Monday, August 4, 2014

Do Foolproof White Paint Colors Exist?

 On this hot, sunny Monday, I'm neither weeding nor cooking. 
I'm paint sleuthing again, on the prowl for foolproof neutral colors.

6 Foolproof Whites
3 Popular Off-Whites and Greiges

How can such a thing exist, given the unique characteristics in every home? Stormy weather can turn the perfect white into a moody, shadowy beast. Sunshine can add a glow to cold, blinding white walls. A room that faces a shady, covered porch may not look brighter if the walls are white. Trim colors must be chosen with care: warm white woodwork might seem murky against cool, creamy walls. Assertive floor coloring, such as orange or peach-toned tile, can hijack a room's color.

It's enough to make a girl cry--or eat lots of cupcakes.

I visited two local paint stores and returned with a list of dependable whites (depending on your room's colors and light exposure, of course).

1. Benjamin Moore Linen White

This warm white makes me think of freshly washed vintage sheets hanging on a clothes line, faintly colored by time. It's the go-to color when your head is spinning with whites and off-whites. Linen White has a reputation for behaving well in all types of lighting situations. Put it on the ceiling, walls, or trim to add instant character and "age."
Hand's down, it's one of the most popular white colors. I've never used it, but I'm tempted. Below, the foyer walls are painted BM Linen White in an eggshell finish. The trim is BM Super White in semi-gloss. The dark wood provides a striking, pleasing contrast to this creamy white.

2. Benjamin Moore White Dove

An amazing soft white that is cool and warm, depending on where you use this color and what you put around it. The BM website calls White Dove a "perfectly neutral white." The slight gray undertone creates a color that's easy going and plays well with other colors.

Below, BM White Dove was painted on the trim and ceiling.

BM White Dove on the walls, trim, and ceiling (Western exposure).

3. Benjamin Moore Cotton Balls

Cotton Balls reminds me of freshly poured cream. It is a warm (yet cool) color that feels clean. Thanks to yellow undertones, the color rarely seems too-white.

BM Cotton Balls in semi-gloss:

Cotton Balls looks crisp and pristine--but not overwhelmingly white--when it's used on a gray-shingled house.

4. Benjamin Moore Decorators White

With blue-gray undertones, Decorators White is cool, crisp, and clean. It pairs beautifully with
marble and performs well in sunny rooms or as the backdrop for art.

5. Benjamin Moore China White

Thanks to the gray undertones in China White, the color reads white but it isn't stark. If you are looking for a soft, chalky color, this may be the one.

You can see gorgeous example of a China White kitchen that was designed by Michael S. Smith by clicking HERE.

6. Benjamin Moore Simply White

 Simply White is another cool-warm white that has a reputation for being neutral. The green undertones never read "green" or muddy.

Simply White on the walls (eggshell), trim and cabinets(satin), and ceiling (flat on Sheetrock; satin on woodwork).

3 Popular off-whites and greiges:

1. Benjamin Moore Elephant Tusk

The green undertones in Elephant Tusk create a splendid warm greige. The color is almost cream, but not quite. If it's too yellow, tone it down with white. Below, the formula was doubled for Elephant Tusk because it was painted on wood rather than Sheetrock.

2. Sherwin Williams Creamy 

The name fits perfectly. This warm, off-white is soft and happy, a pretty
white. It's the color of Devon cream. In person, it appears to be a creamy white. However, the yellow undertones show up in photographs.

Here is Creamy (walls and trim) in a room with an eastern and southern exposure:

#2 Benjamin Moore Winds Breath

A pleasing warm greige. Here, it is paired with BM Simply White on the trim.

Here, we have BM Winds Breath on the walls (trim unknown). It pairs well with BM Palladian Blue (you can see it in the adjacent room).

#3 Benjamin Moore Ballet White 

Ballet White is another color that the BM site refers to as a "perfect neutral white." It's definitely not white, though, with its complex range that changes colors with the light, moving from grey to beige to cream and back to grey. 

In a room with northern and eastern light, Ballet White looks like a creamy latte.

In the same room, the walls look gray and beige at the same time,
doubtlessly influenced by the white Macabus granite on the counter.

 I've only scratched the surface of white and off-white paint colors. I left out the ever-popular Cloud White by BM and Shoji White by SW, along with so many others.

Do you have a go-to white or off-white paint color?
Has a color performed badly in your home? 
What's your favorite trim color?

Note: The paint color in the top photo (staircase) is Porter Paints Sea Sand and the trim is Porter's Antique White. Porter was bought by Pittsburg Paints, but I'm not sure if the old PP colors are still available.

Paint Resources:
Benjamin Moore

Metamorphosis Monday contribution.


  1. I have used Benjamin Moore's Linen White for 24 years. It's the "perfect" white for me.

  2. Years ago there was a neutral but warm white called "coconut"; I did not care for the paint itself to work with but the color was worth the frustration. Somewhere in between coats (lapse of years) the color was discontinued and I didn't know it and paint swatches to take and match in another brand were no longer available. Big frown face. I'm currently searching myself for a replacement for "coconut" for use in the kitchen and adjoining areas ... everything "warm" seems to have too strong of a yellow or cream undertone for me. I just want white but not an arctic / stark white.

    1. Whites are such an enigma. I tried a swatch of Shoji in the kitchen and, despite the brown pigment, it looked very, very white. I ended up using something with a green undertone, and for reasons unknown, it looked less stark (in person, anyway). Today, I'm looking at a painted wall that has yellowed with time. it could use a fresh coat of something cooler like "Coconut." Hope you find the formula and/or the perfect white!

    2. I think you might be referring to an old Duron color called "Coconut Colada". I used it several times in client houses and I remember it being a good versatile white. You might look to see if Sherwin Williams (who bought them) can still match it for you.

  3. A post to bookmark ~ for eternity. I will reference the information delivered so delightfully many times, I'm certain!

  4. I'll be saving this. The house that currently has my eye has been painted in horrid desert colours - not my cup of tea at all. There's a lot of sage and tan and dun and a muddy brick to paint over! Thanks for this.

  5. Great information on whites, here. I think whites can be the hardest color to pick. I used swiss coffee by Kelly Moore for all of my trim throughout my house, It helps to find out what the pigments are that will be shot into the paint base. Swiss coffee has some yellow oxide and umber so it is a warm white. The amount of pigment being shot is also important to know if it will come off with more color or not. I use soft warm colors in most of my room so a white with warm pigments was the perfect choice for me. Good luck on your quest!

    1. Swiss Coffee is beautiful. Warm colors pull me in. I would so love to use Decorators White, but I don't have the right space for it. I've got to find a neutral for a large room with a huge window--but the window faces a covered porch (eastern exposure). I'm afraid that White Dove could lose itself in shadows. I'll be painting lots of samples for sure.

    2. Better late than never! ☺ Thanks Michael for this very informative post. Definitely have it bookmarked. Re the colour of 'swiss coffee', for those who might wish an all white kitchen it also goes beautiful with white appliances (particularly with those that might being showing colour age). I often refer to it as 'the colour of when in doubt'. -Brenda-

  6. We need to repaint some rooms here, so I'm saving the information you share about these neutral paint colors. Also sharing with a friend who is in the building process. Your home is going to be stunning!

    1. Thanks for always stopping by and cheering me with your sweet comments.

  7. I find that whites to be the most confusing color in the entire color charts. Great post and one that I will save. You've help to clarify what works with what. We have a lot of heavy crown molding and wide baseboards, but I don't recall what shade of white we used, but I remember being very confused!

    1. I'm getting ready to try a blue-green on an exterior door, and I'm shaking in my boots!

  8. There certainly are a lot of paint colors out there, but there is nothing more satisfying than when you choose the right one. I use Behr White Cliffs in my home. Its not really a white and not really a beige. Its more of a very light putty color. I do love a good white paint, but my house is decorated in the primitive/country style so white just doesn't seem to compliment my furnishings. Someday I would love to have a black and white kitchen with white cabinets.

  9. I am loving the whites, off-white and greiges lately - you've found some wonderful examples - I'm loving the creamy off white of the asiago-Valspar - that I used for the trim in our dining room and the Oatlands Subte Taupe I used on the ceiling. We're looking for a greige for the family room - I like Valspar's - magic spell and smoked oyster. It's fun exploring colors!

  10. What would you suggest as a white trim color with Ballet White walls? We will have a mix of warm and cool in the house and like how the color changes slightly, but we want our trim and cabinetry to stand out a bit.
    This was a great read--thanks!

    1. I'm a writer and a nurse, so my design skills aren't to be trusted. :-) I love how Ballet White changes with the light, too. How much natural light do your rooms receive? Also, what are your fabric colors, I love BM White Dove with BM Ballet White, because White Dove is complimentary with the gray tones, and yet it's warm and creamy. I used Ballet White (25% darker--walls) with BM Simply White in a room that receives quite a bit of light, and I was pleased--however Simply White does have a very slight green undertone. I never saw it at my house. When I went darker (for wall color) with BM Camouflage, I could really see the green. Simply White can appear very, very white, also, but it does look nice with Ballet White.

      I always paint samples on poster boards and move them around the house, observing how the color behaves as the light changes throughout the day.

      I'm getting ready to paint a long room that has crazy light; I will be testing BM Ballet White on the walls; for the trim, BM White Dove and Simply white. I'll post about it soon.

      Good luck!

    2. I will just add that BM Ballet White was way too white the second time around.

    3. what did you end up using instead of ballet white? What about creamy by Sherwin Williams? Revere Pewter?

    4. This comment has been removed by the author.

    5. For that space, I used BM Simply White for the trim. It looked great with the Ballet White in that particular area. In the next house, I used BM White Dove for the trim, inside and out. Overall, I'd have to say that White Dove seems to work with everything--and it especially plays well with other whites (wall color).

  11. I have used B M mayonnaise on the interior trim of two houses. Love it. It is like the color of mayonnaise that you put on a sandwich. :-)

    1. I'm putting BM Mayonnaise on my color list. The Ranchburger may need a little mayo! :-) The colors I've tried so far are very, very white, and the draperies (which came with the house, and I love them) are warm-toned. I thought BM Linen White would work, but it was stark at my house. Paint is such an enigma, but it's worth the effort, as it covers so much of a space.

    2. What a lovely blog. I have Cotton Balls trim and love it because it's neither cool or warm. I have it paired in one room with Feather Down. However........I just painted a bathroom with western exposure and plenty of good artificial lighting, but it looks pinkish to me sometimes and I don't like that at all ! I really don't know why this is the case. Did the paint store put too much pigment in it? It always looks like a gorgeous greige as you show it with Simply White. Cotton Balls is very, very similar to Simply White. I don't know where I went wrong! Any ideas anyone? Should have hired a decorator perhaps but working within a budget. I have read that Cotton Balls pairs well with green. But it also should pair well with other colors. It doesn't actually have any green in it, it's just the particular mix of yellow, black or grey that defines how it least as I understand it but I clearly am no expert !

  12. Has anyone ever tried Cotton Balls? it looks green on my wall.

  13. Has anyone ever tried cotton balls? it looks green on my wall. the paint store said it didn't surprise them based on the fan deck but I wasn't expecting it from researching the color.

    1. Isn't color strange that way? That would have baffled me, too. I thought BM Cotton Balls had a yellow undertone? What other colors are in your room? I used BM Simply White in two kitchens, and it is supposed to have the fewest undertones, yet it has some--green. When I paired it with Camouflage, the green really came out, and I didn't want that. Good luck with your paint quest!

    2. It is! we have a yellow toned wood floor, and dark dressers and a brass bed. I'm going to try to work with it. but we'll see! I was hoping for a true warm but crisp white.

  14. I am looking for a good off white to use in my basement that gets zero natural lighting. I have a driftwood tile/faux wood look and grayish carpet that we plan to put in. Any suggestions on a color that might look good. We plan to put more recessed light in to brighten it up too.