The Magic of White
British design legend Chrissie Rucker on the color that changed her life—and how it can change yours
Decades before she became the reigning queen of white-on-white interiors, Chrissie Rucker—the British founder of The White Company, which now has 65 retail stores—had a major design dilemma. She had been tasked with redecorating her husband’s first house, but nothing worked.
“When he moved in, he was a typical bachelor—he had a bed with very old, green sheets, which he had been given secondhand from home, and a few chairs and probably four chipped mugs in the cupboard,” she recalls. “Back then, I was a journalist. I was working at Harper’s. I could style a picture. I could write copy. I was used to researching articles. I thought, ‘Well, how hard can this be? This is just doing a house.’”
Spoiler alert: It wasn’t easy. “I went shopping, and I had the biggest confidence crisis, having never done a house before. Back then, it was a lot of pattern and a lot of color. None of it felt right. I was completely overwhelmed with choice. So my first shopping trip was an absolute disaster. I came home and thought, ‘You know what, I’m just going to keep it really simple, and I’m going to go for white china, white towels, white bed linens.’”
Now, that look has led to her empire. Rucker not only founded The White Company in 1994, but she also recently released a book in honor of the brand’s 25th anniversary: For the Love of White (Harper Design, 2019). “I love the perfect simplicity [of white] but also the versatility. It’s classic yet it’s modern, and in a funny way, just like a black dress, it’s wonderfully timeless.”
Here, 13 insights into why and how she wields the iconic hue.
Whoever we are, whatever our style is, white always works in some way—it creates a perfect canvas to build on. It always has this spotlight quality, which in our hectic world today, is a really lovely thing to come home to. It’s warm, it’s welcoming, and it’s peaceful. Today it’s also incredibly relevant if you invest in white pieces. You cannot go wrong with it. So if you’re buying white china, white towels and white bed linens, they don’t date.
HOW ABOUT EXTERIORS?
I love white flowers. We live in a big, red house. We’re not really an outdoor company, but if we were eating outdoors, I’d always use white china and white linen.
DO YOU REMEMBER THE FIRST WHITE THING IN YOUR LIFE THAT YOU WERE CRAZY ABOUT?
When I was about 6, my grandmother very sneakily delivered one of her white Jack Russells without us knowing. So I always had a little white puppy that used to sleep on my bed.
HOW DID YOUR CHILDHOOD INFLUENCE YOUR DESIGN IDEAS?
I grew up in the country, and I spent a lot of time riding competitively because my mum was very passionate about horses. Occasionally, when she gave a dinner party, she would transform from letting things go at home to suddenly ironing the linen napkins and spending lots of time doing the table. She’d make it really beautiful. So we had this life of extremes, really.
I went to fashion college when I was 16 and studied couture design. I learned that detail can make or break an item. When I left there, I had the most amazing five years working in magazines at some of the most loved titles here, including Brides, GQ and Vogue, and then I ended up at Harpers & Queen, which is Harper’s Bazaar now.
I learned how to plan and organize a shoot, how to write copy, and I always loved being in the art department, watching how the pages were laid out. When I learned to style, I loved a simple look. I liked actually taking things out to make things simpler and more beautiful. Less is often more, and actually, it’s easier to achieve.
WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE WHITE OBJECT OR THING IN YOUR HOME, AND WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT IT?
I don’t think I could pin it on one object. For me, white is creating a mood and peacefulness. If you think of white spaces, there’s the spa-like feel of an inviting bathroom, with soft towels and flickering candlelight. Or a kitchen full of sunlight, with cupboards and neat stacks of china or crisp, white linen. Or a wonderful bedroom, offering a real retreat and perfect comfort.
Today, as a working mum with four children, I know that I need eight hours of sleep to stay healthy and be in good shape to work and to be a mum and a wife. We’ve all become much more conscious of the importance of sleeping to take care of our health. Comfort is absolutely core to that. Bedrooms are about creating that beautiful, calm space, where you start to unwind the moment you walk in.
WHICH WOODS OR METALLICS PAIR BEST WITH WHITES, AND WHY?
At home, we’ve got lots of oak floor; natural wooden tables and accessories; lovely, rustic stones; and I love to use a sisal on the floors as well. When it comes to lighting, I think glass lamps are beautiful, a little glass and silver. It’s just a question of mixing the elements.
DESCRIBE YOUR STYLE. WHAT ARE PEOPLE SURPRISED TO LEARN ABOUT IT?
When you look at the book, a lot of people are surprised because they have this preconception that white is cold. Actually, white when done in the right way is incredibly warm and comfortable. My own personal style is very simple and pared down. I am a true lots-of-white-and-black girl. I really don’t ever use pattern or color. I think a lot of people can be concerned that white will be sterile, but it’s not at all.
DO YOU HAVE A FAVORITE WHITE PAINT COLOR FOR WALLS?
The two paint colors I use the most are Papers and Paints Slate I, which is a very pale, warm gray, but from a distance it really is white. And then the other one is Farrow & Ball’s All White, which is a lovely, warm white. I always choose a matte finish, because it’s just warmer. I think the matte makes it feel softer; the minute it becomes shiny, it becomes hard.
DO YOU HAVE ANY DESIGN RULES?
Before you tackle a house, it’s crucial to do your furniture layout to make sure you get all of the lights in the right places. Adjustable lighting is a must; you don’t want it to be too bright, because then it can feel sterile. Also, plan plenty of storage, because reducing clutter is essential—it creates a wonderful sense of calm and order.
I also love the occasional use of a darker-shaded piece of wood furniture, and then, of course, layering rooms with throws and blankets to bring texture and contrast. It needs to feel sensory, which can come from natural materials, scented candles or scent diffusers. If you walk into a room and it smells lovely, that’s all part of creating that wonderfully welcoming experience.
HOW DO YOU MAKE WHITE LIVABLE FOR PEOPLE WITH CHILDREN AND/OR PETS?
Well, we live in the country, and we’ve got four children, four dogs and lots of horses, and I have a very outdoor life. For our sofas, I try very hard to make sure we’ve got removable covers. Basically, everything goes in the washing machine. We’ve got four very naughty dogs, who would much rather sleep on our bed than anywhere.
WHAT’S THE BEST DESIGN ADVICE YOU’VE EVER BEEN GIVEN?
I love to paint the whole house just one color. It creates this beautiful, very calm canvas. And then the beautiful thing is that it’s there for you to layer on top. So you can then literally change [the design] throughout the seasons or change it as your taste evolves, with accessories, pieces of furniture and art. I love the harmony it creates.
ANYTHING ELSE YOU’D LIKE TO ADD ON THE TOPIC?
Home is the place where we create some of our most precious memories through time with friends and time with family, but also it’s a place to retreat to. Our working lives are so connected—lots of time spent on screens, lots of time typing, lots of time working. Therefore, making your home a true retreat is vital for your whole well-being.