Are People Really Painting Their Walls White For Insta-Stardom?

published Oct 12, 2017
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(Image credit: Alicia Macias)

The Wall Street Journal recently published a story with a simple yet shocking premise: “To make their home interiors look better on Instagram and amass more followers, millennials and social-media mavens are painting their walls white.” What do you think of that? What do we think of that? Let’s explore…

(Image credit: Danielle Moss)

In “Why White Walls Are Instagram Gold” (behind a paywall unfortunately), The Wall Street Journal dives into the world of Instagrammers who apparently make major life decisions based on what will please their followers and gain them new ones. It’s really just an additional step in the home decor arithmetic: paint your walls a color that makes you happy becomes paint your walls a color that gets you more followers because more Instagram followers make you happy.

Happiness that doesn’t hurt anyone is a precious commodity, and we could all use more of it! But is the thrill of the “like” worth repainting your entire home—a serious undertaking requiring considerable money and/or time—white? And is your Instagram account important enough to the people you live with to make it worth it for them? If so, go forth and paint, but be sure you’re making yourself—and your loved ones—happy, not just your followers.

(Image credit: Emily Billings)

What’s that now?

There are some interesting quotes by design insiders and Instagram enthusiasts in the article, as well as a few throwaway lines that raised my eyebrows:

Cleveland-based Sherwin Williams carries more than 100 shades of white and boasts more than 100,000 Instagram followers.

Are the two halves of that sentence related?

White can look institutional and cold without warm textures and accessories… The wrong shade can make a space look institutional.

I suppose white can look institutional, but it would never occur to me to worry about it. Snow is white! Clouds are white! If you like the coldest, most Wite-Out white, go for it! Your home won’t look institutional because it’s your home, not an institution.

Inspired by hundreds of Instagram screenshots of minimal Nordic design and plant-filled white living rooms, she was determined to make her décor stand out to Instagram followers.

Wouldn’t that make your decor not stand out? “Tons of other people are doing this, so to stand out, I need to do the same thing?” I am not bashing white walls or people who love them (I am one!), but that is an odd conclusion.

“I can confidently say that unless my walls had some insanely cool wallpaper on them…if they weren’t white,’ she said in an email, “I would not have been featured by Apartment Therapy, nor increased my followers to almost 1,200 in three days.”

It would be fascinating to have some data-based research on this, such as posting identical rooms with only the wall color changed and seeing if the engagement level was affected. That seems like a lot of work, but it would be cool to see if the white walls are what make the difference, or if it’s the overall style, care, and/or some other ineffable quality.

(Image credit: Leanne Bertram)


Last year, Grace Bonney of Design*Sponge wrote The White Wall Controversy: How the All-White Aesthetic Has Affected Design, in which she relayed this astounding stat:

At least 90% of the homes we see every month (we reach out to and get submissions from hundreds of people around the globe on a regular basis) have “that” look: white walls, a mix of vintage Kilim rugs, lots of house plants and a carefully curated selection of found/salvaged objects.

90+% of the homes they see have white walls! What is your estimate, based on the homes you’ve lived in and visited? Do you feel like each place looks the same, or do the different aesthetics overwhelm the similarity in wall color?

(Image credit: Elissa Crowe)

White walls: The rental standard?

Another thing Grace wrote stood out to me, and I’m interested in hearing your experiences:

A lot of us are in transition, moving to a new city, embracing being somewhat nomadic or just not knowing what pieces around the house we want — or are ready — to invest in. Often times that stage comes with embracing what’s already there in our homes — which is typically white walls and bare floors.

Have your apartments generally had white walls? I moved around a fair bit, and only one place was painted white; the rest were the classic Landlord Beige, a muddy, nothing color. Therefore, to me, white walls indicate as much intention, choice, time, money, energy, and luxury as walls painted any other color. But perhaps my experience is not universal, and people are just making the best of what they’ve got.

(Image credit: Ellie Arciaga Lillstrom)

It’s not just the white—it’s the light

Sure, white walls provide a blank backdrop for photos and videos (and life, of course), but they provide something perhaps even more valuable: gorgeous light. White walls and a ceiling are going to bounce light around like nobody’s business, as if you have 20 photo assistants each holding an enormous bounce card. Your colors will pop and your subjects—including yourself—will glow. It’s easy to see why white walls are so tempting, and why they look so damn good in photos. Bonus: many plants love the soft, diffused light that white walls can provide.

Off-white is not quite right

When I threw myself into Instagram, via my political pastry project, Protestcakes, I thought I was all set, backdrop-wise. All of my walls are white! Well, off-white… cream, perhaps. I was shocked, then, when the walls showed up in photos, no matter the lighting, as a dingy beige. (And yes, of course I played with contrast, brightness, and filters, to no avail.) The hue of the walls was not the clean, blank canvas I was hoping for, but rather a beige backdrop that called attention to itself. And that drab taupe so beloved by landlords is even worse! If you’re looking for that bright, white look that glows unobtrusively while bouncing light around so beautifully, it’s white-white or nothing. I’ve ended up having to use a piece of white posterboard as the background for my photos!

(Image credit: Séverine Piller)

Don’t do it for the ‘Gram

Now, if Instagram is how you make your money, proceed however you see fit. Paint your walls whatever color works for your career and your ability to support yourself. But if you don’t? I wouldn’t recommend painting your walls just for the sake of Instagram. Consider one white wall—an anti-accent wall, if you will, or white ceilings and/or floors to get that coveted light bouncing. One white room will give you more freedom for photo shoots, whilst freeing up the rest of your home (if you have more than one room) for paint colors that bring you—not your followers—joy. And if, like me, you love white walls regardless of trends and likes, rejoice! The attitude in the US that white walls are boring, sterile, and devoid of personality is becoming less common, so you can enjoy your walls without having to endure judgey comments.

Are your walls white? How do you like them? Have you—or would you—ever change your wall colors for social media purposes?