When I supply new clients with their style questionnaire, the most common answer I find scrawled beneath the question Favorite Colors? is Blue. I’ve designed a countless number of spaces incorporating the hue. But rich colors need to be balanced with neutrals… and it’s only natural to pair the maritime color with white. Blue and white echoes a cloud-studded daytime sky, or an ocean tide meeting sand. Our bodies naturally gravitate to these earthy tones.
It’s a color combination I return to over and over again, and its versatility never ceases to amaze me. When blue, calm and soothing, and white, clean and simple, are paired together, you have a palette for the ultimate serene, tranquil space.
The History of Blue and White
In homes, the color combination dates back to 7th century China, when Tang dynasty artisans discovered the only pigment that could withstand porcelain’s high-firing temps: cobalt. This resulted in a novel white porcelain, hand-painted in a festival of vivid blues. The prized wares took nearly 1,000 years to make their debut in Europe, but the frenzy to follow was worth the wait. In the years to come, artisans across four continents would join the crusade, forging a grand ceramics tradition.
But the color combination wasn’t stuck inside the china cabinet for long. Instead, the breezy-yet-sophisticated pairing overflowed onto wallpapers, upholstery and artwork, becoming a staple in interior design. Rooms in the iconic Versailles and Buckingham Palaces were outfitted in head-to-toe blue and white. Later, Jackie Kennedy dedicated an entire room to the colors in JFK’s White House. Around the same time, Oscar de la Renta drenched his Manhattan apartment in cobalt and cream.
Blue and White – My Way
Over the last 20 years, I have incorporated blue and white into my design work in every way imaginable – in the most classic of ways using a collection of Delftware plates to create a striking wall presentation; in soft sky blue and cream lush fabrics to create a tranquil primary suite; or in a series of crisp, tailored navy and white striped seaside rooms…and the list goes on! I have seen blue and white work its magic in French country estates, American homes, and modern urban apartments.
With its classical roots, blue and white is commonly seen in formal, European style spaces. Some people will call to mind the “Regencycore Aesthetic”—beloved by fans of the popular Netflix TV show Bridgerton. It’s a look that’s back in vogue, but has been around for centuries. Decadent and luxurious, it calls to mind many places I’ve been lucky to visit in Europe. But most prominently, I think of my time renovating and redecorating the Provençal Farmhouse now known as Le Mas des Poiriers.
We incorporated classic blue and white into many spaces throughout this Provence, France country estate. The dining room is a creamy canvas for Pierre Frey’s blue toile and gingham check draperies framing the windows. In addition, blue and white antique Delftware plates mounted on the wall are a nod to the color pairing’s heritage.
Also at Le Mas des Poiriers, blue and white is a beautiful addition when used in smaller doses. I custom colored this bold fabric from Le Manach in cream and blues, bringing this antique wing chair to life.
I love the classic combination of blue trim accenting the cream cut velvet damask on this antique armchair below that sits in a pair next to the grand fireplace in the dining room. I studied historic upholstery details to ensure an authentic feel on pieces like this in the Mas. Looking back, this chair alone feels like a seed of inspiration for my Highland Park Spanish project.
At my Highland Park Spanish project, classical fabrics like silk and damasks are abundant. But here, I used a crisper, lighter blue & white iteration. Elements like iron lighting, tassels, cut velvets and antiques are reminiscent of old Spanish design, while blue and white serves freshness. In the living room, a solid blue sofa finished with a base of bullion fringe beckons tired legs. Finally, modern Travers stripe draperies frame the lofty windows.
In the master bedroom, a custom blue silk flame stitch bench and modern appliqué euro shams bring modern finesse to a space grounded by traditional elements. Cream tones with hints of soft blue keep the space airy and bright. Classic furnishings like the iron canopy bed and turned wood armchair take on a modern edge amongst the fresh color palette.
In a departure from European style, I outfitted a bachelor’s Greenwich, Connecticut Pied à Terre in crisp blue and white. Here, I kept the patterns masculine and minimal. With its proximity to water, I wanted this home to feel comfortable, coastal and classic. So, the rich navy contrasted with bright whites throughout the home does the trick.
The use of blue stripes on white textiles is reminiscent of my early career in store design at Ralph Lauren Creative Services headquarters in New York City. Our design philosophy was definitive, focused on Ralph’s iconic clean-cut shirting and luxe American leisurewear.
This quintessential blue and white American aesthetic is also seen at my Southampton, New York project. The design is enduring for this casual coastal space. The iconic color pairing was an instant choice for accents and upholstery throughout this beach house.
But what says coastal blue and white more clearly than a modern, stripe-laden yacht in head to toe navy and white? I had so much fun designing this client’s boat in the nautical color pairing, with a geometric modern edge. Lastly, the custom carpet we designed steals the show, with its graphic repeat of fresh indigo on white stripes echoing the linear theme throughout the interiors.
Tossing all old-age sensibilities out the window, blue and white can be done in a minimalist fashion—the pairing is a favorite of mine for color blocking. In fact, I utilized it in the NYC kitchen and Preston Hollow, Dallas home office below.
These spaces have a polished, modern aesthetic, unblemished by textural changes or age. As a result, it’s a youthful look—fun and playful, much like the clients themselves. Color blocking is effective in giving interest to a small space without overwhelming the eye with pattern. The choice of blue and white helps to cool the temperature and quiet the mind.
Equally lively and current is this Modern Toile wallpaper in the pool bath of our Dallas project — it echoes storytelling Chinoiserie and classic Toile scenery, but with new-age flair. Royal blue and white look right at home beside modern touches like the playful white pendant light and polished nickel mirror.
Similar to the way blue and white porcelain swept the globe, the same color tones have made their way into many corners of my design repertoire. It’s a palette I never tire of working with and it always stands the test of time. So, I’d love to learn about your favorite blue and white pieces, and how you’ve used the colors in your own home!
Here’s to a crisp, serene summer!