High school teacher Marita White and her daughter Farah live in a remarkable house – a “rainbow house” outside of Seattle.
Like a giant mood ring, the house has changed colors as the mother-daughter design duo painted (and often repainted) walls and appliances. Sometimes they discover new, colorful furniture that they feel better suits their home and add the pieces to the ever-evolving look of the home. Other times, they might choose a unique fixture like the kitchen’s “bubble lights” to incorporate another unexpected element.
The couple’s Instagram account shares pictures of the home’s laundry room, which is adorned with yellow kitty-patterned wallpaper. There’s also the home’s emerald green kitchen, complete with an accent wall covered in pink floral designs that match the pink fridge. Recently, the couple redesigned the “blue room” or bathroom and added Farah’s “kitten” bedroom.
In most single-family home designs, you’ll often see muted tones intended to tie each room into one cohesive space – hoping that neutral colors will appeal to most residents. Children’s rooms are usually painted to blend in with the rest of the house. The Rainbow House sidesteps these safer sensibilities to include all family members, regardless of age, in the home’s design. While it might not be for everyone, this mother-daughter duo found that taking ownership of the design of their home and using colorful brushes gives them a sense of power and belonging, and it does too quite a happy atmosphere. The house uses every shade imaginable. “Anyone standing in the pink room can just see the green kitchen and the blue wall in Farah’s room. The flow of spaces isn’t quite ombre and cohesive—but I kind of like it that way,” says White.
The house is a historic 1900’s cottage, said to be the oldest on the block. When the couple first entered in 2021, then-3-year-old Farah dubbed the house “a rainbow house.”
“The furniture back then was this peachy flush color, and everything else looked kind of beige to me,” White recalls. “Honestly, I don’t think she’s ever seen a pink room before, so she must have noticed the color.” Farah’s unique perspective made White spin, and she wondered what if the room was actually pink would? How would that look?
“Changing the room pink was one of our first projects. And after that, Farah wanted her playroom, which is in the attic, to be a rainbow. She asked that her Christmas present this year be that we add a rainbow up there. But what does that even look like?” says White, laughing. The room had odd angles, and to follow her daughter’s creative concept as much as possible, White designed an ombre mural using 30 colors – and drew items Farah loves like lemons, flowers, limes and raindrops.
“The project ended up being really fun,” says White.
At the time, White was also recently divorced and wanted to give Farah the power of choice. “Both parents deserve loving time with their children,” she says. “But it’s bizarre to imagine that today a child has to go into this house, that everything is decided by a court and organized according to the parents’ plan. So I was more open to her choosing things in her own life, including how the house is designed.”
Slowly over time the house has gained color. “Since that first project, I’ve called her an art director and I’m a producer. She tells me what she wants and I try to make it happen,” says White. Farah identified the bathroom as the blue room – perhaps connecting it to water from the tub and faucet. So White transformed it with tiles featuring white and blue geometric shapes, wallpaper in blue and white sweeping vines, and a baby pink tub for warming contrast.
As a result of all these colorful changes, White seems to have struck upon an aesthetic that is uniquely the family’s own. As we move post-pandemic, design and fashion trends have certainly veered towards hopeful and nostalgic “kidcore” styles, along with infusions of bright colors and patterns. However, White practices what she calls child-centered design.
This approach to design is unique in that children have a say in home projects, while Kidcore is about adults trying to recapture the fun of being a child with pieces that hark back to children’s culture and media from the 80’s, 90’s and 90’s 70’s remember early 2000’s. White’s recent work at her home showcases the fun designs that a kid-centered home project can create.
Of course, pinpointing the exact angle of your daughter’s creative vision can be difficult. “I think kids have a very abstract idea of what they want,” says White. “As my daughter said when we designed her room, she wanted a rainbow unicorn garden room. And it’s like, what does that even look like? Children, especially under the age of 6, are less able to articulate elements like patterns and so I bring in concrete things like having a color swatch and asking, “If you tell rainbow unicorn what colors are.” weather? talk about?'”
“The choice of color is something personal”
Finding 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 specific historical or emotional contexts. Her first palette recreated the red of the hats worn by children in Renaissance portraits.
Young says she got the idea from Diana Vreeland, fashion columnist and editor. Vreeland wrote in her autobiography in 1984: “All my life I’ve been looking for the perfect red. I can never get painters to mix it for me. It’s exactly as if I said, “I want Rococo with a touch of Gothic and a bit of Buddhist temple” – you have no idea what I’m talking about. But the best red is to mimic the color of a child’s hat in a Renaissance portrait.” The quote inspired Young’s work, leading her to recreate colors from such diverse origins as Dennis Rodman’s hair dye and Tonya Harding’s figure skating costumes.
“Vreeland’s testimony was inaccurate and a little ridiculous, although it was both charming and true,” explains Young. Her book shows the colors she creates and identifies the CMYK color values, the basic building blocks of inks, to show readers how to arrive at the hues as well. “I think the idea of having a child with an uninhibited color sense as a staff member is very nice,” she says of the rainbow house. “We should engage children and their creativity in such things more often.”
For Farah’s Rainbow Unicorn Garden Room, mother and daughter opted for jewel tones. “I think color choices are 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 room say they never want to sleep or wake up in that room. But to me it reminds me of sunshine. It just makes me happy.”
Keri Petersen, owner and creative director of KP Spaces, a Seattle-based interior design firm, can understand why White might have chosen yellow for her bedroom. “Bright and warm colors encourage a happy, energetic experience.” Like White, she strives to bring joy to interior design and encourages clients to “step out of their color comfort zones and take risks with fun pops of color or interesting patterns,” she says. “A splash of bright yellow can give a room a much-needed dose of sunshine.”
Although White is also interested in fusions of color and pattern, he chooses to create designs specifically for children. She opened Inner Child Interiors, an interior design company, to indulge in the magic of child-friendly design, painting colorful murals in children’s bedrooms and playrooms. “I actually question the kids like they’re the customers,” says White. “Obviously I’ll ask parents if there are any restrictions – some of my current clients have wanted pastel versions of the lighter colors I have in my house.”
This summer, White plans to fill her schedule with more wall projects for kids in the Seattle area. With all the paint she has left over, she hopes to paint a mural for free for a family who couldn’t afford her services. “I want to give every child the opportunity to express themselves in this way,” she says.
Speaking of her first child as an art director, White says she really appreciates her daughter’s opinion on design.
“She definitely makes me look at things differently because kids don’t really notice things like trends. Children are so creative and amazing and deserve to be heard. And when I look at our little rainbow house, I think Farah lives here as much as I do,” says White. “So why am I the one taking creative control? Home is also children’s space and they want to be reflected in its design.”