Elly Leavitt

Published on March 21, 2020

Trends may come and go, but white paint colors will always be stylish. The fresh tone can instantly make a room look clean and bright, not to mention complement pretty much any design style. Or as designer Shea McGee puts it: “White can read historical, traditional, or modern.” 

Despite that ease, the 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 Katie Hackworth, principal of her namesake firm. “Understanding your home’s architecture and millwork will allow you to select a tone that is authentic to both.”

If you’ve found yourself staring at white paint colors like a mysterious science experiment—or have been contemplating switching up your walls while you’re social distancing—put down the brush and consider these tried-and-true picks that designers turn to whenever they’re looking for a timeless backdrop

And who says you’re limited to just one finish? “For a modern look, we paint the baseboard and walls the same color white with different sheens,” says McGee. “In more traditional spaces, we’ll sometimes mix up the whites on different wall treatments and cabinetry.” See, that’s the versatility we know and love.

If You Like to Keep Things Pared Back

Simply White is easily my most frequently used tint,” notes Hackworth. “It is a pure white with the slightest warm undertone—perfect for almost all applications.”

If You Lean Toward the Classics

“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 Want a True Sheen

“Ninety percent of the time, my go-to is Sherwin-Williams’s Pure White. 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,” says designer Raili Clasen

If You Take Your Espresso With a Splash of Milk

“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

“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 Prefer a Lived-In Look

“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.”

If Your Home’s Biggest Draw Is Its Windows

“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 Good Art Wall

“If you’re looking for that crisp, modern ‘gallery’ look, this is your shade,” says McGee.

If You’re All About a Cloudy Day

“This has the slightest warm gray undertone,” Hackworth notes. “It pairs perfectly in modern settings alongside blues, greens, and soft wood accents.”

See more ways to paint your walls:
5 Ways to Get More Creative With Wall Paint
A Case for the Accent Wall You Never Knew You Needed 
5 Colorful Rooms That Will Inspire You to Go Bold