Choosing the right white paint

Choosing the right “white” paint for your space can be harder than one might think.  There are so many nuances that come with white paint.  

When we were moving into our new home, I knew that I wanted to paint every square inch of our house. I wanted to be intentional with the color palette, and make our entire home feel cohesive. So choosing the “right” color was really important.  I knew we would land somewhere in the “white” family, but I just wasn’t sure where.  

My kids always laugh that I “love white”. And I do. It’s for sure my favorite color. And here’s why…

It makes every other color that much more gorgeous. Pinks pop. Blues feel cooler and more tranquil. Even black looks gorgeous against this hue.

But choosing the “right” white paint for your space is tricky. Scratch that. It can feel impossible.

We’ve used white a lot in our homes. In fact, three of our last homes were painted entirely white (I know…I have a problem). But each time, I used a different white.  And here’s why.  Each home had different colored flooring, different lighting, different architectural details.  And all of that matters.

Here’s what we learned to consider before picking out the “right white”.

  • Light

    • How much light does the space get, and what type of sun exposure are you working with?  A northern exposure (which tends to be a “cooler” light) needs a warmer or softer white paint color to balance out the cool tones of the natural light.  While a room with a lot of southern or western exposure can often handle a cooler white tone.  And a larger, airier space with a light of natural light also often works best with pure, cooler tones of white.
  • Your decor

    • Size up what else is going in the space.  What you fill the room WITH, is just as important with what color SURROUNDS the space.  If your furniture and decor are more modern and have cooler tones, you can work with a crisper cooler tone.  If your decor and furniture tend to be a little more traditional, then something with a warmer undertone will compliment the space better. 
  • Floor

    • What are your floors like?  Are they a warm wood a cool carpet?  All of that will change how the “white” looks in a space.  Floors are a large portion of what makes up the room (obviously) so the actual tone of the floor will reflect light differently and affect how the paint is perceived. 

All of these factors will affect how each white paint will look in your space.  It’s a lot to consider.  But at the end of the day, most of the time you just have to put a few colors up and see how they look.  You can follow “rules” or “guidelines” all day long, but what really matters is what YOU like and how YOU think it looks in your own space.

To help narrow down the incredible amount of options when it comes to white paint, I’ve put together a few of my tried and true whites that I’ve used in my own homes.    

Here are a few of my favorite “whites”

Benjamin Moore, Decorators white

Decorator’s white is a cool crisp white.  Great for trim and ceilings. It has a cool undertone and works great with big bold colors.  Although decorator’s white is not normally used on “walls”, we used it in our home in Connecticut (both on the trim and the walls) and it looked great.  It was bright and cool, which worked great in our new construction home that had a ton of natural light and we wanted to keep airy and modern. 

Benjamin Moore, Chantilly Lace

Chantilly lace is another white paint with a cooler undertone.   A lot of designers consider it to be their “baseline” white.  Everything else is either cool or warm in comparison to Chantilly lace.  Chantilly lace is another great one for big open airy spaces. It’s great in kitchens, on trims, ceilings.  

Benjamin Moore, White

Benjamin Moore considers this paint color to be their true “white”, absent of any cool or warm undertones.  It’s a very crisp and bright white.  However, it can read “cool” in certain spaces.  Another great white for trim, ceilings and cabinetry.

Benjamin Moore, White Dove

Probably one of Benjamin Moore most well-known colors, and a “go-to” color for most decorators, especially in kitchens.  It’s a great neutral white, with warm undertones.  It’s classic and timeless.  When you really aren’t sure what white to use, White Dove can be a great place to start.  We used it in one of our kitchens and it looked great.  It’s a classic that you won’t regret.  

Benjamin Moore, China White

China white is a great traditional, warmer white.  It’s great in spaces that you want to feel bright and light, but also a little more traditional.  It’s a great wall color paired with White Dove for a classic traditional look. Don’t laugh when you read this, but my mom just used China White in her home and it looks stunning.  It’s a great neutral that still feels warm (but not too creamy).

Benjamin Moore, Simply White

Ok, so we are finally to MY FAVORITE white and what we painted our ENTIRE new home.  Simply White was the 2016 “Color of the year” (ok, so I may be a few years behind on catching up with the best whites ;)), and for good reason.  It’s pretty darn great.  Simply white is essentially 50% White Dove and 50% White.  So it’s truly the best of both worlds.  Just a touch of warm undertone, but with plenty of the bright, crisp, pureness you come to expect with “white”.   I am loving the way it looks in our space, and in each of the different rooms which get different amounts of light.  It’s a really versatile color.  For sure deserving of a “color of the year” award.  My new “go-to”.

Benjamin Moore, Oxford White

Oxford White is another true white.  It has a very small fraction of grey in it, but it’s so minimal that it still reads white.  It’s great in a space that you want to read “white” without any warmth.

There are so many nuances when it comes to choosing the right “white” paint for your space.  I find that often two colors that look very similar on a swatch, or at the paint store, can look very different on my walls.  The true test is really seeing how each of these various shades of white look in your own home.  So don’t be afraid to buy a few samples and put them up on your walls.  Remember, it’s just paint!  So have a little fun with it.  Play around and see what “white” you fall in love with.  

 

 

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  • Hi grace;
    I have to stay I am really happy to find your blog as I like how you explain about all these different white colors. We are moving to this small house with west (living room) and east (kitchen) windows with open concept between the two rooms. I don’t like dark rooms I actually need to have light and openness so originally i was going with baby’s breath (benjamin moore) for walls and ceilings and chantilly lace for doors and trims but after reading your blog I am not sure anymore!
    I have white cabinets with white countertops + dark grey island in the kitchen and in my living room I have a large persian rug with red and blue colors with cream color sofas.
    Now i am thinking maybe i should use simply white for the walls and ceilings but don’t know what i should use for the doors and trims , any ideas? should i use chantilly lace with simply white? Also I have tried few white colors in my living room and they looked greenish and i really don’t like that!
    So sorry for this long Comment, I just hope maybe you can help me out.
    Thank you,

    • Hi Lili! No apologies at all! Love comments like this. You could go in a few directions, but it’s hard to know without seeing your space. Every space is so unique with what’s going on with the lighting, and how the other furniture/floor coloring makes white paint read differently. White Dove is a classic for doors/trim and a good “warm neutral” (but not too warm). I personally prefer simply white (which is a shade more neutral than WD), and it’s what we used for our trim, ceiling, and walls. Either way – I do like my walls/trim the same, but it’s such a personal preference. Either way, my advice would be to trust your gut and go with your first instinct. I hope that helped!

  • Hi Grace. Thanks for sharing your blog. I have a house that faces north and also has a dark gray roof and some creamy and rusty colored flagstone on the exterior front wall that comes up 4 feet off the ground.
    I’d really like to paint the entire in a soft neutral white I think I’ve narrowed it down to
    Benjamin Moore’s Simply White, White Heron or White Dove. I have 2 ft. paint samples of each color on the west side of my home. I look at it at various points throughout the day and I’m still torn! I even painted small samples of each color right above one wall up front and it’s a tough call. I can email you pictures if you’d like. Please let me know your thoughts. Thanks again!

    R/
    Don

    • Hey Don,

      Wow, that sounds like you’ve narrowed it down to three great options. And honestly, I’m sure all of them would work. Sometimes it really comes down to personal preference and trusting your gut. When in doubt though, I feel like you can ever go wrong with White Dove. It’s really classic and beautiful and goes with everything. I hope that helped!