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White Space

Before you put just anything there….

Clean white coffee mug with white background, minimalist photography and design.

We all have those spaces we think we need a little something extra. Something to fill in the gap. You know, those barren spots where we’re tempted to just grab something and plop it down.

Our natural urge is often to put something, if not just anything there. Maybe even something that doesn’t have its own space yet. Hey, that’s feeding two birds with one seed, right?

People often fill spaces just to avoid emptiness as though there is something wrong with emptiness. This "uncomfortable-ness" with emptiness can show up when we fill a pause in a conversation with unnecessary words. I think we all do it from time to time.

So, before you run off to the attic to grab the old portrait of Great Aunt Sue or toss some magazines on the side table, consider these three reasons for holding back and resisting the urge to just put something there - or, at least for now.

Three Reasons To Wait

1. First, space is good and healthy. A little white space never hurt anyone. You often hear: “Less is more.” Give your prized and intentional décor the space it needs to show itself off. This brings the value and visual attention it deserves.

Think about an art gallery. How much “stuff” is around the artwork? The prized pieces of art are set apart for display. They can be fully enjoyed without any other “thing” drawing visual attention away from the piece.

Large abstract monochromatic painting on a large white industrial wall with woman dwarfed by art wearing a white dress.

The things in your home are little pieces of you that tell your story, so display them, don’t crowd them.

If you're still not convinced that leaving a little space is ok, consider these words on fashion from the fabulous Coco Channel: “Before you leave the house, look in the mirror and take one thing off.” The idea is that simplicity is a form of sophistication.

Remember: There is a fine line between full and clutter.

2. Secondly, we don’t often think of this, but having places to actually set stuff down is AWESOME! We decorate like every inch of every end table, mantle, dresser, and counter must be filled. But, it doesn’t. Horizontal space is often so filled up that there isn’t room to work or to do life.

We’ve all been there. Those perfect cozy nights alone with a warm cup of tea and a great book. Hallmark moment, right

Yet somehow, as you get snuggled up on the sofa, this awkward and slightly disastrous moment happens. As you are moving remotes off the side table, you somehow knock the tissue box over with your book. The coaster, now that you actually need it, has managed to get wedge under the lamp, and (because it is yet another filled horizontal space) your snow globe sitting on it now needs to be moved.

How much easier would it be if there was actual space to set a book and your phone down without having to move anything? How nice would it be not to burn your hand trying to get the hot tea on the coaster?

Simple modern rustic wood log side table with a white book placed on top and a clean wall reading lamp. White space suggests minimal modern design.

On a bit larger level, let’s take a look at our beautiful buffet. Planning on putting those cute paper cups and a large pitcher of mint lemonade out for the summer cookout guest? Well first, you must clear your buffet. This means you’ll have to find temporary storage to stash 5 vases, 8 crystal glasses, 2 bottles of wine you’ll never drink, 6 birthday cards from last month, the dog’s bottle of vitamins, and the beautiful glass cake stand - empty. Did I mention the 4th of July decorations?

I’m not saying these tabletops and countertops should be empty but having a little extra space makes your day-to-day easier!

Resisting putting just anything in your space to fill it will give you the ability to actually spread out and use the space.
Clear minimal modern desk with snake plant, large black and white calendar, white bucket chairs and Mac computer.

3. A bit of emptiness or incompleteness can be healthy. It gives us the freedom and ability to grow. As people, families, couples, and children are all growing, our environments need to give us the space to do that.

Simplifying and allowing clear space is a physical way of being OK with how things are right now, even if that is not complete.

Solid white walls, trim and open white french doors that lead to another solid white room. Birchwood floors reflect light.

Feng Shui suggests leaving an entire wall blank in a room. I’m not saying you have to go that far, but let’s say you did take up painting, or piano or even wanted to try yoga in your living room – would you have the space to enjoy or display your new adventure? Your latest travel find?

Leaving space blank intentionally leaves a part of your canvas blank in order for you to continue to be creative with it – when the time comes. That relatively small space leaves your future open, it gives you a breath of hope that life has some more to give you, and you have more experiences that need to be had. You’re not done just yet. Leaving blank spots literally gives your future a place.

Spaces that Actually Need to Be Filled

What about those really big spaces that actually do need something? Sometimes we even know exactly what we want to go in that spot, but we don’t just have that “special” thing just yet. So, what do you do?

Hallway of doors leading into each other. Rustic rough wooden door frames with white walls.

You may need to fill the space temporarily or at least until you can afford that designer sofa you’re waiting on to go on sale. Or, until you find that 6-foot porcelain sign you’ve always wanted.

Once you’ve decided you actually need to fill the space, think temporarily and in the direction of what you are aiming for. If you already know you want a sofa but don’t have it yet, go ahead and gather up the pillows and throw what you know you’ll be using for the sofa, and place them in baskets to fill the space. This will help you from just putting anything there or investing in something you might not want once the sofa does arrive.

Here are a few ideas for you before you just go throwing something at the wall, because remember the goal is not to just put anything there but something that will add to your design.

1. Plants – always an affordable, life-giving space taker-upper. And, if you’ve ever been in a tiny space (like many of my spaces) you’d drool at the opportunity to have a couple of leafy, tropical plants that could stretch out.

Houseplants will naturally take up whatever space you give them. They are a lot of bang for your buck! And, with so many additional benefits, you will likely want to incorporate them into your design as it changes.

Large leafy tropical plant stretching out with a worn white painted brick wall behind it.

Designer Tip: Mix and match various heights and shapes of plants for added appeal.

2. Magazine Wall Art – I remember one of my regular coffee shops in Germany had framed magazine covers from top to bottom on their walls. It was so simple (and cheap!) yet so visually appealing. Magazines have mastered the marketing of capturing attention anyway, so why not put their hard work to use?

Check your local library or thrift stores; they are almost always overwhelmed with old magazines. Usually, they’ll give them away for next to nothing.

Tip: Collect magazines with a similar subject matter, color, or with similar word font to make a cohesive look. The coffee shop I mentioned had shots of people, full to 3/4 body shots, which kept everything proportionate.

3. Baskets – whether wire, seagrass, or cotton rope, baskets are great space fillers and space savers. Who knew? A grouping of baskets gives a great tropical or industrial vibe, depending on the material they are made of. Plus, they add stylish dimension and texture to a space.

Baskets can be filled with collections of similar items. For example, giant pinecones add a natural element to a room. Playful and colorful buoys add nautical charm. Blankets - warth. Old apothecary jars. Vintage textile spools. Possibilities are truly endless. Remember, there really is power in numbers. Don’t be afraid to leave them empty, either.

4. Mural - If you (or a friend) are a bit of an artist, try a mural. Something simple that no one is going to be offended by when you do finally get that sofa and cover up half of it. Check out Pinterest to find simple, doable murals.

Quick Recap: Give yourself permission to have unfinished, empty spaces. Some emptiness is good. For the spaces that must be filled, go minimal until you find what your heart is truly set on. Remember, your home is always a work in progress.

And, if you just realized that you may need to reevaluate your entire home’s set up (meaning, you’ve got too much stuff everywhere) check out “10 Tips to a Design Do-Over.”


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