Finding the Right White

Finding the Right White

Of all the color decisions you must make when tackling a project, you’d think that choosing a white would be, well, black and white. Oh, that it was.

Turns out that for such a seemingly simple color (or lack thereof), whites are rather complicated. That’s because few whites are truly pure white. Most whites have undertones that make them either ‘cool’ or ‘warm.’

There’s a whole lot of color theory and science behind cool and warm whites, but here’s what you need to understand about them:

  • Cool whites have a light-blue, gray or green undertone that lends a crisp brightness to the hue.
  • Warm whites have a yellow, sometimes even red, orange or even a sandy-beige undertone that creates a warm, cozy vibe.

What makes one option best suited for your space depends on a few things … specifically: lighting, location and architectural style.

Here’s a quick breakdown of how each influences your choice.

Let there be light

The amount of natural and artificial light in a room will have a big impact on how a white looks on the wall.

For example, north-facing rooms don’t tend to capture a lot of natural light and tend to run a little dark. You might think the solution is to paint the walls a bright white. But the truth is, white can’t add light; it can only reflect it.

To warm up the darker space, you need a warm white. The warm undertones of Ball of String (DE6190) and Bone (DEC765) make them great choices for bringing some life to the space.

Sun-washed south-facing rooms are warmer by nature and benefit from cooler whites, which help keep the overall tone in check. Classic White (DEHW08), White Picket Fence (DET648) and Icy White (DEHW10) have just the right undertones to counteract the yellowness of the bright sun.

Location, location, location

In addition to considering how much light a space receives, you also have to consider the quality of the light.

In regions where the natural light runs cool—like the northeast and northwest, you want to lean into warm whites to balance things out.

Where natural light runs warm—think Florida and desert settings—you want to opt for cool whites that help to turn down the volume of the sun.

One thing to note is that white paint can appear different throughout the day. This is especially true for sun-filled spaces.

Be sure to test any white you’re considering to see how it looks in morning, afternoon and evening light. One way to judge your color is with SIMPLESAMPLE™ Peel & Stick Sheets. Just peel the backing off and stick them on your wall. You can even wrap them around corners and move them from room to room. Or you can go for the real thing with the Dunn-Edwards DURA™ Color Sampler, 6-oz. jars of paint that cover up to 3 square feet. The important thing is to live with the color for a few days and notice how it changes throughout the day and responds to light from any lighting fixtures in the room.

Style matters

In the same way that a disco ball would be entirely out of place in a Cape Cod bungalow, the wrong white can be equally inappropriate and unwelcome.

The architectural style of your home must be a major consideration when choosing whites for both the interior and exterior. The goal is to choose a white that synthesizes the natural light and amplifies the features of the style.

Styles that lend themselves to warm and inviting whites include Spanish, Craftsman, Victorian, and Traditional. Both Whisper (DEW340) and Swiss Coffee (DEW341) are solid starting points for exploring white options for these architectural styles.

To enhance the aesthetic of Contemporary, Scandinavian and Mid-Century homes, look to crisper, cooler whites, such as Sugar Swizzle (DEHW07) and Icy White (DEHW10).

Dive white in

For more pointers on choosing the right white for your space and to see examples of different homes and rooms incorporating both warm and cool whites, click here or visit the Dunn-Edwards DURA Instagram and Pinterest pages. Schedule a virtual chat with a Dunn-Edwards DURA Color Influencer, or take our paint color quiz to find your style.

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