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Monday Inspiration: Post Pandemic Design – All White Now?

11th May 2020
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Do you remember when grey really took off as a colour? One minute we were all happily sloshing on the magnolia and then, suddenly, we had all, as it were, faded to grey. I wrote a feature for The Independent in 2009 after interviewing a Dulux spokesperson whole told me that grey was the new neutral (I have linked to it here). Reader, I was dismissive. And then I painted my house grey. And wrote a book on choosing the right shade of grey. And 11 years later, it may not be the most fashionable of shades but it is certainly a new classic.

white kitchen via entrance makleri.se

white kitchen via entrancemakleri.se

Why am I telling you this? Because recent events have raised the awareness of nudge theory – a concept in behavioural economics which suggests positive reinforcement and indirect suggestions as ways to influence the behaviour and decision making of groups or individuals (stay home save lives etc).

It struck me that this is probably how trends work. We individually thought we were being fashionable or making interesting choices when it came to choosing our own particular shade of grey. This was reinforced for me about three years ago (after the grey book) when chatting to my neighbours who revealed they had decided to be very bold and paint the back half of their sitting room grey. But then they discovered during a walk along the street at dusk – that magic hour before the curtains are drawn but the lights are on – that almost every house they could peer into had some form of grey visible (they were unaware of the book and my job and it seemed rude to point it out).

In it, I wrote that it was probably a combination of the power of Dulux (it’s a global company), the fashion for the Scandi noir thrillers and, said Marianne Shillingford, the creative director of Dulux, the changing light from warm tungsten, a friend of magnolia, to cool LED, which hates magnolia and prefers to play with grey.

And so we come to this week. During my strolls through the corridors of instagram, I like and comment and bookmark the images which catch my eye. And this week, for some reason, I was drawn to lots of pale rooms. I thought they were calm and relaxing. As we enter the eighth week of lockdown (and I am writing this before the much anticipated Government announcement that probably nothing much will change!) I wonder if I am the only one?

white bedroom with panelling via susannah hemmings

white bedroom with panelling via susannah hemmings

But then, in the Saturday papers I read a fascinating piece by my friend Kat Burroughs (and I link here but you may find you can’t see it without a subscription) on the future of kitchen design following the pandemic. One theory, put forward by Jack Trench, who creates bespoke kitchens, is that we will move away from the maximalist kitchens that were gaining in popularity at the beginning of the year. They are, he said, cluttered and hard to clean and, now that we are all more hygiene aware, we may see a return to the all white kitchen which is easy to wipe down and clean.

studio apartment via entrance makleri.se

studio apartment via entrancemakleri.se

Another designer, Gemma Dudgeon, raises the possibility of open shelves dying out for similar reasons, with separate handwashing sinks and integrated sanitisers being added. Another theory is the rise of the pantry as we have all been forced into meal planning to reduce the number of times we need to venture out to supermarkets which means we will need more, and better, storage.

I thought it was a fascinating piece and  – come on it’s been a while since we had the Sex and The City voiceover – I couldn’t help but wonder if I had been drawn to white interiors because I was ahead of the curve or simply being nudged along it.

white kitchen with wall of storage via @houseobsessed

white kitchen with wall of storage via @houseobsessed

What do you think?

Kate Watson-Smyth asks if we are returning to white interiors post pandemic. A white bedroom with panelled wall and a few black accessories. #bedroom #whitescheme

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  • Charlotte 15th May 2020 at 4:53 pm

    I wonder how much the seasons play a role? Every summer I dream of repainting my open plan kitchen white and every winter love the dark cosy colour. Currently in turmoil over painting my bedroom either setting plaster or a clay little Greene paint and my mood literally changes from day to night. If only we could flick a switch or have enough time or money to have rooms repainted every 6 months! Love the blog it’s a lovely escape from what is happening in the world.

  • Natalie 13th May 2020 at 6:11 pm

    Love your blog. I agree we have recently built our own house had a pantry installed. It was one of the best decisions we made . Literally everything (food, plates, toaster , appliances etc) all sits in the pantry . We have no wall cupboards just several cupboards for the remaining essentials in the kitchen which leaves my worktops free and minimal. I would highly recommend .

  • Shana Ndombasi 13th May 2020 at 2:51 am

    Hi, I totally agree with this post. I have been obsessed with minimalism and neutral colours – but for this reason, I don’t like grey, because see it everywhere. It represents wealth these days, if you have a grey wall then everything is somehow ok in life. All these new apartments have these grey walls and minimal sleek interiors with all these new ideas about storage, ‘how to look like your house is an art gallery 24/7’. I think its cold and not home like at all, I miss heavy draped curtains and character, not like someone is about to perform surgery in the room. Going towards these trends is so that people adopt a specific ideology always linking back to aiding the economy. I don’t mind going minimal, and cool storage sounds good but i’ll stick with my white and cream colours, my house deserves to be a home with some warmth to it. After a long day in the system, coming back to cool tones isn’t the dream.

  • April 11th May 2020 at 7:11 pm

    I like the photos of mostly white interior, but in reality, they are dishonest. The photos are mostly edited to the point of giving it a more bright and airy look ( which I wish were easy to achieve in reality). If how white spaces appear in reality were posted, then the popularity would go down very fast. The first photo of the kitchen is doing it so much, that you can see the harsh reflection in the tiles.

    • Nicola 14th May 2020 at 1:20 am

      In fairness I think it is important to get the right white, and there are about 300 shades. When I first moved from the UK to Sydney I had a few disasters because whites I had used in the UK looked terrible in Oz. Then I got the Dulux consultant in who explained most of the range is designed for the northern hemisphere and has yellow added to soften it, which intensifies under our sun. So now I would avoid anything with yellow in on the north ( sunny) side of the house. I could take a photo of my white kitchen on my iPhone and with no editing produce a decent photo like the one At the top of this post because I’ve got the right white for the light.

  • Elaine Fraser 11th May 2020 at 6:51 pm

    Interesting but I’m not convinced about white. Very much depends on where you live and what light you have coming into room. Think in correct room it can work well but not for my kitchen as dont want reminded of a hospital , dentist or lab facility. I think people particularly anxious about germs probably already prefer clean lines and white etc but others might keep or consider cosier cocoons, surrounding themselves with keep sakes, books , art ( dust collectors) in case there are other lockdowns in future where we might want to have interesting rather than minimal interiors.

  • jkt 11th May 2020 at 5:29 pm

    um, maybe a silly question here, but what is considered magnolia? Is that a pale yellow/warm cream color? I don’t know if it’s the quarantine, the changing of the seasons, or maybe a little of both, but I’m starting to lean towards Farrow and Ball Matchstick and Savage Ground for my first floor. I want something cozy and soft. Nothing sullen at the moment

    • deb 16th May 2020 at 9:15 am

      I bought Matchstick for our downstairs loo. My husband asked why I’d bought magnolia! Despite doing a large tester on a sheet of lining paper, once all four walls of the small room were painted and all reflected off each other it intensified to a custardy yellow which I couldn’t live with. I think it would be lovely on a floor though.

      • deb 16th May 2020 at 9:17 am

        Sorry I just realised you said your first floor, not your actual floor!

  • Ursula in Cádiz 11th May 2020 at 4:02 pm

    Interesting thoughts as always, Kate. Here in Spain, in the strictest lockdown in Europe, there has been no way of changing anything in your home. Might be a case of ‘I don’t care what the trends are, I just want something different from what I have been staring at for 8 weeks solid’ (no exercise even).
    Several commenters are going to be overjoyed at this Twitter feed:
    https://twitter.com/ratemyskyperoom/status/1258910340986912769
    And in case that link isn’t allowed in a comment, Google ‘ratemyskyperoom’.
    Hilarious!

  • Mary Field 11th May 2020 at 3:37 pm

    Has the work of Maria Killam crossed your desk? She has a lot to say about “trendy neutrals” and I think that she would be a great guest for the podcast.

  • Claire 11th May 2020 at 3:21 pm

    I afraid that I have been deeply unfashionable for some time. I love textiles and pattern and colour but to stop my spaces feeling too cluttered, I set them against warm white paint. I would find anything else too overwhelming. Bring back white I say! Cx

  • Valerie 11th May 2020 at 3:16 pm

    I have my reservations about the return of white interiors. Haven’t we had enough of the bleached out Scandi look? Minimalist white rooms look great in photographs but they are not so forgiving with actual people in them. Put coffee cups and a newspaper in one and it can easily look like a tip. Unless you are a total neat freak, like my friend with a white carpet who is loath to allow red wine at any gathering, I suspect an all white room can cause as much stress as serenity.

    White kitchens are another matter. Kitchens are expensive and it is in the interest of influencers, often those manufacturing said kitchens, to promote a “new look”. The major advantage of a white kitchen is that it doesn’t date. Choose something decent and it will look good for a long time.

    • Andrea 11th May 2020 at 10:06 pm

      I completely agree with this, and it was exactly what I was thinking as I read through the post and looked at the photos. I LOVE this all-white look…when there are no people in it. I shudder to even imagine adding my three very active pre-teen and teen boys; the peaceful haven suddenly becomes a nightmare of sweaty footprints, dirty handprints, and crumbs. I’m all for a white kitchen because you’re wiping it all over all the time anyway, but white walls, floors, and (EEEEK!) carpet/textiles are terrifying. That said, I do find that pale neutrals can disguise a lot of the real life that happens in our house, and I rely on them for a calm interior. Even though Scandi is on the “outs”, it’s still one of my favourite styles…

  • Ellen Reed 11th May 2020 at 2:40 pm

    I think it will be interesting to see how “Zoom” changes the way people decorate. So far, I am not impressed. Of course, my “office” is in the smallest room in my house. But honestly, I did think about what would be observed by people who have never been to my home. I have been in Zoom meetings that have everything from someone who fell asleep in plain view, to someone who was swinging in their hammock on the porch and I have had an uninterrupted view of too many ceilings while trying to communicate. Could you do a post on “tips for decorating your online meeting space”?

    • Kate Watson-Smyth 11th May 2020 at 4:09 pm

      That’s a good idea. And also ???? asleep? in a hammock? And that ceiling shot – I think we’ve all seen up more noses on national television than was strictly necessary. Tip no 1 – prop your screen up – or if you can’t do that sit lower!

  • Kim 11th May 2020 at 1:13 pm

    I love colour. Over the years I have painted various rooms flamingo pink, teal, red, caramel and green. Now, the largest space in our home (and the only one for which I had to hire painters as I could not reach all the spots) is painted a beautiful, warm white. We’ve had it this way for 4 1/2 years and I have no regrets. It is a calm and peaceful space. It’s a great backdrop for antique furniture, artwork, etc. , and allows me to easily change things up with cushions and throws. The room itself is an interesting space, and the warm white paint lets the room speak for itself. It didn’t feel in fashion at the time but I felt strongly that it was the look I wanted. Maybe I was on to something! 😂

  • phyllis walters 11th May 2020 at 12:38 pm

    The thing about white, shades of white, or greys, is that they take colour, pings of colour, so much better than magnolia
    and those dreadful, beiges, of early nineties. I painted my first flat, at 21 white ….throughout, pops of colour and plants,
    moved on to shades of white, in a house, different tones, and now, pale pale grey……with pops here and there, and
    very dark navy/black in tv room, to break up the monotony and add a little surprise, to what is essentially a very neutral
    environment, Dinesen douglas fir floor, throughout so light bounces, around and it is, in these very trying times, an extremely restful, distressful, environment, and if and when you are bored, just add a touch of colour, rugs, cushions, object, which you can move around, and get rid of when you’re tired of them, at very little expense. I have found that whites, off-whites, pale pale, greys, work well with our light, and urban environments, not so good in southern sunny countries though, bit dodgy in say, southern med.

  • Gill Burrows 11th May 2020 at 12:27 pm

    Great article! I love white interiors. There’s me thinking I’m ahead of the curve in white as the next grey. Just in the throw of planning my next property refurbs which I’m going “all white” with added natural textures. At least by the time I get to the nice part of purchasing the items there should be plenty of choice in the high street shops .

  • Nicola 11th May 2020 at 11:01 am

    I’m thrilled because I’m a long time lover of white and have been living with it for years.I swear my heart rate comes down just looking at photos of white rooms. I don’t understand why people think it is hard work – we have raised three children and many animals in white homes and maintain there’s not much you can’t scrub out of a sofa cover with a good squirt of kitchen cleaner and a damp cloth!

    • Minnie 15th May 2020 at 6:21 pm

      I completely agree. We have white carpets and they look so luxurious. They’ve had all sorts spilled on them (yes, I have a baby) and they clean up perfectly with carpet bleach. I can’t stand people having ugly stuff because “it hides the dirt” – just clean it up or be less precious! I’d rather live with a few marks than interiors I didn’t feel passionate about.

  • monica 11th May 2020 at 10:19 am

    You’ve got a good point. Just as I have always preferred all white bathrooms because of the feeling of cleanliness, I do think there may be a comeback of the white kitchen for the same reason. There have been many predictions of the coming changes due to the pandemic but I do believe that we will be more hygiene-conscious for a long time. However, I too have wondered how all the germ phobia will affect our immune systems.
    One a side note, Kate, could you check your email for a message I sent a few weeks ago? Many thanks.

  • Jane Will 11th May 2020 at 10:11 am

    One thing all of your beautiful photos had in common (apart from whiteness) was light. I live in a low ceilinged, small windowed, overshadowed Welsh cottage. White just looks dirty. What can I do – apart from move? Advice please!

  • Catherine Southwood 11th May 2020 at 9:19 am

    I completely agree with the above two comments about the increased use of chemical cleaning chemicals and the effect on our immune systems – maybe a feature on natural cleaning methods and materials would be a help to many of us Kate?

  • Lydia Spencer 11th May 2020 at 8:37 am

    I find it fascinating that we could be drawn to a trend subliminally. I’m not sure I want to do anything too drastic just because I’ve been staring at my own walls far more in the past few weeks than I would do usually!

  • Rosie Greenwood 11th May 2020 at 8:36 am

    Really interesting Kate, thank you. It’s interesting how hygiene – or at least the perception of hygiene – has trumped everything just now. So there’s lots of use of take away cups for coffee, ditching our reusable mugs, use of disposable gloves, bleach etc. The environmental concerns seem dialled down a bit right now. White rooms, especially white kitchens, ‘feel’ clean. They are a bugger to actually keep clean though as every coffee splash positively leaps to the eye. Darker colours are much more forgiving. It will be interesting to see how the tension between the extra labour of Covid standards of cleanliness, and fear of dirt/viruses/bacteria plays out.

  • Kim watt 11th May 2020 at 8:17 am

    I think there will be changes because of the pandemic too, for the whole house and garden. I was so lucky to finish our kitchen extension one week before the lockdown (we could have been left with no water or cooking). We put in a kitchen with a white worktop, big island (without seating as I use it for storage and prepping food), a larder and big fridge freezer.
    The larder has been so useful! Also my chest freezer in the garage….
    I also have an allotment, and many people are turning to gardening and growing their own food. My neighbour has even built a chicken house and has a few chickens in her garden now.
    So also going with white, easy to clean, yes food storage, houses with gardens, garages with room for freezers……

  • Rachel Edmonds 11th May 2020 at 8:10 am

    That’s a very interesting perspective. On the one hand I think we are all influenced in one way or another. Stay safe worked but I’m not so sure about stay alert. Maybe the message has to be the right one for it to take of?? For me I’m still happy with my dark interiors but totally agree about the clutter though not from a germ perspective, it’s more that my house feels over full if that makes sense. It’s feels like it has shrunk. One thing though I do wonder though is what impact all this cleaning has had on our immune systems? We need germs to stay fit and healthy but how we do that and evade an unseen killer I’m not sure.

  • IM 11th May 2020 at 7:52 am

    Yep, flicked through Elle Deco this month going… Warm white, warm wood, linen ln repeat. It suddenly looks terribly chic: calm, uncomplicated and in control. Who wouldn’t want to feel like that at this time (politicians ahem ahem)? Though, I wonder if big changes to lockdown white is one we should keep for when we’re back at work and school, and don’t have pesky family members constantly ruffling our unruffled linen look with marmalade and Lego…?

    PS – BBC is showing Zoom Select Committees. Can we have an analysis of key members of the govt via their studies? Jeremy Hunt has a very well hung curtain (ahem, sorry) and one of the science people am excellent black bookcase. Thank you.

    • Longdenlife 11th May 2020 at 12:37 pm

      IM – I too am fascinated by the studies/lounges/living rooms of those being interviewed by conference call on TV, their book and art collections too!! Glad its not just me! 🙂

  • J 11th May 2020 at 7:38 am

    Great read. Really interesting topic. I agree these times will change the way we design …. we’ve had more time to absorb ideas online too x

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