Almost daily, I am asked ‘How to choose the right white paint’. In terms of paint selection it is definitely the current question of the moment. Serene, calm and crisp are just some of the many adjectives that you can use to describe the colour white so it is no wonder that it is a perennial favourite amongst home decorators. White paint works equally well in a clean cut contemporary interior or in a country style setting. The question is – How to find the Right White. Do not be fooled into thinking that this is an easy option as it is one of the hardest colours to get right. Finding the Right White can be tricky as white for interiors is never just that. There is a minefield of underlying hues waiting for you out there and it can be a challenge to choose exactly the right one for your environment.
How to choose the right white paint – look for the underlying colour
The main point to remember is that all white paints have an underlying colour which can be most successfully recognised when the sample is on its own against a pure white background, for example a piece of paper. This is probably one of the most important steps to take when selecting your colour palette. Once you establish what this colour is, then you need to follow general colour rules which I have listed below.
A cool white paint will have either a blue or green undertone.
Those which have a blue base can be particularly difficult to work with as they are quite unforgiving and can bring an almost clinical feel to some rooms, particularly if they do not receive much natural sunlight. However for a room that is flooded with natural sunlight it can work really well as a foil to the heat. Crisp cool whites are also great to use for kitchen and bathroom joinery – just ensure you select a quarter strength so that you take out as much of the underlying blue as possible.
Green based white paints are relatively easy to work with as they complement so many other colours and are fairly neutral. These tend to be my go to whites. As these get darker, they become the beautiful stone colours that are brilliant for exteriors. Clients often describe them as a nothing colour – this is a true neutral. Working with these neutrals in either their darkest of lightest form, creates a very classic and timeless look for your home.
Yellow based whites are obviously warm but can sometimes lead towards being too creamy which is not always so successful for a contemporary palette. Often the whites that work well in decorating are the ‘dirty’ whites that can appear a bit grey and grubby but on the wall create a successful modern look. Consider the style that you are using too as the creamy whites can look fantastic in a country style setting so don’t be put off by their creaminess because although these are not necessarily the current trend, they can look perfect in certain settings and really are a great saviour in a cold and gloomy space where they will not look warm, just welcoming and right for that space.
Pink based whites are very soft and can work well with the addition of some grey. They are great to use when you are using a lot of pink, for example in a child’s bedroom. These whites can also work really well with brown tones and are a good option where you require a warm white but want to avoid any yellow tones. You can be put off by the thought of pink, however these can be very effective and again useful in a cold and dark area of your home where you won’t necessarily see the underlying colour just the warmth that it brings to the scheme.
Just remember not to mix the whites – so don’t use a creamy yellow on the wall and then a cool blue tinged white for the trim – keep it simple!
White on White colour palettes
You can see when you test your chosen white against a pure white background what an effect this has on the colour and the same occurs when you partner other whites with your choice. So in addition to considering the type of white you would like to use for your wall colour, you also need to think about which one you will use for architraves, internal doors, skirting boards and ceilings. Sometimes, a grey white will look a little grubby but when you place a lovely fresh white next to it, its appearance is greatly enhanced. So rather than take the easy route and just paint everything in one type of white, consider using a lighter trim to give everything a lift.
The Fail Safe Formula for selecting the right white paint
Many paint companies now market their whites and neutrals in varying degrees of strength. A great rule to follow is a full strength of your chosen white on the wall, half strength on the trim and internal doors and quarter strength on the ceiling and cornice. Sometimes you can knock out the middle man or if you feel your choice is too dark in full strength then just use half strength with quarter on the trim, internal doors and ceiling. Kitchen cabinetry can also be treated the same way as internal trim and doors.
Whilst talking about ceilings, don’t be tempted to use a paint company’s ceiling white. These often completely throw a wonderful white palette and all your planning goes out of the window! Colours appear twice as dark when they are horizontal so ceilings also need to be treated carefully. Definitely opt for a quarter strength here or even an eighth strength if you are using a quarter on the walls. Your cornice, if you have one, should also be painted the same as the ceiling.
Another great way to use a white in varying strengths is throughout different areas in your home. A room that faces north or west with lots of doors and windows will easily take a full strength white but a darker south facing room may benefit from just a half strength of the same white. This way, you achieve a wonderful flow throughout the house, particularly if you ensure the trim and ceiling is the same throughout.
The right white paint is the perfect backdrop
Let’s face it, white is often the fall back colour for people who really don’t know what to put on their walls and then they add interest and colour with books, soft furnishings, artworks and rugs. I hear this a lot and there is certainly nothing wrong with this at all. It provides a lovely crisp, clean blank canvas for all the other wonderful items that you have at home. But what if you are really a true lover of white and you want to use it throughout the space including furnishings and accessories? If this is you then you will need to consider some other design elements for the room.
The colours shown in this palette are below and I have given examples for Australia, New Zealand, the UK and the US:
Vivid White—Dulux Australia, White—Resene, White Handkerchief—Dulux UK, Picket Fence White—Ralph Lauren
Stowe White—Dulux Australia, Spring Wood—Resene, Labrador Sands—Dulux UK, Resort White—Ralph Lauren
White Valance—Dulux Australia, Quarter Biscotti—Resene, Natural Hessian—Dulux UK, Cameo Pink—Ralph Lauren
Pristine Sand—Dulux Australia, Doe Skin—Resene, Labrador Sands—Dulux UK, Tea and Sweets—Ralph Lauren
Abbot—Dulux Australia, Clinker—Resene, Rich Praline—Dulux UK, Rust—Ralph Lauren
The most important design element to remember if you are using a white theme is to employ varying textures so that you create a layering effect. Mix up accessories in different finishes, for example cool, slightly rough linen with fresh crisp cotton and heavy knit throws. Remember too that if you use any colour at all in this kind of environment then your eye will be drawn straight towards that object and it becomes a main feature in the room, so unless this is the point, you need to ensure that your accessories and furnishings are all white or a soft natural timber or stone. This creates a gentle flow and increases the feeling of serenity.
My go-to white paints
I have to say that this changes regularly and is definitely affected by many different factors including client preference, room orientation and current trends. You need to ensure that rather than selecting something that I have discussed, a friend has used or another publication has talked about, that the choice is right for your space.
At the moment many of my clients really love Dulux White Cloak as it is a lovely warm choice but without any obvious creamy, yellow undertones. It looks terrific with Dulux Vivid White which I absolutely love for trims and ceilings. Another favourite is Dulux Snowy Mountains which is a cooler crisper white and I find the quarter strength of this is really great for joinery and internal doors. Don’t forget to consider how much of a tonal variation that you would like to see as this will impact the difference that you leave between the tones.
Resene are well known for their whites and neutrals and they are very obliging in providing these in varying strengths. Resene Blanc is a fabulous pink white that works really well for a soft country look or Resene Sisal in half, quarter and eighth strengths are one of those great green based neutrals that just seems to work everywhere!
Don’t forget if you are confused about strengths of your chosen colour to go back to my fail safe formula – then you can’t go wrong.
Let me know about your dilemmas with choosing whites for your house and follow me on Pinterest for lots of inspiration. Good luck with your decorating plans and I hope to hear from you.
Do you also need to find the right white for your exterior project? If so you must read this article too:
Finding the right grey can be just as fraught as finding the right white. If you are looking for a neutral grey, you might like to read this article too:
Like to read even more about this subject? Then you may enjoy my colour feature article in Country Home Ideas magazine:
Want to find out the 5 mistakes to avoid when selecting white? Then you should also read this: