A white wall is timeless. It works in a classic or contemporary space; it can be serenely cool or elegantly warm, and it's the perfect backdrop in just about any space that you're making your own. I love whites because they're calming and lift my mood at the same time, and they also play so well with natural textures and materials. Not to mention they're a sustainable choice, since they are timeless and will likely last longer than walls painted richer colours that we tire of more quickly.
It's funny then, isn't it, that white is the colour that stresses us out the most when choosing paint for our homes? I admit it can be overwhelming choosing the right white- after all Benjamin Moore has 150 shades! And of course it looks different depending on the amount of light coming into your space. But really, it's hard to go wrong with white when you follow a few simple guidelines and don't over-think it. It's only paint - stop stressing and start brightening your home!
1. Determine whether you want a cool or warm feeling in your home.
You can use several different whites in the same room or throughout your house (in fact it is usually recommended to keep from feeling cold and dull), but keep them in the same family - either cool or warm. Warm whites evoke romantic, cottage, cozy feelings, while cools work better for modern, minimalist and calming environments.
I suggest using a bright neutral white on trim and cabinetry, then choose a wall palette in either warm or cool off-white shades.
2. Check the undertones.
Is it pink, yellow, green, blue? Compare it next to a pure untinted white so you can see more easily how far away from pure white your colour sample is. Cool undertones are greens and blues; warm undertones are pinks, reds, oranges, peaches, and yellows.
Hint: stay away from pink undertones if you have yellow based flooring or cabinets. And forgo peachy colours altogether - they rarely look good. Greens are serene but are also tough to do well - a white that leans toward turquoise (hence green undertones) will emphasize the yellow in birch, for example.
Another hint: you'll want your trim to be untinted white or just a touch creamier (like Behr's Ultra Pure White or Sherwin Williams' Extra White. ) This way your wall colour will be slightly distinctive to add depth and interest.
3. Consider the light.
Are you south facing with lots of windows to allow for sunshine? Or does your room have limited natural light? Spaces may have different lighting coming from a multitude of directions, so you need to consider this when choosing a colour. Also, try to switch to LED light bulbs (both because they give a more natural light and are eco-friendly). Unnatural incandescent or fluorescent lighting will make your white shades seem off.
Hint: north and east facing rooms with lower light will cast shadows, so I like going with warm neutrals with yellow or beige undertones that make the room feel more welcoming. Stay away from green undertones for north facing rooms. South facing rooms do well with cool undertones to counteract the warm sunshine coming in later in the day.
4. Create contrast using finishes.
Flat goes on the ceiling, eggshell or satin usually works well for walls, and semi gloss or gloss enhances trim. Just this little bit of variation is quite pleasing to the eye.
5. Finally, and most importantly, test it out.
The best way to know if your paint colour will work is to bring home a sample and paint a big swatch on your walls, then observe it at different times of day. Research can help, but this is truly the best way to know if the white you choose will work for you.
My simplest tried-and-true selections:
Trim. Doors & Cabinetry (semi-gloss or high gloss):
CIL White on White
SW High Reflective White
BM Chantilly Lace
SW Pure White
BM Paper White
Warm off-white walls:
BM Simply White
CIL Wedding White
Cool grey-white walls:
CIL Universal Gray
SW Eider White
BM Silver Satin
Neutral-warm greige walls:
SW Drift of Mist
BM Winter Orchard
CIL Light Pelican Grey