The white house

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This house used to be full of colour. No more. After a stay in a beautiful gite in Brittany, which made me feel utterly calm, I redid much of our house two years ago (it is even simpler now than in these pictures).

It took me a while to analyse what it was about that gite that I loved. I took photographs of every room to remind me. The walls were white, the sofas were black leather, the bedding was grey, the lampshades were wicker. There was a smattering of good antiques, lots of natural wood, enormous windows that overlooked the sea. Gradually I came to realise that the atmosphere was calming and spa-like: all the photos and paintings were natural – bamboo groves, water, lilies. Every small detail echoed the natural world – the trays were wooden, the shower was lined with pebble tiles, on the landing there was a huge glass jar full of seashells. The colours echoed the sea and dunes that were right outside

And above all, it was tonal. The only colours were white, black, grey and the naturals browns of woods. There was no colour to distract or jar the senses. I mean, I love colour but I don’t want to be surrounded by it all the time – a few years ago, I redid the house in chintz and then found I couldn’t live with so much pattern either.

When I came home, I set about reducing the tonality in the house, starting with the living room, and since the house is dark, with small medieval windows, I settled on a palette of white, cream and beige. There were certain elements that I couldn’t change, such as the much-loathed terracotta floor, the exposed grey granite and the leather furniture in black and brown.

I replaced all our old velvet curtains, in shades of peach, pink and green, with cheap cream cotton curtains from Amazon, and the pink and green tiebacks with plain cream rope ones, which gave a coastal air. I painted almost all of the exposed granite white, which made a huge difference, especially around the windows, and painted virtually all the wooden furniture white (the last two remaining pieces will be done very soon).

I bought four cheap floor-standing lamps from Ikea and placed them on top of furniture in the four corners of the room, where they reach quite close to the ceiling – this creates an all-over light that feels like being outdoors. I made cushion covers from scraps of fabric in creams, oatmeals and a soft, coastal turquoise and threw cream throws over the black leather chair. And I painted white everything I could find, from bread crocks to lampshade bases, picture mounts, picture frames…

The DH cut down an old marble washstand for me and made a new wooden top, which I painted white. This is now my desk, placed directly in front of our largest window, with spotlights on the beam behind me and a daylight SAD lamp in the window recess. All this white bounces back the light to create an open, sunny space even on the darkest winter day and has totally eliminated my winter depression.

We invested what money we could in two large pieces of cream and grey vinyl flooring with a driftwood plank design, which not only brightened the room but also proved a magnet for all the animals, unused to the comfort of padded floors. Our dining table is now covered with beige oilcloth with cream polka dots, which is pretty but easy to maintain. Pictures of nature and the sea have replaced our old images, a row of seabirds decorates the mantel and much of the clutter has been eliminated from the room, along with several pieces of furniture.

All of this wasn’t accomplished overnight, of course. On and off, it’s taken a couple of years and there is still work to be done. But it gave me a few basic rules that I now follow. One is that whatever I buy, I buy the white one, whether it’s the dinner plates I picked up for 1 euro each at Noz, or the white earthenware mugs with a slip glaze that now hang in a row from hooks on the kitchen mantel, or the photograph my husband took on a blindingly bright day at Mont St Michel and we had blown up to giant size.

If I can’t get it in white or cream, then soft neutrals like beige, stone or pale grey come next, and very occasionally I buy something in my favourite colour, turquoise the colour of Egyptian faience.

Perhaps surprisingly, all this white hasn’t resulted in a stark or unwelcoming look – the soft textures of nubbly cotton, rope, furry fleece, chenille, embroidery and jacquard lend softness and comfort, while the painted stone and rough plaster create a play of light on the walls.

Nor is all this white especially difficult to keep clean. Pale surfaces don’t show the dust near as much as dark ones and the oilcloth on the table is wipe-clean. The curtains just go in the washing machine a couple of times a year, as do the cushion covers, and the broken surfaces and light patterns cover a multitude of sins.

I feel massively happier in this pale white house and if I want to create a pop of colour, it’s easily done with a single cushion cover, a throw or a vase of flowers.

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