High school teacher Marita White and her daughter Farah live in a remarkable house – a “rainbow house” just outside of Seattle.
Like a massive mood ring, the house has changed colors, as the mother and daughter designer duo paint (and often repaint) the walls and appliances. Sometimes they discover new furniture in bright colors that they think matches their abode better, adding the pieces to the ever-changing look of the house. Other times, they may choose a unique light fixture like the “bubble lights” in the kitchen to incorporate another unexpected element.
On the pair Instagram account, there are images of the home’s laundry room adorned with yellow kitten patterned wallpaper. There’s also the house’s emerald green kitchen with an accent wall covered in pops of pink flowers to match the hot pink fridge. Recently, the duo redesigned the “blue room,” or bathroom, and added to Farah’s “kitty” themed room.
In most family home designs, you’ll often see muted tones intended to unify each room into one cohesive space – with the hope that neutral colors will appeal to most occupants. Usually children’s rooms will be painted to match the rest of the house. The Rainbow House eschews these safer sensibilities in an effort to include all family members, regardless of age, in the style of the house. While it’s not for everyone, this mother-daughter duo have found that taking ownership of their home design and colorful paintbrushes gives them a sense of power and belonging, and it also inspires a good mood. The house uses every hue imaginable. “If you stand in the pink room, you can just see the green kitchen and the blue wall in Farah’s bedroom. The flow of the pieces isn’t quite shaded and consistent – but I like that,” White says.
The house is a historic 1900 cottage, reputedly the oldest in the neighborhood. When the couple first went inside in 2021, Farah, then 3, called the house “a rainbow house”.
“Furniture back then was like this kind of peachy pink color, and everything else just seemed beige to me,” White recalled. “Honestly, I don’t think she’s ever seen a pink bedroom before, so the color must have struck her.” Farah’s unique perspective made White’s wheels spin, and she thought, what if the room was actually pink? What would that look like?
“Changing the room pink was one of our first projects. And after that, Farah wanted her playroom, located in the attic, to be rainbow. She requested that her Christmas present that year be that we add a rainbow up there. But what does it look like? White laughed. The room had odd angles, and wanting to follow her daughter’s creative concept as much as possible, White designed an ombré mural with 30 colors of paint – drawing objects Farah likes like lemons, flowers, limes and raindrops.
“The project turned out to be really fun,” says White.
At the time, White had also just gotten a divorce and wanted to give Farah the power to choose. “Both parents deserve to have loving moments with their children,” she says. “But it’s weird to think that today a child has to go to this house, that everything is decided by a court and organized around the parenting plan. So I was more open to her choosing things in her own life, including the design of the house.
Slowly over time, the house took on color. “Since that first project, I call her the artistic director and I’m the producer. She tells me what she envisions and I try to make it happen,” White says. Farah identified the bathroom as the blue room – perhaps associating it with the water from the tub and the tap. So White transformed it with white and blue geometric tiles, blue and white sprawling vines wallpaper and a baby pink bathtub as a warm contrast.
As a result of all these colorful changes, White seems to have stumbled upon a family-specific aesthetic. As we move forward after the pandemic, design and fashion trends have certainly veered towards hope and nostalgia kidcore styles, as well as infusions of bright colors and patterns. White, however, practices something she calls child-centered design.
This approach to design is unique in that it treats children as having a say in domestic projects, while “kidcore” is about adults trying to recapture the fun of being a child with pieces evoking the 80s, 90s and early 2000s children’s culture and media. White’s recent work in her home showcases the fun designs a kid-centric home project can give.
Of course, it can be difficult to determine the exact angle of her daughter’s creative vision. “I think kids have a very abstract idea of what they want,” White says. “As my daughter said, when we designed her room, she wanted a rainbow unicorn garden set. And it’s like, what does it even look like? Kids, especially under 6 years old, are less able to articulate things like pattern, and so I bring in tangible things, like I have an array of paint colors and I’ll say, “When you say rainbow unicorn, from what colors are we talking about?'”
“The choice of colors is a bit personal”
Getting to the right color at any age can mean trying to make sense of the abstract. Edith Young, author of the new book “Color Scheme: An irreverent history of art and pop culture in color palettes, says she tries to connect her color palettes or swatches, which she has been making since 2016, to particular historical or emotional contexts. His first palette recreates the red of the bonnets worn by children in Renaissance portraits.
Young says she got the idea from fashion columnist and editor Diana Vreeland. Vreeland wrote in his 1984 autobiography: “All my life I have searched for the perfect red. I can never ask painters to mix it for me. It’s exactly as if I had said, “I want Rococo with a bit of Gothic and a bit of Buddhist temple” — they have no idea what I’m talking about. But the best red is to copy the color of a child’s bonnet in any Renaissance portrait. The quote inspired Young’s work and led her to recreate colors from such rich origins as Dennis Rodman’s hair dye and Tonya Harding’s figure skating costumes.
“Vreeland’s statement was inaccurate and somewhat ridiculous, yet somehow charming and true, all at the same time,” says Young. Her book introduces the colors she created and identifies CMYK color values, the building blocks of print colors, to show readers how to arrive at hues as well. “I think the idea of a child with an uninhibited sense of color as a co-collaborator is beautiful,” she says of the Rainbow House. “We should involve children and their creativity more often in this stuff.”
For Farah’s “rainbow unicorn garden room,” mother and daughter opted for jewel tones. “I think the choice of colors is a bit personal,” says White. “For example, in my bedroom it’s a bright yellow, and yellow is my favorite color, but some people who have seen the piece say they would never want to fall asleep in this room or wake up in it. But for me, it reminds me of the sun. It just makes me happy.
Keri Petersen, owner and creative director of KP spaces, a Seattle-based interior design firm, understands why White may have chosen yellow for her bedroom. “Bright and warm colors cultivate a happy and energetic experience.” Like White, she strives to bring joy to interior design, encouraging clients to “step out of their color comfort zones and take chances with fun pops of color or interesting patterns,” says -she. “A pop of bright yellow can give a space a much-needed dose of sunshine.”
While also interesting in color and pattern fusions, White chooses to design specifically for children. She has opened Interiors of the inner child, an interior design company, to embrace the magic of child-centered design, by painting colorful murals in children’s bedrooms and playrooms. “I actually interview the kids as if they were the customers,” White explains. “Of course, I’ll ask parents if there are any limitations – some of my current clients wanted pastel versions of the brighter colors I have at home.”
This summer, White plans to fill her schedule with other children’s mural projects in the Seattle area. With all the paint she has left, she hopes to paint a mural for free for a family that couldn’t afford her services. “I want to give every child the chance to express themselves in this way,” she says.
Speaking about her first child art director, White says she really appreciates her daughter’s opinion on design.
“She definitely pushes me to think about things differently because kids don’t really notice things like trends. Kids are so creative and amazing and deserve to be listened to. And when I look at our little rainbow house , I think Farah lives here as much as I do,” White says. “So why am I the one taking creative control? Home is a child’s space too, and they want to see themselves reflected in its design.