How to choose a white paint colour

The problem that I hear about the most from home decorators is “I never knew there were so many whites available”. If you want to go with an all-white paint scheme, the choice of white becomes crucial. It is not so easy to choose between the subtle differences in white tones, but here are some tips.

Warm vs cool whites

Simply put, you will generally need to choose between a warm white (eg yellow or red undertone) or a cool white (eg grey or green undertone). The undertone will be the colour that the white pigment is tinted with. It may not be immediately obvious which side of the spectrum a white falls on until you compare it with something.

Here are two ways to check the undertone:-

– when compared to a stark white sheet of A4 paper, what colour would you say it is leaning towards?

– does the white look better alongside a warm metal like gold or brass, or a cool metal like chrome or pewter?

So, which white should you commit to?

Cool, bright whites will suit more contemporary interiors and help to accent hard edges and finer details. Whites which are mellowed with yellow or brown are more forgiving of flaws and thus might complement an older home in a traditional style. A crisp white can make an older home look much more fresh and up-to-date regardless of the style of furnishings.

Architectural elements

If you have timber architectural elements that you are not going to paint, consider the undertone in the timber as something you do need to work with (eg mahogany is reddish, american oak is yellowish). The same consideration needs to be made if you have a stone feature such as a floor or benchtop. And if you are making a deliberate statement with metal accents such as gold or rose gold, these should also harmonise with the cool / warm theme.


Consider all your light sources as white will reflect, not absorb, them. You were probably attracted to white to begin with because it enlarges spaces visually and makes the most of sunlight. To get the full benefit of your chosen white you should also harmonise your artificial light sources. For example, if you opt for a bright white, cool globes might give a rather clinical effect.


Once you have narrowed down your choices, it’s time to test them. When you sample, paint on A3 (at least) sized boards that can be moved around the space. If you paint directly on to the wall then the sample will be affected by the background colour.

Neutral whites

If neither obviously cool nor warm whites are working for you, there are whites that manage to straddle both dimensions. Antique White U.S.A. (by Dulux), while on the warmer side, is one such white that I have frequently recommended to clients. Marble Mist (by Haymes) is also a very versatile, balanced white. None of this is easy, so do get in touch if you would like assistance with your white colour scheme.

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