When Glenn and Barb Timmerman built their Door County, Wisconsin, retirement home, they knew what the dominant color would be: white. Barb is crazy for white, outfitting all her past homes -- regardless of whether it was considered fashionable at the time -- in white, white and more white.
"I really believe people should find something they love and go with it and not worry about whether it's 'in' or 'out,'" Barb says.
At left, white walls and white decorative pieces blend with blue fabrics and a seaside painting.
Tall trees shade a lush flower garden next to the screen porch and surrounding an expansive patio.
Barb and Glenn let the shoreline location dictate the floor plan of their Cape Cod-style home; main living areas all open up to breathtaking views.
A casual, glass-wrapped eating space off the kitchen takes the place of a formal dining room.
"I like the way white frames a window," Barb says. "There's just something about it that's light and bright and cheerful." She sticks to white for the walls, woodwork and cabinets because it doesn't compete with the ever-changing colors of the water, trees and sky outside.
The great-room offers two seating areas: big sofas for company and a cozy area for two by the fireplace.
The home's one-story design lets ceiling heights soar in almost every room, creating light, airy architecture. The great-room's cathedral ceiling is 16 feet high; the master bedroom's is 12.
Pushing up the roof provides ample space for dozens of floor-to-ceiling, transom-topped windows that welcome sunlight, nature and sparkling water views.
Architect Scott Humber often features transoms for their old-fashioned detail. Barb puts it simply: "I feel happier surrounded by the light."
Glenn and Barb enjoy the views from their home on the Green Bay side of Door County. Barb has been vacationing in Door County every year since she was 5.
Pretty garden colors and a water view make daydreaming a daily hazard for Barb when she works in her study. The glass-topped table was made from an old garden gate.
Barb uses the same white paint on every wall and piece of molding. She has no favorite white; the brands have changed from house to house. But it has to be a pure white, she insists, "not cream."
She chooses fabrics or wallpaper patterns with a white background and keeps the decor interesting by including architectural details, textures and touches of color in patterns. "I'd rather have few things that make statements than more that create visual clutter," Barb says.
A 24-foot-long foyer starts at the front door and leads to the back patio.
The home borrows design elements from early 1900s cottages, including pale maple floors, built-in cupboards and tongue-and-groove ceilings. What aren't old-fashioned are the home's unique light fixtures, high-shine hardware and sleek faucets.
"We like traditional that has a contemporary twist to it," Barb says. In the kitchen, beaded board on the island and back of the glass-front cabinets is pure cottage. But the high-gloss engineered quartz countertops, streamlined faucet, glass-tile backsplash and contemporary pendants are thoroughly 21st century.
Lattice wallpaper below a chair rail adds subtle pattern in the master bedroom. Green fabrics bring the trees' colors inside. And, of course, there's more white—on the walls, the bed, the floor covering.
White is simplicity defined: clean, pure, serene and timeless. It dovetails with Barb and Glenn's retirement philosophy of keeping life uncluttered and easy. For them, white's not just a color; it's a way of life.
The master bath has a solid-surface surround for a smooth look. Blinds tuck into the windows' framework so nothing detracts from the view.
Don't use white to be safe. Make it a deliberate part of your decorating scheme. Why?
1. It has importance. It highlights unique architecture, but also can add contrast and significance to nondescript trim.
2. It's bright. It expands space by reflecting light.
3. It unifies. Disparate design elements come together on its uncolored backdrop.
4. It's versatile. Varied whites mix easily in a room, as long as they're on different surfaces and textures.
5. It's timeless. Use white for walls and furniture, and when trends, seasons or personal preferences change, just swap out colored accents.
6. It can transform. An old piece of furniture can become high style with a coat of enamel white.
7. It's practical. Dust doesn't show (though scratches might). A slipcover can be easily bleached to look new.
White is white, right? Not according to the Pantone Color Institute, which identifies "the most important" 68 shades of white. Plus, every paint manufacturer has its own white assortment to attest to white's range.
While you might think any white will do, you should choose whites as carefully as a color. Paint a test spot and view in daylight and artificial light. The same white can look different depending on the paint's reflective finish: enamel on trim, eggshell on walls or a flat finish on ceilings.
Most whites do have a touch of color in them. When choosing a white, pick one that has a warm (red or yellow) or cool (blue or green) tint that complements major colors or woods already in the room.
Pictured at left: the Timmermans' white and bright porch.
(A version of this story appeared in Midwest Living® March/April 2008.)