White Houses

by AnneWareham on January 19, 2014

Post image for White Houses

It seems absolutely the done thing to paint your house white. In the last few years other colours have made a small inroad indoors, but if you look round the countryside you’ll see that white for the exterior is still the thing. As if we’d just invented white wash. Except not, because I think whitewash may have been a slightly softer, less glaring blue white colour.

January 2014 Veddw copyright Anne Wareham


I understand that indoors people justify the starkness to themselves as adding ‘light’, and in other people’s sparkling clean homes it no doubt shouts ‘clean’. I think here it would be more likely to shout ‘see a cobweb’.Outdoors it really has no such justification.

Wordsworth disliked the way the Lake District was defaced by white houses, suggesting that “five or six houses, scattered over a valley, by their obtrusiveness dot the surface and divide it into triangles and other mathematical figures, haunting the eye and disturbing that response which might otherwise be perfect.” The fact that those houses, and those around us in the Wye Valley have since doubled or trebled in size doesn’t help.

January 2014 Veddw copyright Anne Wareham

There’s the white splodge

The worst of it though is the way that the white shoutout draws your eye. The garden is full of colour just now, even in December, but it it is a rich variety of greens, yellows and browns, occasionally (not so often lately) lit beautifully by sunshine. It always reminds me how inspirational the knitting designer, Kaffe Fasset found these colours of the British countryside – thinking of creating a jumper with dozens of those shades playing against one another wakes your eyes up.

But if you did, you probably wouldn’t add random white in little patches.

January 2014 Veddw copyright Anne Wareham 029

Another one…..

As the garden has lost the deciduous leaves, our neighbours white houses emerge in little splodges amongst those colours and ruthlessly demand attention where I don’t want to give it. I am trying to lose the splodges but after 26 years I sadly have not yet totally succeeded.

I know – so many of you have much worse to look at. This is a dreadful searching after perfection. But if you have a country house which you are about to paint….?

And what do we do? Paint it black. Or cover with ivy..where we can.


Veddw House copyright Charles Hawes

Ivy almost hiding the original white

(don’t ask about those windows….!)

Send to Kindle

Subscribe to the Veddw Blog

Enter your email address to get new articles from the Veddw House Garden blog by email:

John January 19, 2014 at 4:13 pm

I have to be fair and comment on your blog as well as Charles’.

Hello ghostly monster peering out from the shrubbery (does look a bit like a face). My eye is more drawn by the erect foliage of Charles’ cardoons than by the white splodge (my cardoons are as limp-wristed as you can get at the moment so I’m envious). I like the Veddw black back, even if those solar panels look a bit intrusive (after all they’re environmentally-friendly things). But whilst I won’t ask about the white windows, I will mention that in my life I have bought two houses with white window frames. In both cases the white was gone before I finished unpacking. I’d even paint over white PVCu profiles as a stop-gap until they could be replaced. I hate white windows (and white chimneys).

AnneWareham January 19, 2014 at 7:08 pm

It’s true the windows won’t take paint (they are metal) except for a v short time..and the solar panels are a pain to look at, and there are still various bits of white paint..far from perfect. The remaining white paint is a very expensive protective paint which we haven’t been able to get in black.

John January 19, 2014 at 8:16 pm

Maybe your neighbours are also using very expensive protective paint that they cannot get in black (and cannot risk the ivy) so you have to bear your cross! Your reply to Paul suggests the obvious – demolish the extension. If Charles works nights and sleeps during the day, you only need one bedroom (unless you’re a vampire type). Then you could open the garden 7 days a week and spend all your time in the conservatory.

Alternatively, buy some trellis and knock up a decent framework, then buy some plastic plants and attach to the trellis to take care of those pesky deciduous times. Go on, be different; make a statement!

{Runs for cover}

AnneWareham January 19, 2014 at 8:36 pm


Paul Steer! January 19, 2014 at 4:34 pm

It is a dilemma. I seem to remember you have used black to good effect at the rear of the house. What is the colour of the local stone? Perhaps you could mix up an approximate colour or take off the render?

AnneWareham January 19, 2014 at 7:10 pm

And the ivy? I like the ivy….and the render is covering breezeblock…The house is stone with breeze block extension. In other words, a mess….But not very visible from a distance.

Paul Steer! January 21, 2014 at 4:37 pm

Originally cottages would have been whitewashed with lime which degrades in time and takes on a less blinding quality. In Powys they mixed in bulls blood to make a red ochre colour. Perhaps a colour nearer to your terracotta benches? Dyffryn Fernant style? Sorry still thinking! Black would work.

AnneWareham January 21, 2014 at 4:45 pm

Wasn’t a request re Veddw. We are committed black and ivy (with white chimney. ..). Request that other rural dwellers think twice before going white

Paul Steer! January 21, 2014 at 5:36 pm


Jane Stevens January 20, 2014 at 9:26 am

I so agree with you about this, there’s far too much bright colour used on country houses and white is the brightest. Here in Italy we have to put up with lurid sunset coloured houses now, painted in the new types of non-fading, indestructible paint. But if they were white they might be even worse. From a distance they would look like huge litter. Those nice greyed or browned colours are the only way to go really, something akin to the local soil or stone, as I think you have mentioned previously. We need some new external colours – faded patches in creams, greys or pinky browns perhaps.

AnneWareham January 20, 2014 at 9:56 am

Well, I like black for the way it can vanish or provide background. But those muddy colours – aren’t they the ones which would emerge from mud/stone (ultimately the same thing)? ie ochres and natural pigments? Which, I note, when used to paint houses, fade and blotch and generally rapidly decay.

Charles January 20, 2014 at 1:25 pm

Interesting post and nice touch to draw on Wordsworth. I reckon you could place this elsewhere……

AnneWareham January 20, 2014 at 1:33 pm

Hmm.. not sure about that but thanks for the suggestion! xx

J Sherry January 21, 2014 at 8:54 am

I visit Wordsworth’s beloved Grasmere a lot & what he says holds true today – indeed, more so if anything; wherever you are, be it up on the fells or down by the lake, there’ll be a white splodge waiting to catch your eye! But I have become inured to it over the years and tend to regard it as just part of the Lakeland scene – well, I do for the little farmhouses at any rate; I am less sanguine about the bigger modern white splodges!

Two things though:

1) Grasmere is in the Lake District National Park, so I wonder if the National Park and/or the National Trust (which owns swathes of land & many properties) has rules governing what colour you may paint your property, and
2) Before banning white, I’d need to be persuaded what colour(s) look better; you touch on this but there’s no definitive answer!

AnneWareham January 21, 2014 at 9:36 am

I believe there is a great deal of thoughtless ‘white is right’ when it comes to house painting and I wouldn’t be surprised if the National Park subscribes to it. And it’s true that white is not the only nasty: some modern paint colours can be pretty awful.

However, I’m not suggesting we legislate so much as experiment. If you have a garden in the countryside you might well think twice before planting a huge yellow conifer (I hope) and equally, you might think twice before going white. After that there are hundreds of possibilities, of trees or house colours. Have you good or bad examples?

J Sherry January 22, 2014 at 9:07 am

The ideal would be properties which don’t need painting – grey stone or mellow brick – but given that so many are rendered, there’s little choice, is there?

I know that cream and yellow (including lemon) are equally luminous in the countryside because there’s a National Trust one painted a yellow-y cream colour overlooking Grasmere village and it always hits me in the eye!

Would russets work? I don’t know because I’ve never seen a property painted in a russet shade – everybody goes for pale colours, so if not white, it’ll be light blue, pale pink, hint of green, palest lemon. But as you suggest, a bit of experimentation would be a good idea.

Alex Ramsay January 22, 2014 at 9:13 am

‘Invisible Green’? – the choice of every landscape designer a couple of hundred years ago and still available as far as I know

AnneWareham January 22, 2014 at 9:55 am

I had never heard of it, but you are right, it is still available, a dark green and would look good and work well. Knew their stuff then, then….

Pat Webster January 22, 2014 at 9:21 pm

White birds (doves?) at the end of Veddw’s tall hedges are ok, though?

AnneWareham January 22, 2014 at 9:25 pm

Yes. If you want a focal point white works well. For just the reason I’d rather people didn’t use it on their houses – it draws the eye.

AnneWareham January 21, 2014 at 11:38 pm

But thanks for putting the sweat in, Paul!