A white couch offers a jumping-off point for any design scheme, from timeless and traditional, to fresh and contemporary. Pairing well with a wide range of color schemes, they’re easy to integrate into a living room or den – all you need is a bit of creativity.
But is a white couch a good idea in the first place? Life happens, after all, and spills and stains are bound to appear after time. The color white doesn’t traditionally do a great job of hiding dirt, and when small children or pets are in the picture, a white couch might sound like a recipe for disaster.
Modern materials and technology mean that white couches are more life-proof than ever, but that doesn’t mean they’re the simplest to maintain. We spoke with five interior designers to see whether the aesthetic is worth the risk – here’s what they had to say.
Is a white couch a good idea?
White couches haven’t always had the best reputation, despite the sleek design style they lend to a space. But are they worth a bit of upkeep? This is how designers style white sofas and make them work, and whether they think it’s a good idea to invest in one of your own.
1. Opt for durable fabric
(Image credit: Caroline Brackett Studio of Design)
When you picture a white couch, the image of a precarious glass of red wine might scare you away. But these days, loads of washable and stain-resistant upholstery fabrics are readily available. Thanks to these options, Caroline Brackett – principal designer of Caroline Brackett Studio of Design – says she’s absolutely not afraid to design with white sofas.
‘We recently designed a den for a family with young children that is anchored by a large sectional sofa all in a white performance fabric, and there are no worries if the popcorn or a drink spills. Performance fabrics have changed the way people think about white upholstery, but you do have to wash and clean them more often than darker colors,’ she says.
As long as you’re on board with a bit of extra upkeep when it comes to cleaning your couch, don’t let impending spills put you off. Caroline also suggests opting for a couch with an exposed leg or other non-fabric base rather than a skirt – this will reduce wear and tear in the area where people’s legs rest, and where pets can often be found.
‘Designing a room around a white sofa gives you a blank canvas from which to work with colorful fabrics for accent chairs, throw pillows, window treatments and rugs. Not a fan of color? A white sofa is also lovely with other neutrals in a room accented with gold metals from lighting or furniture,’ she says.
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Principal Designer of Caroline Brackett Studio of Design
Caroline Brackett is the principal designer and founder of Caroline Brackett Studio of Design, a full-service interior design firm based in South Carolina.
2. Save it for special occasions
(Image credit: Mabley Handler Interior Design)
Jennifer Mabley and Austin Handler of Mabley Handler Interior Design agree that a white couch offers a lovely start to a room, no matter your design preferences.
‘There’s nothing quite like a great, white sofa. From super traditional to ultra-modern and everything in between, they’re a great blank canvas, ready to take on the personality of the homeowner – for any and every season, if they wish!’ says Jennifer.
Aside from their aesthetic appeal, Austin says that a white couch can prove a challenge to clean – even if you’ve invested in durable performance materials. Though these fabrics have made the furniture more appealing, he suggests thinking through the decision entirely before committing.
‘Yes, performance fabrics have made white couches an easier sell to clients, but that’s only going to take you so far. If you have kids and pets and want to go white, be prepared to invest in baby gates, lots of throw blankets, and keep your upholstery cleaner on speed dial,’ says Austin.
To keep your white couch as clean and pristine as possible, Jennifer and Austin suggest keeping it in a lower-traffic area of your home, such as a formal living room or less-used entertaining space.
Jennifer Mabley and Austin Handler
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Founders of Mabley Handler Interior Design
Mabley Handler Interior Design is the husband-wife interior design team led by Jennifer Mabley and Austin Handler. The firm is based in the Hamptons, with studios in New York City and West Palm Beach.
3. Seek out a cleaning service
(Image credit: Victoria Holly Interiors)
Victoria Holly, principal designer and founder of Victoria Holly Interiors, says that durable materials matter, no matter the color of the couch. Ensure you have a cleaning routine down so your sofa will last for many years to come.
‘The reality is if you spill red wine on a navy sofa, you’re still going to see it. What matters most is fabric cleanability. When using white fabric, make sure you’re using polyester or acrylic – super easy-to-clean materials. It’s better to live your life with an easy-to-clean white sofa than it is to worry about stains on a darker sofa,’ says Victoria.
When cleaning washable couch cushions and covers yourself, Victoria suggests adding Scotchguard for extra measure – just check that the material can handle it first.
But when it comes to white or light neutral couches, she brings in a professional upholstery cleaner about once a season. This ensures that the couch gets a proper wash, and takes a task off your cleaning list. And for day-to-day spills, Victoria finds that a simple solution does the trick.
‘Overall, I love the look of white sofas, especially as a foundation with lighter colors. With two young kids under three, I find that I’m probably the one that spills the most, and since I favored fabric content, when we do have spills, they come out with the closest pack of baby wipes I can find!’ she says.
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Principal and Founder of Victoria Holly Interiors & The Holly Collective
Victoria Holly Interiors is a full-service interior design firm based in Los Angeles that specializes in creating beautiful and functional spaces for both residential and commercial clients.
House of Hampton Velvet Sofa
Amber Lewis for Anthropologie Bouclé Sofa
4. Assess your lifestyle before buying
(Image credit: Rushda Hakim)
Although a white couch is an investment, both in terms of money and maintenance, interior designer Rushda Hakim says that in most cases, it’s a worthwhile one as it will outlive any fleeting living room trends.
‘Positioned as the centerpiece of your living room, it radiates both elegance and versatility. Whether commanding attention as the focal point or seamlessly blending into the overall design, a white couch offers adaptability. It serves as a canvas that can be elevated or subdued through accessories, allowing for a dynamic aesthetic,’ she says.
Rushda says that many of her clients are enthusiastic about white couches for their versatility and clean look. But those with small children should ‘exercise caution,’ she adds. If you’re worried about mess, opt for a performance fabric to avoid stains and ‘the inevitable wear and tear,’ or skip the white color altogether.
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Rushda is an award-winning interior designer with training in Mumbai and London. She now owns her own women-led firm in New York City.
5. Plan on white down the line
(Image credit: Mike Schwartz / Elizabeth Krueger Design)
Elizabeth Krueger, principal designer of Elizabeth Krueger Design, knows firsthand what having a white couch and an infant in the same room together is like, and she wouldn’t necessarily recommend it. While she says she loved the room’s aesthetic, pictured above, ‘it didn’t withstand the wear and tear of daily living.’
‘I installed a brand new custom white sofa into our new home with a 4-month-old. I learned quickly that it wasn’t a good idea. It was performance fabric that had been stain treated and it still got trashed,’ says Elizabeth.
If you’re intent on a white sofa but have small children or grandchildren around the house often, it might be wise to wait a bit to invest – the last thing you want to worry about when spending time with loved ones is a pesky stain.
Principal Designer of Elizabeth Krueger Design
Elizabeth Krueger is the principal designer of Elizabeth Krueger Design, an award-winning firm based in Chicago and Cleveland.
Though some designers caution against a white sofa, durable fabrics and performance materials have made it possible to make one work in just about any home environment. Be mindful about how you’ll use the couch, and prepare your cleaning plan, and you’ll be the proud owner of a bright white couch for years to come.