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Barbara's White Paper

Updated: Oct 11, 2018

Why white?

Well it’s part likability and part function. White makes the perfect backdrop for art because it is neutral and does not fight the art. However, ask a child what their favorite color is and the answer will never be white. (My son liked “twinkle berry blue” as a child for a time.) But adults find white easy to love. It is not subjective or a matter of taste as every other hue is. White is a free space from our more cluttered mature minds.

When I began contemplating moving my life and design practice to South Florida from the New York Metropolitan area I wanted to get my arms around what style meant here. I have always arrived at my design taste in my own way so I knew whatever I discovered I would absorb or dismiss and make my findings my own. Was it all flamingos and rattan and white leather? What I found out is, well, yes it is that, but it is also tropicality. It is an abundance of light and a need to stay cool. What color do you wear when you want to stay cool. White of course.

Now I find myself wearing white more than any other color. My sea of New York black clothing feel a bit wrong here in South Florida so those pieces lurk to the side of my closet waiting to be thrown in my bag for trips to New York and other cities that host chilly weather.

Does South Florida adhere to one look? Most certainly not. Miami has a style separate from say Palm Beach or Boca Raton. We have a lot of transplants here so many New Englanders eschew dark colors as they have lived with them for so long and they are now ready for a change. Those who have lived in Florida for a long while often like darker colors because they want their décor to stand out from the rush to the ubiquitous white living room.

Miami and its exiting evolving skyline is embracing modern in a way that is fresh and urban but also still a Florida you will know and love. You can barely create an interior in one of Miami’s new towers without a healthy dose of white. Why? Because it pairs so well with modern architecture with its sharp lines and with the modern art those who live here dearly love.


On the surface most westerners regard white in terms of Purity. Modernity. Simplicity. Clarity. The antidote to too much.

When I visualize white I think of: White colonial houses. White chef uniforms. Gorgeous cotton linens. A scoop of white rice. Fresh snow. Milk. White gym socks. The Guggenheim Museum in NYC (been there 100 times). Arcos de la Frontera, a white town in Spain (one of the hottest places I have ever been), The Taj Majal (want to visit asap) and Miami hotel decor (can't get enough). What’s on your list?

Scientifically white is produced due to the reflection of most wavelengths of visible light. It is the opposite of black. But the science of white is rather dull compared to the anthropology of white.

I can think of several interior designers that I admire that live in the modernity of white. I admire their control and precision. Adhering to all white in my interiors is not my first reflex.


White can be demanding.

I have found in my Florida interiors where I specify white furnishings and fabrics often that, as you would expect, white does require extra care and upkeep. Insects land on surfaces and leave their traces on outdoor furniture. The air can be full of mildew producing humidity and airborne dirt that dry days can foster. While we so like to gather and socialize here in South Florida, spills happen often and white furnishing leave no place for even the smallest stain to hide. So beware and make sure you make smart choices for your lifestyle. I find even with stain resistant fabrics such as Kravet’s Crpyton or white vinyl that looks delightfully close to leather, stains sometimes stick around. I recommend testing fabric with red wine and ketchup before you commit to a particular fabric. Sometimes I do the test right in front of the client.


Regional perceptions of white

In Western cultures, white symbolizes purity, elegance, peace, and cleanliness; brides traditionally wear white dresses at their weddings. But in China, Korea, and some other Asian countries white represents death, mourning, and bad luck, and is traditionally worn at funerals. In Peru, white is associated with angels, good health, and time.

This is a lesson in the point of view of aesthetic considerations. In addition to our personal tastes, geographic differences great and small can change our entire outlook on what we see and how it makes us feel.


Great White Places

There are many white monuments and towns on our planet that are

almost entirely and simply white.

Here’s my personal short list:

GREECE Santorini and Mykonos

SPAIN The white towns in Spain called Los Pueblos Blancos

INDIA Taj Majal

THAILAND Wat Rong Khun in Chang Rai (known as the white temple)

FRANCE Eze France

NEW YORK Guggenheim Museum

How did these places come to be white?

If you look at them collectively it is a combination of coping with searing heat and—

spirituality—being closer to the heavens—whatever your belief.


White After Labor Day

Do you recall the American rules on not wearing white after labor day? I pulled this from another blog and found I could not have explained it better. Here is their description word for word.

Depending on where you live and your age, you may not have even heard there were rules about wearing white clothing. Typically, women who grew up either in the Southern part of the United States or were born before the 1980s are more familiar with this particular fashion etiquette. However, the South experiences much warmer weather than the North, making it the ideal region to wear light colored clothing, even in winter. You'll probably get different answers to questions about rules for wearing white, so keep the age and background of women in mind if you're curious. Click here to see the rest of that post.


Many people dread the end of summer. Having lived in and around the suburbs of NYC for most of my life, I count myself among these mourners. In the US the later part of August signals the return to school. September is often the end of beach outings, bare shoulders, fireflies and glorious outdoor meals. All but a minority are consciously as I did or subconsciously, counting the months until the next summer begins again.

The sadness of losing summer and moving into colder weather is a time when we move away from white fashions and decor toward colors that absorb light and heat better. Fall is a move to darkness. In most parts of the world summers arrival means swopping that dreary clothing and accessories for colorful wardrobe pieces. But in Miami they embrace the bold and bright and white all year long. What I have learned about being in South Florida is that the seasonal clock ticks delightfully differently here.


It's Not All Black & White

Two of my Pinterest boards explore white in polar opposite ways. One is essentially about the absence of whiteness and is called, “not afraid of color and pattern”, This is about mastering and embracing a profusion of color and pattern in interior design—essentially the absence of traditional calm, purity and simplicity. The other Pinterest board to look at on this subject “black and white and gray”is about embracing white when it is partnered with black and gray. Here I explore how very “colorful” the absence of color can be. Consider that black and gray cannot breathe without white, therefore they are the perfect partners. Black and gray give white definition.

Please share your thoughts and experiences on this topic. I would love to hear from you.

Access commenting at the bottom of the page.

214 views4 comments


Dara Caponigro
Dara Caponigro
Nov 24, 2018

Thanks for your design wisdom, Barbara! Love your blog! Dara


Nov 02, 2018

Barbara was spot on about white and decor in and South FlorIda. It was an interesting read about the color and contrast from up north and down southk Look forward to reading more of her blogs


Oct 22, 2018

Insightful, thoughtful and well written. Thank you for sharing your design insights. I look forward to learning more...


Oct 15, 2018

Love your perspective! One of my favorite aspects of design in Florida is the encouragement to lighten up with colors, fabrics & materials. Oh & also wearing my white jeans all year long!

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