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White Paint Color Selection Tips

White paint opens up and freshens spaces, it’s versatile, and it sets a mood. But it’s nuanced – different shades of white do this in different ways. Here’s how to pick the best white paint color – warm, pure or cool – for your rooms and color schemes.

White paint inspiration objects in various shades of white including off white, antique white, dove white, and white gloss.

Understanding Undertone

A pure, or “clean,” white is almost like typing paper with little discernible undertone. Warm whites – antique, cream, vanilla – have undertones of yellow, pink or red (check accompanying hues on the color swatch and you’ll see). “Grayed” whites have cool undertones of gray, blue or green. Paint colors may vary slightly from those shown.

Pure Whites

Contemporary bedroom with wall paint and gray bed, white and gold bedding and accessories, and artwork, alongside three white paint samples.

These whites conjure images of snow, linen and fine china. Here, varying shades of pure white on walls, bed trim, and bedding make a clean backdrop for the striking yet warm gray and gold pulled from the artwork. Pure whites invite just about any accent colors.

Good to Know

  • Pure whites layer beautifully for a tone-on-tone effect.
  • They’re versatile and work well with all furnishing styles.
  • Pure whites have the least amount of undertone and retain a clean look in rooms with abundant natural light.
  • Consider white with black, then add an accent color or a piece of colorful artwork. Elegant!
  • Also consider white for a ceiling. A whitened ceiling brightens a naturally dark space

Warm Whites

Contemporary, casual living room with antique white paint and a modern fireplace and neutral furnishings. Three shades of white paint samples show the color palette.

These whites suit traditional, modern, and casual styles beautifully. Antique or creamy whites lend a restful, mellow air against natural wood, neutrals and warm colors. These warm whites freshen and open up this living room space to direct attention to the subtle texture on the rattan chairs and the woven rug and window blinds.

Good to Know

  • Traditional rooms and older homes with plastered walls take on a luminous warm glow with these whites.
  • Try it on kitchen cabinetry. White cabinets look clean yet not too stark or cold.
  • Warm whites work in both natural and artificial light, and in rooms with either north- or south-facing windows. They counterbalance cool-hued natural light from the north, and warm tones from south-facing windows. 

Cool Whites

Modern bathroom with white double vanities, dark gray wainscoting and tile accent, alongside three white paint samples.

These whites have undertones of gray or blue. They’re fresh and sophisticated, and they pair especially well with contemporary furnishings like metal or glass, and with black plus a small dose of accent color such as shown here.

Good to Know

  • When used in layers, cool whites can impart a sense of serenity.
  • They’re a vibrant backdrop for artwork.
  • Cool white looks good in rooms with south-facing windows, where there’s warm light most of the day.
  • Check the color sample against your furnishings. If they’re creamy-colored, cool whites could make them look dingy.