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The 4 Categories of Whites Everyone Should Know via Holiday Photos

By 12/14/2014February 11th, 201826 Comments

Since so many of you bought my White is Complicated eBook, I thought it would be fun to post about holiday white rooms and talk about which category of whites they fall under inside my system.

The 4 Categories of Whites Everyone Should Know | Maria Killam

{via Style at Home}

And here you can see that the staircase is basically painted a true white.

How can you tell?

By comparing the white of the stairs to the off-white stockings.

The 4 Categories of Whites Everyone Should Know | Maria Killam

Here in this stunning kitchen via House & Home, you can see that the countertops are a blue white with a true white backsplash, while the cabinets appear off-white here.

The 4 Categories of Whites Everyone Should Know | Maria Killam

Same kitchen, however photographed so that here it looks like the cabinets are a true white instead of off-white. Which is exactly how I would have done it with Carrara marble.

The 4 Categories of Whites Everyone Should Know | Maria Killam

Photography by Angus Fergusson

 Which look do you prefer?

The 4 Categories of Whites Everyone Should Know | Maria Killam

Carrara marble with true white walls and countertops.

The 4 Categories of Whites Everyone Should Know | Maria Killam

True white trim with the fixed white black and white marble.

The 4 Categories of Whites Everyone Should Know | Maria Killam

True white trim, off-white painted chairs with true white chair cushions.

The 4 Categories of Whites Everyone Should Know | Maria Killam

Greige walls with true white ceilings.

The 4 Categories of Whites Everyone Should Know | Maria Killam

{via Better Homes & Gardens}

Cream mantle and surrounding millwork. Lovely with the gold and yellow beige mosaic surround.

The 4 Categories of Whites Everyone Should Know | Maria Killam

Creamy yellow walls and off-white trim. You can see if if you compare the mantle to the true white pitchers.

The 4 Categories of Whites Everyone Should Know | Maria Killam

Cream trim and wainscotting, off-white walls and glazed cabinet with true white ceilings.

Once you learn my system of choosing whites, you can apply it to any paint companies colour system as well. Just find their continuum of whites using the Benjamin Moore or Sherwin Williams whites in my White is Complicated eBook as a guide and suddenly something that seemed really complicated becomes easy.

Thanks so much for all your comments, here’s one from Lori A:

“This eBook just saved me lots of money. We are about to build a new home and I was going to paint the trim, cabinets and walls all the same white…and to make matters worse, I totally selected the wrong white for my Carrara marble countertops!! Thank you so much!”

Hope you are all having a lovely holiday season! xoxo Maria

We would love to help you choose colours, select the right combination of hard finishes or create a plan to pull your room together. You can find our fabulous e-design consultation packages here.


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  • Deb Tedford says:

    I ordered this e book as soon as it was available, and have already read it twice (including the Bonus Book of Whites). It is absolutely invaluable, and I have already dramatically narrowed the list of colors and choices for the renovation of our old, historic home. For example, we have saved ourselves from financial and practical disaster by knowing enough to paint our revitalized kitchen cabinets true white as we have a Carrera marble island top (perimeter counters are 200 year old chestnut). Next is the dining room open to the kitchen – looking at off whites for that to coordinate with the kitchen and a beautiful sea painting. This is even better and clearer than the first book – well done, Maria!

  • Debra says:

    We just painted the entire interior of my home with a creamy beige (French Canvas) and a soft white (Swiss Coffee) trim. The only color is on the ceilings. Your book didnt come out until a month after we did the re-paint.
    I’ve been holding my breath to see if what we did breaks any of the rules. What set the palette was a entirely brick home along with the same brick used on fireplace.
    All vintage and in great shape. I’ll post pictures as soon as we are done. Just finished the hardwood floors a couple of days ago. Thanks Maria, you always share great info.

  • Loribeth says:

    I have to admit that on my monitor, I cannot see the differences between what you say is off-white and true white. They look the same to me, and I can usually pick out the difference immediately.

  • Kim M. says:

    After taking your Renovate With Confidence course a few months ago and just now reading your newest book (and extras) on Whites, I can proudly say that I tested myself with the photos in this post and got them all right! You’ve helped me train my eye to detect the subtle differences in shades of white. Thanks so much! I prefer the kitchen with Carrara marble where it looks like the cabinets are a true white instead of off-white.

  • Lesli DeVito says:

    What I LOVE the most about this and YOU Maria is the sheer knowledge that there is…on LEAST one other human being…who thinks about color…dissects it, categorizes and catalogs it…and is just as passionate about color as ME…and I am certain there are more of us…like a color-clan…”The Sisterhood of the Traveling Colors”..xo Happy Holidays!

    • Liz says:

      Oh! I like that so much better than the “color Nazi” title my husband has humorously bestowed upon me (a reference to the “soup Nazi” on Seinfeld). Now I can say “No honey, I’m part of a sisterhood.”

  • india snowden says:

    I prefer the first kitchen pic. I like the layering effect achieved by mixing cool with the warm…adds a little edginess to the mix, keeps the look lively and interesting without getting too busy.

  • Sandy says:

    The kitchen is on the cool side. I think elegant soft grey blue cabinets that picks up on the blue veining of the carrara would work as well.

  • Joanne says:

    I love your new book! I love white – pure white, off-white, cream – and your book will be a huge help as I undertake a major renovation in the next year or so. I have made a couple of blunders in the past, a sofa that was too blue white to look good with my off-white walls, a floor that had a pinky undertone next to my creamy-off white cabinets. Thanks to you I will know how to compare/contrast BEFORE I purchase. Next on my wish list – your color boards. Might be an xmas present to myself!!!

  • Lucy HAINES says:

    Maria, Will your online course be available after Tuesday? I am busy with clients right now and do not have the time to watch. If I purchase now is it available to watch at my convenience?

    In the pictures above, I too could detect the right color. I think that I have been flying by the seat of my pants all these years. You are amazing!

  • Kay says:

    Just bought the book and am considering your online course. My house renovations are complete, but our small church is about to purchase an old building and renovate it for our use. I see no reason why all the training you provide wouldn’t work just as well for that purpose!

    By the way, your videos are now truly professional– really excellent.

  • Mary says:

    If we have already purchased the book but haven’t had time to view all of the launch bonuses, will they still be available for viewing after Tuesday? I spent almost four hours watching the exterior video because I was replaying portions and taking so many notes…12 pages to be exact! Amazing work!!!

    • Maria Killam says:

      You will have the exterior to watch indefinitely yes! And the other videos will be up for a while but not forever! Thanks so much! Maria

      • Mary in California says:

        Oh, please say the bonus videos will be up through January!! I will not have any time to look at them until after the holidays.

        I am not the “original Mary” who commented, but another Mary. : )

  • diana says:

    Hi Maria,

    You are the expert, and I hope you won’t mind my differing opinion. I love the look of a creamier white with the Carrara marble, generally as well as in the first photo. Especially here in the northwest, all cool and white-white doesn’t look as good to me. The cream in the cabinets (or photo) still looks fresh, and provides a slightly rich, friendly contrast.

    • Maria Killam says:

      Hi Diana, nothing wrong with introducing a creamier white it just needs to then be repeated in the room because it doesn’t relate to the countertop! My eBook is about guidelines, the minute they don’t work for your situation, you will not use them, that’s the world of design. Great comment! Maria

  • Shaune Palmer says:

    Maria, In an earlier post you talked about how I comfortable your new IKEA sofa was and that you ended up buying something else. What did you purchase?

    • Maria Killam says:

      I bought a sofa from Restoration Hardware. I could have had one custom made but my partner wanted to sit in it first! Now we’re comfortable. Maria

  • Anna says:

    I am curious what you think about the color scheme of white and cream. I am thinking of white trim, but using cream as perhaps a wall color or in fabrics. I know you have said this is okay as long as you repeat the colors and make it deliberate. I am curious as to your opinion of the actual combination. I consider myself kind of a white connoisseur. Just love the color white. Not an expert like you, but just love white. So white and cream seem beautiful to me together, but I am not sure they really go together well.

  • Noelle says:

    I usually tend towards creams, but all of these rooms are so beautiful! I think I like the starker whites (true white) in kitchens more than living areas. However, the middle dining room picture with the greige walls and true white ceiling isn’t cold at all with the wood stained furniture and the chair’s fabric (love velvet!) and color 🙂
    Maria, I know you say white with black and cream with brown, but what do you think of espresso kitchen cabinets with white? Espresso is almost black and so I was wondering if you would pair it with true white or off white?

  • Ellen says:

    Dear Maria, we live in a one room home with bath, laundry and small storage room on the back. It previously was a shop with 20’x23′ walls and 10′ ceilings. It has 1 smallish high window on the north side and French doors with glass on the west side. It now has much too dark grey walls. I want it painted white again. It seems painters around here use Sherwin Williams. I am Lost in choosing a white from their samples. Today I will buy possible choices to put on large cards. The most predominant furniture color is navy. I will also look for more lighting. But, I am at a loss as what color family to choose from; cream or a cooler white. Would you be so kind as to comment? Thank you ever so much!

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