When Benjamin Moore unveiled its 2016 color of the year at a glittery fall gala event in New York City, reactions were black and white. "They phoned it in," sniffed a few designers. "Lame," offered some others. But more than a few voices echoed enthusiastically and succinctly: "Perfect!"
The color: white. Particularly, the shade Simply White, OC-117, which the paint manufacturer describes as timeless, "fresh as the first snowfall, clean, crisp." Its versatility is unrivaled, according to Ellen O'Neill, Benjamin Moore's creative director.
She continues: "From weathered wainscoting to crisp canvas shades, porcelain tile to picket fences, white is everywhere in every form -- that's why we chose it."
Taking cues from architecture, fashion, textiles, home furnishings and the arts, the Benjamin Moore Color Studio considers all in the context of research gleaned from attending major shows around the world.
In further explaining the rationale for white, O'Neill chose more generic references to the hue.
"The color white is transcendent, powerful and polarizing -- it is either taken for granted or obsessed over," says O'Neill. "White is not just a design trend, it is a design essential. The popularity of white, the necessity of white, the mystique of white is quantifiable in our industry. Of the top 10 best-selling Benjamin Moore colors, variants of white occupy five spots. (The paint manufacturer actually features more than 250 shades of white.) It was inevitable that we would ultimately recognize white."
There is an allure to snowy white interiors, especially when they're nuanced in tones and textures. When designer Paola Navone designed a memorable space for the Italian manufacturer Baxter, she teamed leather, lacquer, perforated metal and Tibetan lamb, all in modern forms. Though monochromatic, the result was rich as it was pristine.
For some, the all-reflective white is a prism through which to view modern decor. But many designers also like the way white can modernize traditional. It simplifies and encourages reducing clutter and all things heavy. It also makes older pieces feel more current. It magically adds life to small, dark spaces. It works equally well in rustic natural interiors, with weathered woods and linens, as it does with glamorous decor, often accented with gold.
It's no secret that many architects and designers love white.
"White (upholstery) shows off the lines of furniture," says Michelle Lamb, a Minneapolis-based internationally known trend forecaster and publisher of The Trend Curve for design professionals.
Lamb is intrigued with the newest infatuation with white, as she points out the difference between trend and basic -- the latter, an integral part of a home's wardrobe of furnishings.
"Gorgeous shapes in tableware can be a trend within a collection," says Lamb. "But even when white is no longer a trend, it is so usable, because it never stops being a basic."
Currently, Lamb says, white is trendy.
"Think back to the 1980s when for home decor there was nothing more important than layers of white," says Lamb, "differentiated only by texture. Black and white falls into the basic camp, but like white alone, (the scheme) jumps on the bell curve of trends from time to time."
As a trend in home product design, white is beginning to settle into starring role. It started percolating a few years back at the European furnishings shows like Maison & Objet in Paris, when the ever-present white upholstery took a back seat to white furniture frames -- in seating as well as casegoods such as cabinets, consoles and chests of drawers -- as big news. We saw both matte and high-gloss finishes and even textures, sometimes on the same piece. We saw fresh mixes with wood, from dark to light.
In tabletop, we saw single plates with shiny/dull combinations, often in geometric or asymmetric patterns, or matte or bisque dinnerware with embossed patterns.
The white even moved outdoors. This was most recently apparent at the September Casual Furniture Market in Chicago, in the striking Dansk collection from Gloster, which hit all the style and reference points: modern shape, combination of warm teak with white outdoor leather.
At the fall furniture market in High Point, North Carolina, there were more corroborations of the white trend, hitting some glamorous notes with a touch of luxe in teaming with gold. Shiny brass and matte gilt, not so unusual in lighting design, found expressions beyond jewelry-like hardware, trim and accessories.
Currey & Co. introduced an eye-catching, contemporary interpretation of Eastern style with its Zhin cabinet. Its white glossy surface is matched with equally statement-making gold hardware, and even the interiors vie for attention in a vivid red finish. As a chair or console frame, gold becomes an exclamation, as in sculptural seating by Koket. And very different from more fussy gilded baroque frames is Theodore Alexander's Renata accent chair, gilt framed but sleek, with only a few turns at the end of its arms and its feet, thoroughly modern.
Even the classic enamelware (oval or round) covered casserole from Le Creuset, got a dressed up look: its shiny white body topped with a metallic gold (or silver) knob.
The other face of white is in combination with woods, which Lamb says is more interesting when the pairing is with blonde or lighter-hued woods. "It makes the whole thing even more lightweight. We're not layering neutrals as much as we are layering neutralized colors, pale and complex peaches and blushes." Or even pale cappuccinos.
The seeming subtleties are exactly what appeal to some decorators. Washington designer Darryl Carter calls white rooms "more complex than they appear because there are no distractions. Every choice becomes critical."
Many designers have a favorite shade of white. For Allison Paladino, who designs for EJ Victor and whose firm is based in Jupiter, Florida, it's Benjamin Moore's Sugar Cookie. For Atlanta-based Suzanne Kasler, who has a line of furniture with Hickory Chair and Ballard Designs, it's White Dove.
For many designers, a real game changer has been more acceptability with white, especially in upholstery, due to the proliferation of performance fabrics. Not only are the offerings sturdy, but the finishes range from linen, velvet, chenille and leather lookalikes that no longer live in fear of red wine.
As a foundation for a room's design, white wields a lot of power without shouting -- as it makes colors pop.
No matter if we embrace 50 or more shades of white in a holistic monochromatic interiors scheme, there seems to be one element that's appealing to most. Just like organization in the new year, a cleansing of the palette can be downright restorative.
-- Alden Parkes, 336-885-2265, www.aldenparkes.com
-- BDI, 703-803-6900, www.bdiusa.com
-- Benjamin Moore, 855-724-6802, www.benjaminmoore.com
-- Bernhardt, 828-758-9811, www.bernhardt.com
-- Currey & Co., 877-768-6428, www.curreyco.com
-- Frederick Cooper at Wildwood Lamps, 252-446-3266, www.witdwoodtamps.com
-- Gloster, 434-575-1003, www.gloster.com
-- Grovemade, 971-229-0528, www.grovemade.com
-- Henredon, 800-444-3682, www.henredon.com
-- Hickory Chair, 800-225-0265, www.hickorychair.com
-- Jamie Young Co., 888-671-5883, www.jamieyoung.com
-- Jayson Home, 800-472-1885, www.jaysonhome.com
-- Joe Ruggiero at M/T Co., 336-885-7500, www.themtcompany.com
-- Koket, 703-369-3324, www.bykoket.com
-- LAUFEN, 866-696-2493, www.us.laufen.com
-- Le Creuset, 877-418-5547, www.lecreuset.com
-- Libby Langdon for Bradburn Gallery Home, 404-355-8624, www.bradburngallery.com
-- Theodore Alexander, 336-885-5005, www.theodorealexander.com
-- Universal Furniture, 336-822-8888, www.universalfurniture.com
-- Visual Comfort & Co., 866-344-3875, www.visualcomfortlightinglights.com
Metals and gilt finishes are not new in lamp design. But they're playing different roles, and in combinations with translucent stones such as quartz and marble, the design takes on a warmer glow and sophistication. The key to all: simple shapes.
(For editorial questions, please contact Clint Hooker at email@example.com.)