9 Decorating Tips That Make White Walls Anything but Boring

All-white walls may be a blank canvas, but in the hands of texture-loving, pattern-playing, antiques-collecting Paloma Contreras, they're anything but boring.

pink and neutral fabric and wallpaper style board

“It’s been a long and winding road,” says Paloma Contreras, who began her design blog, La Dolce Vita, as a passion project in 2007 while working as a high school Spanish teacher. Her modern take on traditional interiors resonated with her ever-growing online following, so much so that soon the self-taught talent was taking on clients looking for their own slice of la dolce vita. Now Paloma runs the blog and a five-member interior design studio full-time. The multihyphenate—who adds author to the list with this month’s release of Dream. Design. Live.—shares her new Houston home along with tips on working with pattern, hanging art, and infusing light, bright spaces with color and personality.

designer studio with built in desks with style boards above

1. Add Texture

Starting with her first-floor interior design studio, Paloma Contreras and her husband, Fabian, took their cues from the airy home’s big windows and tall ceilings and went all in with white walls. Paloma specs the “pretty and crisp, yet warm” shade as Benjamin Moore’s White Dove. Soft pleats give a large pendant a traditional bent, but the midcentury Eero Saarinen table evens the style scales. Subtle doses of pattern, like nailhead trim, marble, and gray leopard-print carpet, add a sense of texture.

neutral living room with built in cabinets white couches and colorful throw pillows

2. Curate Accessories

“Accessories, art, and books tell more about your personality, taste, and story than a sofa or dining table ever could,” Paloma writes in her new book. Without these things, a room feels lifeless. Though, she says, “It is just as imperative to be a fierce editor. Clutter is the enemy, while cleverly arranged vignettes and great styling can completely transform a room.” To give a shelf style, start with lots of books, Paloma says. Stack other objects to form a pyramid, with a peak and a taper.

Paloma’s strategy is consistent: Pick a hero textile and frame it with a solid and a coordinating pattern. In the living room her anchor pattern is a large-scale print (Schumacher’s Bukhara Ikat). Pillows with small gray dots (Brunschwig & Fils Les Touches) and the solid white sofa cushions set it off. Fuchsia, Paloma’s preferred accent color, reappears room to room. Metallic accents, like the brass coffee table legs, glamorize the room.

neutral dining room with pink ikat tablecloth and grey chairs

3. Embrace Bold Accent Colors

Starting with all-white walls gives the house a soothing effect and allows furnishings to stand out in a graphic way. Paloma uses an anchor color like the medium gray on the chairs to give the space some visual weight. From there, she adds accent colors like the dining room’s mix of fuchsia, chartreuse, and cobalt. Be resourceful; re-repurposed from a temporary showroom display, silk with white gold de Gournay wallpaper found new life as framed dining room art.

pink ikat tablecloth with place settings and brass flatware

4. Create Tension

On the tabletop, brass flatware sparkles next to jute place mats. Paloma embraces opportunities for such juxtapositions because, she says, “Design is all about creating the right amount of tension between pieces.”

gallery wall with flatscreen tv above vintage Hollywood Regency credenza
David Tsay

5. Incorporate Your TV

A wall-mounted TV masquerades as part of a gallery wall. The vintage Hollywood Regency credenza is one of Paloma’s early finds. “The original brass hardware has a great patina.”

Paloma Contreras

Style is about the choices you make and how those choices come together to paint the picture of who you are.

— Paloma Contreras
neutral kitchen with shaker cabinets and island with bar stools
David Tsay

6. Try Oversized Fixtures

In the kitchen, Paloma updated timeless Shaker cabinets with hardware and fixtures in a mix of metals. When in doubt, she says, scale up your fixture for a strong statement.

bathroom with silver mirror large white sink and cloud wallpaper

7. Wallpaper a Powder Room

A silver leaf mirror is a treasure from a Paris antiques store and shines against the textured cloudscape wallpaper (Nuvolette by Fornasetti for Cole & Son). “The paper adds a lot of impact to a small space, but if we had done our living room in this, it would have been overwhelming.”

neutral bathroom with large statement art above tub
David Tsay

8. Command Attention

“A single statement piece can anchor a room [as in the primary bath]. If a piece is large and special enough, you certainly will not want to detract from it and should let it stand on its own,” Paloma says. Another option is a carefully planned grid, as in the living room’s graphic black and white pieces. Keep your grouping tight, she advises, with 2 or 3 inches between pieces so the works read as one bold statement.

neutral bedroom with colorful accents gallery wall and convex mirror above bed

9. Use Mirrors

In the primary bedroom, Paloma used a more random arrangement, grouping pieces above a vintage blue lacquered Parsons console. White mats and a mix of black and gold frames unite the collection. Paloma starts with crisp white bedding then sprinkles her favored fuchsia-green-blue combo throughout the room. A mirror above the bed plays with light: “Convex mirrors can manipulate the light in a room, amplify the space, or punctuate a vignette.” In the guest room, small convex mirrors bracket a photograph and draw the eye up.

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