Tuesday, January 12, 2010

White - The Complex Color

Image: Interior Color Palettes by Dai Linong

The perfect white interior is radiant, clean, modern and chic. You assume you can’t go wrong with white. But it’s more challenging to select successful whites than you might think, White is not pure. Its sin is reflection.

One client painted her living room and dining room entirely bright white. After the painting was completed she noticed distinct gray shadows at all corners of the room. She was sure the painter used the wrong color. How could the room already look dirty?

The owners of a Craftsman-style home with its characteristic dark redwood ceiling beams and trim, wanted to make the interior feel lighter and brighter but did not want to paint over the natural wood. They selected the purest white they could find, and discovered the new paint did nothing to change the impression of the rooms. In fact, the intense light dark contrast between the wood and paint made the rooms appear even darker. How could white not brighten their environment?

Image: Paint - The Big Book of Natural Color by Elizabeth Hilliard and Stafford Cliff

Choosing the right white for the environment makes all of the difference. There are whisper whites with undertones of pink, green, blue, violet, gray, umber, yellow and blends of these colors intermixed to create complex whites.

We judge colors by comparing one to another. A sage green couch can bring out the complimentary pink in a seemingly neutral white. Hung on the wall, a painting with dominant orange tones will call forth blue undertones against a white wall.

Be sure to analyze your whites and sample the color in your environment under natural and artificial light. Remember in white rooms, every object in the space will be on stage.

Image: Elle Decor Magazinge - Jan/Feb 2010

The majority of whites I use tend to have some yellow component in the mix. They suggest sunlight and can make a room glow. They will not shadow at corners and look dirty.

Benjamin Moore:
OC-121 Mountain Peak White
OC-90 Vanilla Ice Cream
OC-85 Mayonnaise

Image: Color At Home By Meg & Steven Roberts

When I want the gallery look I use these whites. For them to work successfully the rooms need excellent light – either natural or skillfully selected ambient light.

Benjamin Moore:
Ready Mix Super White
OC-45 Swiss Coffee

Farrow and Ball:
2005 All White

In rooms with saturated wall colors I frequently select pigmented whites for ceilings and trims. They will minimize shocking contrasts where the walls and ceilings intersect. These colors can also work in rooms with dark woodwork to soften contrasts and create glow.

Benjamin Moore:
OC-92 Mannequin Cream
2153-60 Rich Cream
OC-100 Palace White

Before you go to the paint store, inventory the dominant items in your room. Identify the colors of these given elements – the couch, rugs, art, and wood finishes.

At the paint store, select several white color cards you are considering out of the display. Hold them directly against one another to see and compare the underlying color tones. Identify if you are drawn to a grey white, a yellow white.

Then think about the objects in your room that will be seem against the white walls. Look for harmony between the white and the given elements. If you have a warm neutral couch, look for a warm neutral white which will blend well. If you have a dominant red rug, look for a warm red that will not turn green against the flooring.

Pay attention to the subtleties of white and you will have a color success.

Image: Paint - The Big Book of Natural Color by Elizabeth Hilliard and Stafford Cliff

Author: Jill Pilaroscia, Life In Color, Colour Studio


  1. thrilled to see you're writing a blog! can't wait to see what you cook up...

  2. i love this post because i love white.... thanks for sharing all of your insight!

  3. this is great, thank you, I spent days trying to find a perfect white - Mountain Peak was one of them.

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