite the statement, as seen in this room painted in Benjamin Moore paint.
8. Don’t forget lighting
Last but by no means least, good quality, layered lighting is your best friend in a white living room. To counteract the starkness of the white walls, lights from varying sources help bounce light around the room and create a cozy feel that a white-walled room might be lacking. The number of lights for the living room will greatly vary based on the size of the space, but typically, you want a living room ceiling light, wall lights, and a floor light or table lamp. This is a good starting point from which to build, should give you ample light for darker evenings and help create a cozy feel.
Go for a chandelier or statement fixture in the center that gives focus to the room, a floor light that will bring height and paired with a beautiful shade, and consider a pair of sconces for your wall lights – maybe white to encourage the a yellow/golden glow.
What floor color goes best with white walls?
If you’re thinking about living room flooring, a white scheme looks beautiful in the living room with hardwood flooring. Not only is it cozy and hospitable, but it also has a huge variety of practical benefits, is long-lasting, and sure to withstand the test of time. Hardwood is priceless and can be stripped back, varnished, or painted if you really want to change the tone of the room. In a small white living room, go for a light floor that will help the room feel airy and Scandi-like – think light oak with a light polish. Alternatively, go more dramatic with dark wood or varnish, or even consider painting your floorboards – jet black can look quite striking, although dirt does show up quickly on black.
Consider environmentally sound techniques like engineered wood or vinyl which can give a pretty convincing wooden feel.