How to find the BEST (right) white for your walls, cabinets, trims and more
White paint colours are definitely ON-TREND right now on both interior walls and exteriors. However, white is trendy AND timeless on trims, ceilings, doors and kitchen cabinets, making it a no-brainer for MANY homes. But that doesn’t make it any easier to pick. Warm, cool, bright, soft – where do you even BEGIN?
We’re going to look at the FIVE types of white paint colours. When looking for the best white for the job, you’ll want to figure out which TYPE of white best suits your room – not based on your personal preferences, but on the NEEDS of your room and its finishes! I know, that can be a tough pill to swallow, but if you take a swig of wine, it’ll go down easier, wink wink. #justjokingkindof
1. Bright white paint colours
Bright whites are just what they claim to be – bright white. If you can’t picture one in your mind, just think of my pasty white Ginger legs. Now, being bright doesn’t mean whites have an absence of undertone (although some do), it just means they have a more traditional (or genuine) approach to white compared to many other whites.
Benjamin Moore Simply White is a bright white. It has an LRV of 91.7 along with a yellow undertone…
THE DEPTH (VALUE) OF BRIGHT WHITES
The bright white range starts at approx. 90 LRV and goes up from there. Not sure what LRV is? It basically tells you how light or dark a colour is on a scale of 0-100, 100 being the WHITEST. In the paint world, white only goes up to 94, so, with an LRV of 90, you’re looking at a lovely bright, but not TRUE white paint colour.
WHAT ARE THE MOST COMMON UNDERTONES IN BRIGHT WHITES?
In bright whites, the undertones you’ll find the most of are yellow and blue. And while those undertones are there, because we’re dealing with such HIGH LRVs, they can be less noticeable on the large scale, especially in bright rooms where you get a lot of light bouncing around the room (as shown above). This bright light ENHANCES and brightens a bright white even more, and we lose much of the colour in the process. The undertones in bright whites can also be less noticeable UNTIL you compare them to a white that’s true or the opposite undertone.
Benjamin Moore Super White is a bright white with its LRV of 89.09. While it can look DARNED WHITE, especially in a well-lit room, it has a slightly cool blue undertone.
Not seeing blue in the above photo? That’s because this is a south-facing room and those warm rays are balancing Super White a bit.
WHERE TO USE BRIGHT WHITE PAINT COLOURS
- With cool colour palettes, especially surfaces like marble (use cool bright whites, which we’ll get into below).
- They prefer clean colour palettes more so than earth-toned/dirty ones.
- But they CAN work with earth-tone or neutral palettes depending on the undertone of the white and the types of colours chosen – soft whites are often better.
- In dark spaces, although you’ll still want to improve your lighting.
Super White is looking SUPER gorgeous in this cute little powder room…
WHERE ARE BRIGHT WHITES MORE CHALLENGING?
- Warm palettes (ie: many Tuscan style early 2000s homes or homes with a lot of beige or tan finishes).
- North-facing light, as COOL bright whites can look pretty darned stark and icy.
- With countertops/backsplashes that need a softer approach as they have a variety of colours/tones in them, but NOT bright white.
- On exteriors, unless you want a SUPER WHITE look
2. Soft white paint colours
Soft whites look just like they sound. What does this mean? Well, depending on the LRV you choose, they can either:
- Look like a brighter white (even though they aren’t) in the absence of a TRUE white to be directly compared to, or…
- Look like a soft, more subtle white even when there isn’t a clean white to compare them to.
We can also see White Dove on this exterior, looking MUCH STRONGER. You can see how it wouldn’t be mistaken for a ‘bright true white’ as it’s easy to see the warmth and softness of it. This happens a lot on exteriors, as they get so much more DIRECT sunlight, unfiltered by windows. Learn more HERE.
THE DEPTH (VALUE) OF SOFT WHITE PAINT COLOURS
The soft white range starts at approx. 82 LRV and goes up to 89 or so. If you go above 89, you’re in a bright white. Go below 82 and you’re tip-toeing in the OFF-WHITE range.
Sherwin Williams Pure White (below) is another soft white. It has an LRV of 84 and a more muted warmth compared to White Dove…
See more of this Pure White home HERE
THE UNDERTONES FOUND MOST COMMONLY IN SOFT WHITE PAINT COLOURS
With having a slightly lower LRV/depth, soft white paint colours have a bit more colourant/tint in them, giving more opportunity for main and secondary undertones. This can also allow for a ‘toned-down’ look (grayed-out or dirtied), which cuts back on how much of the undertone you see. In BRIGHT whites it can be harder to hide the undertone as bright whites will have less colourant in them (due to their high LRVs).
As for the ACTUAL undertones, you’ll find a wide assortment that’ll vary depending on whether you have a WARM white or a COOL white, which we’ll be getting into shortly.
Benjamin Moore Cloud White (below) is another popular soft, warm white…
See the full, budget-friendly remodel HERE
WHERE TO USE SOFT WHITE PAINT COLOURS
- They work in almost any palette, as long as it’s not too cool/crisp. It’s best to partner temperatures up though (ie: warm with warm and cool with cool).
- With many of the popular quartz, marble-look countertops.
- Cool soft whites work great with southern or afternoon western light.
- WARM soft whites are a GREAT balance to cool northern light.
Pure White, shown here on the kitchen cabinets, walls, ceilings and trims, is a soft white that can definitely LOOK like white if there isn’t a true white to be directly compared to – but it’s STILL a softie at heart…
See more of this gorgeous Pure White home HERE
Here’s Pure White again on these kitchen cabinets, along with Benjamin Moore Collingwood…
WHERE ARE SOFT WHITES MORE CHALLENGING?
- With cool or true white products, ie: traditional white subway tile or white appliances.
- With existing ‘non-warm white’ trims and cabinets, heavier creams in particular (common in the 2000s)
Now that we’ve covered DEPTH, numbers 3-5 will refer to TEMPERATURE, which also relates to UNDERTONES…
3. Warm white paint colours
FIRST THINGS FIRST – UNDERTONES
Just like any other warm paint colour, warm whites will have undertones of yellow, orange, red (pink) or a wink o’ green. The BRIGHTER the white is (90+ LRV), the less likely you are to see orange and green. Why? Well, we’d be going down a BIIIIIG rabbit hole, so I’m going to keep it super simple (and touch on COOL whites in the process, killing two birds with one stone)…
Blue, yellow and red (pink) are PRIMARY colours and don’t need to be mixed with any other colour to be what they are.
Orange, green and purple are SECONDARY colours, meaning you need to mix two primary colours together to make them. Well, in colours with high LRV’s, you have LESS opportunity for colour mixing only because these colours have SO little colourant in them, that’s what makes them SO WHITE!
In this next photo, we actually darkened Benjamin Moore Cloud White just to give it a BIT more oomph (a super technical term)…
We can also pull our first two types of white into the picture now as warm whites will either be BRIGHT or SOFT:
- A BRIGHT WARM white (LRV approx. 90+) – the brightness gives us that higher LRV.
- A SOFT WARM white (LRV approx. 82-89) – the softness gives us that slightly lower LRV.
In this next photo, Benjamin Moore Gray Owl looks gorgeous with Cloud White on the trims. If you want to increase the warmth of a warm white, you would partner it with a gray, greige or cool-toned paint colour. Opposites attract and make each other stronger (just like me n’ Tim).
YOUTUBE video review of Benjamin Moore Revere Pewter
WHERE TO USE WARM WHITE PAINT COLOURS
- Almost any palette, as long as it’s not TOO crisp and cool. Warm whites can offer an interesting contrast to many gray paint colours as they slightly enhance each other.
- Warm bright whites are nice for dark spaces.
- Warm bright whites aren’t usually best for marble or quartz countertops.
- They’re a nice balance to cooler northern light.
- They’re particularly nice in homes from the early 2000s, full of travertine tiles, older-style granite countertops and beige finishes.
Sherwin Williams Alabaster (trim/wainscoting) is a wicked warm white, well-suited to other warm-toned finishes, as shown in this entryway/staircase…
Professional photo by JR Photography
WHERE ARE WARM WHITES MORE CHALLENGING?
- With cool or true white products, ie: traditional white subway tile or white appliances.
- With existing ‘non-warm white’ trims and cabinets, especially cream or cool whites.
- South-facing or western afternoon light IF the white is considerably warm.
- Traditionally brighter and cooler products such as marble.
As shown in this next photo, warm whites won’t suit cooler surfaces nearly as well as BRIGHT or TRUE whites. The warm white of the cabinets below was clashing with my Online Colour Consulting client’s existing countertop/backsplash. I suggested Sherwin Williams High Reflective White as a more suitable alternative.
4. Cool white paint colours
GETTING THE LOW DOWN ON UNDERTONES
Just like gray paint colours, cool whites will have either blue, green or purple undertones, with blue being the most common. Remember, we only need one ‘colour’ to make blue – BLUE, whereas we need two, blue + red (purple) or blue + yellow (green). So, the softer your white is, the more likely you are to get those secondary undertones.
Benjamin Moore Super White is a freakin’ STUNNING cool white and a beautiful contrast to the warmth of the wood flooring and bench seat in this next photo…
As it relates to cool white colours, we get to bring our first two whites in again as they’ll be either BRIGHT-COOL or SOFT-COOL:
- A BRIGHT COOL white (LRV approx. 90+)
- A SOFT COOL white (LRV approx. 82-89)
WHERE TO USE COOL WHITE PAINT COLOURS
- With other similarly cool paint colours or interior finishes. Make sure the undertones jibe!
- With white appliances (brand dependant).
- With many marbles surfaces, particularly soft cool whites.
- A nice balance to southern or western afternoon sunshine as they offer balance to the warm sun coming in the windows.
- With many brands of white windows (more so bright cool whites).
Sherwin Williams Extra White is a COOL soft white, with an LRV of 86. I find it funny that so many paint store employees refer to it as the best white when it’s WAY too cool for many finishes – I’ve only suggested it a HANDFUL of times in my E-Design adventures for this reason…
Do you want to NERD-OUT with me for a minute and learn WHY Extra White isn’t so easy to work with? I know you do…
So, Extra White is a paint you can actually take RIGHT off the shelf, have shaken and walk out the door – no colourant added. HOWEVER, that doesn’t mean it’s a true white. Extra White COMES as a white with a bit of gray in it. What is gray? Black + white. HOWEVER…Sherwin Williams black has a little touch of blue in it, and this blue gives Extra White that SLIGHTLY cool blue undertone. With an LRV of 86, there was no WAY it was a true white, something had to be in there.
WHERE ARE COOL WHITES MORE CHALLENGING?
- With existing ‘non-cool white’ trims and cabinets.
- North-facing rooms, as the light is already cool coming in the windows and a cool paint colour will compound the effect.
- With interior finishes that are warm, ie: beige tiles and carpet or countertops with a warm white/cream in them.
5. TRUE white paint colours
TRUE white paint colours are definitely the most POPULAR, with soft warm whites coming in a hot second. True whites can also be classified as being BRIGHT whites with their high LRV’s, BUT not all bright whites are true (they have an undertone).
Similar to Sherwin Williams High Reflective White
And you’d think there would be one universal white amongst brands that was just good ‘ole white, but because white (in the paint world) only goes up to an LRV of 94 – not 100 which is PURE white, every brand has their OWN version of white. If we actually had a white with an LRV of 100, it would be the same white no matter WHICH brand it was in.
In this next photo, Sherwin Williams High Reflective White is a BEAUTIFUL partner to the marble backsplash and white quartz countertop…
Benjamin Moore Chantilly Lace is in my TOP THREE fave white paint colours, along with Sherwin Williams Pure White and Benjamin Moore White Dove. It’s just a weeeee willy wink softer than HIgh Reflective White, but a WHACK whiter (again, sorry to be so technical) than Pure White and White Dove.
WHERE TO USE TRUE WHITE PAINT COLOURS
- They partner well with most white appliances.
- Traditionally white subway tiles often best suit true white paint colours.
- White windows from many popular brands.
- With some cool and warm whites, depending on the application and how you’re partnering them up (the true white is often best as the trim/cabinet colour).
- With many of the popular quartz or marble-look countertops.
Remember, just because a colour is WHITE doesn’t mean it will lighten up any old space. In this hallway, even a true white like Benjamin Moore Chantilly Lace looks muted…(and looks WICKED with a Hale Navy backdrop – HALE YES!)
WHERE ARE TRUE WHITE PAINT COLOURS MORE CHALLENGING?
True white paint colours aren’t as EASY as you’d think…
- Having no undertone, they’ll be VERY susceptible to picking up colours from their environments, such as looking bluer in northern light or more yellow in southern light (mind you, ANY colour with a high LRV can do this).
- They’re fussy with finishes in a room that don’t have equally as TRUE whites in them, ie: a countertop with a warm white fleck in it
- With beige and tan finishes they can be particular. Fine for trim, but a tough-sell on walls or cabinets (can depend on exposure as well as other finishes).
Can you use different white paint colours on trims, walls and cabinets?
If you want to see me twitching in the corner with my thumb in my mouth and an empty bottle of wine and funnel by my side, go ahead, mix whites. And while you CAN mix some whites (it’s easier to do if one of the whites is ‘true’), it can also be a SUPER hot mess.
In this next photo, the soft warm white pantry door, bright white trim, bright white moulding on top of the cabinets and glazed creamy cabinets make me die a bit inside every time I see them…
If you DO want to mix whites, here’s a big fat tip…
THE BEST WHITES TO COORDINATE WITH OTHER WHITES
If you really want to do some mixing, I recommend making me a cake or a mixed tape. On the other hand, if you want to do some PAINT mixing, I recommend using one of the following colours as your MAIN white (preferably on the trim or cabinets) and using a cool, soft, bright or warm white on your walls. Doing it the other way can make your trim look overly colourful and the effect looks backwards.
THREE TRUE WHITE PAINT COLOURS
Why THOSE whites? Well, when looking for whites, either for trims, cabinets or walls, most people are looking for SOME type of white – either soft, warm, bright or otherwise. What they’re rarely looking for is a ‘colour’. The undertones in a white will stay more passive if you don’t compare them to a different type of white (ie: mixing warm and cool). Just like Jack, they only POP when you step outside of the box.
In this next photo, the walls are Benjamin Moore Decorators White, which has an LRV of 84.61, making it a SOFT COOL white. The only reason this combo works is because the door/trim are LEGIT white (actual name unknown)…
It’s not as easy to see the shift to the left of the door, but MUCH easier to see it on the right.
In this space, it didn’t make SENSE to mix up the whites. Instead, we let the sheen do the work for us…
And I agree, that’s a lot of counter stools, I don’t even have that many friends. Three or four would be better.
As an example, let’s say you wanted to use Benjamin Moore Simply White, a nice bright warm white. It could look JUST how you want it UNTIL you partner it with either a cool white. Opposites attract and ENHANCE each other, so the undertone of a cool white (usually blue or blue-purple) will OVER EXPOSE the yellow in Simply White. In return, the yellow of Simply White will ENHANCE the cool undertone in your other white – congratulations, you know have yellow trim and blue walls!
In the above photo, we managed to use Benjamin Moore White Dove on the walls with Oxford White on the trims – it turned out great, but it was close (I had my wine bottle in my holster, locked n’ loaded).
The same thing happens, just on a smaller scale with a TRUE white. While the contrast won’t be as strong, a true white will help expose the undertones in a NON-true white.
What about choosing the same TYPE of white?
Your next BEST bet at mixing and matching whites is to use the same TYPE of white with similar undertone profiles, but different LRV’s. This way you’re working off similar foundations and are only adjusting the depths. The tricky thing is that whites rarely have similar foundations and it’s VERY EASY to make a wrong turn.
LOOOONG STORY SHORT, if you want to keep a Ginger sane, paint your trim, cabinets and walls white the same white and just let the shift in SHEEN do the tweaking for you (sheen affects how a paint colour looks).
The NUMBER ONE key to picking the BEST white for the job: COMPARE!
Compare compare compare. NOTHING beats comparison when it comes to choosing white paint colours, and I have some pretty specific tips on how to do that.
If you compare whites like THIS, it’s much easier to see which one works and WHY! (Left side, it’s the warmest)
- DON’T use white paper or poster board as your comparison white. Why? These are notoriously cool and come in may different versions. While they can work well enough for ‘colours’, they’re the WORST for whites as they will OVER EXPOSE the undertones in any well-intentioned white.
- Compare whites to each other. So, when you order from Samplize (US) or HELLO PAINT (CDN), order the white you THINK you want, as well as a few similar ones – I find four to be a great number for comparison/range. Amongst those four you’ll want…
- A TRUE WHITE. Ideally, this would be Behr Ultra Pure White as it’s THE whitest white on the market clocking in with an LRV of 90 FREAKIN’ 4 – that’s pretty damn white in our wild world of whites! However, if you aren’t near Home Depot, use these whites instead…
- Benjamin Moore Chantilly Lace – BMs most TRUE white
- Sherwin Williams High Reflective White – SWs most TRUE white
If you don’t want to order a whole bunch of samples, then ONLY grab your fave, along with one of the above three whites and see which undertones you’re dealing with.
That was a TON of info to digest and I didn’t even give you an appetizer. Let’s clean things up a bit…
The 5 Types of White Paint Colours
- WARM WHITE
- COOL WHITE
- BRIGHT WHITE (can be warm or cool)
- SOFT WHITE (can be warm or cool)
- TRUE WHITE
So, there you have it! Want to learn MORE about white? Oh, have I got some good posts for you – keep reading to the bottom of this blog post and you’ll find a whole bunch to wet your white whistle…ermm, that sounds rude, doesn’t it? I hope so – wink wink.
NEED HELP FINDING YOUR BEST WHITE PAINT COLOUR?
Check out my Online Paint Colour Consulting, I’d love to help!