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Most of us think of white as a classic color that matches everything and never goes out of style. That’s one of the reasons it’s such a popular choice for home décor. At first glance, it might be hard to tell the difference between the many shades of white. But understanding the range of this powerful hue can change the way you use the classic “white-on-white” in your home—specifically in the bathroom.

Pure as the driven snow

Popular at least since the early 20th century, the white-on-white bathroom remains strong today. Barbara Kalis, a Seattle-based interior designer and color consultant, says people are drawn to all-white bathrooms because we associate white with purity, healthy and hygiene. "It looks so clean," she says, "and that's what we do in bathrooms; we get clean."

If you're thinking about using an all-white scheme for your bathroom, consider using a broad palette of whites instead of just one and vary texture for the best effect.

"When you're working with whites, you want to look at honed, brushed and tumbled as well as shiny surfaces," says Kalis. "You can combine those textures relatively easily in an all-white bathroom."

For example, if your toilet, sink and bathtub are glossy white, you could use a matte-finish tile for the tub surround and backsplash, and perhaps a tumbled stone tile for the countertop.

When you're working with whites, you want to look at honed, brushed and tumbled as well as shiny surfaces.

Add interest

Fixtures are also available in texturally interesting whites, such as Dune, a soft neutral inspired by desert sands, and Honed White, a matte surface inspired by the smooth texture and natural appeal of worn river rock. Other options, like Sea Salt™, offer a three-dimensional pattern on the smooth surface of enameled cast iron sinks and bathtubs. The combined neutral colors and organic materials add extra depth and character to traditional white fixtures.

Decorative glass shower doors can create variety and additional visual interest. By gently obscuring the transparency of the glass with subtle patterns, the play of light, shadow, steam and water, combine to achieve beautiful effects without a hint of color.

Coloring in between the lines

If you're thinking about combining colors with white—either using colors as an accent in your primarily white room, or using white as the accent in a color scheme—you'll want to keep warm and cool color families in mind.

"[All] colors are either blue-based or yellow-based, and whites are the same," explains Barbara Kalis, a Seattle-based interior designer and color consultant. "You can see the difference immediately when you look at the whites together and see [that] one is very warm and the other is very cool-looking."

Planning to use blue as an accent in your bathroom? Then choose a cooler—or blue-based—white. These shades work best with cool colors such as blue-greens, blue-reds or purples. On the other hand, yellow-based whites are nice complements for warm colors, such as yellow-reds, oranges and yellow-greens.

Pale fire

If you're starting from scratch and plan to use white as the main color in your bathroom, make it simple and choose the white you like best. Kalis recommends a softer white, rather than a stark one. Once you've selected a white, look for accent colors that coordinate with its yellow or blue base.

Add a blue tile tub surround and countertop or maybe just a few blue decorative tiles in the backsplash.

Or you can keep all of your bathroom surfaces white—walls, tile, fixtures and flooring—and add color with rugs, the shower curtain, towels and art. That way, you have the option of changing accent colors whenever the mood strikes you.

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