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Just Right White - Picking the Perfect White Paint

Updated: Mar 8, 2022

Picking the perfect white paint can surprisingly prove to be a challenge. With so many nuances and undertones, you’ll quickly learn that choosing white paint just isn’t “white.” Once you learn how to recognize a colour’s undertone, assess the existing space, and understand basic lighting principles, you can easily pick the perfect white paint. Follow thinkform’s three easy steps when painting to reduce frustration during your next project.

Step 1: Understand Undertones

Recognizing the exact undertones of a paint color can be challenging, especially if you don’t have any formal design training. Every white paint colour is slightly different from the next because of the undertones within each colour. “Undertones” are created as a result of blending more two or more colours together. The dominant color, sometimes referred to as the “overtone,” is the colour the eye perceives, whereas the color you don't see immediately, or is less obvious, is the “undertone.” Paint colours can either have warm or cool undertones. Cool whites have a hint of blue and green, whereas warm whites will appear a little more red or yellow in hue. To check the undertones of a paint colour, hold up a piece of plain next to the paint swatch. Immediately, you will notice if the colour has warm undertones or cool undertones because of its contrast against the paper. It is also important to note, pure white paint is virtually white, but with a slightly gray undertone. The gray undertone helps to ground the paint colour, preventing it from appearing too austere or stark. One of the biggest mistakes is mixing cool and warm whites in the same space, instantly making a room appear mismatched.

Step 2: Assess the Space

Before painting anything, take inventory of exists in the space. This includes noting the current paint colours, furniture, built-in cabinetry or millwork, decorations, and even artwork. Examining what colours and tones already exist within the interior will help to determine which white paints should be utilized. If the existing space is filled with warm tones, utilize a warm white colour that incorporates undertones of red, orange, or yellow. Use a white that incorporates blue, green, or purple undertones if the existing space already features cool colour tones. White paints with warm undertones pair well with natural materials, such as wood, creating a smooth transition from one room to the next. Whereas cool white paints work best with other clean, yet saturated hues, providing a sharp contrast between surfaces.

Step 3: Consider Light

It’s no secret that light affects colour and one’s perception of colour. That’s why it’s important to consider both artificial and natural light when examining paint colours. As a rule of thumb, if a room is North facing, it will let in soft, cool light; however, if the room receives South facing light, the space will appear much warmer and brighter. Avoid painting a room with a cool white paint if it’s North-facing but receives little-to-no natural light, as the room will feel cold and uninviting. Instead, use cool white paint in a well-sunlit room, preferably one that is South facing, to offset the inherently warm natural light. In a North facing room, a warm white would be considered preferable to balance out the cool natural light. South, East, and West-facing rooms with ample natural light can often utilize warm, cool, or even pure white paints because of the consistent daylighting they receive. Understanding the lighting and using natural daylighting to your advantage will make the whole space come together effortlessly.

Some of Our Favourite White Paints

Sherwin Williams - Pure White (SW 7005)

Sherwin Williams - Alabaster (SW 7008)

Benjamin Moore - Distant Gray (2124-70)

Benjamin Moore - Cloud White (OC-130)

Farrow and Ball - Wevet (273)

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