Design Tips From the Pros: How to Choose the “Right” White Paint

My Notting Hil blogger Michele Ginnerty gets the skinny on how to pick the perfect shade.

By: Michele Ginnerty

Have you ever found yourself paralyzed in front of a section of white paint chips trying to find the “right” one? You may know you want a soft, creamy white or a shade that’s fresh and crisp, but how do you pick out the perfect hue among all those choices?

To help with this dilemma, we asked for guidance from two color experts: Annie Elliott, a DC-based interior designer and author of the Bossy Color Blog, and Maria Killam, Colour Me Happy blogger and author of the new e-book How to Choose Paint Colour: It’s all in the Undertones.

Chantilly Lace

OC-71 Sand Dollar

OC-10 White Sand

OC-10 Baby Fawn

OC-38 Acadia White

OC-17 White Dove

How do you tell if a white is cool or warm?

Says Killam: “It is impossible to see shades in white unless you compare a sample to just a straight, pure white. I use Benjamin Moore’s OC-65 Chantilly Lace. This way you can see if it has a blue-gray undertone (cooler) or if it’s creamier (warmer).”

Elliott offers similar advice: “Blue indicates a cool undertone, and yellow indicates warm. It’s best to look at the colors in natural light, but if you’re inside, find a north-facing room if possible. And here’s a sneaky tip: If you’re looking at Benjamin Moore’s OC–Organic Color series, almost all of them are warm. Most of the cool ones are between OC-51 Intense White and OC-68 Distant Gray.”

How do you detect the undertone of a white?

“Hold the swatch vertically against a blank sheet of white paper, and the undertone should become clear,” says Elliott. “For example, Benjamin Moore’s OC-140 Morning Dew has a green undertone; OC-62 Baby’s Breath, blue; OC-71 Sand Dollar, peach. If you’ve picked up a swatch that has more than one color on it, fold or cut it so that only the swatch you’re interested in is exposed. It’s difficult to assess any color when it’s right next to others.”

Can you give us a few examples of your favorite Benjamin Moore whites?

Killam likes OC-10 White Sand and OC-15 Baby Fawn—she says they are a great backdrop for on-trend white and linen furniture. She suggests painting woodwork OC-117 Simply White because it’s a nice, crisp off-white. If using Carrara marble in the kitchen or bath, Killam chooses a clean white like OC-65 Chantilly Lace because of the marble's blue-gray undertone, or INT RM (“interior ready-mixed color”) Decorator White.

Elliott recommends OC-38 Acadia White with OC-17 White Dove on the trim if you want a clean, modern look that isn’t cold. Her favorite choice for super-contemporary spaces is Benjamin Moore INT RM Super White—it’s a vibrant white that’s great on walls and trim.

If you’re trying to match trim to fixtures (sink, toilet) in a brand new bathroom, nine times out of ten, BM White (another INT RM color) will be the best match. If it’s a much older bathroom, BM OC-17 White Dove will be your best bet.

Once you’ve narrowed down your choices to a few, be sure to paint large sample swatches in various parts of the room to find that perfect one.