The Best White Paint Colors

Lamp on the white wall in the hotel, Rostov, Russia image by Igor Murtazin from

White contains all colours, and, when you are selecting a white paint, it seems as if it comes in all colours too: warm whites, cool whites, bright whites, not-quite-whites, and imposter beiges and pastels. Some paint manufacturers sell hundreds of shades of white.

It's a real dilemma because the wrong shade of white is a disaster in a room.

Warm Whites

Warm whites have a touch of the red-yellow-orange colour spectrum in them. They are creamy, vanilla, blush or cloudy. They might hold the barest hint of pink or apricot. A warm white can look antique, call up images of a country farmhouse or add the feel of rich parchment or natural linen to the decor It can also look yellow and old, so use caution as to where you use the warmer shades.

Northern light and light from the west call for shades of warm white on the walls. The harsher, colder light is balanced by the warmer hue, and a room painted with a warm white is pleasant to use in the morning. Incandescent light also works well with a warm white paint. The two are colour compatible because the incandescent spectrum is yellow-red light.

Cool Whites

Cool whites hold the blue-green spectrum and are crisper---and sometimes colder---than warm-hued shades. Incandescent bulbs just make this family of white shades look drab. LED lamps, fluorescent bulbs and daylight-corrected lamps catch the cool blue undertones of the whites and emphasise their freshness.

For morning use, cool whites are better in south- or east-facing rooms that get intense sun. The cool whites are the choice of modern decorators. While warm whites complement wooden or antique furnishings, cool whites pair up perfectly with modern chrome, leather, plastic and minimalist furniture. Colour names like "Decorator White" are a tip-off that these shades are mixed for designers who are extremely brand- and shade-loyal.

White and Light

When you see those fabulous white-on-white rooms in shelter books and magazines, notice how bright they are. The white bounces light all over the place; the stylist likely factored plenty of additional light sources into the shoot. Without enough light, even the best possible shade of white can turn drab and dingy. So do use white to brighten up a dark room, but plan to add as much light as you need to get the right effect.

Shadows will flatten out any shade of white. Shifting daylight can dramatically alter the colour. Test your samples in all parts of the room and at all times of day and night, and if you can't get enough light into the space, consider a colour instead. To customise a white look, use one shade on the walls and another shade or finish on the trim. Flat walls and semigloss trim look perfect. White with a hint of colour and a stark white trim is more interesting than all one colour in the entire room.