By Lucianna Samu/Life@Home
I have a new project underway at my house, and I’m positively giddy. My family, maybe, not quite so much.
My kids refer to the family home as “the factory.” I sometimes feel a little bad about dragging my family into my relentless penchant for moving, renovating and redecorating. I march right along with my projects, promising all concerned that in the end, they’re going to love it.
For this incarnation, instead of packing up the entire house and finding a new one, I’m planning to simply repaint. Six rooms. In six months.
There’s a method to pulling off a complete interior color overhaul in a house occupied by otherwise comfortable family members. After all, televisions covered in plastic, bathrooms banned from use, or a kitchen without a toaster or coffee pot in sight can make even the most patient witnesses uneasy. I keep reiterating that the palette is stunning, the plan is without compromise and everything’s going to be all right. I silently add my own color cravings: There will be pink, and brown and lots and lots of white?
I have always dreamed of having an entirely white house. My affinity for the austerity and tailored appeal of an all-white room began with my own decorative painting and design career in East and Southampton. Crisp white rooms have both a modern airiness and a timeless glamour about them.
In past renovations, I have pushed the all-white scheme just enough to make it work for me, but even then only almost. In truth, I lack the discipline an all-white scheme demands. Subtle stencils, lots of painted pieces, layers of textured fabric, mixed wood species, glass and accessories all conspire to make even the most strident white room feel comfortable. Easy on the eye, quietly interesting and open to myriad design possibilities, white rooms are never boring. They always appear well conceived when they are equally well edited.
The addition of worn materials, rusted metal, peeling paint or even water stained or peeled wall techniques can leave us wondering: Just how old is this all-white room, anyway? In practice, the concept is a recent innovation, since white paint is a relatively modern invention. Historically, whitewash and lime wash, raw plaster or encaustic made the look possible. Today, historic home enthusiasts will discover that Victorian, Georgian and even Tudor-style homes can yield to an all white scheme — but only, I’ve learned, if the house is willing.
My own home was built in 1792. Together with a team of craftsmen, and witnessed by sometimes astonished onlookers, the house has been restored to its original architectural intent. It is a house lovely in every way: bright and breezy, with an equally inviting floor plan, just enough “old” worthy of salvage and, best of all, a compelling site. The sweeping view of the Hudson River is enveloped in summer by a lush canopy of trees. In spring, the sharp view reflects a nearly chartreuse green, setting the interiors to a palpable vibration of colors. As I consider the uninterrupted views of summer, I can’t help but argue that my house could be all white.
Enter pesky winter, with its long, interminable starkness, stripping my interiors bare. The winter view shouts its warning, telling me what I want is at odds with what the house wants. Resolving this disagreement between my desired white palette and my home’s point of view poses a challenging paradox. Simply put, I want white, but my house is saying no way.
Should we allow our home to voice an opinion in our choice of an interior color scheme? Is it true every room is calling out to paint it a particular color? Can we override the unsolicited recommendations our house is offering us?
Obviously, I can just paint the house white if I want. I’m the one with the brush. But my house will fight me on this decision every inch of the way. In the winter, my overly stark house will remind me that, unlike the dreamy all-white homes of my East and Southampton archetype, I’m here all white-winter long. I could cover all the windows and conceal the bounce of sunlight the ice-laden river sends through the rooms, and perhaps go to a tanning spa or a tropical island for my wintertime sunshine fix. I’ve decided instead it’s better to listen to the landscape, honor the lovely circumstance my proud house presents, and save my all-white pursuits for another home. I will give to this house all the color it asks of me.
A white house? Maybe next time, somewhere in the Hamptons perhaps …
re-printed from Life@Home Magazine April 2011