5 mistakes to avoid when selecting white

Do you want to know the mistakes to avoid when selecting white?  This is the question I am asked the most, either through this blog, or when I am working with clients – ‘which white should I use?'  Decorating with white colour palettes is very popular for all styles, whichever country you are in.  Whether you prefer an Australian Coastal or Country style, an East Coast American Hamptons look, the ever popular Scandi style or a slick inner city urban look – you will be faced with the same dilemma.  Which white should I choose?

How to avoid selecting the wrong white

I have already written an in-depth article on my blog about how to select the right white but I thought it would be really useful, from the experience that I have, to just list the 5 biggest mistakes to avoid when selecting white.  This beautiful kitchen below from Three Birds Renovations demonstrates how great white looks when you get it right.

5 mistakes to avoid when selecting white
Image – Three Birds Renovations

Mistakes to avoid when choosing white paint

  1. Looking at the white sample in isolation.  You must view your whole colour palette as one. Therefore you should pull together all the finishes that you plan to use for your new scheme.  Start with the floor as this is the base for your scheme.  Then consider your kitchen cabinets – if these are new, are you using a melamine, in which case your selection is a little more limited, or do you have a two pack polyurethane painted finish that can be any colour?  Now consider your benchtop, splashback, pieces of furniture you already have, for example sofas, chair, upholstered bedhead etc.  Consider rugs and accessories that you either have to work around or would like to purchase.  Only make your selection of white paint once you have all of these items together.  It is much easier to see the flow of the palette as a whole, rather than just choosing a white that you have seen work in a friend's house or magazine.
  2. Viewing the sample in a small colour chip.  You really can't see the underlying colour when you view the sample in a small amount.  All neutrals will have a base and you have to see the colour in an A4 size or larger and view this against a pure white background, for example a plain piece of paper, to really appreciate the underlying colour.  You will be surprised how the creamy yellow tones, grey or blue tones etc will jump out at you in a way they wouldn't when viewed as a small paint chip on a colour card.
  3. Using the same white throughout without varying the textural finishes.  This can leave you with a scheme that works together colourwise but doesn't work for the room as it is too flat.  If you use just one colour or tone, ensure that you introduce different finishes.  For example if you have brick feature walls, you can simply paint these white and then use the same white on a plastered wall to great effect. Consider your soft furnishings and rugs and use various layers of texture to create interest.  This way you can have a completely white room that will look great.  With such a simple palette, don't underestimate the impact that introducing another colour will bring.  For example, just a touch of black in a scheme like this can look fantastic as the strong tonal variation is very striking.
  4. Using a cool white palette in an area of your home that tends to be cold and doesn't receive a lot of natural light or a warm palette in a hot and sunny area.  Ensure that you consider the aspect of the space before you select the colour palette – you may love cool, almost grey or blue colour palettes but the effect could be awful if the aspect is not right.  You can still achieve a cool, fresh look, you may just have to adjust the amount of grey.  Don't feel that you have to keep your entire colour palette either warm or cool.  Just go predominantly with one to create a theme but don't be afraid to mix it up a little.  Remember opposites attract but as far as interiors are concerned they are best suited in an 80/20 mix.
  5. Not considering your ceiling colour.  A ceiling white will often include a touch of grey or even blue and I find that this can sometimes throw the entire scheme.  You can follow all the rules above and then ruin it by not considering the ceiling and cornice.  Remember that in addition to your wall colour meeting the ceiling, kitchen cabinets will also often reach to the ceiling too. The white you choose for walls, cabinetry, internal doors and trim therefore must relate to this all important area.

The difference between a cool and a warm white colour palette

5 mistakes to avoid when selecting white

A picture speaks a thousand words and you can see the difference between this cool white palette and the warm colour palette below.  You can also see how beneficial it is to put everything that you plan to use together, including inspiration from magazines of what you would like to achieve for your home.

5 mistakes to avoid when selecting white

Lovers of the modern grey trend can see from this colour palette that although your room aspect may demand a warmer colour palette, you can still introduce some grey.  You just need to ensure that the basics are warm – remember that 80/20 rule for opposites.

For example, a warm timber frame with a lovely warm grey throw balances the scheme nicely.  The benchtop sample too has beautiful warm gold tones running through it but is still essentially grey.

5 mistakes to avoid when selecting white
Image – Elle Decoration

A beautiful cool simple living room scheme.  Slip wash covers that can be removed for washing or dry cleaning are a good idea here!

5 mistakes to avoid when selecting white
Image – Arosynote

A gorgeous warm living room scheme – I could quite happily spend an afternoon in this room.  There are the white slip covers again – a must for this type of look!  And remember what I said about varying textures to introduce interest in a simple colour palette – this beautiful image demonstrates the point perfectly.

Remember point 5?  I go into more detail about this here. What colour do I paint my ceiling?

Related: What colour do I paint my skirting boards and architraves?

When considering the mistakes to avoid when selecting white, do not forget your internal doors.  Often these are part of a white colour palette.  Find out how to treat them here.

Point 3 discussed introducing texture.  You can do this by painting your bricks white.

5 mistakes to avoid when selecting white

I hope that by highlighting the 5 biggest mistakes people make when selecting the right white that you now have more confidence when choosing your colour scheme.  Remember not to work against the environment that you have, rather embrace it and find the right white to complement it, so that the space is one that you love to spend time in.

For a more in-depth article you should read the following: How to find the right white

Don't forget the outside – just as important when selecting white paint:

Avoid the mistakes when selecting white by putting together a mood board – I have a FREE e-book for you to download here which tells you all about how to put one together.

Still confused? I have an online colour consultation service where I review your photos and problems on a one-one basis.  Find out more here 


12 thoughts on “5 mistakes to avoid when selecting white

  1. Avatar
    Elaine says:

    Hi I love your ideas! Could you give me some advice about white please? I have white kitchen cabinets with frosty carina bench and splash back and stainless steel appliances and kick boards, and 2 beautiful grey lamps above the breakfast bar from Norman Copenhagen. Now trying to decide on s white for the ceiling , walls and trims. The floor is a warming walnut but not throwing very much red. Do you think that Dulux snowy mountains would be a good pick? In half or quarter? And we have chocolate coloured exposed beams on the raked ceiling , will these match with a ceiling white??? Thankyou for your advice!

    • Samantha Bacon
      Samantha Bacon says:

      Hi Elaine I like to avoid ceiling white and prefer to go for a quarter strength of what you have on the walls. If you like the Snowy Mountains range then have half strength on the walls and quarter on the trim and ceiling. Make sure you try a sample out next to your white kitchen cabinets though as these could have an underlying colour and you need to ensure it will work with the walls. Good luck! Samantha

  2. Avatar
    Mary says:

    Hi Sam, thanks for being a life saver in this beautiful world of color.
    We are in process of renovating a federation style home with a classic look. We have 2pac white gloss Hampton style kitchen, calacutta classic benchtop and splashback, oak floors. North facing kitchen. Looking to paint Vivid White for ceiling, walls – Antique white USA. Not sure whether doors to paint vivid white (semi gloss) or Antique white USA with trims and skirts (semi gloss) for the contrast.
    With sincere thanks.

    • Samantha Bacon
      Samantha Bacon says:

      Hi Mary if you choose Vivid White for your trims and internal doors it will make the Antique White appear a little darker and will tie in your kitchen colours into the scheme. If everything is in Antique White, you don’t notice the depth of the AW as much. There isn’t a right or wrong – all in one colour is more subtle but the contrast of Vivid White would give you more of a classic Hamptons look. Good luck Samantha

  3. Avatar
    Mary Sands says:

    Hi Samantha,

    thanks for the article on choosing whites. I’m putting a white kitchen into a new build. Have chosen Lexicon half for the walls. I can’t afford 2-pac to paint the cabinets to match. Do you think Chalk white laminex would be ok? The bench top is Ash concrete by Essastone or similar. Hope you can help me. Thanks,

    • Samantha Bacon
      Samantha Bacon says:

      Hi Mary Chalk White will be fine with Dulux Lexicon Half – Laminex has put together a range of whites to match the Dulux colours and this is their recommendation. All sounds good – hope you love your new kitchen Samantha

  4. Avatar
    Gordana says:

    Hi Samantha,

    I’m stuck in 2 minds.

    Dulux vivid white- walls, trims, ceilings, doors (everything!!)


    Dulux vivid white ceilings and trims with a warmer white on the walls such a Dulux natural white.

    Your opinion is so so appropriated! Xx

    • Samantha Bacon
      Samantha Bacon says:

      Hi Gordana It really depends whether you want to see a contrast or not. A very ultra contemporary space would be all in pure white. But if you prefer a slightly more relaxed look then it’s good to have a slight contrast for the walls. Dulux Vivid White doesn’t have much, if any, pigment and therefore it can need a few coats to get the finish right so this may be something to bear in mind too. Think about the overall look and feel that you want and this may help you decide. Good luck Samantha

  5. Avatar
    Adelle Lacey says:

    Hi Samantha,
    Thank you for your generous insight and experience that you share with us all on your website. I have referred back to your blog a number of times whilst making colour decisions. I have a question that I can’t seem to resolve and so have decided to take an internet leap and ask for your opinion. We are restoring a late 19th century Victorian home in South Aus: pine floors with black japanning, large skirts, cornices and roses, North facing windows in all rooms (except west faced living), very long/wide hallway with no windows (filtered light from front door, back door and respective bedrooms). We get the most beautiful light in this house and deciding on the right whites vs our preference vs what is right for the house has been a challenge. In the end we have gone with the tried and true favourite ‘Dulux Natural White’ for nearly all of the rooms. My Q is, we have bought Vivid White for the trim, however after painting one door I think it is too stark for this Victorian home. Do you have a white for the trim that you would recommend? Or, is it better to stick with Natural at 1/2? Thank you very much for your help!

    PS: We have also gone to the dark side… we will be painting our entire lounge room Porter’s Paint ‘Black Blue’! We were inspired by both what the house is ‘asking’ for as well as your blogs on dark paint/manipulating mood, etc.

    • Samantha Bacon
      Samantha Bacon says:

      Hi Adelle Yes – I can see from the description of your beautiful home that Vivid White will definitely be too stark. Half strength of Dulux Natural White should work well or try White Polar Quarter which will be similar. Just try a litre of the paint on one door to check you like the effect. I’m so glad you have made the plunge with a dark colour. I lived in a Victorian home in Melbourne for a while and used dark colours in some rooms and it looked amazing. Glad you are finding the blog useful! Hope this helps Samantha

  6. Avatar
    Renee says:

    Deciding to paint interior of house white throughout but not sure what colour white – I have beige/fawn (couch) with beige/black and white cushions – bedroom is white cover with grey / mustard throw rugs black curtains 🙏- please help walls and door frames plus skirtings
    Thanking you ❤️

    • Samantha Bacon
      Samantha Bacon says:

      Hi Renee You have some nice warm colours – beige and mustard so a warm white would work well and you can just use the same throughout and keep it light and simple. You need to consider how much light the house receives but generally I would recommend a warmer white, particularly with these tones. Either Dulux Natural White or Dulux Whisper White if you want a touch more grey in it. Both lovely whites so try a sample of these and see what you think. Hope this helps Samantha

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