Getting the Right White Can Be Tricky

Take home these tips to make picking the perfect shade of paint a cinch.
Julie Feagin Sandner

With names such as vanilla ice cream and butter pecan, ordering a can of paint seems much like selecting a favorite frozen treat. But, when you get to the counter, you realize there are infinitely more than 31 flavors. There are approximately 40 million white color chips on a fan deck--okay, slight exaggeration--but there are too many to count. So, how do you choose the right one without leaving a room in bad taste? Here we answer your most common questions so you can get a delicious shade every time.

How do I paint walls white without making a room feel stark?
Use warmer shades of white with hints of yellow or brown for the walls, and then go a little darker on the trimwork. This will add visual interest to the room and break up all of that white space.
Keep in mind that the number of windows in the room and, therefore, the more sunlight there is, the brighter the white will look. In a windowless spot, consider a crisper hue to lighten the area. The best way to make sure you love your choice is to paint a patch of the wall and then live with it for a few days.

Do walls and trimwork have to be the same throughout the house?
Absolutely not. Use paint to create a pattern in your home. If you want rooms to easily flow from one to another, use the same color on trimwork and similar tones on walls throughout your interiors. But if you want to create separation in a space, vary the hues.

What shade is best for ceilings?
Ceilings do not have to be covered in the bright white that comes in the can labeled for ceilings. Add drama by painting the ceiling the same color as the walls or trimwork. Experiment with shades to update a room.

If I have a colored wall, what shade of white do I use for the trimwork?
As a general rule, warm wall colors such as red and yellow call for a warm trim color, such as a bone white. Cool hues look best with brighter whites.

Here's an example: If you painted the trimwork buttery white in a sky blue room, it would take away from the crispness of the wall color. Better to use a snowy white so the two hues work together.

If you want the trimwork to stand out, choose a color that contrasts with the wall. You're sure to notice bright white trimwork when it's paired with soft taupe walls. You could also go a shade darker than the wall color for dramatic results.

If you don't want to highlight your trimwork, then don't paint it white at all. Use a semigloss or satin finish paint that's the same shade as the wall color. This trick will also make tight spaces feel a little larger.