Getting White Right

Make a cup of tea or grab a glass of red -
this is a long one!

The more I tried to condense this post the more it grew -
there is so much that goes into choosing any color,
but especially white.

If you manage to make it through let me know what you think!!!

Those gleaming white spaces dazzle us all.


White walls offer a clean backdrop, showcasing furnishings and art beautifully.


White highlights architecture, and wrapped onto the ceiling, enlarges your space dramatically.
So how to import a little of this white magic into your home?

There are a few important factors in achieving those perfect white walls.

Most importantly, 
do you have good natural light in your space?

If your answer is no, stop and consider this.

The reason white highlights architecture so spectacularly is that it reacts dramatically to light.
Color is light reflected, and white is every color in the spectrum reflected,
so remove the light and white becomes grey.

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That means if you put white in a space with limited light, darker areas will always become grey,
 no matter how warm the white.
That means the proportions of the room are highlighted,
and if your desire is to "brighten up" a small, dark space
white will have entirely the opposite effect.

 Is your home a bustling mecca of children, visitors, or pets?

If yours is a home filled with these,
be aware white is a bit of a diva - she requires maintenance.

Use the BEST quality paint, buy extra and skip the matte finish -
you'll be washing and touching up those walls frequently.

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Finally: what condition are your walls in?

White reflects the most light of any color, and will highlight any surface imperfections.
Usually going white means doing some terribly boring prep work, 
but if you are willing, the results will be worth it.

If after all this you still want white all that's left to do is choose the perfect one :)

I'm not going to give you a proven formula, because it doesn't exist!
There are infinite combinations of conditions that all combine to
point in the direction of a specific white.

I will however, tell you how I go about it.

First off, you need to determine the exposure of your room - 
that is which direction the light is coming from.
I explored this in an earlier color post,
This is the number one deciding factor as to whether you will need a warm or cool white. 
Next you will need to consider the existing finishes
 and furnishings in the room.
The undertones in these help to determine which white work best.
If you want to enhance your existing finishes without making the color more intense,
choose a white with some of that color in it.
For example, if you dislike that green sofa, but it is staying,
using a white with some green in it will minimize contrast.

If you would like to bring out the color of your existing furnishings/finishes
choose a white that contains it's complement on the color wheel.
For example, if you want to make your oak floors appear richer,
 a cool, blue-based white will pull out the orange tones.

Beiges will have a red, orange or yellow undertone.
Greys will have a blue, green or purple undertone.

The existing finishes and sheen level you choose will also determine reflected color.
Rarely considered, reflected color is a huge factor with white.
Consider the use of the space,
 it will help you to decide how much color you want your white to contain.
Is this somewhere to relax or somewhere to entertain?
How do you want this space to feel?
Some people embrace the energy of a brilliant, pure white,
and some people prefer a white that borders is almost a neutral and embraces softly.

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Next you want to consider placement in the home.
This has to do with flow.
With very pure whites, I prefer to see continued use throughout the home.
One intensely white room in a home filled with color can be jarring.


If your home is based in muted ("dirty") color,
then a warm white will prevent the walls from appearing stark and cold.
Conversely, if you have filled your space with clean color, 
a cooler white looks fresh (whereas a warm white would look dingy).
If you'd like, read this post about creating flow with color
 to determine whether you are working with clean or dirty color 
(less naughty than it sounds, lol!).

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If it sounds like a lot of work that's because it is :)
but you're almost done!
Once you have determined whether you need a cool or warm white, 
and then gone on to determine the undertone that you would prefer,
make yourself a cup of tea and congratulate yourself because you've finished the hardest bit!

 Now comes the fun part:
finding that
or a

All these different "whites" are, in fact, very pale colors.
Bring home a heap of the largest white paint chips you can in your chosen brand.
A really great trick is to lie them out on a piece of white bristol board,
which allows you to see clearly what undertone each has.

You can arrange them into a sort of color wheel, 
and it will be easy to spot the cool whites (blue, green, purple and grey tones)
and the warm whites (red, orange, yellow and brown tones).

I would suggest choosing three - one that you feel is ideal,
one more lively and one more subdued.
Bring home some sample pots and go to town. 
Be sure to look at your choices during different times of the day,
and simply choose your fav!


Some inspiration...

Color appears very differently on a screen than it actually does on your walls,
so I would advise against choosing a color based on something you've seen online.
However, here are some stunning examples of the most popular BM whites...
(see how differently they appear in each picture?)

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I am a big fan of the new Martha Stewart paint line at home depot.
The range of choices is smaller,
but each and every color is something that could actually be used in an interior.

I LOVE how Martha does white!

I used her "Popcorn" in my master bath,
 which isn't quite accessorized to the point of being photographed,
but I will show it to you once it get's there :)

The color is absolutely gorgeous - a very pale grey-white with just a hint of yellow.
I will recommend this one again and again.

Her Picket Fence and Tailors Chalk are classics in my book.


Mention white walls at a dinner party and watch the opinions fly!

It seems we either love them or hate them...

What side of the fence are you on?

I'd love to hear about your success stories (and your battles) with white paint.

and yes, I'm done now :) if there's anyone left, thanks for reading!

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Paddy said...

You're kidding right? How could anyone not read that all the way to the end? I would recommend the cup of tea tho. Thanks. Really. I'd heard about the dark house v white walls argument but never understood why until now. A true tutorial. V generous of you. And the links, a bonus!

Abby M. Interiors said...

All that work and one comment! Come on people!

This is such a great post, my dear. I read the whole thing and even re-read some of the links. Thank you for taking the time to write this out for everyone!! xo

H said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
The enchanted home said...

Such a good post! You did your homework.......white is so great and you think oh its white, easy, peasy...but then you go in to start looking at whites (as I have done lately) and whoa you are hit with literally hundreds of them. And you are so right..lighting is everything when it comes to white. It has such impact on the way white plays out in a room. This was a great tutorial which I will bookmark and refer back to, as I will need all the references I can get!!!! Excellent job!

Unknown said...

I'm dreaming of white in the Master Bedroom. A place to get away from toys and noise. I already have a wallpaper (bindweed) for behind the bed, so my white will have to work with the wallpaper. Because the room is flooded with light all day long, I think it would be a pretty dramatic room. I'll add throws and pillows for the winter to warm it up + some organic elements.

Thanks for the awesome post. I'm even more determined than ever to use white.

marlaakajake said...

Our homes have always been white.
I could not live with any other color. I do have large ceiling so in the larger rooms i have lowered the boom and added a color called pony tail to contrast the brown marble floors. I believe in white drapes or white shutters which i have had in different homes, but my favorite is floor to ceiling drapes with black rods. I do live in a sunny home with large windows everywhere and I love the way the light changes the white at different times of the day.
What a great read you have shared.
A lovely blog.

Carissa @ the Fabulous Design File said...

OMG Anne-Marie! You are seriously one of the best! I should have done my homework before I started slapping different whites up on my walls... THANK YOU for this post. I've already read it twice, but I'll be referencing it often. (you almost had me scared off at the start of the post... but I'm determined to do this!!!) Seeing all of your gorgeous inspiration shots has me super excited again!

Giulia Doyle said...

This is a great post. I spent most of my life in Switzerland and all of my walls were always white, that's the way it is there.
Now that I live in Canada I enjoy some colour on my walls and opted for gray and a strong teal blue. However, I painted my wainscoting in my mudroom and powder room BM ultra white and I really like how that works with the dark teal. I also use that for all my trim.
I'll keep your post ready if I want to go back to European white on the walls.

Unknown said...

Great post Anne-Marie!! I'm trying to pick a wall colour for my bedroom and this will be SO helpful! I'm thinking grey, but there are so so many shades of grey that it's hard to choose!

Barbara Matson said...

Thanks for this very thorough post. I HAVE to bookmark this! Need to make another cup of tea and re-read!

Bad Joan said...

These rooms are amazing. Love the all white with the pop of color, especially the bedroom with the bright clothes in the closet!


Dayna said...

Wow, amazing post. Thanks so much for sharing your insightful thoughts on white. Who knew there were sooo many things to consider! So happy I've just discovered you blog!

Taylor Greenwalt said...

Just found your blog and Love it. So informative. I am putting you on my blog roll.

Shaiya Ong said...

I love this blog too. It is very informative. However, I still need to ponder if I will stick with white. I love the elegance of white, but maintaining it is a different matter all together. Thanks anyway, I really learned a lot from it.

Samantha A. Gaskins said...

I couldn't be more mesmerized with these rooms. Each has its own unique character which makes it stand out.

Anonymous said...

Thank you very much for this excellent post!

Norma Jean said...

I just happened to find your blog..most interesting..remodeling my '70s kitchen..white appliances..fantasy brown granite..wall color?? Finding so many different shades in colors even tho they look the same in the store...not when I get them home...you have enlightened me on choosing the right shade.

Anonymous said...

I loved your information, but I am still struggling with my master bathroom. I painted the entire thing (walls, ceiling, crown molding and cabinets) in the exact same shade of Linen White-Bejamin Moore - using two different finishes. But I think it is too much the same. I am thinking need at least two shades that work together. Any advice on pairing shades? I feel like I am seeing a lot of yellow and I don't like that.


Gita said...

Thank you very much for a wonderfully written and informative post! I spent the last 6 months of 2015 researching whites for our new (100 year old) house. This is one of 3-5 posts that was actually helpful. Upstairs I got the colour right the first time - all bedrooms BM Calm, an OC colour. It looks soft and pearly, slightly different in each room. And the Chantilly Lace ceilings work so nicely. No yellow at all. Many months & samples on walls later...Oxford White for hallways. Thinking of Oxford White for the living & dining rooms too - all natural light is filtered by large trees & lots of original dark oak. According to many sites I shouldn't do white in these rooms...I find the contrast of white and wood very pleasing. It took a long time and it was worth it. Try colours on the wall, go with what you like! Thanks for post again!

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