White paint for interior walls is nearly always the color of choice for architects. It exposes the architecture without the distraction of color and it’s a flattering background for art, which is why most art galleries and museums have white walls. The problem is, though, that white is the most complex of colors and when the shade is wrong, it’s really wrong. I’ve compiled a selection of some of the most-frequently used shades of white and you’ll quickly see how varied they are. The important thing to remember is that white falls into three categories: stark white, white with grey undertones, and white with yellow undertones. Stark white is best when used almost like an accessory—for molding and trim and maybe a ceiling. White with yellow is, to me, the most challenging to use because it so easily slips into a sallow drabness. Even if your upholstery is khaki or tan, the yellow-whites aren’t always the best option. It’s obvious where I’m going with this discussion: the grey-toned whites are practically infallible. Nuanced and warm, a grey-white creates an atmospheric background that looks good with just about anything you put with it.
THE GREY WHITES:
Classic Gray, by Benjamin Moore, is a sophisticated take on white.
White Dove, by Benjamin Moore, is nearly fool-proof. It radiates calm and is a lovely backdrop for art and has the added benefit of being low VOC.
Gypsum, by Pittsburgh, is a favorite of San Antonio architect Jim Poteet and Austin architects Patrick Ousey and Pam Chandler. Both firms have designed residences for art collectors and use this color because it is a basic white with warmth. Poteet recommends spraying the paint on for a smooth finish.
Acadia White, by Benjamin Moore, has a green cast to it and can offer a transition from indoors to outdoors.
Atrium White, by Benjamin Moore, actually has a little bit of red in it which creates an especially warm tone.
DKC 51, by Donald Kaufman, is a full spectrum paint that changes color as the natural light changes in your room. If you are looking for a really dreamy effect, this is your color. If you have to choose between colors, always go for full spectrum.
Super White (left, via House Beautiful), by Benjamin Moore, is a low VOC paint. Benjamin Moore’s similar Decorators’ White (right) is a no VOC paint.
Seed Pearl, by Pratt and Lambert, is designer Kelly Wearster’s color of choice in her own home. She used it on her ceiling and on moldings.
White Chocolate, by Benjamin Moore, looks good enough to eat.
Ivory White, by Benjamin Moore, is the most flexible of the whites and can achieve a crisp look without being cold.
White Tie, by Farrow and Ball, is a warm neutral color kind of like old starched cotton.
Pocket Watch White, by Ralph Lauren, is undeniably white without being stark. A favorite of Jonathan Adler.
ODD VERSIONS OF WHITE AND HOW TO USE THEM:
Farrow & Ball’s All White is like a faint blush that’s flattering to everything and everyone. It’s great in an enamel oil-base high gloss for cabinetry, trim, and molding where the walls are not white but a contrasting color.
Hardwick White, by Farrow & Ball, isn’t white at all but is more the color of drying clay. It is a stunning color for cabinets, and is also a full spectrum color that changes with the light of day. You will wonder, though, why they call this color white.