SUBTITLE: Can I Paint My North-Facing Room a White Paint Colour?
Does your northern exposure leave you feeling gloomy and depressed, under a gray (with a hint of blue) cloud? If so, THIS is the blog post for you!
North-facing rooms can be a bugger to paint and decorate – ESPECIALLY if you’re wanting a light, bright, and inviting look. However, once you understand what your north-facing room needs, you’ll find it easier to create a welcoming and well-balanced space.
Between the paint colour and the carpet, this north-facing room was screamin’ for mercy
In previous posts, we’ve talked about the best paint ‘colours’ for north-facing rooms as well as OTHER exposures, but today, we’re going to focus on a question I’m asked A LOT in my Online Paint Colour Consulting…
What IS exposure?
Well, there’s indecent exposure (which I was ALL about in my glory days) and there’s the type of exposure that’s outside your windows (also me in my glory days, if you were lucky). Exposure refers to the direction the natural light is coming from as it comes through your window – north, south, east, west, or a mix of those.
This is a great example of a north-facing room with a warm white paint colour, and it should be great – it’s our old house!
North-facing rooms have a considerably cooler source of natural light compared to warmer south-facing rooms. This northern light casts a cool gray (gray-blue) light into the room, creating an unwelcoming and cold look if it’s paired with the wrong paint colour and décor.
But how do you know what’s right and wrong? What’s the difference between a good white and a bad white (I prefer Pinot Gris myself)? And why does it matter – isn’t WHITE WHITE? HELLLLS no.
White will reflect other colours back at you
White is the most reflective colour, which means that in the world of LRV, it reflects a lot of light back into the room and because of that, it also picks up a LOT of reflection from its environment.
In this next photo (Sherwin Williams Pure White), look at how much warmer and softer it looks from the left side/upper hallway area compared to the open stairwell where it looks cooler and crisper – looks like two entirely different white paint colours!
Examples of white’s reflective nature:
- It can pick up the green reflection from your landscaping
- It can reflect the slight pink tones from your neighbour’s red siding or your cherry toned cabinets
- It can bounce-back the warmth of warm bulbs or the chill of your cool-toned bulbs (men seem to love these)
And…it can ALSO pick up the cool gray-blue light coming from your northern exposure.
In this next photo you’ll see Benjamin Moore White Dove in a LOW-light north-facing room. This slightly shadowed light, along with a LOT of greenery outside is making White Dove look a wink green. You’ll see SEVERAL photos coming up where White Dove doesn’t flash even a WINK o’ green.
BTW – you will get LESS reflection if you use a matte or flat finish compared to eggshell, satin or semi-gloss.
Can white paint colours be warm or cool?
There are actually THREE types of white paint colours – warm, cold and clean (true).
WARM WHITE PAINT COLOURS
Warm Whites usually have a touch of cream or yellow in them, but can also grab a wink of pink, green or orange (often a mix).
COOL WHITE PAINT COLOURS
Cool whites tend to favour a touch of gray, blue, green or purple (often a mix).
Benjamin Moore Super White (I’ll admit, I have mad love for this colour)
Actually, let’s look at that last photo a bit closer, shall we? The left-hand side (staircase) is getting more northern light (and looks considerably cooler). However, on the far right, that wall’s getting hit with a GLORIOUS shot of southern light and LOOK at how it changes the look of Super White!
CLEAN or TRUE WHITE PAINT COLOURS
Clean whites are just pretty darned white.
Sherwin Williams High Reflective White in an east-facing room
What’s the best TYPE of white paint colour for a north-facing room?
Well, if you ask ME (which by the way, you kind of are), the best white paint colours for a north-facing room are WARM whites, as they help balance the cool light coming in the windows. The tricky thing is that at NIGHT, there’s no northern light to offer that cool balance, so you need to be comfortable with the look of a softer, warmer white in the evening (or use cool or daylight bulbs to add your own balance).
In some rooms, you can get away with a clean white but would need warm interior lighting as well as the right furnishings, wood and texture to add interest and warmth to the space – you WILL have to work harder to get things looking balanced.
Sherwin Williams Pure White
Clean or cool whites in north-facing rooms
If you choose a clean white or a slightly cool-toned white for a north-facing room, you’ll be giving your room a double-whammy – cold on cold. Double-whammy is also what Tim refers to as his best Friday night move (wink wink).
Your clean or cool white paint colour will take that coooool gray light coming in and RUN with it, giggling like me after giving Tim a Dutch oven, leaving you with a chilly space that is neither balanced nor inviting. Again, you’ll need to do a lot of work with texture, wood and accents to bring things back.
North-facing light can also enhance the undertones in cool colours, so you can expect a slightly cool-toned paint to look that bit stronger (more undertone) with northern exposure. Now, if you have the right type of lighting (interior) to balance things out, you could be okay, but it’s usually best to play it safe by choosing what I call a ‘glorified white’ – a white with a touch of warmth to help balance out the cold gray light coming in, rather than compounding it with a cold white (that was a long, possible run-on sentence, I know).
Sherwin Williams High Reflective White
So, does this mean I should totally avoid cool or clean whites?
No. If you really want a cool crisp look, you might like a clean white or one with a hint of gray undertone to it. And in fact, there is the odd duck who LOVES this look – that cool combination of northern exposure and stark white paint gives an icy, edgy look (I hear Elsa is a big fan).
However, I’ve found when I have Colour Consulting clients who’re (the apostrophe in that word is important) looking for a nice white for their north-facing room, they’re usually looking to lighten and brighten. They want to add life without adding colour, coldness OR overwhelming warmth. And the BEST way to do this is with…THE RIGHT WHITE!
Sherwin Williams Pure White
Are you confused yet? Have another glass.
I love to show RELATEABLE & REAL homes, so ONLY use photos from my Online Colour Consulting clients. This means I don’t always have the quality/range of pics I need, but DEFINITELY have some SUPER helpful info to help you on your way!
The 6 BEST WHITE Paint Colours for a North-Facing Room
Long story short, while there are the certainly the wrong whites for a north-facing room, there are also the right whites, and I’m here to show you a few of my faves…
1. BENJAMIN MOORE WHITE DOVE OC-17
White Dove is fantastic. It’s a warm soft white, so it’s not stark or harsh, but it’s ALSO not overly creamy. You may find your northern light takes most of the warmth out, without leaving the walls overly cold-looking.
White Dove on trim and upper walls
White Dove has an LRV of 85, so it’s well into the white range, but your walls WILL have a softness to them, especially if you have decor that is a CLEAN white (it would expose the softness of White Dove). Not sure what LRV is? It could SAVE YOUR PAINT LOVIN’ LIFE – check it out here.
White Dove in a space with both north and south-facing light
If you think White Dove is a BIT warm for the look you’re wanting, let’s check out…
2. SHERWIN WILLIAMS PURE WHITE SW 7005
I LOVE PURE WHITE – wait, was that my inside voice? Trust me, there are MANY things I say that should be kept inside my head, right Mom? Anyway.
If you’re having a mental battle between WANTING a clean crisp white and understanding that it could hold your room back, Pure White could be the PERFECT choice.
Pure White is a gorgeous soft warm white with PASSIVE undertones. It has a bit less warmth than White Dove, without being as white as say, Benjamin Moore Chantilly Lace or Sherwin Williams High Reflective White.
3. BENJAMIN MOORE SIMPLY WHITE OC 117
Benjamin Moore Simply White is a bright, fresh, warm white. It has a wink of yellow in it – not enough to be obnoxious (unless it’s a south-facing room, where it makes me twitch), but just enough to help balance some of that gray light coming in, creating an overall ‘soft neutral’ effect.
The LRV of Simply White is 90 – meaning it’s pretty darned bright, just make sure you’re cool with that increased yellow tint in the evening.
Click HERE or on the above image to see available packages
4. SHERWIN WILLIAMS ALABASTER SW 7008
Alabaster is a lovely, warm white paint colour. However, if you were HOPING for like, ‘legit’ white walls, it’s a bit farther away than the others. That’s because Alabaster has an LRV of 82, so it has a bit more meat on its lovely lil’ bones. And along with that meat is a soft cream base (cream being a yellow colour with neutral added to calm it down).
The reception of my client’s office – Eddins counselling
Sherwin Williams Alabaster on the cabinets
If you dislike cream, this is probably one you’ll want to avoid (but that doesn’t mean it isn’t GREAT for a north-facing room). Instead, check out…
5. BENJAMIN MOORE OXFORD WHITE CC-30
Oxford White is an interesting one as it isn’t TRADITIONALLy warm, but it’s also NOT clean or icy – it’s more like a ‘soft neutral white’. This means it WILL pick up a bit of that cool cast coming in the windows but won’t fall as cold as less suitable white paint colours.
Sadly, I don’t have a ton of photos of Oxford in action, but you can see it on the trim in this next photo (White Dove on the walls)…
Oxford White has a slightly higher LRV than most of the other whites, coming in at a whopping 88.85. This means in the absence of a TRUE white, it will look like white – but watch out as even white appliances or my pasty winter white legs can blow Oxford White’s ‘true white’ cover!
Let’s take a quick break to talk about paint samples…
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 needing 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
6. Sherwin Williams Creamy SW 7012
Creamy is one of my faves, however, FULL DISCLOSURE? I love Ryan Reynolds, white wine, Moana, Cornuts and Creamy is actually an off-white, not a white (just thought I’d slip that in at the end).
That’s right, Creamy is an off-white paint colour which means it has more junk in its truck – junk being in the form of a creamy base. BUT HOT DAMN IT’S PRETTY! And while that cream base DOES affect it, giving a subtle warmth, it’s considerably subdued compared to most cream paint colours.
If your room had south-facing or even afternoon western sunshine, Creamy would be MORE than you’re looking for – not just in colour, but in depth. However, that lovely creamy warmth is a great way to balance that cool light coming in your windows.
Now, if you’re twitching in your seat and REALLY REALLY want a more legit white, the ONLY TRUE or COOL white I would humour in a north-facing room is…
BENJAMIN MOORE CHANTILLY LACE
Why Chantilly Lace? Well, she had a pretty face to start. Chantilly Lace is Benjamin Moore’s WHITEST white paint colour and I like it because it doesn’t NATURALLY cast cold (nor does Sherwin Williams High Reflective White). It WILL be affected by the northern light, picking up some of that gray-blue, but it won’t go as icy as some more traditionally cold white paint colours.
High Reflective White / Super White / Chantilly Lace / Decorator’s White
The EXCEPTION: The north-facing room I WOULDN’T paint white
If you have a north-facing room that has very little natural light, I would not paint it white – any white. Why? Well, colour will not come to life without light, so not only will you be fighting the gray of your limited exposure, you’ll be fighting the gray of the shade created due to the lack of natural light.
If you have an awesome interior lighting plan (the above photo does), then fill ‘yer boots, but be sure your space is well-lit before you commit to any type of light colour (or any paint colour, really – fix your lighting peeps).
So, there you have it! Now, of course, there are MANY more awesome colours to check out, but hopefully, these whites get you pointed in the right direction.
NOT SURE WHICH WHITE SUITS YOUR HOME?
Check out my Online Color Consulting packages – I’d love to help!
- The 8 Best Benjamin Moore White Paint Colours
- Colour Review: Benjamin Moore Simply White
- The 3 Best White Paint Colours for Cabinets
- The Best Paint Colours for East Facing Rooms
Originally written in 2017, updated in 2020