We always get a lot of questions about white paint around here. And while it’s not rocket science, I totally get why people are apprehensive at first! There are so many different shades at the store and there’s nothing worse than painting an entire room only to have regrets and want to do it all over again.
So, today’s question is: How do you choose the perfect white paint? What rooms should we not use white in?
Elsie: It was only recently that I discovered a lot of people don’t love white walls as much as I do. And I will say the new trends of boldly-colored walls are truly inspiring to me! Like wow! But, even still, there is nothing that feels like home to me as much as a clean, fresh palette of mostly white. So this post is all about white walls (and trim, and bookcases, and cabinets and whitewashed floors) and why they make me so happy. Feel free to disagree with me because I love hearing different opinions and I definitely consider this an opinion post not some kind of “design rules.”
Here’s what I love about white paint:
It reflects light!
So, the room photographed above is actually one of the darkest rooms in our home because the windows are shaded by a giant magnolia tree. When we first moved in, I had read a post on another blog about how it’s not best to paint dark rooms white. So I painted it grey (and hated it) and then painted it darker charcoal (and hated it too), and then finally resolved to just go with my gut and paint the whole thing white. White walls, white fireplace, whitewashed floors, white shelves. And I LOVE it. It feels bright and airy in the daytime and cozy at night when we’re catching up on Westworld.
A neutral and low contrast look is easy to pull off.
-A colorful or high contrast room takes a lot more work and talent to pull off. I feel like white and neutrals are very forgiving. It’s easy to pull together on a lower budget because you can just paint something white if you don’t like it.
It feels like home to me.
-This is different for everyone, and a total opinion, but I don’t relate with people who say all white rooms feel clinical. I think they feel great! One way to discover this for yourself is to just notice how other people’s rooms (and also restaurants, hotels or shops) make you feel. A lot of white feels comforting, fresh and clean to me. Almost like I can breathe easier.
Here’s how I choose the right white for my rooms:
-I like to stick with bright, untinted white for trim, cabinets or bookshelves. This is pretty much across the board for me. I also like to do semi-gloss for those so they are a little shinier and brighter white, allowing them to pop a little bit.
-I know a lot of people, including Laura, use untinted white on their walls (I’ll let her talk more about that below). For me, personally, I never want my white to read as blue because I have a strong preference for warmer tones. In our previous home, I went with a color with a pretty strong warm tint and in our current home, I went with one that is closer to pure white with a subtle warm tone.
-I prefer to use ONE color of white throughout the home because it’s easier to keep track of and touch up over time. I mean, do you really want to keep track of different shades for different rooms?
The way I choose is I paint a (large) sample section of the white I am considering in the brightest AND the darkest room of our home. Then I look at it in the daylight and at night in the artificial light to make sure there are no surprises. Simple!
To answer the second question: What rooms should we not use white in? My personal opinion is that there is no wrong room to paint white. I have heard that advice, and like I said above, I even followed it. But I truly believe that the FEEL you want in your rooms should be the ultimate deciding factor. For my personal preference, I like to use wallpapers, colors or patterns in rooms where we spend less time (guest room, entryway, formal dining room) and fresh white paint in rooms where we spend more time.
I’ll pass the baton to Laura now.
Laura: Like Elsie said above, white is definitely a subjective choice based on your preferences. I always use an untinted white because I personally like my whites to be as bright as humanly possible! I do have a few shades of white decor items that aren’t a totally pure white, and I’ve become OK with that lately (any hint of off-white or cream used to drive me crazy), but I still choose a totally pure white for all my paint colors and large white pieces. I think for me, the pure white just looks and feels the freshest out of all the white choices and I never have to remember what color shade I used for which room.
It makes rooms feel larger.
-While pretty much all lighter shades of paint also do this, especially if you are repainting a small space that was originally a darker color, white that gives you the maximum amount of space. Our ’60s ranch-style home has a lot of small rooms with small windows and white definitely helps the rooms feel larger.
Is there a downside?
-I will say there can be one particular downside about having white walls at times, and that is you can have some “color bleed” from other large areas of colors in the room that project themselves onto your white walls, making them look a different color at times. For example, I have mint-colored closet doors in our bedroom and depending on how the light is hitting the space, that green can bounce off of the rest of the white room and make the white areas a bit green, too (this tends to show up more in photos than in real life, for some reason). So, just a note to be aware of that if you have white walls and then paint a green ceiling (which we had at our last office space) you’ll have a bit of a green bouncing off of the white in certain scenarios. This happens mostly with large areas of color rather than a pillow, but just something to be aware of if you think that will bother you.
We hope this was helpful for some of you! Don’t stress too much about white painting … just do the testing that I mentioned above and you’ll be good! xx – Elsie
Credits//Author: Elsie Larson and Laura Gummerman, Photography: Amber Ulmer. Photo edited with A Color Story Desktop.