How to Choose the Right White Paint

August 26, 2015

Interior designer Tricia Foley, whose upcoming title Life | Style chronicles her loving renovation of an all-white Long Island home, shares her tips for picking out and using white paint. 

tricia foley life style 

Whether your home is modern or traditional, in the country or in the city, a white paint palette provides the perfect backdrop for any style. The interiors I create are done in many shades of white: There are warm, cozy whites in shades of cream and ivory, cool whites with a touch of blue for a clean, minimal look, and chalky whites with a hint of grey for historic interiors.

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A cool white can emphasize a sculptural wall, a warm white can hide imperfections, and a clean white can open up a space or call out architectural details. Using a mix of whites on the walls, trim, ceiling, and floor—as well as using flat, eggshell, and semi-gloss finishes—adds depth. I’m also influenced by the evocative names of white paints: “apron strings,” “tuxedo shirt,” “ironstone.” 

When shopping for white paints, I love looking at the names on paint charts and envisioning how they could be used in a space together, to evoke different moods as one transitions between rooms. In the kitchen I want a clean, fresh white; in the dining room, a soft white backdrop for my china; in the living room, a warm old-fashioned white for the bookshelves; and in my bedroom, a calming white

Tricia Foley Life style  Tricia Foley Life Style

Ideas for making the most of white paint:

  • Painting the window trim white inside and out brings reflected light into a room, brighting the space.
  • A good way to keep closets and cabinets brighter inside is to paint them a clean white.
  • To give the illusion of more height, ceilings are often painted a flat white, sometimes with a tint of color from the wall paint.
  • A collection of disparate chairs or tables come together painted the same white, whether it’s in a romantic old summer house or a minimal Scandinavian inspired space.

I like the simplicity of white, the cleanliness of white, the purity of it, the blank slate of it, and the world of possibility in it. It represents serenity and calm to me—and a fresh coat of white paint makes everything new again. Ralph Lauren’s Brilliant White, Benjamin Moore’s Super White, and Farrow & Ball’s All White are some of my favorites—but these are some other reliable white paints, grouped by type.

Warm & Cozy

parish white  Farrow & Ball Clunch  Benjamin Moore China White
Parish White (Williamsburg Collection for Benjamin Moore); Clunch (Farrow & Ball); China White (Benjamin Moore)

Also: Journal White (Ralph Lauren Paint) 


Clean & Minimal

Farrow & Ball All White  Benjamin Moore Snow White  Sherwin Williams Pure White
All White (Farrow & Ball); Snow White (Benjamin Moore); Pure White (Sherwin Williams)

Also: Brilliant White (Ralph Lauren Paint)


Cool Whites

harwood putty  chalk white ralph lauren paint  Benjamin Moore Decorators White
Harwood Putty (Williamsburg Collection for Benjamin Moore); Chalk White (Ralph Lauren Paint); Decorators White (Benjamin Moore)


Soft Whites 

Benjamin Moore White Dove  picket fence  Mother of Pearl
White Dove (Benjamin Moore); Picket Fence White (Ralph Lauren Paint); Mother of Pearl (Ralph Lauren Paint)


Calming Whites

Farrow & Ball Cornforth  Benjamin Moore Simply White  Sherwin WiliamsCornforth White (Farrow & Ball); Simply White (Benjamin Moore); Ethereal White (Sherwin Williams)

What white paints do you love? Let me know in the comments!

Photographs in post by Marili Forastieri; home page photograph by William Abranowicz.

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Designer Tricia Foley, whose upcoming title Life | Style chronicles her loving renovation of an all-white Long Island home, shares her tips for picking out and using white paint.


VA D. June 15, 2017
I happen to love Picket Fence by Kelly-Moore but that's probably because I NAMED IT! I had contacted KM about some of their wacky color names that didn't make sense to me (Minted yellow was a GREEN paint and Woodland Waterfall which you'd think was a blue for water was also green. It was like their adjectives were backwards), and I happened to catch them in the middle of their renaming project that they said they did every seven or so years. The woman who replied to my email then asked, "Do you want to name some of them?" So I chose Picket Fence (intentionally without the word white in it because what other color would you think of in your head when you read "Picket Fence"?) and it made the cut! I don't believe my suggestion of "Meatloaf" for one of their browns made it although I'm not certain, nor my suggestion of "Creamed corn" for one of their yellows. Again... not sure though. :o)
tricia F. August 19, 2016
I used RL Picket Fence white
many years ago, and I still love it!
Cynthia M. August 19, 2016
I did read your article on whites, but which color did you use in the kitchen picture? (How to choose the right white paint) I love the feel! Thank you.
Cynthia Nashville
Gretchen G. September 4, 2015
Benjamin Moore Cloud White. An old color that may not be their main deck any more, but can be mixed to match by Benjamin Moore and most other paint companies. I use it in eggshell for the trim in every room.
tricia F. September 3, 2015
It's always a good idea to paint swatches on different areas to see how the natural and applied lighting affects the color ... also keep in mind that the flooring and any other fixed furnishings might cause reflections and affect the wall color...
Lorrie H. September 3, 2015
I just finished painting my living room in the Pacific Northwest BM's Simply White in Eggshell with Super White in Semi Gloss for the ceiling and trim. It has made the room's traditional architecture feel modern but still warm and inviting. I works well with the wood floors as well.

In the master bedroom I painted the walls BM's Mountain Peak white. It has a lovely warm glow without reading yellow. Unfortunately, I used Decorator's White as trim color which reads to gray next to the wall color so I will be repainting that with Super White as well.
Jessica N. August 31, 2015
We used BM's China White on our ceilings and LOVE IT!
Ness L. August 30, 2015
Here in Australia, a fave is Dulux 'Antique White USA' or 'Chalk White USA'. I really like the look of corn forth white you showed.
Alejandro August 29, 2015
Chantilly lace.
AntoniaJames August 26, 2015
Benjamin Moore's Swiss Coffee - a delicious, soft white -- is also gorgeous, especially when paired with certain other neutrals. Other than that, which is on our cabinets and most of the wood trim (excluding the crown molding) in kitchen. Elsewhere in our house, we use Benjamin Moore's China White and White Dove almost exclusively (where we use white).
Benjamin Moore's names for their near-neutral colors are evocative too: Coastal Fog, French Canvas, etc. ;o)
702551 August 26, 2015
I used to be a Kelly-Moore Swiss Coffee guy, but I switched to Kelly-Moore Antique White. Flat finish most places, eggshell finish in a few others. No more semi-gloss/glossy for me.

Lots of great white shades these days.
Nan August 26, 2015
I've painted all my bedrooms for the past 10 years with Ralph Lauren Egret. It's impossible to identify the underlying tones of the color. I love it so much!