6 White Decorating Lessons
Lesson 1: Throw Minimalism a Welcome Curve.
By Corinne Garcia
Susan Stella restored her century-old Montana farmhouse to its humble roots and discovered six elemental truths about making the simple sublime.
With its rounded arms and turned acacia-wood legs, this linen-upholstered chair from Vagabond Vintage breaks up all the living room's right angles: Bombast's square-backed sofa, a blocky Indonesian wood coffee table from Pols Potten, even the rectangular linen shade atop a lamp by Barbara Cosgrove. Susan Stella's dachshund, Lulu, clearly approves.
Lesson 2: A Single Hue Unifies Disparate Styles.
Because they're all white, Stella's mismatched porcelain pieces—from a teapot by Normann Copenhagen (top shelf) to an Eva Zeisel vase (foreground)—read as a set. The collection really pops against the distressed blue-green finish of a 19th-century cabinet.
Lesson 3: Add a Dash Of Darkness in a Small Space.
While most folks opt for white in the kitchen, it's the one room Stella bathed in moodier hues. She painted her custom cabinets hunter green and oiled the fir beadboard a golden brown—giving the tight, 75-square-foot spot a jewel box feel. An ivory apron-front sink by Shaws offers a burst of brightness.
Bright Idea: Stemware racks put awkward under-cabinet space to work. ($15 each; bedbathandbeyond.com)
Lesson 5: Ephemeral Approaches Yield Offhand Glamour.
Refusing to take her own work too seriously, Stella exhibits photos with push-pins and binder clips. The result: A certain "what, these old things?" effortless-ness. The desk is by 1980s Italian design collective the Memphis Group.
Lesson 5: Subtract Color to Emphasize Architecture.
Whitewashing the walls in this attic bedroom heightened the drama of its pointed arch. "I love the way the horizontal boards emphasize the lines of the pitched ceiling," Stella says. She found the turn-of-the century iron bed on her first trip to Montana; the chandelier came from an antiques store in Santa Barbara. An English Home quilt (on the bed) and Matteo blanket (draped over the banister) keep the scene from feeling chilly.
Bright Idea: No need to call an electrician: Simply hang a chandelier from a hook, with the chain doubling as jewelry.
Lesson 6: Earth Tones Ground Rooms; White Lets Ceilings Soar.
Conventional wisdom dictates white on wainscoting and color above, but Stella flipped that combination by painting the trim in her master bathroom a (custom-blended) mossy green and the upper walls ivory. Along the way, she gained a cozy corner that seems to hug her vintage tub. "I wanted to create a sense of intimacy," she explains, "and still make the height of the room feel as if it goes on forever." Stella bought the towel-and-robe rack at Restoration Hardware.
Bright Idea: Who says a bathroom mirror has to be all business? Certainly not this beveled beauty.