I hate white. Yep, you read that correctly. I hate white. I am a white guy and contrary to how the statement might sound, this isn’t an exercise in self-loathing. To clarify: I hate the color white in houses. I hate it on walls. I hate it on trim. I hate it on ceilings. Part of my loathing stems from a desire to have some color in the Tiny Bungalow as the poor house seems to have been “white-washed” just prior to its sale but I think my distaste of white has always been there. It seems cheap and denotes a general lack of creativity. It is un-natural and I have come to associate the color with a kind of sickness. I think this final correlation probably comes from seeing the movie Manhunter, where whiteness and the architecture of Richard Meier are prominently featured, one too many times. On a more personal level, after stripping what seems like miles of woodwork and painting-over acres of walls and ceilings covered with it, I have grown to loathe white paint.
White paint is only part of my problem. With the exception of porcelain tile, I also hate most things that are white and get put in homes: white landscape rocks, PVC piping, cheap-ass plastic outlet and light switches, and vinyl windows, to name a few of them. I just don’t get what people like about white. I’ve tried to wrap my brain around it a bit and have come to a couple conclusions. Here they are.
The Pottery Barning of America
So what is the connection between Pottery Barn, Room and Board, or Crate & Barrel and the decision to paint base and crown molding and window and door trim white? Well, I am willing to bet that even if you don’t have furniture from these places that you still get the Pottery Barn catalog. Who doesn’t, right? I am sure that the PO of my house got it. They must have. Have you ever looked closely at one of those catalogs closely? Look beyond the furniture that most people can’t afford, beyond the nice rugs, beyond the useless weather vane or bowling ball sitting in the middle of the coffee table as an accent piece. Look beyond the over-sized stenciled stars or cut-out letters on the walls and bookcases and you will see something. White trim is everywhere! It doesn’t matter what style the room is or where the house that this room sits in is supposed to be, it is always trimmed in white. The walls are usually painted a nice green, blue, or brown and right next to it is stark white trim. Every room looks like fucking Connecticut.
For some of us, being exposed month in and month out to this propaganda doesn’t have any affect at all but for an entire segment of the population it sticks. They become used to it and eventually covet it. I don’t think there is an overwhelming desire by folks to be a Connecticut WASP but who knows? Regardless of what colors they paint the walls, they long for the white trim. A nice clean outline of white to frame those beautiful fields of color. God, it makes me sick to even type those words. This circumstance is even more distressing when people’s desire for the “white outline” compels them to paint over perfectly good natural wood. It is an overt decision that favors blandness over character. In a lot of modern homes, with their shitty MDF trim, I guess you are forced to paint it. I plead though: why not at least go for a cream or a pale grey or tan? Paint it anything but please don’t make it all look so jarring by outlining it in white.
Maybe it’s Le Corbusier
You say you don’t know what a Le Corbusier is? Well, “it” is a “he”. And “he” is an architect who I would guess, beyond Frank Lloyd Wright, is the most famous one in the world. Regardless of if you know this guy or not, I believe that he is the first culprit in the “whiting” of things. In 1923, he publishes this book entitled “Vers un Architecture”. Catchy, huh? I wouldn’t call it best seller material but it got architects and artists pumped. In it, he extols the virtues of Greek architecture. He also goes on and on about cars, ocean liners, airplanes and all sorts of other crap that can inform a new architecture but it’s the temple idea that is relevant to this conversation.
To the detriment of architects for the next 60 or so years, he points to the formal values of sun-bleached, un-painted, Greek temples as an inspiration for “new” architecture and begins churning out homes where white is the most prominent feature. The result is an unmistakable association: modern = white. It seemed to begin a trend. In order for people to show that they are “with it”, “modern”, or “hip”, what do they do? In an attempt at achieving instant culture and sophistication, they make their space as stark and bland as possible and paint everything white!
It is sad because there are many good aspects of modern design that get lost when white are the overriding characteristic. People seem to forget that the inspirations for this, that small group of buildings on the Acropolis, are all made of limestone. In the blaring sun and in over-exposed photos, the stone may look white but there is character in the material. This can also be said for other stone, wood, and metals. I think that the white-painters of today seem to forget that notion.
Blame the Immigrants
It is such a common practice for American’s to blame immigrants for our latest woes. So much so that it really should be considered our national pastime. What most of us quickly forget is that an overwhelming majority of us are immigrants. The humor of it all isn’t lost on this Italian-German-English-French-American mutt but I still can’t help but partly blame immigrants for the whiting of our homes. I think that there’s something to the immigrant experience that gives us an affinity for white. What was the first impression of America for many of our ancestors? Ellis Island, of course. Have you ever been to this place? My observation is that there has to be more square footage of white tile and white glazed block in those buildings than there is the color white on all of Richard Meier’s buildings put together. The place is shiny and bright. It looks clean and that was the purpose. It was a logical choice to keep sanitary all those rooms filled with immigrants that have just come off of one, two, three weeks of travel in cramped quarters.
It must have been a heck of a sight. So this is America! This is opportunity! This is freedom! I know, it’s a lot of “weight” to put on a color but those kinds of associations must be the only thing powerful enough to make people slather it all over their “American Dream”. In some areas of the home, this makes complete sense. White kitchens and baths are practical and in some ways a necessity but there has to be a limit. This shouldn't give you good reason to cover your trim, walls, and ceilings in the color. My suggestion: if cleanliness is so important to you, buy some white gloves and be sure to put them away when guests come over.
I am probably in the minority with this particular dislike but I am sure that there are at least a few white things that bother everyone because they seem just "wrong". Hopefully this will get you thinking a little and consider appreciating some color and character. Either way, I feel a little bit better now. I think this should keep me satisfied for quite some time before I feel compelled to write about caulk.