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Using Versatile White

In the grand and splashy world of color, what place does white have? Is it even thinkable to address white as a color, here in The Magic of Color or anywhere else? To the eye and mind, white isn't a "color"; technically, it's the absence of a unique spectral reflection. But, when you're using it in decorating, white's more than nothing, more than the lack of specific shading, because in the presence of white, you can feel the presence of light itself. It's more than a fresh blank canvas waiting for a brush stroke.

We know that the meaning of color varies from one culture to another, and a color can take on a new shade depending on where you are. For example, brides in China are married in red for luck, but in America red means stop, warning you to stay away.

White is no exception to this. In contemporary Western culture, we associate white with purity, saying someone is "pure as the driven snow," and our brides are most often married in white, as a symbol of their purity. In many other cultures, white is a traditional color of mourning, and this rings true, because white gives you room; you can stretch out and think in white. You can contemplate things. You can, perhaps, rest in peace without having to leave this world.

How can you make use of the properties white offers in your home? White was, for a long time, used as a neutral, and it still is. Landlords insist on a tenant re-painting in white, and white's the default for many people when it comes to walls or sheets or even dishes.

But you can take control of white, and use it to your interior's advantage.

Look at this room that's all done up in white. It may seem sterile, or more appropriate for a hospital than a home, but imagine how you could play with color in there: a cluster of orange pillows and a pitcher of sunflowers on a nightstand, or a blue coverlet and blue alarm clock. Each color that you place in this room of white will not only stand out, but it will also change the mood of the room.

With an all-white room, or even one that's just heavily reliant on white, you can play with color. Red one day, seafoam green the next. You can bring in a simple bowl full of water with gray-green stones and see how it stands out. Toss a couple of throw pillows on a white sofa in a white room and watch the room change before your eyes. And an all-white room is perfect for a goldfish bowl.

 Anything that would get lost in the distracting colors of a room will get your full attention in a room that's all white.

Even if you just decide to have more white in your home accessories, it can provide a calming effect. White dishes, like this cup and saucer, don't detract from the beauty of the food you're serving, whether it's just a cup of dark coffee or a plate with carefully arranged salmon and asparagus. Your white dishes can provide a clean slate to play with just as your white room can, and you can dress them up or down with colorful table linens, food, and flowers.

White isn't just the absence of color; it's a backdrop against which color is free to play and reflect, soothing our hearts and calming our minds.

–Sarah Van Arsdale      www.sheffield.edu

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