HOW TO PICK THE RIGHT SHADE OF WHITE
It’s time to get your tighty-whities on because TODAY, you’ll learn to pick the BEST white for your cabinets or walls! But, before we get into the nitty-gritty, let me save you a LOT of time, energy, and sanity by saying this…
If you already have something painted white in your room, i.e., trim or cabinets, and are NOT repainting it, I would HIGHLY SUGGEST that you paint, whatever it is you want to paint, the exact same color.
Mixing and matching whites is RISKY business as one white can EASILY make another look dirty/warm/cool/etc… Therefore, if you already have a white surface in your room that you don’t plan on repainting, it’s best to stick with it for your soon-to-be-painted surfaces. Sometimes, the white in our home wasn’t painted by us, and we don’t know which color it is. In this case, take a cabinet door/piece of trim to the paint store and have them color-match it for you.
If the white you currently have on trim/cabinets/walls doesn’t SUIT the room (very common), be prepared to paint it a new, more suitable white to match.
If you don’t have a solid paint foundation, you won’t get where you need to go.
Now, moving along to the guts n’ glory of this blog post…
STEP 1 FIND THE WHITE THAT’S ALREADY IN YOUR ROOM
If you’re painting your existing home, chances are, there’s already a surface in your room with white on or in it. This white is your GUIDING WHITE; you don’t want to stray off its path. For example, if your countertop has a warm white, you’ll want to choose a warm white paint color – not a true or cool one.
Where might you find an existing white?
- TRIM (the number one shot caller)
- STONE OR BRICK
- FABRICS (ones that you’ll have in your home for a loooong time)
In this next photo, you can see how the original warm white of the cabinets is TOO warm for the cool tones of the marble backsplash and countertop – the backsplash should’ve called the shots. The taped-up sample shows a MUCH better partnership. Because the countertop and backsplash are permanent surfaces, the white paint color must be chosen to coordinate with them.
BTW, if you want white walls and already have white trim or cabinets (that you aren’t repainting), your VERY best bet is to do the same white on the walls.
Again, mixing and matching isn’t for the faint of heart.
IF YOU’RE DESIGNING YOUR ROOM FROM SCRATCH…
If you’ve already chosen some hard finishes, these should tell you which type of white they want (read more below). However, if you haven’t CHOSEN any finishes yet, you need to decide the TYPE OF WHITE you want and then let your future decorative choices and hard finishes coordinate with that.
STEP 2 FIGURE OUT THE TYPE OF WHITE YOU HAVE/WANT
There are five types of white. Figuring out which TYPE of white you have, or WANT to have, is the next step.
THE 5 TYPES OF WHITES IN PAINT COLORS & FINISHES
Regarding the five types, this doesn’t just refer to paint colors; it’s also a guideline for the types of whites you may (or may not) have in your finishes. I go into much more detail in this blog post, but the info below will get you started…
1. WARM WHITES
Warm whites aren’t stark and clean; they look softer and often have slightly lower LRVs. Two examples of popular warm white paint colors are Benjamin Moore Swiss Coffee and Sherwin Williams Alabaster (these are both warm soft whites).
This next countertop might look pretty darn ‘white’, but it’s a soft warm white that’s in love with its Benjamin Moore White Dove walls.
2. COOL WHITES
Cool whites aren’t used as often as they aren’t flexible or foolproof. You’ll find that most cool whites look fresh and a bit ‘icy.’ And remember, if you want to learn MORE about the five types of white, read THIS. Benjamin Moore Decorators White is a popular cool white (cool soft white).
Decorator’s White is on the bottom.
The most common cool white is found on white appliances.
3. TRUE WHITES
True whites are pretty…darn…white, sitting at the top of the LRV range (approx 93, give or take). These whites can be a bit stark, so use them wisely. The most commonly used true white is Sherwin Williams High Reflective White and Behr Ultra Pure White. True whites are often found on white subway tile backsplashes, but even then, some of those can be a wink warm!
One of my FAVE client bathrooms, with Benjamin Moore Chantilly Lace on the walls, chosen for the COUNTERTOP
Countertops often contain warm whites vs. true or cold ones. Tiles often hold true or warm whites and are more rarely cool. Whites found in stone and brick can vary from warm to cool to true!
4. BRIGHT WHITE
When it comes to bright whites, you can have WARM bright whites and COOL bright whites. (although there are fewer of the latter.) That’s right, a combination of TWO of the five types of white!
5. SOFT WHITE PAINT COLORS
Soft white paint colors have more moderate LRVs, averaging around 85, give or take. Again, the full blog post hits all the details. Soft white paint colors include the most popular whites like Sherwin Williams Pure White and Benjamin Moore White Dove.
Soft white paint colors can be soft and WARM or soft and COOL, combining two of the five types. Warm soft whites are OFTEN found in interior finishes such as countertops and tiles.
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Now that you know the basics of the 5 types of white, let’s chat about where to look for them.
ARE YOU STARTING FROM SCRATCH (BUILDING OR RENOVATING)?
When designing a room from the ground up, choose a main finish and see what type of white it needs as a partner. This will be your GUIDING WHITE and the one you’ll use on trims, walls, cabinets, etc…
How do you know?
Often, the best way is to get your fave brand’s WHITEST WHITE and compare it to your finish. If the white/off-white in your finish looks warmer or cooler than this white, that should tell you which type of white you should explore.
If you haven’t chosen any finishes, the countertop is the BEST finish to start with. After that comes backsplash, floor tile, wood floor, etc…
Alternatively, you can decide which TYPE OF WHITE you want in your home (SOFT WARM whites being the most popular), narrow down your options to one favorite, and then choose finishes to coordinate with your white.
ARE YOU WORKING WITH AN EXISTING SPACE?
If you already have an existing finish, see if it has white in its pattern/blend. If it does, your home has picked your white for you! This white can be in a countertop, tile, stone, brick, or fabric.
Choose the white that suits the home you have, not the home you wish you had.
In other words, if the white that best suits your home has more warmth than you like, you should listen to your home. If you go with your tastes over the needs of your home, it ain’t gonna look good.
On the other hand, if your room doesn’t have a single finish with white in it, you can either…
a) Take cues from the white trim/needs of the adjoining rooms; this way, there’s flow from one space to another. Only change whites from one room to another if you absolutely HAVE to. It’s best if all of your whites match.
b) Tune into the needs of any surfaces that don’t have white in them but might have warm tones (look at warm whites) or cool tones (check out true whites, subtle warm whites, or maaaybe a cool one*).
*I hesitate with cool whites because they aren’t flexible in the long term, as they only suit cool colors. In this case, it’s best to go with a true white or a slightly warm one.
NOT SURE WHAT WHITE YOU’VE GOT? COMPARE COMPARE COMPARE!
You might be thinking, ‘Hey, crazy pants; all whites look white to me!’ As mentioned above, if you aren’t sure which type of white you’re working with, the BEST way to figure it out is by COMPARING IT TO A TRUE WHITE and other similar whites.
Comparison is one of the BEST ways to see the undertones/temperature of a white paint color.
By placing a real white against your white, it should be easier to see which type of white you’re working with and ensure you’re on the right path.
- If you’re looking at Benjamin Moore’s whites, compare them to Chantilly Lace and a few others.
- If you’re checking out Sherwin William’s whites, compare them to High Reflective White and a few others.
If you’re looking at other brands, you can still use these two whites (or find out which white is the BRIGHTEST, truest white in your chosen brand).
Comparing this countertop to a real white (such as the hanging towel), it’s slightly soft and warm.
THOSE TRICKY OFF-WHITE PAINT COLOURS
Off-whites might fool you into thinking they’re whites, but they have more softness and depth. These off-whites are usually on the warm side but are occasionally a super light gray/cool colour. Sherwin Williams Alabaster is CLOSE to being an off-white with its low LRV of 82. Sherwin Williams Creamy, with its LRV of 81, takes baby steps into the OFF-WHITE range and won’t be as bright as traditional whites. Once you hit the likes of Maritime White, Aesthetic White, and Maritime White – you’re nowhere near the white world anymore.
Not sure what LRV is? It will BLOW your paint-lovin’ mind; read all about it HERE!
In this next photo, you’ll see a beige bathroom tile. If you put a stark white or cool white with this, it wouldn’t work. However, this photo is here for ANOTHER reason…
If you wanted to paint the WALLS in the above room a white paint colour, it wouldn’t work as the tile can’t support white walls (not enough dominant white in the tile) – they would come off too stark and disconnected. HOWEVER, there’s more flexibility given when you’re painting ONLY trim. A bathroom like the one above won’t suit white walls (it prefers off-white)…
There’s forgiveness given when it comes to trim, as trim is often EXPECTED to be white.
From there, it’s just choosing the best white to suit the finishes in the room (in this case, a true white or subtle warm white).
STEP 3 PICK YOUR RIGHT WHITE PAINT COLOUR
You should now be able to go to the paint store knowing which type of white you’re looking for. Personally, I’m a pinot gris fan myself, but I’ll settle for a nice chardonnay.
I’LL BE INCLUDING A TON OF LINKS TO THE BEST WHITE PAINT COLOURS AT THE END OF THIS BLOG POST – BUT KEEP READING FOR NOW!
Remember, a common place to find an EXISTING white is on trims that are already painted.
As mentioned earlier, if you already have an existing white surface that you DON’T want to paint, I would suggest using this SAME white on your soon-to-be painted surface. If you are building and have chosen white cabinets, I recommend painting the trim, ceiling, and doors the SAME white.
If your existing trim/cabinets/etc… white doesn’t actually suit your room and its hard finishes (countertop, tile, etc…) I suggest NOT using it as your GUIDING WHITE; in this case, you’ll pick the RIGHT WHITE and paint ALL the white surfaces this colour – NO MIX N’ MATCH WHITES!
BTW, you’ll find HELPFUL LINKS to blog posts on the BEST WHITE PAINT COLOURS shortly, but first…
TIPS FOR CHOOSING A WHITE PAINT COLOR
If you don’t have anything white in your room that you have to work with, you’ll want to look at the neutral colours in your room for guidance. Whether it’s a countertop, tile, or carpet, the colour of your hard surfaces will help to guide you toward the right white. The exception to this is wood flooring, which is far more flexible.
IF YOUR EXISTING SURFACES ARE GRAY, BLUE, GREEN, OR VIOLET WITH NO OBVIOUS WHITE IN THEM
While you can create an exciting and dynamic look with soft, slightly warm whites, to keep it simple, you’ll want to check out clean or cool whites.
IF YOUR EXISTING SURFACES ARE A MIX OF EARTH-TONES
Most earth-toned surfaces prefer warm whites over cool or stark whites, but it can depend on your exact combo of finishes. To start, take a look at warm whites and soft off-whites. True whites rarely make the cut.
IF YOUR HARD SURFACES ARE BEIGE, TAN, CREAM, YELLOW, ORANGE, OR RED
These warm-toned surfaces naturally lean into warm whites. To start your color journey, look at soft warm whites and bright warm whites.
If you’re still unsure which white you’re dealing with, narrow it down to the two white groupings that seem the closest and bring samples home.
KYLIE M’S TOP 3 WARM WHITES
SHERWIN WILLIAMS PURE WHITE SW 7005
Pure White is one of my favorite white paint colors and is especially popular on trims and cabinets. Even though it’s a soft (warm) white, it LOOKS like a bright white, as long as there isn’t a brighter white it’s being compared to. If all else fails and I can’t figure out what white I’m dealing with, Pure White is usually my go-to.
BENJAMIN MOORE WHITE DOVE OC-17
White Dove is a soft, warm white that’s similar in depth to Pure White. When it comes to popular whites for walls, trims, and cabinetry, White Dove tops the list, especially when ALL surfaces are being painted the same white.
SHERWIN WILLIAMS ALABASTER SW 7008
Alabaster is softer and warmer than Pure White and White Dove. This makes it a great choice for finishes that need a more muted, slightly creamy white look (common with granite counters from the early 2000s). While it’s not as popular as White Dove, it has its place as a ‘whole home’ white paint color for walls, trims, and cabinets.
KYLIE M’S TOP 2 TRUE WHITES
SHERWIN WILLIAMS HIGH REFLECTIVE WHITE SW 7757
High Reflective White is pretty darned white, not warm, not cold – just a crisp, simple white. While it’s a great choice for many cabinets and trims, it’s rarely chosen for walls due to its starkness.
BENJAMIN MOORE CHANTILLY LACE OC-65
Chantilly Lace is my FAVE true white with just the TINIEST wink of softness. It’s also BM’s whitest shade (at some point, they’ll come out with something brighter…I hope). With its LRV of 90, it’s not as white as High Reflective White but is still a goooorgeous choice for cabinets, trims, doors, and walls.
KYLIE M’S TOP 3 COOL WHITES
SHERWIN WILLIAMS EXTRA WHITE SW 7006
Extra White will act like white on trims, cabinets, and doors, but a slightly softer version – not as ‘legit white’ as High Reflective White.
However, due to the formulation of wall paint (compared to cabinet/trim paint), Extra White is a bit more likely to look like a slightly cool or stark shade of white on walls.
BENJAMIN MOORE SUPER WHITE OC-152
Super White is also pretty damn white. It can stretch itself JUST slightly cool…but barely.
(I also like BM Oxford White for a simple but not overly bright white look)
BENJAMIN MOORE DECORATORS WHITE OC-149
Decorators White is another lovely, pretty darned white colour that nods toward cool undertones. However, unlike the others, Decorator’s White is slightly inclined towards a violet undertone.
Check out my fun E-design and Virtual Paint Colour packages!
ORIGINALLY WRITTEN IN 2018, COMPLETELY UPDATED IN 2023