Choosing The Perfect White Paint
We’re on an eternal quest for the Holy Grail of home design—the perfect white paint. And given that spaces, lighting, moods, and personal preferences all vary, there are many factors to be considered—and also many right answers.
The advice from various architects and designers the trenches is consistent—take the time to find the right white. Here’s how:
1. UNDERSTAND THE NUANCES
Artists and others who work with color know that white isn’t one hue but many—and that some are whiter than others. White paints can come with bluish, reddish, yellowish, and even greenish undertones. To see the variety, head to your local paint shop and ask for help spotting whites with a variety of undertones and compare them side by side. Or hold the samples against a sheet of white paper—the complexity of each color will reveal itself to you.
2. EVALUATE THE ROOM
Before selecting a paint shade, size up the palette of everything that will be in the space. Are the colors cool or warm? If they’re warm, you’ll want to lean toward whites with warm-colored undertones (pink, orange, red, yellow). If they’re cool, consider cool-inflected whites (with undertones of blue, purple, or green).
What if the furnishings are neutral? If neutral, we’d recommend a warmer white. If there is a lot of color, a cooler white.
Your furnishings will affect your perception of any paint. Sometimes getting a ‘warm’ white doesn’t actually come from the paint, it comes from the entire assembly of the space.
3. ASSESS THE LIGHTING
Because color is a phenomenon of light, the amount of natural and artificial light in the room impacts the tone of the walls. A pure white looks best with a lot of natural light. With less natural light, the white can have a base with more of a pigment.
Geography affects light as well. According to interior designer Ellen Hamilton, “In New York, the light tends to be gray and warm. This means the best white is sympathetic to a warm gray. Ideally, it would have warm gray as the undertone.” However, “in Miami the same color may look like it has an orange cast. This is because the light in Miami has pure blue filtering through it. The blue in the light will make the warm gray paint look pink.”
4. CHOOSE SEVERAL WHITES
Take what you’ve learned about the furnishings and light in your room and choose a few whites. When selecting, consider these tips from the pros.
- A pure white reads more modern than one with some color in the mix.
- The best whites aren’t really white at all. In most cases, bright white needs some tempering with color.
- If you can’t decide, err on the side of a neutral white—in between what you can clearly read as ‘warm’ and ‘cool’.
5. TEST YOUR FAVORITES
We recommend testing paint where it will be used. A white that seemed warm on a smaller paint chip may suddenly look too pink in your home. In the same manner, a white that looked crisp and modern at the store, may feel way too cold.
We frequently paint swatches on poster-size pieces of drywall so they can be moved around. Colors shift from ceiling to wall, wall to wall, room to room. color. The same color will appear differently on different walls in the same room depending on time of day, the amount of light, the direction of exposure as well as proximity to windows and fixtures.
6. STILL CAN’T DECIDE?
There are a handful of whites we hear about over and over—all from Benjamin Moore.
Here’s a cheat sheet:
- Swiss Coffee OC-45
- Simply White 2143-70
- Super White PM-1
- White Dove OC-17