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How to choose the perfect white paint

Choosing the perfect white paint can be far more challenging than one would imagine – perhaps it’s because technically ‘white’ is not a colour at all but the absence of colour – and the task of deciding on the right white is made even more difficult by the myriad shades developed by paint companies.

Robert Rauschenberg really got people talking about white paint back in 1953 when the American artist exhibited his White Paintings – modular panels painted, you guessed it, completely white. According to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, owner of the three-panel work, Rauschenberg later described the paintings as clocks, pointing out that one could tell the time or what the weather was like outside according to the changes on the surface of the painting.

It’s those subtle changes, many designers say, that makes choosing the perfect white paint far more challenging than one would imagine. Perhaps it’s because technically ‘white’ is not a colour at all – but the absence of colour – and the task of deciding on the right white is made even more difficult by the myriad shades developed by paint companies.

Kevin Skelly, marketing manager for Cloverdale Paint, the largest Canadian owned and operated paint and coatings manufacturer, and a member of the US-based international colour forecaster Color Marketing Group, says white and grey are two of the most difficult colours to select.

There are so many subtle nuances that the colours can appear different based on lighting (artificial or natural) and time of day, he says, explaining there are warm whites with a red/orange/yellow cast and cool whites with a green/blue/purple undertone.

“Even as a designer, I feel challenged selecting a white paint colour as it is most certainly one of the hardest colours to choose,” says Tina McCabe, principal designer at McCabe Design & Interiors.

While a person might think they are selecting a true white, when applied to the space it often shows undertones of blue, grey, purple, green or yellow, says McCabe. “And, to make things even more challenging, a certain white with an undertone of green in one setting, might appear like a truer white in another setting.”

McCabe’s go-to “true white” is Restoration Hardware‘s Right White. However, while it may be perfect for some applications, depending on the hues and intensity of other colours and materials, it might read as too stark, she says.

One her favourites in the white palette is Benjamin Moore‘s Distant Grey. Although this paint colour has undertones of grey when the application is completed, it’s quite subtle and gives the white some depth and warmth, says McCabe.

“It’s a great white to specify for kitchen cabinets when paired with black countertops and/or marble backsplash,” she adds.

One of the designer tricks McCabe has picked up over the years is that if the kitchen cabinets are white, specify the same white for all crown moulding (if any) on the cabinets as well as any other millwork, the ceiling and all trim to create a uniform, coordinated result.

Alternatively, to distinguish whites when selecting a white for kitchen cabinets and a different hue for crown moulding, McCabe has used Restoration Hardware’s Right White for ceiling, crown mouldings and all trim paired with Restoration Hardware’s Cloud White for the cabinets themselves.

“My favourite whites are those that best suit the space and other materials and colours,” she says.

McCabe advises caution when making decisions based on what you may have seen elsewhere.

“If your heart really desires Cloud White as you saw it in a friend’s new kitchen be sure to ask if it’s Benjamin Moore’s Cloud White or Restoration Hardware’s, as the two are different,” she says.

Michele Cheung, principal at Indesigns By Michele, favours a trio of Benjamin Moore whites: Frostine, Simply White and Chantilly Lace. Frostine is a fresh white she suggests for window trim, doors and door trim, millwork, ceilings and cabinetry. When she wants to create a contemporary look with a touch of warmth for a welcoming ambience she turns to the company’s warm-toned Simply White.

“We have two favourite whites in our office at the moment,” says Allisa Karvonen, associate at Insight Design Group. “Oxford White – very crisp and fresh without the blue undertone of some bright whites – looks great in contemporary spaces without feeling stark, and Chantilly Lace, warmer than Oxford White and a classic white that looks great in any place I’ve used it, including exteriors.”

Chantilly Lace is also one Madeleine Sloback’s top picks. The principal interior designer for the Madeleine Design Group believes it is probably Benjamin Moore’s most versatile white.

“Chantilly Lace works in both a heritage or contemporary setting,” she says noting it can create the perfect backdrop against dramatic black hardware on a kitchen cabinet or create beautiful framework in the trim around a white-washed white oak floor.

She also likes the paint manufacturer’s Intense White and Cloud White.

“Intense White is a great white to use in a large open-concept contemporary space that may look too stark with a true white. Using a single colour throughout a contemporary home is always my first choice, adding colour and features through artwork and fixed materials. Intense white is complemented beautifully with warm or cool tones and acts as a great backdrop for bright and colourful artwork, creating a gallery space for expansive walls,” says Sloback.

Beyond Beige Interior Design founder and Reisa Pollard also has Intense White on her Top Three list.

“Intense White leans on the warm, grey scale of whites. It has an undertone of green which allows the space to feel warm with lots of depth. It’s easy to pair with lighter whites for trims,” she says.

Pollard also finds plenty of opportunities to use White Dove, a hue she describes as a soft white with creamy undertones.

“While keeping in the off-white category it has a lot more of a grey/greige base to it, eliminating the stark white feeling,” she says.

In our mini survey, asking several designers to share their top three favourite whites, we came up with this Top 10 list (in alphabetical order):

- Chantilly Lace (Benjamin Moore)

- Cloud White (Benjamin Moore)

- Cloud White (Restoration Hardware)

- Distant Grey (Benjamin Moore)

- Frostine (Benjamin Moore)

- Intense White (Benjamin Moore)

- Oxford White (Benjamin Moore)

- Right White (Restoration Hardware)

- Simply White (Benjamin Moore)

- White Dove (Benjamin Moore)

Original Article by Kathleen Freimond

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