The quest to pick the perfect white paint
Over my 20 years as an interior designer, I have had many conversations with clients on what is the best white paint and choosing the best white paint for their particular space. It’s surprising how many options are available when it comes to choosing the perfect shade of white. Light colors like white, off-white, and beige are popular in modern homes due to their versatility and ability to reflect light, making rooms look and feel larger than they are.
White paints come in many colors of undertones. Some are cool and some are warm. Some are quite neutral and they all vary in vibrancy, not to mention different finishes. Things get more nuanced when you consider how the various white paints will be affected by your location’s natural and manmade lighting.
Shopping For White Paint
Most of the higher-end paint brands have an option on their website that allows you to search for a color and then see the paint applied in a room. Their website will give you some recommendations on how the color will look and work in different spaces. It’s worth checking out!
You can certainly start your search online, but before buying it is helpful to go to your local paint shop in person and look at some of your favorites, side by side. If you are in Los Angeles, I like to go to Cox Paint in Santa Monica. They carry a variety of brands and their customer service is always very helpful.
5 Tips for Choosing the Right White Paint
Things to consider when you’re making your white paint selection:
Color is a product of light, the amount of natural and artificial light in the room impacts the tone of the walls. When considering a “pure” white paint, it always looks best with a lot of natural light. If you don’t have a lot of natural light, the undertone of the white paint will be more noticeable. For example, you might see your white paint appear more pink or more green. I am always intrigued by how my favorite paint colors in California don’t transfer well to the interior design clients I have on the East Coast. The color of light - whether due to artificial lighting or the natural variations of sunlight on a different coast or hemisphere - will all impact how your white paint looks.
2. What is your space’s color palette? Cool or warm?
Before selecting a paint shade, size up the palette of everything that will be in the space. Are your furnishings and colors in the room warm or cool? The standard rule of thought is if they’re warm, you’ll want to lean toward whites with warm-colored undertones (pink, orange, red, yellow). If they’re cool, consider cooler-toned whites (with undertones of blue, purple, or green).
But if you aren't into following the traditional "rules", I love a room that is mixed with cool and warm tones. I find it much more interesting than a room that is all the same color tone. I think a mix of cools and warms help to make a room more modern. If you are leaning toward a very modern palette I would go for a cooler undertone of white and if you want to feel more traditional, I would go warmer with the undertone. For traditional spaces I like to do a bright white on the trim (brighter than the wall color), a “creamier” white on the walls and a 50/50 mix of and the wall color for the ceiling. This is a very classic look that really shows off the trim and architectural elements in the room such as base moulding, crown and casing.
3. Sample and See it!
I always sample paints for my clients. We review the samples in the space in which they’ll be used, at different times of day and on different walls of a space. I like to go as big as I can with the area we paint with the sample colors. How a color appears will shift from ceiling to wall, wall to wall, room to room. It is all about the room’s direction of light exposure, proximity to windows, decorative fixtures and lamps. If you are working with a designer or a builder they expect you to sample so always request this step if you aren’t sure of a color. Benjamin Moore offers removable paint swatches that can be moved from room to room or wall to wall. I like to paint the samples up on poster board or foam core - that way the samples can travel with you from room to room for consideration. Most paint companies now sell small paint pots that make it super easy to buy a small amount of paint for sampling before you commit to a larger bucket. Another thing to remember is when you sample paint, is give it time to dry. Paint changes color as it dries.
Paint chips look different than paint applied to an actual wall. I’ll first look at swatches until I have a good feel for the top few colors I would like to see in the room, then I will get sample paint pots and apply them on the actual wall. A paint chip might look crisp on a small chip but once you place it on an actual wall you can really feel the undertones and finish - and it might not work like you thought it would.
4. How does it make you feel?
This is a huge trick of the trade that is rarely mentioned. In most people, there’s a gut reaction to color - there’s either a love and attraction, or an “I’m not sure”. If it doesn't feel right, try another color. Listen to yourself.
5. Buy the highest quality of paint
I always specify the actual brand and not have it made by another company. Make sure you get the actual paint brand and grade that you sampled. It really keeps the quality of the color consistent. High quality paint goes on smoother and has more color particles which together will give you the best look. A higher-end paint won’t show the brush strokes like a less expensive version of the same hue.
Five of My Favorite White Paints
Some of my favorite white paint colors that might help to start your paint shopping are:
Benjamin Moore, OC-65; I like to use this paint for a wall paint in a transitional style home. I
Dunn Edwards, DEW341; It is a great neutral that can be used anywhere. I use it on walls and cabinets.
Benjamin Moore, OC-152; This white is by far my favorite white for cabinets. It is a “super” pure and clean white.
Benjamin Moore, OC-17; this is such a pretty softer white.
Benjamin Moore, 2143-70; Out of all of my white suggestions this one is the most warm. I find that I usually go with one of the whites I already mentioned but I keep this one as an option for some of my projects.