There’s a reason why just about every rental has walls painted some version of white: It looks clean and fresh, it works with every other color, it isn’t difficult to paint over, and standard white paint tends to be one of the least expensive options at your local home improvement center. Still, if you are lamenting your home’s white walls but are prevented from repainting them because of rental restrictions, budget woes, or design disagreements among family members, take heart. There are plenty of decorating tricks that make the most of white interior walls.
White on its own can be a bit sterile, but too much color can lead to overload. The perfect compromise is a room that marries white with one strong color, which could be navy blue, red, emerald green, sunny yellow, or even purple or pink. Spread your accent color throughout the space: Curtains, throw pillows, bedding, rugs, artwork, and light fixtures can all add a punch of color that relies on the white walls to keep things controlled, yet never boring.
Every room deserves something special. Let your humdrum white walls fade into the background as a fabulous accessory takes center stage. In the bedroom, beautiful bedding can play the star, while in the living room, let a showstopping light fixture steal all the attention. Even a very large houseplant—weeping fig, fiddle-leaf fig, rubber tree, yucca, Norfolk Island pine, jade plant, and ponytail palm all reach five feet or much more—can serve as a room’s focal point.
Over the Rainbow
If you like color but are stuck with white walls, no problem. In fact, a room filled with a rainbow of colorful furnishings and accents benefits from white walls’ effectiveness at preventing eyeball fatigue. So go ahead and mix and match your favorite bright colors on furnishings, rugs, window treatments, and decorative accents. Those white walls will keep the look fun, not dysfunctional.
Maybe your rental agreement forbids changing the wall color, but that doesn’t mean you can’t add color to your floors. Go ahead and layer an area rug right over the existing flooring—yes, even atop wall-to-wall carpeting—to inject big-impact color, pattern, and texture. You’ll be amazed at the difference an area rug can make to the vibe of a room, and with all eyes drawn to the floor, your white walls will barely get noticed.
Black and White
A black-and-white decorating scheme is a classic, and for good reason. The strong contrast is practically a paradox: It’s both dramatic and subdued, sophisticated and simple, timeless and very of-the-moment. Black furniture, black-patterned accessories, and perhaps a collection of black-and-white photographs on the walls turn plain-Jane white walls into an integral part of something special.
If you find white walls boring, then liven them up with something far more interesting—a collection of your favorite posters, prints, paintings, or photographs. Go with one oversize piece, a collection of smaller works, or a carefully curated gallery wall of photos of memorable vacations, beloved family members, or pets—whatever you like best. For a cohesive look, keep a thread of similarity running through the art. Matching frames, unifying themes, or coordinated color schemes are easily achieved possibilities.
If you just can’t abide your white walls but painting isn’t an option, then you’ll appreciate today’s removable wallpapers, which are a gigantic step beyond the old-fashioned difficult-to-apply and impossible-to-remove wall coverings. While you’ll still need to measure and cut carefully, it’s far easier to hang self-adhesive removable wallpaper than yesteryear’s permanently-adhered-with-messy-paste variety. There's a huge range of colors and patterns available, and best of all, when it’s time to move, or if you just get bored with the look, you can forget about the scraper. Gentle tugging is all that’s required to remove the paper without damaging the wall underneath.
Try a Mural
If you aren’t looking to entirely cover up your white walls, but you do want to add a focal point to a room, consider a wall-size, self-adhesive and removable mural. These oversize wall decals are applied just like removable wallpaper. Carefully press them into place and then use a ruler or other straightedge to smooth out any air bubbles. Many of these murals feature photos of the great outdoors, bringing the magic of the beach, forest, mountains, or tropics right into your home. But you’ll find other designs as well, including themes for children’s bedrooms.
Show Off Your Library
Do you love to read, or do you have a collection of favorite art objects to show off? Then let a tall bookshelf do double duty as a spot to stash your reading materials and as a cover-up for an otherwise bare white wall. If the wall is long enough, you can even set two bookcases side by side for more storage and greater impact. It’s a win-win.
Many would-be interior decorators want to try mixing and matching colorful patterns but fear that they'll end up with a clashing cacophony. If you're lucky enough to have white walls as a backdrop, there's far less chance of design dissonance, so you can feel free to get just a little bit crazy with pattern. For the best effect, however, unify all the patterns with at least one shared element, such as a color, shape, or theme.
Instead of fighting white, embrace its strengths. Decorating a white-walled room with other soft, nature-inspired colors, such as foggy blues, muted sands, dove grays, and mossy greens, creates a relaxing vibe that welcomes you home at the end of a long day. A serene color scheme is especially effective in a bedroom, where it helps you drift off to a good night’s sleep.
Conceal with Curtains
If white walls aren’t your thing, detract from them by hanging curtains in a contrasting hue—yes, even in a rental that already has blinds or shades in place. Whether you go for a bright color, a pastel, a neutral, or a bold and dramatic muted shade of blue, gray, or black, curtains provide a strong, vertical slash of color that attracts the eye, leaving the surrounding white walls to fade into the background.
There’s a fifth “wall” in every room of your house that you probably don’t give much thought to—the ceiling. Painting it can be a great way to switch up an otherwise boring room. While this may not be an option for everyone, it's a wonderful idea for those who own their own home but don’t want to paint the walls, or for renters who can make changes as long as they restore interiors to their original condition before they move. Ceilings aren't particularly easy to paint, and they can be rough on the back, but with a roller mounted on an extension pole and plenty of drop cloths to protect surfaces, most people can do a pretty good job. Try a dark hue if you love drama, a bright color for a touch of whimsy, or a pastel for subtle impact.
If you like the idea of using shelves to break up a long stretch of white wall but fear that standing bookshelves would take up too much precious floor space, then consider hanging some floating shelves (like these from Amazon). Bolted to the wall from behind, with no visible mounting hardware, these shelves have an appealingly clean, modern, and minimalist look that draws the eye to whatever they hold, making your white walls less conspicuous.
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