“The color white is transcendent powerful and polarizing – it is either taken for granted or obsessed over. White is not just a design trend; it’s a design essential. The popularity of white, the necessity of white, the mystique of white is quantifiable in our industry.” Ellen O’Neill on Benjamin Moore’s Simply White OC-117.

That having been said the question becomes, why is it so difficult to find the perfect shade of white? Perhaps it’s because white is the most illusive of all colors. It’s been described as coddling, crisp, fresh, soothing, warm, cool and timeless, yet very much of the moment.

To break the Da Vinci Code of white we have to understand how white works. Pure white paint doesn’t have any color pigments added to it. Once we start tinting pure white with other colors the results are a full range of whites including bright whites, warm whites and cool whites. Warm whites have undertones of yellow and brown. Cool whites are the result of gray, blue and violet pigments used to create that color.

There is no one-white-fits-all. Sorry to disappoint. Therefore, it’s important to pick a white with the correct undertone for the room in which it will be used. Whites with some saturation are the easiest to work with because they are infused with their own luminosity. That’s why they don’t turn gray or shadowy as a pure white does.

Bright whites work well on trim, woodwork and cabinetry, as it’s very clean and crisp. But on walls this shade of white is too sterile. It is also tough to keep other items such as sofas, rugs and drapes from looking dirty or dingy in contrast.

White the Color of Inspiration

Warmer whites work better for walls. They can range from very light ivory to off-white to deeper creams. If your home is incredibly modern then bright whites will work but for a more traditional or transitional décor warm whites work better. It’s important to understand that off-white is not beige. That’s a completely different conversation all together.

When it comes to selecting the perfect white for your home, it’s like searching for the holy crail. There are so many shades of white paint. Benjamin Moore offers over 250 white hues, Sherwin-Williams provides the decorator with another 98 shades, and that’s only two of the leading paint manufacturers.

So how do you even start to narrow your search? By first, taking a look at the best sellers. Benjamin Moore’s top two are Simply White and White Dove. Sherwin-Williams’ best sellers are Dover White and Pure White.

If you are going for that Parisian apartment or Restoration Hardware look consider Sherwin-Williams color of the year Alabaster White. It is an understated and alluring hue of white. Alabaster represents a straightforward shift to an atmosphere that is pure.

Alabaster is the third white to be chosen as a color of the year this year, preceded by Simply White from Benjamin-Moore, Cappuccino White by Glidden and Bowstring and Ivory Keys from Behr.

Experiment with various shades by comparing them to the fabrics you plan to use in that space. You want to make sure everything has the same undertones to avoid that dingy look. Then always, always purchase a small sample of each color you are considering and paint a three-foot square swatch of paint on your wall. Study it for several days in all types of lighting to make sure you love it as much in the daylight as you do after dark.

“Through the ages, all cultures have had a positive association with white, whether cognizant of the color’s emotive powers or not. White is the color of wholeness. It offers a sense of peace and a clean slate, before anything is muddied. It signifies awakening, openness, growth and creativity. Added bonus – white coordinates with everything…making it extremely versatile!” – Sue Wadden, director of color marketing, Sherwin-Williams.

Finding the perfect whites for your home takes time but I promise the rewards far outweigh the effort. Once you find your favorite white palate you will return to it again and again over the years. It’s not about following trends but creating timeless classics.