The selection of the right white paint for walls or trim can be much trickier than expected. Almost all white paint has a slight undertone color that becomes much more obvious once it’s on the wall. The lighting in the room and surrounding colors also subtly affect its color. The trained eyes of professional designers and painters can provide insight on undertones and guidance as to which white colors work best with a room’s style, lighting and furnishings.
The warm undertones of creamy white paint, which are typically yellow or red, keep rooms from feeling cold or sterile. Use creamy whites in traditional rooms with an abundance of natural wood finishes, antique accents, rustic hardware and soft lighting for a homey, lived-in feel. Cream or ivory colors lend a country farmhouse look to cabinetry and beadboard paneling.
Benjamin Moore’s Linen White is described as a classic cream color that interior designer Laurel Bern likes to pair with a gray-toned white on trim.
Elaine Griffin, a featured designer at Elle Decor, favors Valspar's Honeymilk as a soft, warm white that resonates on walls. Griffin has used the color on many walls and has never been disappointed.
The color experts at Franklin Painting recommend Natural Choice by Sherwin-Williams to complement natural wood finishes on furniture or staircases. The toasty brownish-gray creates an organic and welcoming feeling.
Bright whites look crisp and clean, reading more as pure white when used or compared to whites with more pigment and notable undertones. Bright whites are more commonly used on wall trim, cabinetry, built-in shelving and wainscoting.
Designer and author of Elements of Style, Erin Gates, included Sherwin Williams’ Extra White in her list of favorite bright whites. Although Gates cautions these colors can look sterile or dingy on walls, she says the key is to use a matte finish.
The same crisp, white paint can actually be used for both walls and trim by varying the sheen, as noted by designers and authors Suzanne and Lauren McGrath, who feature a hallway painted in White Dove by Benjamin Moore on their website. A matte finish on walls and semi-gloss used on trim and cabinetry creates a perfect palette of white.
Designer Ryan White shared his favorite white paint with Rue Magazine, naming Right White by Restoration Hardware as a perfect balance of crisp, light and bright white in all types of light.
Cool whites are commonly seen in kitchens and bathrooms, where they complement gray toned marble, stone flooring and stainless steel appliances. Cool whites also work well in modern and contemporary homes which tend to have an abundance of large windows and natural light. Its stark, clean ambiance complements the sleek, clean lines of modern furnishings or rooms decorated in cool hues of blue, green, gray or violet.
Designer Rozanne Jackson favors the soft lavender undertone of Sherwin-Williams’ Spatial White for creating a romantic mood, making it an excellent choice for a bedroom.
When asked by Elle Decor for her favorite go-to white, Kara Mann named Farrow and Ball's Great White as a color that works best in natural light, providing a perfect backdrop for calming neutrals or dynamic jewel-toned fabrics.
TV design host, Emily Henderson, has an affinity for cool colors and names Benjamin Moore’s White Diamond as one of her top 10 go-to colors. The slight blue undertone complements the blue sofa and artwork in Henderson’s living room while becoming practically indistinguishable on walls flooded with the bright natural light coming in through the windows.
Choosing the Right White
Despite whether a room is modern or traditional, the lighting and dominant colors used to decorate should always be considered when choosing a white paint for walls. If a traditional-styled room has a lot of natural light streaming in, bright blue upholstery and a collection of blue and white willow ware on display, a cool white might be the best fit.
Hold white paint sample cards against a blank sheet of white paper to help determine its undertone. Once you have narrowed your choices down, paint sample boards of your top three to four colors and move them around the room, viewing the colors under the changing light conditions throughout the day and evening. Choose the white most flattering to the room’s furnishings and lighting.
- Northwest Renovation: Paint It White
- Inspirations Paint: Choosing the Right White
- Franklin Painting: Find Just The Right White Paint to Use
- Elements of Style: A Guide to White Paint
- McGrath II Blog: Best White Paint Colors
- Veranda: 8 Paint Colors That Will Make You Rethink White -
- Emily Henderson: My 10 Go-To Paint Colors
- Laurel Bern Interiors: 20 Great Shades of White Paint and Some To Avoid
- Rue: 14 Top Designers Share Their Go-To White Paint Colors
- Elle Decor: 11 Best White Paint Colors - Designers Favorite Shades of White Paint
- Photo Credit Zoonar RF/Zoonar/Getty Images
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