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This is How to Choose the Right White Paint, According to Designers

Master bedroom design—Emily Henderson
Sara Ligorria-Tramp ; DESIGN: Emily Henderson Design ; STYLING: Brady Tolbert

Walk into a stunning space and it's likely that the last thing you'll notice is the most important: The shade of white paint adorning the walls. Acting as a crisp blank canvas, it's one of the most underrated aspects of an interior, and, according to color consultants, one of the most common mistakes among renovators. We hear you: White is white, right? Not quite. Anyone who has ventured to the paint aisle at Home Depot can attest that this seemingly simple decorating choice involves hundreds of swatch options, so we talked to some experts to help you figure out the best white paint for you.

  • Color Family: White
  • Complementary Colors: None
  • Pairs Well With: All colors
  • Mood: Calm and tranquil
  • Where to Use: Great for walls, ceilings, and trim

Before you pick up a paintbrush, let us help you choose the best shade of white paint for your home. It just might be the most important decorating decision you make.

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Benjamin Moore Chantilly Lace

Benjamin Moore - Chantilly Lace

 Sarah Fultz Interiors

"Color does not live in isolation. It's relative to its surroundings, so you want to be mindful of the existing colors when choosing paint," says Hannah Yeo, Benjamin Moore's color and design expert. One of the easiest ways to narrow your search for the perfect shade is to consider the tone of statement furniture in the space. A crisp, clean white works well with cool jewel tones.

Benjamin Moore - Chantilly Lace
Benjamin Moore Chantilly Lace $11.00
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Farrow & Ball All White

Farrow & Ball - All White

Courtesy of Farrow & Ball 

Every shade has the power to change the personality of your room and evoke a different emotion—white shades with red and yellow undertones are comforting and inviting, while whites with blue or green undertones are refreshing. If you want to keep your space neutral, opt for a white with no undertones, like Farrow & Ball's All White.

Farrow & Ball - All White
Farrow & Ball All White $110.00
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Behr Looking Glass

white paint
Nicole Holst for Stylizmo

White shades may seem similar, but they look vastly different once painted on your walls. "If you choose a shade with the wrong undertone for your lighting and space, instead of feeling airy and bright, it could end up looking dingy, cold or dusty." says Erika Woelfel, vice president of color and creative services at Behr

A white with gray undertones is ideal for spaces with natural light.

Behr - Looking Glass
Behr Looking Glass $44.00
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Behr Swiss Coffee

Behr - Swiss Coffee

Photo by Amy Bartlam; Design by Jenn Feldman Design 

There's one key aspect to consider that most decorators overlook: the style of your home. Woelfel explains: "In older or more traditional homes, it's probably best to use a warmer white—especially if your home features a fair amount of woodwork. Warmer undertones will pair beautifully with wood tones and really make those details shine," she says.

Behr - Swiss Coffee
Behr Swiss Coffee Paint $32.00
05 of 11

Benjamin Moore Marscapone

Benjamin Moore - Marscapone

 Courtesy of Benjamin Moore

You've picked your perfect shade, painted a swatch on the wall, and can't understand why it looks so different to the paint chip in your hand. The reason could be artificial lighting. "When you turn on electrical lights in the evening, it can greatly affect how your chosen hue appears," says Woelfel. This warm white has yellow undertones, so to adjust the glow, experiment with swapping out cool and warm-colored lightbulbs.

Benjamin Moore Marscapone $11.00
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Sherwin-Williams Westhighland White

Sherwin Williams - Westhighland White

Courtesy of Sherwin-Williams

Sherwin-Williams Westhighland White $68.00

"Typically, cool-toned furniture and décor pair best with cool whites, and the same goes for warm-toned pieces and accents," says Woelfel. "There can be some mixing of tones, but larger furniture items like sofas or significant focal points should share undertones with your paint color." For a warm white like this one, decorate with wood to complement the shade's undertones.

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Benjamin Moore Simply White

Benjamin Moore - Simply White

Studio McGee

If you want your interior to mirror the heritage of your home, take photo references to a paint specialist, who will be able to discern the difference between two similar shades. "If your home is more modern, you'll likely need to use a cool-toned white. Blue and green undertones will play better with modern color palettes, fixtures, and appliances," she notes. This clean-crisp white by Benjamin Moore is a failsafe, timeless option that goes with almost any décor style.

Benjamin Moore - Simple White
Benjamin Moore Simply White $11.00
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Sherwin-Williams Pure White

Sherwin-Williams Pure White

 Photo by Sara Tramp; Design by Emily Henderson Design

Paint isn't just aesthetic; high-traffic areas such as an entryway or staircase call for durable paint that won't mark with time. Woelfel explains: "It's very important to consider sheen when painting a room. Not only will sheen impact how your color appears, it also impacts durability and how easy the surface is to clean, should it get marked up or stained,” she says. Consider Sherwin-Williams Pure White for a mostly neutral paint with slightly warm undertones.

Benjamin Moore - Pure White
Benjamin Moore Pure White $38.00
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Benjamin Moore Acadia White

neutral, room, interior design

If your room is small or dark, there's a solution beyond adding more lamps and pendant lights: "There's a popular opinion that painting a small or dark space white will make it seem larger and brighter, [but] it can do the exact opposite in a small space with little light," says Woelfel. To brighten a dark space, she recommends choosing paint "with a significant amount of pigment or strong undertone." This shade by Benjamin Moore is off-white, offering a bit more pigment.

Benjamin Moore - Acadia White
Benjamin Moore Acadia White $11.00
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Sherwin-Williams Extra White

Sherwin-Williams Extra White

Nichole Loiacono Design 

An easy way to gauge whether your space needs a warm or cool shade of white, consider the direction windows face. "North-facing rooms appear cooler than south facing rooms," says Yeo. If your room lacks the warmth of the sun in the afternoon, she recommends warmer whites, "as the yellow and red undertone imitates the sun's glow." Sherwin-Williams Extra White is ideal for rooms that already get a lot of warmth from the sun.

Sherwin-Williams - Extra White
Sherwin-Williams Extra White $38.00
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Farrow & Ball Strong White

Farrow & Ball - Strong White

Nichole Loaicono Design

If you're convinced you've found your perfect match, do one last exercise: the blindfold test. The names of paint colors can seriously sway your decision and could lead you off-course. "We put a lot of thought into our paint colors, knowing they can sway consumers toward one shade or another. We choose names based on the imagery and mood each color evokes," Woelfel explains. This white with gray undertones by Farrow & Ball evokes strength.

Farrow & Ball - Strong White
Farrow & Ball Strong White $110.00