“White Chocolate Minimalism” Is the New Interior Trend to Watch

Here’s how to nail the dreamy look, according to designers who are refining its flavor
warm minimalism
The “white chocolate minimalism” trend involves the use of softer, creamier tones—as shown in FrenchCalifornia's One Wall Street project—than found in more typical pure-white minimalist interiors.Photo: Colin Miller

The defining characteristic of today’s design world may well be its incredible diversity: It’s tough to think of another time when so many different looks—warm minimalism, maximalist ebullience, cutting-edge shiny sleekness, Old World classicism, tropical vibrance—could all be in play simultaneously. In and among those competing strands of style, though, the calmer, quieter thread seems to be capturing the hearts of more and more professionals and their clients. Grounded in the “form follows function” directness of 20th-century modernism, influenced by the pared-down sensibilities of figures like John SaladinoMichael Taylor, and Axel Vervoordt, this movement’s partisans lean toward primarily neutral colors and largely organic materials to construct rooms of sophisticated yet unfussy comfort.

Serenity is the goal. “Look, we live in a kind of chaotic world, right?” says Alabama architect and AD PRO Directory member Jeffrey Dungan, who aims to imbue the residences he creates with a sense of clarity and repose. “We need a little peace—and our homes are our respite.” This sentiment is echoed by Calla Cane, whose design practice spans both coasts (California and Connecticut): “I think we are receiving so much stimulation through our phones and computers that most people are looking to come home to a sanctuary.” Particularly following the enforced seclusion of COVID and the growth of remote work, she notes, “We find that there are more and more requests for clean lines, organization, and a spa-like feel.”

Meet the Designer: Jeffrey Dungan Based in Mountain Brook, Alabama, Jeffrey Dungan Architects is a nationally renowned firm with projects spanning throughout North and Central America, the Caribbean, and the United Kingdom. Read more…

With restraint in mind, spaces aren’t be packed with too much stuff. Forms are kept uncomplicated, tones muted, furnishings few—avoiding any visual (or literal) clutter. In these interiors, says Keren Richter of New York’s White Arrow, also listed on the AD PRO Directory: “Color and pattern are no longer the focus, but materiality, scale, proportion, and the hand element are paramount.”

The preferred tonality of neutral-color rooms has varied over time, from yellow-tinged “magnolia blossom” whites in the 1980s to the sea of chilly grays that have inundated social media postings during the past decade. Most recently, however, such subdued-chic interiors have tended to come drenched in something like the hue of a freshly whipped up béchamel sauce. Call the aesthetic “white chocolate minimalism,” perhaps.

So, given that the fashion continues to surge in popularity—and since making simplicity isn’t actually all that simple—we asked an assortment of professionals from across the US to share thoughts on how they achieve their best results.

1. Careful composition is paramount

Warm minimalism is most effective with as few elements as possible, as in this pared-down living room at an Upper West Side townhouse designed by Chango & Co.

Photo: Nicole Franzen

The fewer the components that make up a room, the more attention each of them will get. “Minimal shouldn’t be boring!” advises Alizée Brion, director of Light on White in Miami. “Select furnishings that have interesting shapes and finishes. Stay away from the mass-produced and try to work with artisans and craftsmen who make unique pieces.” For New York’s Magdalena Keck, collaborating with makers on site-specific works “is a fantastic way to marry the designer’s vision with their expertise. Galleries that deal in vintage pieces are also a wonderful resource,” she continues. “The patina of aged materials gives yet another dimension, as do the methods and details of fabrication from different eras and cultures.”


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And the envelope of a space is just as important as its contents. “If a space has interesting architectural features, high ceilings, or views, we’ll play those up,” says Richter. “Where they are missing, we’ll work hard to bring character into the home through interesting flooring, moldings, reclaimed fireplaces, or doors.” Dungan sums it up like this: “Compelling rooms have views, both internally and externally. They have a focal point, or two—and they have a surprise somewhere. They have a shape that holds your attention.”

2. Structure your monochrome rooms with texture

Designer Calla Cane has combined multiple textures through the rug, fabrics, and painted timber beams in this bedroom.

Photo: Carina Skrobecki

“The key is in the variation,” Brion says. “You can have every piece of furniture be the same shade of off-white in a room as long as all the textures and materials are different. Recently we’ve been using a lot of bouclé, shearling, or hair-on-hide fabrics and leathers. You can mix materials in area rugs, too, contrasting luxurious silk with rougher fibers such as sisal or allo. (One of our favorite rug suppliers, Erden, just came out with a stunning collection of rugs that integrate metal inlays!)”

According to Susana Simonpietri, creative director of Chango & Co. in Brooklyn, “If you want a space that’s very well finished in whites and creams, you should be looking at it holistically. Take the walls, for example. Ask yourself: Can I do plaster? Lime wash? Wallpaper? Or even put some leather on the walls?” On this score, both Cane and designer Diana Wagenbach of AD PRO Directory–listed firm Studio W suggest checking out the specialty finishes from Portola Paints & Glazes. Wagenbach especially prizes them for providing “warmth and movement and shadows, so it’s not just a sterile white wall. It’s also a little more affordable for a painter to do than actually bringing in an artisan who does plaster.”

3. Not all neutral tones play happily together

Subtly different yet complimentary neutral tones are employed together at Chango & Co.’s townhouse project.

Photo: Nicole Franzen

Even when a room may appear colorless at first glance, there will be subsurface harmonies that can make or break the effect. “This is not your basic, boring white box we’re talking about,” says Dungan. “There are actually a ton of shades and tones of colors we end up working with. I think that is missed by a lot of people, and it’s not easy to pull off.” “When you begin to pare down the saturation of colors, the variations become more important,” agrees Cane. “A slight hint of pink in a warm white, or an undertone of blue, can make a neutral space feel uncomfortable.”

4. Draw on rich, natural materials to expand your palette

For a project in Montauk, White Arrow added darker wood furnishings and natural materials like sisal to create variation.

Photo: Thomas Richter

Deeper, more saturated colors can also be part of the mix, of course, and these are often apricots, ochres, taupes, and terra-cotta or walnut tones drawn from nature—maybe even the occasional teal blue and malachite green. Increasingly dramatic varieties of wood and stone are likewise making an appearance in warm minimalism.

“It’s so nice to start using different shades of wood,” Wagenbach says. “I think it’s interesting now that the darker woods are coming back, versus just oak. I’m also excited right now because there are so many things happening with stone. I was just introduced to a new line by my stone fabricator, who is going to be the first person in the Midwest to distribute full slabs of fluted stone.” Recent AD100 inductee Josh Greene reports that he’s “really into trying to use stone in more interesting ways. So we are using multiple stones, or stones with weirder colors, or less typical kinds. Even then, if you wrap a room in a stone, it still in some way is a neutral because you’re not doing so much contrast, you’re sticking with one palette.”

Inanimate objects aren’t the sole contributors of liveliness, in Wagenbach’s view: “I also use a lot of greenery in my designs—banana trees, ficus, things like that. That’s a neutral to me.” Even more, she says, “I feel like people are the color in a home.”

5. Some pattern is fine, if handled with care

A Beni Rugs carpet from Morocco introduces a large-scale pattern to this Martha’s Vineyard bedroom, also by White Arrow.

Photo: Thomas Richter

Although much warm minimalism is executed with nary a hint of pattern, there’s no law against employing it. In this context, Greene observes, “Usually there’s a hero pattern of some kind, in a scale that’s bigger, and you’re pulling solid colors out of the pattern. Any other patterns that are in the room are in a smaller scale. Scale of pattern is something that I very much pay attention to.” White Arrow’s interiors, too, are not infrequently grounded by a Moroccan or other rug that sports a distinct graphic profile.

6. Layers equal interest and livability

Studio W founder Diana Wagenbach has layered several pieces that carry the same neutral shade with vintage items and artwork by Yvette Lenzi to add depth to this living room.

Photo: Y&B Interiors

Says Brion: “Our clients are increasingly asking us to integrate vintage pieces into our designs, which often bring with them a rich palette of wood tones or metals like aged brass and bronze. These help spaces feel cosy and lived-in.” A handful of well-chosen light fixtures and accessories can help refine the balance of an interior and boost visual emphasis. For principal designer Molly Kidd of Light and Dwell in Oregon, “These things are just the right touch of artisanal character and luxury.” But, as with any other aspect of a carefully composed scheme, she cautions, judgment is required: “The scale of objects and furniture is equally important. It’s all about weight and perspective, knowing when a space feels unfinished and when it’s just right.”

7. Always sweat the details

Wood sculptures and other details carefully styled by Anna Molvik help to bring character to this home in Old Greenwich, Connecticut, designed by Calla Cane.

Photo: Ellen McDermott

So what, in the end, is the magic that pulls these spare but stylish rooms together?

Meet the Designer: Light on White Design Studio 

Under the direction of Alizée Brion, Miami-based studio Light on White strives to bring a curated, modern elegance to clients’ homes. Keep reading...

“My biggest piece of advice to other designers,” Simonpietri says, “is to be conscious of the fact that minimal color spaces work best when the items in them are really special. You have to pick everything with a lot of care and opt for quality over quantity.” As Keck describes it, the key to success is “to look closely at the inherent qualities of the natural materials and how they change depending on finish, light, and relationship with each other. To use this knowledge to create, as one would using any set of elements—these are just more delicate.”

“There’s a common misconception that monochrome interiors are all the same and devoid of personality,” Brion adds, “but I find it’s quite the opposite. Although more subtle, the interiors we create are extremely rich, and each project is so different.” “I think the overarching question is, what are you trying to say?” says Dungan. “Once you understand that, and have something interesting to say, you make choices that undergird and support the story you are telling.”