The Best White Paint Colors Have Shea McGee’s and Leanne Ford’s Stamp of Approval
Chalky, creamy, and everything in between.
Updated Sep 29, 2021 6:05 AM
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Trends may come and go, but white will always be in vogue. The fresh tone instantly brightens a room and complements pretty much any style—or as designer Shea McGee puts it: “White can read historical, traditional, or modern.”
That versatility also means nailing your shade can be a little tricky. The right undertones, finishes, and lighting will make this neutral work in your favor, but if you’ve found yourself staring at several swatches of white paint colors like a mysterious science experiment, put down the brush and consider these tried-and-true picks that designers turn to whenever they’re looking for a timeless refresh.
A Few Things to Keep in Mind
Consider lighting: White isa natural reflector of light, so it’s crucial to consider how window placement, ceiling cans, and hanging pendants might interact with your chosen color. This is especially true in relation to finish: A gloss finish will absorb the least amount of light, while flat absorbs the most, potentially making or breaking your pick. But there’s no rule that says you’re limited to just one. “For a modern look, we paint the baseboard and walls the same color white with different sheens,” says McGee, who often keeps things matte on the walls and brings in more shine to the trim. “In more traditional spaces, we’ll sometimes mix up the whites on different wall treatments and cabinetry.”
Understand undertones: To get a better read on each white shade’s subtle variations, it may be helpful to examine its undertones. For a space that lacks natural light, consider warmer undertones like yellow and brown to bring in cozy vibes. On the flip side, it may be best to opt for something that reads cooler, like blue, in a room that receives a lot of direct sunlight. But designer Leanne Ford recommends not overthinking it. “If you want it to feel vintage, bring in creamy undertones; if you want it to feel modern, go for a paint with no tone at all,” she says. “Find your favorite whites and stand by them. You don’t need to find a new white paint every time you’re working on a project. Keep your go-tos!” Hers include PPG’s Timeless Pure White, Sherwin-Williams’s Shoji White, and Benjamin Moore’s Crisp Linen.
Adapt to the decor: “Selecting paint really depends on what kind of house you have—is it traditional or modern?” asks Ford. For her, it’s all about a balance of texture. An all-white room, for example, will likely feel sterile and stark with furniture and decor in the same color family. But bringing in the organic look of linen or rougher surfaces like stucco and brick will help soften the edges. In any regard: Paint a large square and live with a color for a few days before covering your walls in it.
Our Top Picks
If You’re a Minimalist: Benjamin Moore Simply White
“Simply White is easily my most frequently used tint,” notes Katie Hackworth, principal at her namesake firm. “It is a pure white with the slightest warm undertone—perfect for almost all applications.”
If You Need a Clean Slate: PPG Timeless Pure White
“I like to use this color when going for anything modern and clean,” shares Ford. “And don’t be afraid to use more white paint. Use it everywhere—walls, ceilings, furniture, floors. If you’re going to go for it, go for it.”
If You’re a Traditionalist: Benjamin Moore Swiss Coffee
“This option is definitely designed for a more traditional home,” says McGee. “It’s very warm without looking too yellow, but still very creamy.”
If You Like Some Sheen: Sherwin-Williams Pure White
“Ninety percent of the time, my go-to is Sherwin-Williams’s Pure White,” says designer Raili Clasen. “At first, the name threw me off because it sounds so severe and bright, but it actually is (in my opinion) the perfect white—not too blue, not too reflective.”
If You’re Looking for Middle Ground: Benjamin Moore White Dove
“This is a great soft white that’s a little less warm than Swiss Coffee but creamier than Simply White,” says McGee.
If You Can’t Pick a Favorite: Farrow & Ball Strong White
“I always use a pair! They are Farrow & Ball’s Strong White and All White,” says designer Dee Murphy. “The first is a cool white with a gray undertone that comes off a bit old-world. Paired with All White on a trim, it feels as if you are wandering through a chic girl’s Paris apartment. I love this combo most in living spaces.”
If You Want to Feel Cozy: Sherwin-Williams Shoji White
“This is my go-to white for a warm and traditional feeling,” says Ford. Borderline beige, the color’s gray and green undertones keep it from casting as yellow.
If You Like a Lived-In Look: Benjamin Moore Crisp Linen
“Crisp Linen adds a touch of history to your walls,” muses Hackworth. “Its particular shade reads clean, but it’s as if the color has aged slightly over time.” And Ford agrees: It’s slightly vintage feel provides the perfect earthy vibe.
If You Lack Windows: Benjamin Moore Decorator’s White
“For a more reflective hue, I do like Benjamin Moore’s Decorator’s White,” says Clasen. “It seems to pull in a ton of natural light, and we like to use it in more contemporary settings.”
If You Love a Gallery Wall: Benjamin Moore Super White
“If you’re looking for that crisp, modern gallery look, this is your shade,” says McGee.
If Your Decor Skews Modern: Benjamin Moore Cloud White
“This has the slightest warm gray undertone,” notes Hackworth. “It pairs perfectly in modern settings alongside blues, greens, and soft wood accents.”
How do I paint over dark colors with white?
The short answer? Primer. Slapping on a coat or two and following it with a few layers of your paint should get the job done without too much trouble. And according to Ford, there aren’t any real tricks to making the task go faster (or easier). “It’s all about elbow grease,” she says. “Prepare to do some extra layers.”
How do I choose a white paint color?
Although adaptable, this neutral does come with its own set of challenges. Because it belongs to a subtler section of the color wheel, undertones and finishes play an outsize role in how white walls look when dry—in turn making it tough to select the “right” shade for a room or cabinets. “In order to create a seamless story within your home, white paints should always be consistent,” says Hackworth. “Understanding your house’s architecture and millwork will allow you to select a tone that is authentic to both.”
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