Just last month the river valleys where I live on the East Coast of Canada were alive with colour - colour so vivid it hit me like a magnificent wave and stopped my mind from its incessant thinking. It was peak season for autumn leaves and the maples, oaks and birches were putting on a show unmatched by any other. My eyes were glued to this masterpiece, and it slowed me down and made me feel a part of something larger, something much grander and magnificent than me.
The brilliant display of colour ironically gave me what’s often called ‘white space’ - that elusive sense of stillness and clarity, a feeling of connectedness to the whole. It's an innate sense of peace and knowingness. And it's a feeling I want to be able to access for longer and more frequent periods as an antidote to getting caught up in the anxiety, busyness and self-centeredness of my everyday life.
But over the years when I’ve tried to replicate nature by bringing colour into my home, it hasn't given me that same feeling of stillness and awe. In fact, it’s done the opposite. The colours felt overwhelming inside my man-made structure; out of place and not natural at all. They stimulated my mind instead of quieting it, and the last thing I need after a day of screen time and images and constant movement is more stimulation.
I’ve learned that the use of colour in spaces can play an important role in how we feel, rest, and act. And one colour that has been proven to help us thrive is white.
White is indeed a colour, a neutral in a class of colours called earth tones. White promotes clarity and balance and it's soothing to the eye. In colour theory it’s associated with innocence, purity and safety. In Feng Shui it corresponds to yang energy, meaning it is very expansive and open, thereby boosting creativity and flow.
White walls reflect light, which helps us stay positive and uplifted - with a feeling like we have more room to breathe.
They provide a calming, neutral backdrop on which to display meaningful things that can then pop out to us – the books, artwork, photos and mementos that remind us of our purpose.
White walls allow nature to shine through indoors, for example by not interfering with green plants, woodwork, natural fibres and of course, the sunshine and view outside.
White is also very practical – it’s easy to clean and retouch, with no paint colour to match up or fade out from scrubbing marks off of walls (hello Magic Eraser!). And it’s timeless, meaning no need to repaint every couple of years and unsustainably consume more paint and supplies. White walls actually give us back some of our time.
But best of all, by creating actual white spaces in our homes, we can create white space in our lives. White space is the stillness and solitude and clarity we get within us - inside of our minds and hearts and souls. And so white walls, by visually removing clutter and noise, allows us to also remove clutter and noise within. And that's where the magic happens.
Have I convinced you yet?
Here are three practical tips to help you use white at home:
1. Pure white is best used in rooms with lots of natural light. If you have low light throughout most of the day, the shadows will make the room feel dingy. In this case, opt for a warm off-white or cream, or go with a light misty gray instead of white.
2. Add interest and depth in a white room with finishes. Ceilings should be a flat sheen, walls an eggshell or satin, and pure white trim a semi-gloss or high-gloss.
3. Layer in warmth with texture, natural elements and colourful accessories (if you want some colour). Wood plays really well with white walls, so if you’re lucky enough to have beautiful wood trim and/or flooring, leave it as is. You could also add wood through practical things like cutting boards displayed against the kitchen backsplash and a wood stump as a side table to place a cup of coffee on. Green plants or even branches, driftwood, rocks and shells add natural texture and life to a white room and connect us to a feeling of natural simplicity. And finally, colour artwork, photos, books and accessories add some colour without being too visually stimulating. Just be sure to leave ‘white space’ and not cover up every inch of the walls and surfaces.
As I look outside my window today, those brightly hued leaves have fallen and what remains is a new kind of lovely – a more gray and stark scene that again brings me a sense of peace and stillness, albeit in a different way. As Robert Frost said, “Nothing gold can stay.” If I was to experience those vivid colours of last month all year long, they would become commonplace and perhaps be unable to jolt me into a deeper, simpler existence. Or they might become overwhelming to my eyes. Therefore, I will keep my walls white as a calm and neutral backdrop to a life filled with colour at times, gray at others, and simplicity and peace more often than not. Will you?