How to Choose the RIGHT White Paint Colour for Your Home
It’s time to get your tighty-whities on because TODAY you’re going to learn how 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, ie. 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 colour.
Mixing and matching whites is RICKY 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. However, if you don’t know the colour name of the white you have, take a cabinet door/piece of trim to the paint store and have them colour match it for you.
If the white you currently have on trim/cabinets/whatev’s doesn’t actually SUIT the room, you need to be prepared to paint it a new, more suitable white to match your other finishes. 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 that has white on or in it. In this case, this white is your GUIDING WHITE and you don’t want to stray off its path. For example, if your countertop has a warm white in it, you’ll want to choose a warm white paint colour – not a true or cool one.
Where might you find an existing white?
- CEILING & TRIM
- FABRICS (ones that you’ll have in your home for a long 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 taped up sample shows a MUCH better partnership. Because the countertop and backsplash are permanent surfaces, the white paint colour needs to be chosen to coordinate with them.
If you’re building or designing a room from scratch and haven’t CHOSEN any finishes yet, you don’t necessarily need to pick THE actual white paint colour you want, but you do need to decide the TYPE OF WHITE you want, and then let your decorative choices work off of that (STEP 2).
STEP 2 FIGURE OUT THE TYPE OF WHITE YOU HAVE or WANT
STARTING FROM SCRATCH
When designing a room from the ground up, you’ll either want to choose a main finish (ie. countertop or tile) and see what type of white it has in it – this will be your GUIDING WHITE and the one you’ll use on trims, walls, cabinets, etc…
Alternatively, you can decide which TYPE OF WHITE you want in your home, narrow down your options, and then choose finishes to coordinate with these whites.
WORKING WITH AN EXISTING SPACE
Now that you’ve FOUND the main white in your room, either in a countertop, tile or fabric, you’ll want to figure out what TYPE of white you’re dealing with.
NOT SURE WHAT YOU’VE GOT? COMPARE
You might be thinking, ‘hey crazy pants, they all look white to me!’ If you aren’t sure which type of white you’re working with, the BEST way to figure it out is via COMPARING IT TO A TRUE WHITE. Comparison is one of the BEST ways to see the undertones in a colour. By placing real white against your white, it should be easier to see which type of white you’re working with and make sure you’re on the right path.
Comparing this countertop to a real white (such as the hanging towel), we see that it’s slightly soft and warm
In this next section, you’ll see a brief overview of the TYPES OF WHITE, however, you’ll find much more detailed information in this blog post – THE 5 TYPES OF WHITE PAINT COLOURS.
TYPES OF WHITE
Warm whites aren’t stark and clean, they’re softer looking and often have slightly lower LRVs.
The fireplace stone above calls for a soft white, not cold, but not too creamy warm either…
The creamy tone in this next countertop definitely prefers a soft, warm white or off-white. If you put a cool white with this, it won’t make sense…
Benjamin Moore Cloud White
TRUE WHITE PAINT COLOURS
Similar to Benjamin Moore Chantilly Lace
Sherwin Williams High Reflective White
Undoubtedly, you’ll be heading out in the near future to grab paint samples – stop right there! I want you to check out SAMPLIZE. Samplize offers peel and stick paint samples that are more AFFORDABLE, EASIER and more ENVIRONMENTALLY FRIENDLY than traditional paint pots. Here are just a FEW reasons why I recommend Samplize to my clients…
- samples arrive ON YOUR DOORSTEP in 1-3 business days, depending on location
- at $6.99, they’re more affordable than the samples pots/rollers/foam boards that are needed for traditional paint sampling
- if you keep the samples on their white paper, you can move them around the room
Visit the SAMPLIZE website HERE
COOL WHITE PAINT COLOURS
Cool whites aren’t used as often as they aren’t very 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 5 types of white, read THIS.
Similar to Sherwin Williams Extra White
In this next example, the countertop would call for a clean or slightly cool white. If you put a white with too much yellow in it next to this, it would clash with the cool tones.
OFF-WHITE PAINT COLOURS (warm)
Off-whites might fool you in trying to LOOK like whites, but they have more softness and depth to them and are usually on the warm side, but can also be a super light gray/cool colour. Sherwin Williams Alabaster is CLOSE to being an off-white with its low LRV of 82. Not sure what LRV is? It will BLOW your paint lovin’ mind, read all about it HERE!
Sherwin Williams Alabaster
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. Whereas 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 SUPPOSED 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 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 VERY 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 which 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 picking a white paint colour when you don’t have an existing one
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 countertop, tile or carpet, the colour of your hard surfaces will help to guide you towards the right white. The exception to this is wood flooring which is far more flexible with regard to whites.
IF YOUR EXISTING SURFACES ARE LIGHT OR DARK GRAY, BLUE, GREEN OR VIOLET WITH NO OBVIOUS WHITE IN THEM
While you can create an interesting and dynamic look with soft, slightly warm whites, to keep it simple you’ll want to check out clean whites or slightly cool whites.
IF YOUR EXISTING SURFACES ARE IN THE GREIGE OR EARTH-TONED FAMILIES
Take a look at warm white, soft off-whites or sometimes true whites.
IF YOUR HARD SURFACES ARE IN THE WARMER RANGE – BEIGE, TAN, CREAM, YELLOW, ORANGE OR RED
You’ll want to look at warm whites, sometimes true whites (situational).
If you’re still not sure which white you’re dealing with, narrow it down to the two white groupings that seem the closest and bring samples home.
MY TOP 3 WARM WHITES
SHERWIN WILLIAMS PURE WHITE
Pure White is one of my faves. It’s pretty darned white with only a weee fraction of warmth in it. If all else fails and I can’t figure out what the heck white I’m dealing with, this is usually my go-to.
BENJAMIN MOORE WHITE DOVE
White Dove is a soft warm white that’s similar in depth to Pure White.
BENJAMIN MOORE SIMPLY WHITE
Simply White is a popular choice for a BRIGHT warm white.
MY TOP 2 TRUE WHITES
SHERWIN WILLIAMS HIGH REFLECTIVE WHITE
High Reflective White is pretty darned white, not warm, not cold – just white.
BENJAMIN MOORE CHANTILLY LACE
Chantilly Lace is my FAVE true white with just the TINIEST wink of softness to it.
MY TOP 3 COOL WHITES
SHERWIN WILLIAMS EXTRA WHITE
Extra White will absolutely act like white, but a more ‘fresh and cool’ version of it – without being an actual colour.
BENJAMIN MOORE SUPER WHITE
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
Decorators White is another nice pretty darned white colour that nods toward cool undertones.
Not sure which white is best for YOU and YOUR home?
Check out my affordable and fun E-design and Virtual Paint Colour packages!
ORIGINALLY WRITTEN IN 2018, COMPLETELY UPDATED IN 2021