Paint Primer: Picking A White

When we bought our house, every room was painted a slightly different pastel shade. Pale pistachio in the dining room, an almost-purple in the living room, a sort-of yellow in one of the bedrooms. Given that the exterior is also an eye-catching French Blue, it’s a little like living in an Easter basket. Pass me my finest bonnet, please.

I knew one of the first things I wanted to do when we got the keys was paint everything a nice, sanity-inducing, fresh-feeling white, but that turns out to be easier said than done.

Despite the fact that Instagram and Pinterest and Interior Designers would have you believe that painting your walls white is the most effortlessly stylish decision you’ll ever make—they’re, well, they’re lying to you. Walk into a paint store thinking you’re just going to casually grab some white paint, and if you care anything about aesthetics, you’ll leave close to a mental breakdown. There are pink whites and yellow whites and green whites and blue whites. Every white is—just ever so slightly—every color of the rainbow, which you won’t realize until you’re looking at them side by side. You grab a “white” swatch only to realize that the next one is even … whiter (wtf, how.), and the one in your hand that looked so crisp and clean to begin with looks practically like a coffee stain now. Help.

We decided to tackle the dining room first, so I dutifully swatched an entire wall in paint squares of about 25 different white hues. Because white is, by nature, so reflective of what’s around it, it’s important to really sit with it in daylight, grey light, and whatever lightbulbs you’re planning on using in that room—any small shift in light color brings out that tonality in white paint, so you’ve got to like it in all of those situations. What you thought was the perfect clean white when you were swatching it late at night under your warm incandescent bulbs can suddenly become a pale blue by the pure light of the morning.

Here’s what we narrowed it down to, along with some real rooms painted in each color, and ultimately (finally), a favorite.


The Absolute

Dunn Edwards “White.” Like the name says, an unpigmented straight white, so it doesn’t skew warm or cool—you can see it on the kitchen cabinets here. As much as I thought this was what I wanted, in reality it’s perfect for trim (or cabinets), but too aggressively stark for an entire room.


Cool Whites

Benjamin Moore “Super White.” Ever so slightly off-white, this one didn’t feel blinding, and had a slightly cool (but not cold) tint that would balance out a room with really warm lighting or lots of afternoon sun.


Dunn Edwards “Precious Pearls.” This one is a beautiful pick, which almost feels opalescent in any color of light.


Benjamin Moore “Chantilly Lace.”  Like a ninja-chameleon, this one looked true white in the can, a little cool in some light, and surprisingly warm in others.


Warm Whites

Farrow & Ball “Satin Slipper.” Aptly named, this color is the most-barely there (but definitely noticeable) shade of pink. Very pretty, but not helpful in our Easter-egg rehab.


Dunn Edwards “Swiss Coffee.” No kidding, this paint has a cult-following for being the perfect, cozy feeling white. But…


Farrow & Ball “Pointing.” Ultimately, this is the color we landed on. F&B makes amazingly high-quality paint (they use more pigment than any other brand for truer color pay-off). As scary-yellow as Pointing looks in their own online swatches, in person it is the most beautifully balanced cream, that has a lovely depth to it and no cold/sterile feeling at all, somehow without breaking yellow in any light. Named after the mortar traditionally used to hold bricks together, Pointing is also one of the most commonly-chosen colors for restoring turn-of-the-century homes—it has a fresh but not spanking-new-modern appeal, which made it feel just right for our 1920s house. 

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