Interior Design

British Style: The White Company

A global brand with over 60 stores, The White Company has grown from humble beginnings to a multichannel British lifestyle brand. We take a look

The White Company shop floor with plants and products
(Image credit: The White Company)

The White Company's founder Chrissie Rucker left school at 16 and moved to London where she studied couture design and learned to tailor. The art of pattern cutting taught her the importance of attention to detailing – and how this can make or break a product.

She later brought these skills to The White Company, which now has 1,600 employees and a turnover of more than £250m, focussing on everything from fashion and interior design to luxury lifestyle products.

Below, we take a look at how this very British brand started and has evolved to have a presence in the US.

How The White Company started

Chrissie Rucker Nick Wheeler awarded OBEs

Chrissie Rucker and Nick Wheeler are awarded OBEs

(Image credit: The White Company)

While working for a wedding dress designer, Chrissie realised that she wasn’t destined for a career in fashion. Instead, she took a job at the UK headquarters of Condé Nast in London and spent the next five years working on different magazines, including GQ, Vogue and Brides. After taking on a PR role at the cosmetic company Clarins, Chrissie returned to editorial with a role as Beauty Editor at Hearst’s Harpers & Queen.

During this time, she met her now husband Nick Wheeler (above, with Chrissie). He was establishing his own business – shirtmakers Charles Tyrwhitt – and had bought his first house. Chrissie offered to help decorate it but soon found herself overwhelmed by the range of color and pattern on offer. She decided the simpler option was to buy everything in white – yet what was available came with huge designer price margins. The idea to create a company selling white homeware that was well designed and affordable was born.

In 1994, using a £6,000 inheritance from her grandmother, and the skills gleaned from working in magazines, Chrissie put together a 12-page mail-order catalogue from her boyfriend’s spare room. It featured a small range of essentials for linen cupboards including four ranges of bedlinen, a set of china and luxury towels and robes – all in white.

The White Company: early days

Shop floor with plants and products

(Image credit: The White Company)

The database for the first catalogue was built on friends and friends of friends – it totalled about 500 names. Her press connections – among them Financial Times contributor Lucia van der Post – proved critical; Chrissie credits a piece in the FT for launching The White Company

The first orders were taken by phone and fax and packed and posted by Chrissie. By the end of the first year, the company had made £80,000.

Growing The White Company

White four poster bed, shelves with cushions and towels

(Image credit: The White Company)

In 1996, Chrissie became the youngest ever finalist for the Veuve Cliquot Business Woman of the Year Award.

Lines were expanded as the company grew and evolved to include home décor, dinnerware, and fragrances – many of them inspired by Chrissie’s experience of buying her first home and adding elements that she wanted but couldn’t find. When she had children, after realizing she had just as much trouble finding good quality and affordable baby attire, The Little White Company was born, including a range of children's and baby's clothing, bedding and toys.

As word spread, and The White Company’s popularity grew, customers got in touch saying they wanted to touch and see products. A small showroom opened but was soon was overwhelmed by people, so the decision was made to open their first shop in Chelsea, just off Sloane Square, in 2001. A website launched at the same time and the staff doubled in size.

By 2007, what started as a 12-page catalogue has grown to 130 pages including clothing lines. In 2010, Chrissie was awarded with an MBE from HM The Queen for services to retail (she was later awarded an OBE, the next honor up, in 2018).

Store with bedroom and bathroom products

(Image credit: The White Company)

The company is privately owned which allows Chrissie free rein to set up aspects such as The White Heart Foundation, launched in 2014 with a focus on supporting vulnerable women and children. She is a founding patron for The ChangeAGirlsLife Campaign for Women Supporting Women at The Princes Trust.  Launched in October 2019 the aim is to galvanize as many successful women from different industries to come together – and to help our young women who have not had such an easy start in life into a first job, further education or to start a business. She also acts as an ambassador for Everywoman, which is a support network for women in business and The White Company sponsor the Everywoman Brand of the Future Award every year.

Throughout the month of October, Chrissie asks people all over the UK to join her and to host a breakfast, with friends, colleagues or customers and to make a donation that will change lives. The Brilliant Breakfast will help young women nationwide to re-build lost confidence, help them to gain new skills and to inspire them to try new things.

The White Company in America 

The White Company floor which products, and plants

(Image credit: The White Company)

The company launched its first international website in the US in 2014. The first stores in the US included the flagship opened in New York in 2017 at 155 5th Avenue. Today its products are sold in partnership with the prestigious US department store group Nordstrom.

In 2019, Chrissie published her book For The Love of White: Home Decorating With Whites and Neutrals. It became the number one selling lifestyle book in the UK.

Key to success 

The White Company shop floor with plants and products

(Image credit: The White Company)

'Patterns and colors come and go,' says Chrissie, 'but white never dates. I love the perfect simplicity and versatility of white. It’s classic, yet modern and, just like a little black dress, it’s wonderfully timeless, too. Whoever we are, whatever our style is, white always works in some way. It’s a great canvas to build on and a wonderfully peaceful colour to live with.'

The White Comapny candle section

(Image credit: The White Company)

That brand identity has remained a bedrock of the company since inception. Built around the reality that white isn’t just one color but a thousand tones and shades, product lines are complemented by natural materials of stone and timber. Focus is on texture and comfort, too, as well as sensory materials. In a busy age of constant connectivity and a cluttered market, the company remains committed to selling simple, stylish designs in a white and neutral palette that are high quality and affordable. 

Arabella Youens
Contributing Editor

Arabella is a freelance journalist writing for national newspapers, magazines and websites including Homes & Gardens, Country Life, The Telegraph and The Times. For many years she has specialized in writing about property and interiors, but she began her career in the early 2000s working on the newly launched Country Life website, covering anything from competitions to find the nation’s prettiest vicarage to the plight of rural post offices.