I Sampled 24 White Paints—Here’s the One I Chose for Every Room of My Home
And the advice I learned along the way.
Published Jun 28, 2022 1:59 AM
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I’m not quite sure when my yearlong quest to find the perfect white paint officially went too far. Was it when I stuck 24 different samples up to the wall to help “narrow it down” to 20? Was it when I spent a day setting an hourly alarm so I didn’t forget to observe how the light changed each hue? Was it when I invited the UPS delivery driver into my home to ask her what she thought of my final contenders?
“Picking a white paint can be so hard because it seems like it should be easy,” says design blogger Erin Conway of Kismet House. All I knew was that my search for the perfect hue had, somehow, gone completely off the rails.
When we moved into our downtown Charleston, South Carolina, home in early 2021, the walls were painted a contractor-choice white (since identified as Highly Reflective White by Sherwin-Williams). Though the selection was clearly designed to make the small space feel bigger and brighter, I knew I’d be changing it. “Oh, just slap a new coat of paint on it,” our real-estate agent said, as if it were ever going to be that easy.
While I tore through the rest of the home and landscaping with laserlike focus and decisiveness, the white paint choice festered. With each passing week the flat white walls got grimier from my toddler’s hands. (Note to self: Matte or eggshell finishes are best for light-colored walls in houses with kids.)
At first I brought home sample cans of paint from the store, carefully painting 1’-by-1’ squares of paint, like a patchwork quilt of neutrals all over. Once I ran out of decent wall space, I switched to single-handedly keeping Samplize in business with peel-and-stick orders. All in all, I tried 24 different white paints before calling in professional help.
Now, just days away from having my final selection applied to the walls, I’m sharing the best advice I got along the way to help make your paint journey (and yes, it is a journey) a little bit easier. Each piece of knowledge comes from a different expert, and each person played an important role in my final decision.
But before we begin, here are the 24 colors I started with, in no particular order. (Warning: Peruse them at your own risk—they’re all compelling hues that look great on the Internet.)
The Initial List
Patrick O’Donnell, color pro and international brand ambassador at Farrow & Ball, told me my first mistake was choosing so many samples. “I would certainly slap the wrist of anyone who started with 24 white options,” says O’Donnell. (Oops.) “You need to edit from the very beginning, or it will feel impossible to make a decision and you’ll always feel you’ve made a compromise.” But, I complained, isn’t that easier said than done? O’Donnell recommended making a mood board, physical or digital, and testing whites out in that context before even sampling them, then noting: “Aim to narrow it down to no more than five white paints you actually sample in your house.”
Befriend a Paint Pro
My good friend (and Domino’s deputy editor) Julie Vadnal has hundreds of design pros in her contacts, and she knows a thing or two about calling on an expert source. She reminded me how important it is to tap the folks at your local paint showroom. Not only is it the easiest and fastest way to compare a wide range of white paints IRL and talk with people who know the ins and outs of every color you’re looking at, but hang around long enough and you’ll eventually get VIP treatment—my local store lent me a paint-chip book, advised me to bring my entire sofa cushion into the store to help narrow it down (genius!), and started hooking me up with free coffee from the back when I visited.
Don’t Trust Photos on the Internet
I repeat: Don’t trust photos on the Internet. What looks right in someone else’s room (and looks great in their photos) will not necessarily look right for you, especially when it comes to the subtlety of white paint, says Charleston-based interior designer Laurie Bohler-Park. Everything—including the type of light (natural versus artificial), the style of your home, and the other colors in the room—will affect how it looks in your home. “The biggest thing people underestimate when choosing a white paint is the color of their floors,” says Bohler-Park. Natural and artificial light reflect off floors and can transform the color of your white walls. Instead research the type of white you want (warm, cool, gray undertones, etc.) based on your space, and then select a few solid representations of those to go off of.
After taking all this advice into careful consideration, I narrowed down my whites significantly to these final five warm whites.
The Curated Collection
When it comes time to test your samples directly on a wall, proceed with caution. Professional house painter Raul Ortiz of Real Touch Painting in Charleston warned me that sloppily applied samples can affect the final texture of a wall—or at least the final price of your painting. “If the paint samples are too thick or have texture from brush marks, a painter will need to fix it with drywall mud,” says Ortiz. Instead he advises using a fine finish paint roller to apply white paint samples. “Do two coats, enough to get the true color, and that’s it,” he says.
Finally, Ignore the Advice
I had a tough time balancing the advice of a few close friends (er, and that UPS driver). Similarly, Conway has nearly 500,000 followers on her Instagram account—with no shortage of opinions. It’s normal to get overwhelmed by options, she reassured me, but try to remember that it’s just paint. “You might mess up, you might hate it, and that’s okay,” she says. “It’s okay to change your mind.” On the flip side, if you do end up loving it, stop comparing it with other images from your feed. “You can pine over someone else’s white paint color without wishing it was yours,” says Conway.
The Final Decision
Just days away from getting the whole downstairs living area painted in White Dove, my doubts have been minimized and I’m ready for the relief that comes after making a decision. So no, I won’t be reading the comments, thank you very much.