Paint perfect: How to choose the right white

Whether you’re neutralising before going on the market or putting your own stamp on a property you’ve just moved in to, Nothing is ever black and white, especially when it comes to choosing the right shade of white for your home painting project.

A whiter shade of pale

If you thought deciding between 50 shades of grey was hard enough, try picking one of 150 shades of white. That’s how many just one manufacturer, Benjamin Moore, supplies. So, when you think of all the paint brands available, you could be faced with choosing between thousands of different options. 

The right shade of white for your home will depend on multiple factors, including where it will be used and why, the size of a room and its contents. To avoid mistakes, it’s important to understand the nuances of white paint and how various elements can affect perception. 

Consider the undertones 

There is a huge variety of shades of white, which all provide a different result. You could be aiming for whiter than white or not so dazzling, in which case, you’ll need to err towards either cool or warm undertones, respectively.

Cool-inflected whites contain undertones of blue, purple, green or grey, while warm-coloured whites come with red, yellow, pink and orange undertones. How do you know whether brilliant white, off-white, creamy-white or greyish white is best? Read on…

Assess natural light

The look and feel that white paint will create will largely depend on the amount of natural light in a space. If a room is south-facing with lots of natural light, then a cool white can balance the glare. In a small and dark space, or room that gets little natural daylight, you may want to compensate for the coolness with a warm white. 

To complicate matters, east and west facing rooms appear either darker or lighter at different times of day, so think about when you use these spaces most when selecting the shade of white paint. 

The final level of complexity where light is concerned is artificial light. While you should select an undertone to contrast the natural light, you should choose a hue that complements artificial light. Warm undertones with warm bulbs and vice versa. 

Evaluate space and contents

Take a look around the room you are about to paint and note the colours of the furniture, fabrics and floors. The key here is to never blend warm and cool whites or the vibe in the room will feel mismatched.

If it’s a modern space with cool elements, such as stainless-steel kitchen appliances and grey tiling, go with a cool white. Cosier rooms with patterned rugs, colourful curtains and vintage furniture are best suited to warmer white. 

Also think practically when it comes to the paint finish. If your home is childless and pet-free, a stylish matte, chalky or eggshell finish will work well. Opt for a gloss or emulsion finish if you’ll need to wipe away sticky finger marks and muddy paw prints. 

Test, test and test again

There are several stages of testing required to ensure you choose the perfect white for your paint project:-

  1. Firstly, trust your eye and ignore any creative names – they often mean nothing! In store, compare alternative whites to a pure brilliant white and pick your favourite few based on your perception. 
  2. Digital and printed colour charts rarely offer a 100% accurate representation of the paint, so it’s vital to buy tester pots. Paint the various colours onto large pieces of white card and place them in various areas of the room before whittling down your list (don’t forget to note the name of each shade next to the swatch). 
  3. When you have just two or three favourites, paint large areas of the actual walls you’re decorating, as the paint will react to what’s underneath – plaster, lining paper etc. Ensure you leave the paint to dry completely before casting any votes, and make your decision once you have seen the paint during the day and at night. 

If you follow these steps to choosing your white paint, it’ll be all ‘white’ on the night (or day)!