Smart Solutions: New book explores the power of white houses

By Jeanine Matlow
Special to The Detroit News

From the traditional houses of Mykonos and Santorini in Greece to the pristine Villa Savoye by Le Corbusier in France to the almost obsessional work of Richard Meier in the United States, white homes can be found around the world, says Philip Jodidio, author of “White Houses” (Thames & Hudson; $50).

We reached out to the author to get his thoughts behind the title. “I wanted to highlight not only the far-flung reach of modern whiteness, but also the ways in which architects play on shadow and reflected colors to bring their often angular white designs to life,” he says.

The exterior of the house offers few clues as to the interior disposition of its spaces.

For some, the pristine shade lends a sense of protection. “Walls that are white, perhaps more than those in other shades, seem to mark a limit between a chaotic exterior world and a protected inside,” says Jodidio.

When featured on the exterior, the classic color plays well with others. “White houses thrive on contrast. Be it against the colors of the environment or the sky, or, perhaps better still, the blue expanse of the sea, modern white forms take on life and stand out even more when they are in the presence of water,” he says. “Even a swimming pool provides a shift in perception. By definition, water is the opposite of the relative aridity of white architectural forms, bringing a different kind of movement with a breeze and a splash.”

White interiors can have a similar effect. “Inside white houses, materials like natural wooden floors or grey stone floors, black window frames or a raw pine staircase can not only contrast but also complement white walls that always absorb and assume the color of natural light, changing as the clock advances and the weather changes,” the author says.

An outdoor terrace culminating in an infinity pool frames a remarkable view of Cephalonia and the broad blue expanse of the Ionian Sea.

Some of the standout structures featured include the aptly named Ghost House (Jin Otagiri, Tokyo, 2005) that seems to be no more than the form of a house, says Jodidio, with no visible windows and an interior where white-on-white made the Financial Times comment that “It could be Zen; it could be sensory deprivation.” The architect, Jin Otagiri, called it both “one of the most minimalist houses in Japan” and an “archetypical primitive hut-like house.” Its double sloped-roof form may be relatively “archetypical,” but the Ghost House also signifies a kind of transition from the crowded reality of Tokyo to the emptiness of white.

Another Japanese residence, the White Cave House (Takuro Yamamoto, Kanazawa, 2013) tends to represent absolute simplicity characterized by an absence of visible openings and pervasive whiteness. Built in a region known for its winter snowfalls, the house provides shelter from the elements almost by way of melting into its environment. “And what an unexpected idea to color a ‘cave’ white, a kind of pristine womb, or again, perhaps a place of transition from this world to the next,” the author says.

The house appears to be a “normal” structure except for the fact that it is lifted high above the ground, with only an inclined ladder and thin pilotis touching the earth.

In a more humorous vein, adds Jodidio, the Canadian architects Delordinaire created their surprising High House (Saint-Ferréol-les-Neiges, Quebec, 2017) in the midst of a field often covered with snow. Raised on stilts, it floats above the snow while blending into it entirely in the winter. “In this environment, the usually bold contrast between white architecture and nature dissolves at least for part of the year,” he says.  

With many seeking serenity among the constant chaos in the world, Jodidio says the featured houses may tend to demonstrate that white itself is a result of a search for simplicity.

Jeanine Matlow is a Metro Detroit interior decorator turned freelance writer specializing in stories about interior design. You can reach her at