WHITE ON WHITE ON WHITE

July 7, 2017
Front of Linea Residence G, Palm Springs, California, by Poon Design, Andrew Adler and Prest-Vuksic (photo by  Mark Ballogg)

Front of Linea Residence G, Palm Springs, California, by Poon Design, Andrew Adler and Prest-Vuksic (photo by Mark Ballogg)

Seeking a nice white paint for a client presentation on colors and materials, I am lost within our Dunn Edwards paint samples. Alongside the Usual Suspects, Swiss Coffee and Pearl White, there are 98 other choices for white. Literally, ninety-eight choices. Is there any other color in the world that comes in so many variations? In contrast, there are only ten choices for black.

Living room of Escena B-3 Residence, Palm Springs, California, by Poon Design (Staging by Interior Illusions, photo by Chris Miller)
Living room of Escena B-3 Residence, Palm Springs, California, by Poon Design  and Andrew Adler (Staging by Interior Illusions, photo by Chris Miller)

For white paint, the options are called random things like, Pinch of Pearl, Ivory Charm, Vanilla Shake, and Morning Mist. I am certain that if I presented Ivory Keys vs. Frosting Cream, clients will say, “Is there a difference? The two whites look the same!”

Poon Design recently completed several new residences all in white. White on white. Actually, white on white on white. The compositions have been graciously complimented as stunning, sophisticated and stylish. Though some criticisms have called our houses icy or unfriendly. You decide.

Rear of Linea Residence G, Palm Springs, California, by Poon Design and Andrew Adler (photo by Mark Ballogg)
Rear of Linea Residence G, Palm Springs, California, by Poon Design and Andrew Adler (photo by Mark Ballogg)

In art history, painter Kazimir Valevich kicked it all off in 1918 with his work entitled White on White, as part of the Russian Suprematism movement. But white on white architecture has been explored as far back as ancient Athens.

White on White, by Kazimir Valevich (1918)
White on White, by Kazimir Valevich (1918)

The psychology of this single non-color remains at the forefront of debate. For example, white for a wedding portrays purity and innocence. In visual arts, white represents tranquility and peace—even at times, Heaven. Whiteness also suggests contemplation and reflection.

left: Wedding gown by Rosa Clara (photo from shop.nordstrom.com); right: Kerry Washington as Oliva Pope in Scandal, 2012 to present (photo by Craig Sjodin/ABC via Getty Images)
left: Wedding gown by Rosa Clara (photo from shop.nordstrom.com); right: Kerry Washington as Oliva Pope in Scandal, 2012 to present (photo by Craig Sjodin/ABC via Getty Images)

In the battles of righteousness, white is good. For pop culture, the television series, Scandal, references the “White Hats,” who are heroes to be honored and appreciated.

But white can be cold and sterile, such as hospitals and lab coats. The cleanliness of white is comforting, but not so when the white is also isolating and impersonal.

Interior of Villa Savoye, Poissy, France, by Le Corbusier (photo from commons.mtholyoke.edu)
Interior of Villa Savoye, Poissy, France, by Le Corbusier (photo from commons.mtholyoke.edu)

In step with the white agenda of Swiss-French architect Le Corbusier (1887-1965), present day architect Richard Meier established his world famous reputation through his white-on-white modern architecture. He probably doesn’t need the Dunn Edwards paint catalog for any other color.

United States Courthouse, Islip, New York, by Richard Meier & Partners Architects LLP (photo by Scott Frances)
United States Courthouse, Islip, New York, by Richard Meier & Partners Architects LLP (photo by Scott Frances)

Meier explains, “White is the most wonderful color because within it, you can see all the colors of the rainbow. The whiteness of white is never just white; it is almost always transformed by light and that which is changing; the sky, the clouds, the sun and the moon.”

House from The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2011)
House from The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2011)

If Meier is correct in this magical white grace, why are so many movie villains portrayed in pale, stark, frosty houses? Take for example the sadistic murderer from The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. His contemporary boxy house is chillingly white, frighteningly distant. It is so perfectly tidy and methodical, that even the luxurious décor appears austere. This architectural environment is for an owner with no personality or character, or worse, an evil villain with no soul or conscious.

Dining and kitchen of Linea Residence G, Palm Springs, California, by Poon Design and Andrew Adler (photo by Mark Ballogg)
Dining and kitchen of Linea Residence G, Palm Springs, California, by Poon Design and Andrew Adler (photo by Mark Ballogg)

At Poon Design, we view our white explorations as architecture being a blank canvas, awaiting the inhabitants and visitors to add the colors of their life to the canvas. Thereby, architecture results in an ever-changing work of art.

Ibere Carmargo Foundation, Porto Alegre, Brazil, by Alvaro Siza (photo by Fernando Guerra)
Ibere Carmargo Foundation, Porto Alegre, Brazil, by Alvaro Siza (photo by Fernando Guerra)
© Poon Design Inc.