Colour theories in interior design and lighting: White

How, where and why to use the colour white in your interior design. Plus a guide to white table lamps, white lamp shades and all things to do with white lighting…

Colour is one of the cornerstones of interior design: colour choices affect mood and atmosphere, and reflect tastes, identities and changing fashions. Our series looks at different colours in interior decor: what they mean, how to incorporate them into your home, and how to use them in relation to lighting.

We’re starting with the neutrals, so following black, here’s Pooky’s guide to white…

In terms of interior design, no colour is more timeless, more versatile, nor more loved, perhaps, than white. What’s more, white is universal and can be found in all its shades and tones, from homes in the chilly north to those of the warm south. Given its versatility, it is tempting to think that one can’t go wrong with white, so we thought it would be helpful to explore the many facets of white. Why is it such a popular choice? What sort of white works best and where? And when it come to white lights and lighting, we can naturally help there too.

Syrie Maugham’s white room, Kings Road, Chelsea.

If you’ve followed our Great Interior Designers series, you’ll know how many leading designers have championed the use of white, not least, Syrie Maugham, who created one of the most celebrated of white rooms at her home in Chelsea. Then there are the classic design styles, such as Shaker, Zen and Minimalism, all of which have the stillness of white at their heart. White remains a top choice for many of today’s interior designers too, including Amelia Hunter and Anne Drakes of Space A, whose work we featured here.

Artists at work with white

Woman with a Water Pitcher, Johannes Vermeer (1660-62), Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

Across the millennia, white paints and pigments have been derived from various sources, such as chalk and rice – though none was more powerful, more dramatic and, as would eventually be discovered, more dangerous, than lead white (now banned). Artists through the ages relied on the depth, illumination and intensity that lead white could give to their paintings. 

Experimenters with white in art include that finest painter of interiors Jan Vermeer (1632-1675), who used alabaster and quartz in lumps, which enhanced the effect of white reflected into the painting; and James Whistler, who, created an enormous stir with his Symphony in White series for daring to place white against white.

Symphony in White No 1: The White Girl (1861-62), by James McNeill Whistler, National Gallery of Art, Washington.

There’s more to white than meets the eye

The reflective nature of white means that it will work anywhere, at any time, but it has to be the right white in the right place.  Artists, decorators and paint manufacturers add hints of other colours to get the desired shade or tone. A little blue helps to create what we might think of as a pure white, for example, and those cool, icy whites can work well in spaces that need to look clean and uncluttered, such as kitchens: 

Kitchen by Alex Gardner - Interior Designed

and bathrooms:

Bathroom by SpaceA

Add a dash of brown, yellow or orange and you get a slightly warmer white, which has a relaxing effect, making it ideal for seating areas and bedrooms.

Bedroom by Alexandra Langdon

White walls – and furniture and furnishings – will open up a room, whatever its size, creating a sense of space and ease.  

That makes it an ideal choice for narrower, more confined areas too, such as hallways and landings; and for shady or darker areas such as basement or lower ground floor kitchens.

Design by SpaceA

White is the perfect backdrop for experimenting with your preferred colour palette. If you’re keen on neutrals, one of the most effective ways of working with a mainly white setting is to choose natural textiles and materials, such as wood or metal for furniture and furnishings. Long, dark winter nights and short days, with minimal daylight make white a top choice for Scandinavian interiors.

But maybe you want pops – or lots – of colour. A white setting makes strong colours appear even more vibrant.

Kitchen by Brooke Copp-Barton

At the same time, bright, clear white is understandably loved by those fortunate enough to have a coastal home where light is at its brightest and most blue.

Interiors insight: white and light

If white is about anything in interiors, it is about the way it works with light. It’s what we meant by having the right white in the right place.  If white is a major feature of your interior design plans, make sure you take account of where the source or sources of natural light are and how that light falls across rooms and walls. 

The right white, not to mention, curtains or blinds (or none), can make all the difference. 

And don’t forget the night effect. How will your choice of white look in artificial lighting? And how will your lighting work with and complement a white setting?  Lighting a white dining room at night needs a different approach from, say, lighting a white bedroom.

White lights and shades 

From simple wood to sophisticated metal, from cool chandeliers to mouthwatering shibori lampshades, Pooky brings you lighting that makes the most of the most of white, whatever your design preferences, and whether you’re going for full-on white or mere hints.

White table lamps

For a very soft touch of white, you can’t beat a little whitewashed wood. Take Pooky’s Paolo – a table lamp with a bit of a twist that makes its both simple and elegant.

Equally simple and elegant is our larger Lolita table lamp, in a stone glaze, which is actually rather whiteish. A lamp as versatile as white itself:

Browse white table lamps here.


White pendant lights

The Super Stanley pendant combines a contemporary glossy white exterior with a brass interior that casts a lovely warm light - so you can have both a slick, smart look and a cosy evening glow:Or you can go for frosted or opaline glass, such as the Holophane pendant - a beautiful pixellated white moon when unlit, and oodles of bright light (it holds three bulbs) when lit:

Browse white ceiling and pendant lights.


White chandeliers

If you love the Mid-Century Modern look, we recommend our decidedly groovy Bow Tie six-arm chandelier – in very Scandi white, of course. It will be an absolute winner in your dining room and likely to garner as many compliments as the food. 

Browse white chandeliers


White floor lamps

Again, white lends itself to very modernist floor lamps like the Galore in brass with a white shade; or, in a distressed wood, it can be rustic, coastal cottage-y...dare we say charmingly shabby? This is the Eclipse in distressed white
eclipse floor lamp

Browse white floor lamps.

White lamp shades

The word 'neutral' doesn't really do justice to how just how beautiful, sophisticated and impressive white lamp shades can be. Take the tapered square shade in ivory silk dupion for example - it hardly seems fair to call it 'understated'.

But for a perfect example of how white can bring out the best in another colour, look no further than our range of shibori lampshades, like the straight empire linen shade below, which has been dipped in a glorious, intense blue.The shades come in green, orange and yellow too. Eye-poppingly gorgeous. 

Browse white and neutral lamp shades here.


Pooky make beautiful lights for beautiful interiors - find inspiration on our blog and shop our huge range of affordable designer lights and shades.


See also: Colour theories in interior design and lighting: Black


Image top: Clapham house by Clare Weeks, My-Studio