Heartbreak Over White Paint

Blinding white interiors continue to trend— but there’s a price to pay for the ‘milky way’
Fridays on the Homefront
The trend today behind painting MCM home interiors snowy white has literally snowballed here in California—both in the real estate industry and with MCM homeowners—revealing arctic-white paint coating everything in sight (as above).

We've lost count of the number of times we've admired a beautiful, original Eichler interior only to see it ruined just before going on the market. Or to hear about a mid-century modern gem, lovingly preserved over a 60-year life, 'whited-out' on its interior by the incoming owner days after closing escrow.

In our weekly search for California MCM homes to feature here in 'Fridays on the Homefront' and on our Facebook page, we routinely find ourselves nixing listings we otherwise would have loved to profile because of heavily compromised, whitewashed interiors.

In recent years, the trend behind this 'milky white way' has literally snowballed here in California—both in the real estate industry and with MCM homeowners—revealing arctic-white paint coating everything from open-beam redwood ceilings to Philippine mahogany paneling.

In the end, such interiors are oftentimes rendered featureless, while losing their organic, indoor-outdoor connection. From this preservationist's viewpoint, their whitewashed remains often leave us downright heartbroken.

Fridays on the Homefront

Eichlers aren't the only victims. Architectural homes designed by Lloyd Wright, Edward Fickett, and other notable California architects are rapidly losing their original finishes. Even rare and exotic woods, including heart redwood, aren't spared these brutal brushstrokes.

What's behind it all?

In some ways, the trend makes sense. White is a versatile design choice that can provide a neutral background, making some homes more appealing, more marketable. But it's not for everyone, and not for every property.

"The whole white-out thing is kind of a trend, and grays and whites have been very popular lately," says Thomas Westfall, an East Bay realtor with Compass specializing in Eichler properties who's also an Eichler homeowner.

That trend, at least in the Eichler world, takes us back three decades, to an era when snow-white interiors were unflatteringly referred to as 'realtor white.'

"It's a very common practice," Westfall says. "You want a house to look good and freshen it up. A neutral color is safe, so you go with white. I don't think white is a bad color, but I don't like it when everything is white."

Fridays on the Homefront
Eichler home coated in the "milky white way." Photo: courtesy Thomas Westfall

When it comes to certain aspects of an Eichler, the realtor cautions, "My personal belief is that there are a couple of things you do where…there's no going back. The fireplace you now painted, that original block is now painted for the rest of its life. Keep that in mind."

The same goes for the lauan paneling, and those once-stained tongue-and-groove ceilings that brought so much character to Eichler interiors.

Another factor we can attribute to the mounting trend towards snowy white has to do with evolving tastes, and an ever-changing array of design choices. Adding fuel to the fire, Palm Springs, a major mid-century modern influencer whose popular desert palette routinely gets the seal of appeal in the pages of Atomic Ranchmagazine, is represented today as a trendsetting world bursting with bright, white interiors accented by neon colors.

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