I was recently quoted in Cottage White magazine along with other fabulous colour experts and it’s available in the newsstands now.
Here’s my quote:
“People seem to agonize over whites more than any other color because once you start comparing whites, that’s where the trouble starts,” says decorator Maria Killam, author of the e-books How to Choose Paint Colours: It’s All in the Undertones and White Is Complicated: A Decorator’s Guide to Choosing the Right White. “And if your white doesn’t relate correctly, you can easily end up with something looking either too stark or dingy looking.”
Since so many of you are looking for just the right white to paint your house, here’s how I narrow down the options to just the right white:
If you are looking for anything from a blue white to a cream, you need to understand what they look like first.
Every day when I’m sitting at my desk in my studio (above), I look at the track lighting I installed in the renovation (below).
I had specified OC-117 Simply White for the walls and ceilings (there was no crown moulding so I wasn’t fussed that they should be a different colour) the paint store ended up mixing OC-130 Cloud White so that’s what the rest of my office is painted, including the ceiling.
Notice that the track is literally a blue white (below). It’s so cold and by the way it bothers me every. Single. Day. But not enough to change it, that would seem a little too OCD for me, haha.
Here you can see that the face of the clock (below) is just a plain true-white, which is what makes it easier to see that the walls around it are an off white.
When you’re looking at an image and trying to distinguish which white it is, look at ALL the whites in the room. Just like the white on the face of the clock (above).
I was talking to a client today about their renovation and we were deciding on a cabinet colour. Here is a glimpse of their marble (above). What’s a quick and easy way to see how creamy it is? Just compare the slab to the tag which is generally a true white. Then you can make a more educated decision if you don’t have a sample in your hands.
If you scroll back up and look at my office picture again, you can see that the chairs are whiter than the IKEA desks which are cream. Easy to see when you compare all the whites in the room.
But most often when people ask me for a white, I specify a white that is technically in the greige category (below). It is more forgiving and easier to work with.You need lots of white in your house to pull off painting your walls a true white!
SW Incredible White | Image via Pinterest
This one is the lighter version of SW Agreeable Grey.
SW Shoji White | Image via Pinterest
And I consider this one to be more of an ivory greige. Very similar to the colour in my house.
SW Rhinstone 7667 (source)
If a client has a lot of blue in their home, a pale blue grey (above) is a good choice.
OC-52 Grey Owl (source)
A very popular all-over blue/green grey is Grey Owl. My True Colour Experts™ mention it a lot on our private Facebook page as a go-to favourite.
If you have a house that is still completely entrenched in the Tuscan brown trend, then I would NOT recommend any of the above. They are mostly too pale and don’t have enough colour to stand up to the richer and darker colours and finishes in a Tuscan brown house. If that is your situation, you’ll need this neutral instead.
These whites and many more from both Benjamin Moore and Sherwin Williams can be found in my eBook White is Complicated; A Decorators Guide to Choosing the Right White. I go into much more detail on how to choose the right white and which white is right for your cabinets, trim, walls or ceilings. If you EVER need to choose a white, this is the book you need to reference.
And remember testing whites is close to impossible without committing to a large area, at least one wall and if you have other conflicting paint colours, even that won’t help you. You’ll end up doing this so it is a good idea to know which category of white you’ll need to narrow it down 🙂
The only way to choose the right colour every time is to combine my system of understanding undertones with the most indispensable colour tool available. You can purchase your own set of my curated large colour board collections here.
Have a great weekend my lovelies!
Tread Softly When Choosing a Plain (True) White
Contrast & Comparison, There’s Only One Place to Truly Get It
Thank goodness my house is too dark for white walls. So I don’t have to worry about picking the perfect white paint.
I already screwed up painting my cabinets the wrong shade of white.
Maria, there was a blog post previous to the above post, titled “The Colour of Stone for Exterior (Hint: It’s NOT Battleship Grey)” which has disappeared. What happened?
I had a misunderstanding with my client about whether I had permission to post the photos and she asked me to delete them. It’s too bad, it was a really good post 🙁
Sorry about that!
I do hope she will reconsider-this topic would be very timely for me.
Yes, I was crushed when the post was deleted! I hope too that your client reconsiders, it looked beautiful. Can you give us the 4 colors that go with concrete again? I am in that exact predicament to paint my concrete entryway stairs…and then it was gone! Pretty please? (tilted head and begging puppy-like warm brown eyes…)
Of course, Rockport Grey, Sandyhook Grey, Thunder and Pashmina. I go into much greater length about this colour of stone in my exterior training webinar which you can purchase here: https://mariakillam.com/product/choose-exterior-colour-with-confidence/
Hope that helps, Maria
Yes! Thanks so much Maria.
My first experience learning that white can be complicated is when I painted my dtr.’s kitchen ceiling in her townhouse many years ago. Long story short; it looked gorgeous in natural daylight but oh my otherwise soooooo BLUE which she was contented to live with but I wasn’t …. ☺. Needless to say, I sprung for a different colour and redid it for her as could not envision her living with it. That said; question for you Marie. If one wants a totally white kitchen but has a wall full of ceiling to floor pantry units and wish them white, do you treat them as a wall or co-ordinate them with the base units that do not have any upper cabinets and/or backsplash. (Hope that makes sense and I am not infringing upon your policy of giving ‘free’ advice as that is definitely not my intention.) Thank you. -Brenda-
I had purchased all your e-books a few years back. Do you have any updates? Thank you.
Great article on the variations of white! It’s so much easier to see when you compare all the whites in one room. I’m living in an all white space now ( BM cloud white) and just love it. It just feels so light and airy. But I’ve got lots of wood which I feel helps bring in some warmth.
Thanks for the great tips!
I just painted most of my home BM Gray Mist. But only in the areas that get good light. It is so beautiful in my house!It literally glows. Finally, after painting 5 times! lol Great post as always.
Relieved I am not the ONLY person who has to paint MULTIPLE times!!!! But sorry for your (our) agony nonetheless. I just don’t have Maria’s sense for color/undertones, even after reading her books, etc. Glad you are happy with your fifth choice! It feels sooooo good to get it right, doesn’t it?
I think Greige is such a versatile color and I really love that SW Incredible White.
I now am so aware of the right white for clients after reading your book “Whites are complicated”. I use to stick to either a blue white or a yellow white and that was the end of my repertoire. I am so grateful that you came along to open my eyes to new horizons as they say! I always learn so much from you!
The exterior of my house will be SW Shoji White – I have grey fieldstone and cedar accent walls. It’s a nice warmer white and bridges the grey and orange tones. For the interior, I will be using SW Pure White. I am using it for walls, ceiling, trim and cabinetry.
I love how the undertones in the SW Incredible White window seat picture match those of the dog 🙂
Great post, Maria.
I want to share that when I was looking for the main neutral for our new house, I wanted it to be very warm light gray or greige….with a green undertone. I looked at all the grays and sampled a lot what seemed like perfect on the screen or in the can.
Nothing worked. Nothing looked like a color I was trying to achieve.
In my desperation, I turned to the whites family. and there, to my surprise, I found my neutral. It does look more white several times a day lol, but no, otherwise it’s not. It a luminous color, complicated enough to change beautifully during the day. I find it hard to describe it. It has a hint of this green-gray I was looking for, but just a hint.
Out of these whites that are pictured her-maybe the closest would be SW Shoji white?
The biggest lesson, to me, was to pay less attention to company names assigned to a color..:) Because I’d still be painting these paper samples..:)
I notice you have a mix of whites used in your studio. Do you consider Ikea white to have an undertone? Does it blend in with whites with other undertones?
IKEA’s stuff is mostly off-white/cream they don’t offer a true-white at all when I last checked. Cream goes with white for sure. Maria
We joined our large dining room with our family room/kitchen with an 8′ opening. I painted the dining room Behr’s Silver Drop (a light gray with slight yellow undertones) and am planning on painting the family room/kitchen the same color. It does not get nearly the natural light as the dining room though and I’m worried it will be too dingy. I had also planned on painting the kitchen cabinets the same color as to make it feel more seamless, but I’m worried that everything will be so gray! I’m trying to bring in lots of white/black and green (mostly in the form of plants and an upholstery print on a chair) to complement it. I’m trying to keep tight to my vision of a color flow – 1 color through our main rooms. The kitchen was formerly a pale blue – you actually posted it on your Kitchen Islands posts – we added a butcher block countertop to a small island.
Anyway – I have rambled enough! Any thoughts on painting cabinetry the same color as the walls?? Thank you for always being so informative!
I am rebuilding my house after a fire. I will have walnut hardwood floors. I want white cabinets and can’t figure out what color of white. I prefer a white rather than cream but don’t want it to look stark. Any suggestions?
Teresa – I would suggest buying Maria’s “White is Complicated” book – I did last year when planning a white kitchen and it was the best investment I could have made. She breaks down the whites into their categories and I think it will really help you. Good Luck on the selections.
Can I come live with you?
Your house is stunning but, would I expect
anything less than the best from my favorite
Hello, I am taking a chance to see if you reply, Maria. I just found your site and I will like your FB page. I have Acadia BM for my walls in flat and semi gloss. Is Simply White a match to do the trim? Thank you, Kellie
Maria, congrats for being included in the magazine article! I remember one of your goals was to become an internationally known color expert. Seems like you are one now.
A tip I read once on choosing whites was to view them online. Although screens will vary the color to a degree, it was a great way to see the undertones more easily, especially if there are numerous white samples on the page.
Maria seems to have advice , but seldom answers comments. Just refers you to purchase her e books. Totally understandable, but a little advice on color will not set her back.
Well this happens to be a post launching my white ebook which has way more information in it than a blog post. An answer to one question normally creates 5 more so that’s why in this case I refer to my ebook. And there’s 1500 posts full of free content on this blog, many people have created beautiful homes without buying a single thing I sell just be reading my blog! I hope you understand, this is my business. I sell products so that I can write this free blog. Thanks for your comment. Maria
Hi Maria! Your books and blogs have been the north star for our house remodel. THANK YOU SO MUCH for the information you share! Can greige walls be paired with off-white trim such as BM White Dove? Or is there not enough contrast? Do greige walls need to have true white trim? Thank you so much for your insight!
Yes they can go with off-white trim in general. Hope that helps, Maria