Years ago, I visited the apartment of a New York City television producer. What caught my eye was a glimpse into her bedroom, where everything was white except the hardwood floor. White walls, white bedding and white accessories made her room a welcome respite from the chaotic days of riding the subway to work. Step inside, and the frenetic city life fades away into a pure and simple space that sooths the eye and calms the mind.
She knew back then the importance of simplicity of design for creating spaces for human rest and renewal. So when the white-on-white decorating style emerged, I understood its powerful appeal. As long as our culture’s dependence on electronics speeds each day to breakneck speed, white will remain more than a color - it becomes the formula for simple living spaces in a complex world.
Green is another soother. There’s a reason older hospitals were painted green: the color is naturally soothing to the human eye, and offers welcome relief from white coats, towels, sheets, bandages and tile. It is the color of the plant kingdom, where green shades range from deep olive to bright acid green. To understand the role of green relative to white outdoors, consider how dark pine foliage absorbs sunlight reflecting off snow or concrete.
This understanding about the relationship of white to green helps establish the role each color plays in the home and garden. It also guides you to offer great finds and arrangement ideas at your garden center, with opportunities for sales large and small. Keep in mind, the driving force behind this trend is the ability to find white and green decor items at garage sales and thrift stores. When you offer white and green accessories, be sure to lay in enough affordable merchandise to appeal to customers of all budgets.
Making It Work
Vintage finds remain the most popular sources of white. Peeling paint is definitely in style, but it’s more dramatic and simple than the cluttered feminized shabby-chic look that men rarely like - that lady’s boudoir look may be appealing to a single woman, but it’s a hard sell to a married one.
Begin stocking vintage items for exterior use by laying in architectural salvage elements such as old windows and doors, plus dressed benches and end tables. Use these large pieces as your background for displays of assorted items, from snow-white scarves to enamelware wash bowls. Then, spot in well-used secondhand chairs and other unique pieces of furniture to add an antique or minimal modern feel to your presentation.
Creamware pottery has become a favorite collectable because it goes with everything. It, too, is a powerful vintage market, which can include true 1950s vases, bowls and urns that bring a wide range of forms into your display. Combine them with today’s mass-produced imports that look similar but sell for much lower prices to keep customers buying.
Be conscious that different shades of white make each uniquely shaped piece warmer and cooler to the eye. When grouped with like whites, the forms are what make a collection work. When grouped with a wider range of whites, subtle differences in value create more interest on shelves or in cubby holes. Once again, mix and match pricey antiques with affordable impulse buys that pleasantly surprise your more frugal customers.
The role of stripped pine furniture and other distressed wood elements offers even more opportunity. In the color vacuum of white walls and decor, your customers will notice the grain and color of wood more readily than ever. Avoid very dark woods, and stick with light values that don’t present such a shocking difference. Look for new distressed items that work into your woods, particularly if its recycled or repurposed, to give your customers green options rather than exclusively newly made. Keep these pieces simple, from an old Chinese bench to folding cruise ship deck chairs. Super rustic carved troughs and other ethnic or primitive items stand out dramatically in white-dominated spaces; your customers will appreciate each crack or twist in the wood.
Textiles are ideal to make easy sales without devoting a great deal of space to displaying them. Vintage lace, eyelet, embroidery and other finds enhance your displays and give customers more choices. New textiles that look vintage will bring in the highest profits due to their low wholesale prices and universal use in nearly every household. Try large swaths of white or pale pastel fabrics. Even deep discount yardage makes ideal outdoor drapes suspended from a shade arbor or used as a table cloth. Offer weatherproof curtains to draw for privacy without sacrificing air flow or light.
Other items for white-dominated displays include:
• White enameled metal dishware and wash bowls
• White flowered hothouse azaleas
• White and pale pink miniature roses
• Vintage picture frames painted distressed white
• Secondhand galvanized containers, pots and buckets
• Coffee table books featuring white-on-white decorating
Where Green Comes In
There are different ways to look at green when used with white. Green decor items may include pressed ferns in frames, botanical prints and pillows featuring green patterns. The range of green pottery is delicious, particularly deep emerald glazes, celadon from China or pricey collector pots from Oaxaca, Mexico. Here, too, your low-end green ceramics can offer a treasure trove of bowls, plates with plant motifs, mugs and pitchers your customers will fall in love with.
Green is also derived from living plants, indoors and out. Ferns, particularly maidenhair and Japanese painted types, are sized for display settings. Dwarf ivy is one of your best opportunities for sales when you offer a wide range of variegated forms that make irresistible dangling plants indoors and out. In individual pots, the wide range of greens and creamy, white or yellow variegation becomes irresistible. For large room dividers, backgrounds, corner fillers or lighting subjects, use palms and small trees from your outdoor inventory.
What really boosts sales is beautifully composed pots filled with green foliage and white hydrangeas and orchids. They make a perfect quick gift purchase for any event, from wedding showers to birthday parties.
While these basics of white-on-white decorating emphasize the importance of green, there are other colors to use gently. Most white-decorated homes have a secondary accent color. The most common of these are the blue range, but pinks can also be used. These should be worked into displays carefully, grouping in one corner or one wall of a more extensive presentation.
Any time you can bring in glass items, it gives the style a bit of sparkle. Some of the most appealing are vintage mason jars with bluish coloring, which can be augmented by newly made, more affordable alternatives. Old bottles that have turned lavender in the sun are equally popular. They are usually displayed as a group, so add your collections to your white compositions. Don’t forget to fill a few with water and freshly cut flowers and foliage for a slightly different look every day.
White on white and white and green are fresh, simple and widely appealing to single women. It is just as suited to the high-end clientele as it is to customers of rural garden centers. In between these two extremes is a rich opportunity for sales when pricey antiques and recycled items are augmented with affordable impulse buys. Such diversity ensures that your garden center is offering something for everyone.