The Art of Designing in Monochrome

Herman - monochrome mantle 2How can you create a minimalistic look when you have a bunch of stuff? Explore your monochrome options

By Meridian Herman

My friend is consistently drawn to white items. If she’s buying furniture or décor, it’s white – or she will paint it white. You might think this sounds like her style is a bit “plain Jane” or boring. Surprisingly, it’s quite the opposite. Her collection of white items coordinates so perfectly that no one item stands out, but nothing feels like a blank slate. Her collections are carefully assembled to create a sense of simplicity, despite their intricacies.

Herman - monochrome diningroomShe introduces color or accent pieces to create focal points on her walls and shelves. In her dining room, she’s assembled a group of white candles, a vintage white container with a bird feature, a large white candleholder, and wall-mounted shelves. To add visual interest, she placed a white-framed multi-panel mirror, along with an open white frame around a black statement ampersand (&) piece. Then she tied these elements together with a black frame painted with white script, mounted nearby. Instead of feeling like a wall of white – or, on the other end of the spectrum, a wall of miscellany – her space looks intentional and defined.

Herman - monochrome mantleIn her living room, she has one of my favorite interior design components: a decorative fireplace! When she moved in, the mantle was already painted a light off-white color to complement and blend with the textured walls and other interior details that were selected by the building owner. Having believed for years that we should never combine beige with white or navy with black, I would have immediately changed up my color scheme, rather than stick to my design guns. However, with my friend’s love for white, she knew better. While I would have envisioned the beige tone of the trim and the fireplace would clash with white items, when combined as a monochromatic scheme, it works! Within this color scheme, she creates a sense of variety among her pieces by incorporating cool white and warm white as well as copper tones that pull in the color of the room’s established hues.

Though there are more than a dozen items on her 5-foot by 8-inch mantle, it does not feel cluttered, awkward or heavy. To balance the items, she hung a large, simple white clock that draws the eye upward. The decorative collection that sits on the mantle not only ranges in white tones, but also in shapes. Combining the monochromatic colors with the different sizes and designs of the items magically creates a sense of openness and simplicity. Seasonally, she changes out some accent pieces. This spring she added two mini daffodil plants in copper and clear cellophane. The small pop of green and yellow added a lush and joyful feeling to the space.

Even if you’re stuffed to the brim with décor, it doesn’t have to look like it. Especially if you have trinkets or memorabilia you can’t part with, consider giving it new life in an intentionally monochromatic family that you design.