How to choose the best white paint colours for every room
August 26, 2023
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One of the most popular decorating colours for a reason, the best white paint colours can refresh a room, make it feel bigger and tie an entire scheme together.
But choosing a shade of white to achieve this is not so simple, and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the many different tones, shades and white paint colours on offer. There are so many nuances and different tones of ‘white’ that all feel very unique in different rooms and at various points of the day.
“White can be one of the most difficult colours to choose because there are so many variations and small differences in tone,” says Justyna Korczynska, Senior Designer at Crown.
“You can have a very clean white, a chalky white, a greyed white, a white that has a hint of green, or white with more of a yellow hue. This is because every white has an underlying tone – it might be something slightly warm or cool – the merest hint of red or blue for example.”
So how do you determine the best white paint colour for your interior walls, ceilings, and woodwork? We asked colour consultants, interior designers and paint experts, for their advice and insights into the best white paint colours to cater for every space in the home…
How to choose the best white paint colours for your home
Are you looking for a warm white or a stark brilliant white? Is the room you are looking to paint filled with natural light, or north-facing and lacking warm sunlight? All of these factors are important to consider and will affect the shade of white you choose.
“White paint is probably the most misunderstood shade of them all,” explains Helen Shaw, Director at Benjamin Moore. “White paint colours can feel differently depending on the type and orientation of the light that hits it and of course dependant on whether it has been tinted.”
“Whites can change hue dramatically from room to room in the same house let alone from a paint shop to your own home so always use pure paint samples or tester pots to check the exact tone,” adds Justyna. “It’s a good idea to do this at different times of the day and evening to see how it looks in both natural and artificial light.”
“When choosing your white tone, always consider the whole scheme in its entirety,” advises Farrow & Ball’s International Brand Ambassador, Patrick O’Donnell. “The best way to choose the right white tone for a space is by finding the undertone that suits your style and home, and most importantly, the light aspect of your room. To help ‘read’ the undertone of a colour, place your swatch on a pure white background.”
“North-facing rooms can often feel colder, so it’s important to really consider the purpose and size of the room before choosing a white paint colour,” advises Helen. “All light, especially natural light, impacts how paint colour appears on a wall – and ultimately, how the room looks.”
Here are our top tips on choosing the best overall white paint…
Consider the Tone: There are two base tones to any shade of white: warm or cool. “Warm whites offer a more yellow, soothing undertone, have a softer appearance and can be cosy and welcoming, especially in large open spaces,” explains says Philippa Radon, C2 Paint colour and design expert. “Cool whites feel crisper and cleaner, have a bluer, more energising undertone, and pair best with the blues, greens and the cooler grey colour range.”
Determine natural light levels: It’s all-important to ascertain what the overall “temperature” of the space is: does it look and feel warm or cool? How much natural sunlight does the room receive? Are you reliant on artificial lights during the daytime? Are certain pockets of the room in shadow? “If unsure, use an oversized paint chip in a few different shades to see which one looks best, day and night,” advises Philippa.
Consider the effects of artificial light sources: “If you take the time to select the perfect white with the right undertone, make sure your selected lighting accentuates your chosen shade,” says Philippa. “I like using carefully curated bulbs and fixtures to create an inviting atmosphere and building layers of light that blend well together.”
Best bright white paint colours
If you are looking for the truest shade of white for your walls, ceilings or woodwork, go for a shade that is devoid of undertones – because it is these underlying pigments that will take the shade in either a direction of warmth or cooling influences.
1. Chantilly Lace by Benjamin Moore
“The brightest white in the Benjamin Moore palette is Chantilly Lace. This is a simple, clean white with none of the cold blue undertones so common in other ‘brilliant whites’ which make them feel stark and clinical,” Helen explains.
“This pure aesthetic means Chantilly Lace is great for all-white spaces but it also sits comfortably with pretty much every other hue, so it is a safe choice for woodwork and ceilings if you are uncertain what to choose.”
The best-selling Behr bright white is pure by name and pure by nature, with no warming or cool undertones. This provides a clean white canvas for any space. “BEHR’s whitest paint is Ultra Pure White,” explains Erika Woelfel, VP of Color & Creative Services at Behr Paint Company.
“This clean, crisp and totally neutral white, is a top seller for its effortless ability to fit into any room type of any decorating style.”
As the name would suggest this shade by Farrow & Ball is as true as a brilliant white gets. “Unusually, All White contains no other pigment except for white, creating the softest most sympathetic colour without the colder blue undertones of a brilliant white,” explains Patrick.
“One of our contemporary neutrals, All White pairs seamlessly with Skimming Stone and Strong White for a warm scheme with a slight edge.”
“Of all the colours, white reflects the lightest and so we use it to make small dark rooms look bigger and brighter, ceilings look taller, colours look more impactful and woodwork gleam,” says Marianne.
“You could say that white is the ultimate neutral because it works with everything. If you are looking for a bright white that just works effortlessly in any room, I recommend our White Cotton.”
“In general, warm whites contain hints of gold and pink,” explains Dulux’s Creative Director Marianne Shillingford. “They work beautifully with warmer shades of colour and are best in north-facing rooms.”
“There has always been an infinite array of whites to choose from – each with their own DNA, but those heralding a creamier, softer side seem to be drawing more appealing within the more self-indulgent ‘quiet luxury’ design movement,” says Philippa.
“Ranging from those warmer variants with hints of buttery yellow, blanched oatmeal or softest taupe. Creamy whites strike a slightly less conventional delicate balance between cool and warm, encompassing the perfect blend of sophistication and comfort.”
5. Swiss Coffee by Behr
“Most whites have a slight colour nuance or undertone. Warm whites have a golden cream undertone that feels cosy and inviting,” explains Erika.
“Behr’s Swiss Coffee is the best example of warm whites, ideal for living rooms, dining rooms and kitchens. The light tones can brighten up spaces making them feel spacious yet welcoming.”
If you’re looking for a warm, clean white Helen recommends this tone to balance the warmth and coolness of the natural light. “These whites have a subtle yellow undertone that makes spaces feel warm and sunny without looking too creamy. The lack of any grey pigment keeps the colours feeling clean and fresh,” explains Helen.
“These colours are ideal for north-facing spaces or spaces without too much light because they are bright and uplifting. Warm whites such as Simply White, have undertones of red and yellow, resulting in a soft glow and welcoming mood.”
Look for warmer tones of white to counteract the darkness of shadowed light in north-facing or other light-deprived rooms. A warmer tone of white can sometimes feel creamy which is beneficial in a shaded room to compensate for the lack of natural warmth.
“North-facing rooms bring out the cooler undertones of colours and will therefore benefit from warmer white tones such as Pointing,” advises Patrick. “This shade is ideal for providing a touch of warmth to lift a room starved of natural light.”
“In contrast to the warm clean whites, these colours have both grey and yellow undertones. They create a more contemporary feel than their cleaner counterparts,” explains Helen.
“A warm muted white such as White Dove is stunning in all-white spaces, especially when layered with natural colours and textures in throws, pillows, and fabrics. They are especially suited to spaces with a lot of natural light to create a soft, calming feel.”
“White Dove is clean, classic, and helps to spread natural light throughout the house – a versatile option, working in both warm and cool settings,” says Corban De La Vega, at Decor Matters. “The soft shade has a subtle hint of grey but is not too cool or mundane. This colour is popular in cabinetry, mouldings, backdrops, and just about anywhere in the house.
If you’re looking for the best white paint colour for a room you tend to use for relaxing in the latter part of the day, it’s key to look for a shade that offers warmer red undertones to make a home feel cosy.
“White shades like Joa’s White resonate beautifully in west-facing spaces, as the addition of red-based undertones adds to the warm afternoon glow,” explains Patrick. “It lends itself perfectly towards rooms we use to relax in the evening time, by providing a comforting, cosy feel towards the end of the day.”
“Cooler whites contain hints of blue, grey and green which make them perfect for teaming with cooler shades and for south-facing rooms,” advises Marianne.
10. Ice Mist by Benjamin Moore
“Because of the blue, green, and grey undertones, cool whites help to create a space that looks crisp, clean, and luminous so they are a great choice for contemporary, minimalist spaces, ” advises Helen.
“Or in combination with green, grey or blue walls colour and accessories. Cool whites such as Ice Mist can also provide strong anchors for bright, deep, and saturated colour schemes.”
A cool white can feel warmer than bright but not creamy because sometimes the red undertones can influence the tone a step too far. The key with cooler whites is balancing the undertones, so they don’t look more lilac in certain lights.
“A cooler white like Lead White contains hints of blue, grey and green which make them perfect for teaming with cooler shades and for south-facing rooms,” says Marianne.
“Water Glass is a sophisticated white with a blue/green undertone without being cold or stark,” says Edward Bulmer, founder and leading interior designer at Edward Bulmer Natural Paint. This depth of tone is ideal for south-facing rooms.
“We love Water Glass paired with deep greens and greys and can help you achieve quite a contemporary feel within a space and is also lovely on woodwork.”
An off-white is the ideal neutral for not having to commit to colour but not painting walls in a traditional white. An off-white can feel more like a pale grey but not as cold thanks to the level of warmth.
“The best-off whites are tinted with earth pigments such as yellow ochre, red ochre, raw umber and a little black,“ says Edward. “These will have warmth and a bit of hue, ranging from yellow to red through green and grey.
“What works best is determined by ’uncoloured’ elements in the room like stone or wood and what weight of colour the room calls for. Some off-whites look too bright against deep colours or old furnishings and others can look too muddy for a modern and airy aesthetic.”
13. Spanish White by Edward Bulmer Natural Paint
“Whilst it may be an incredibly popular white for that ‘fifth’ wall – ceiling, this white wonder also conjures up daydreams of the Mediterranean,” says Edward.
“Spanish White resembles the whitewashed stone of old buildings in sleepy Spanish towns. A mix of a bright white with a hint of yellow and ochre to create an uplifting hallway when mixed with other earthy tones.”
Off-white is a popular choice when you want a white that doesn’t feel too ‘white’.
“Muted whites have a subtle grey undertone and give a softer, more contemporary feel,” explains Helen. “Muted whites work well as the woodwork and ceiling colour in bright spaces in combination with a muted wall colour.”
“Muted whites also work well as a wall colour in brightly lit spaces to give a spacious feel without being too stark. One of our most popular muted whites is Decorators White.”
When looking for the best white paint for ceilings, all of the notes above come into play and the shade will depend on the light in the room and surrounding colours. A general rule is to aim for a ceiling paint colour that is a tonal match for your walls – similar to matching your skirting boards to the wall colour. So a warm white paint colour for the ceiling if your walls are yellow or pink, or an off-white paint colour if you have grey or sage green walls.
“There are no hard or fast rules for finding the perfect white, it really depends on what atmosphere you want to create,” says Justyna. “If the desire is to create a calm, serene space then use tone-on-tone colour; a cooler white with cooler-toned pastels or a warm white with warm pastels.”
Justyna goes on to suggest, “using colours with opposing undertones; a cool white with a warm colour will create a stronger contrast which will result in a fresh, clean look. Juxtaposing cool Chalky White with warm Fairy Dust, a blush pink paint colour, will create an almost graphic look and provide an upbeat, energetic feel within a space.”
“Often referred to as the ‘fifth wall’. You’ll want to go a little warmer for this or risk getting a very cold-looking room, Spanish White is my go-to ceiling white,” says head colour consultant Emma Bulmer at Edward Bulmer Natural Paint. “Equally you could opt for Jonquil 20% with its subtle pink undercurrent.”