color theory 101: doing white right

A sweet gal named Shauna practically handed today’s post to me on a silver platter last week, when she asked me this:

I love your blog and I actually came to it today hoping for some info on color! We just moved into our first house and it is 2200 square feet of builder’s beige. I really want to paint our main living area white because I see it in so many of the pinterest homes I love! But I have been discouraged because everyone I talk to (aka my friends and family – not professionals) acts like I’m crazy! What are the keys to doing white well?

First things first: If I had a dollar for every time my friends and family looked at me like I was crazy and once I’ve proceeded as planned anyway, they end up liking it, {no, LOVING it} I’d be a zillionare…though I think at this point they’ve learned to accept my hairbrained ideas for what they are. So if it makes you feel any better, we can start a support group. ;}

And just a side tangent: This post is a part of our color theory series. If you want to rewind and start from the beginning, click here, and here.

While I could give you examples of pretty rooms in white, and discuss why they work all day long, I decided to focus on my own experience with white, and some major things I learned from making that transition.

I started switching over all our rooms to simple, scaled back hues about two years ago.

I took the plunge and finished the deed with our main living area last summer. It’s really quite alarmingly amazing what a little white {and purging your life of unwanted sofas} can do.

White is fresh, crisp and clean. Calming and quiet. Soothing. A beautiful blank canvas to your new amazing space. The absence of color is quickly becoming my favorite paint choice because of it’s never ending versatility. And with that being said, It’s actually one of the easiest colors to work with, once you’ve chosen your paint color of choice. I’m not really sure you can ever go wrong with white.

So here’s a few tried and true little tricks of the trade to follow {in no particular order} – to help white work for you.

1. Use shots of color, without the commitment. 

If you decide to go white, don’t be afraid to use color in other areas. Seize the day because it’s your chance to showcase the rest of your space. White is the proverbial neutral sofa of walls. Right now, I have a blue barn door on our mantel. I’m thinking you may or may not be spying an emerald green window soon. It’s easy to do some real statement pieces with scaled back and simple walls. If you do white, don’t be afraid to have fun with it. While those all white spaces we see on pinterest are pretty, I also live in reality. And it’s a great way to infuse some real personality into your space.

The Nester really nailed explaining this when she shared her own experiences with going white. So be sure to check out her take on it all, if you haven’t already, and drool over her beautiful space.

2. Repeat the same white, in different ways, throughout your home. 

This stenciled art is the same white you see in our kitchen on our cabinets…

which is the same white you see on our board and batten treatment in the ‘mudroom’

which is the same white you see in our living room

…which is the same color you see in the…why yes, I am recycling my photos because I’m still too paralyzed with grief to re-shoot anything. Thank you for noticing and not judging me.

I think this kind of goes back to our original choosing colors for your home post. But creating real interest with the same color definitely adds layers to your spaces, while establishing a flow and unity about it.

3. Experiment with subtle contrast in natural elements.

Think of the appeal that natural elements have, along with the varying qualities that different woods can affect a white space. The simplest of pieces can create the most stunning interest, and is something to definitely be used with your beautiful whites. To have something so stark and simple, is quite powerful when combined with darker contrasts, and the juxtaposition of nature with white.

4. Use variations of the color white

The lightest of greys will also read as whites on your walls, but the subtle differences will be seen from room to room. So don’t be afraid to mix it up. For me, it all started with the lightest shades of grey. And There was no turning back.

5. Pair it up with materials that really work with whites 

Beyond the natural elements like driftwood, and barn wood, create textures with grasscloth, linens and the unexpected, like fuzzy rugs. White says it’s okay for you to be braver with your combinations. Bring in ruffles and rustic and industrial all at the same time. Live it up and enjoy it. Because you simply can’t go wrong with white!

On choosing: As far as actually choosing the right white, I definitely have my favorites. But I think it comes down to collecting those swatches and thinking about what you personally, really like. Some of it, interestingly enough, depends on where you live. I prefer a nice, crisp, clean, cool white. I also live in the tropics of South Alabama. Others prefer a cream-tinged, antique touch to their whites, for a touch of warmth, and a lot of times I’ve found it’s those who live in the cooler hemispheres. I think it all goes back to that color psychology, and it’s actually a lot of food for thought.

Some of my own tried and true favorites: 

The options with whites are absolutely never ending. Who would have ever guessed it? Here’s a few of my favorite whites…if you’re searching, this may be a great springboard for you to begin that elimination process.

• Benjamin Moore’s Chantilly Lace {of course-that’s the whites you see everywhere in my home} • Benjamin Moore’s Simply White • Behr’s Irish Mist {a very light grey that reads as white on the walls} • Benjamin Moore’s Dove White • Benjamin Moore’s China White

I hope this helps any of you who are thinking about crossing over to the light side. What are some of your favorite whites?


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38 Responses to color theory 101: doing white right

  1. Jenn says:

    I’m obsessed with Valspar’s “Montpelier Madison White.” It easily transitions from white to gray to putty. Obsessed.

  2. Colleen says:

    Hmmm, I adore white! But I’ve had the same experience as your reader…everyone looks at me like I’m crazy or uninspired when I talk about using it. One question…how do you approach your trim? (I hope you didn’t cover this and I missed it. If so, sorry!!) Same color white? Different sheen? Thanks for this, I’ll just point any naysayers to this post in the future. :)

    • No, Colleen, I didn’t adress that. ;} Thanks for bringing it up! Another GREAT excuse for white, is just pick a finish {eggshell or satin} and go all the way with it. No trimming necessary, because it will all be the same. If you picked two different finishes, I honestly think it would be a whole lot of extra work for nothing. ;} I just think it’s a benefit of white-you can choose your personal preference of finish, and go all the way with it.

      Also, our ceilings were already white, and someone asked me recently what we did about them. We left ours, and it works. It just depends on the room and preference. If you pick a tone similar, something I’ve noticed about ceilings is that because they are over us, and lights generally shine DOWN on us, they always appear darker anyway. So you can probably cheat on those, too. ;}

      I hope this helps! And ignore those naysayers. Bless their hearts…they just don’t know any better. ;} They’ll think it’s cool in ten more years.

  3. We are moving to a new home that has a builders cream white. The trim is bright white, and i absolutely love it!

  4. Robyn Burkhead says:

    Hello….. is that chalkboard paint on your refrigerator? I love that! Also, what are the stencils on the fridge, are they stick on?What a great idea is so :O)

  5. Robin Reilly says:

    Loving the white, especially with the off whites. :-)

    The black fridge with the chalk inspired me to let my grandsons “chalk” on mine. cleans right up and they had a blast!

    robin :-)

  6. I painted my living room and den white last summer and I am in love. It was scary at first but feels so clean now. My next project is to paint my son’s new “big boy” room and a guest room white. I love how you can throw in pops of color and it doesn’t look like too much. Thanks for the great post!
    Jordin

  7. I can’t wait to paint my living room white! I think I am gonna paint the sun room, dining room and kitchen white as well…lol. I bought a sample of Chantilly Lace but I have yet to try it on the walls. Don’t know why I am waiting. The color now (a tan) makes the room look very dark and drab, and the lighting is absolutely horrible. I need somehting to light then room up.

  8. Diane says:

    I saw you again on” Nate” yesterday in a repeat of course Knew it was you right away when I saw the Giant nest and eggs :)))
    I was like Hey I know her :))

  9. Katie says:

    Love all the white in your home! This is off topic, but what white balance do you use when taking your indoor photos? The colors look great in your photos.

  10. jennifer says:

    I am sooo in love with all your art work. Loving that trunk with the poem too. Thanks for all the inspiration. You have a BEAUTIFUL home!

  11. Martine says:

    I love all whites, but my newest love is Benjamin Moore Chalk White. In my kitchen on cloudy days or in the evening it is a very pale grey but when it is sunny it looks white.

  12. Laura says:

    What do you think about using printed fabrics with a cream base color a curtains in a white room? Have you seen it done well?

  13. I adore you. I adore your home. I adore your personality. I adore your blue barn door. Thank you for the color list. I need it. :)

  14. Sarah says:

    My house is painted top to bottom in antique white, low sheen, and I love it! Makes the spaces look very open, clean and relaxing. If I change my bed linen/curtain/throw/door colour :) it never clashes and is super easy to touch up. Everyone said it would feel to stark and impersonal but I believe the oposite, with the right hue/sheen and lighting it makes the most of what i have style and furnishings wise

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  18. Brie says:

    Hi! I love white. I just painted my sunroom SW “Steamed Milk.” It looks amazing. You have amazing taste – love your living room. Curious to know where your coffee table is from. I’m looking for something similar. Thanks!

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  20. I’m heavily considering white walls in some areas to cover the builders shade of tan. My question: Do I need to match the white of the baseboards around the entire house? It’s a slight off white, and don’t know if a stark white would look good as slight contrast or if will make my baseboards appears yellowish. What did you do?

    • I’m just lazy, I guess, so I take my paint all the way down to the baseboards. In our house, it was easier to just paint the entire thing so that it all matches, and there was no trim work. I mean, there was trim work, but there was no arduous trimming it out… we just kept going. ;} It all looks great. So that may be a solution for you, because if you go with a clean white for the walls and the baseboards are creamy, it may make it look dingy. I hope that helps!

  21. Wesley Hall Parker says:

    Love this post! I have a question for you about BM Chantilly Lace – I love it, and plan to use it as trim throughout our house. (We live in Louisiana and I’m with you on the tropics! I live how cool white relieves a hot summer. And how you can mix it with antiques to create an eclectic space!)

    Anyway! Here’s my dilemma: I want to go all white in our living room. Trim and all wood & mantle will be Chantilly. I could do Chantilly on walls – but I’d really love to do a super subtle low contrast with a shade of barely off white. Do you have suggestions?

    I’ve tried China White for example, but it reads really gray against the Chantilly. I want something that looks white, but very subtly creates a softer space than if we did ALL Chantilly.

    • Hey! I’m afraid that’s a really tough call for me to make without seeing it in the light of your home at certain times of the day. I’m afraid most whites will look tau-pey or grey next to chantilly. It’s a very white-white. If you look at our living room, it is done in ALL chantilly. So that should give you an idea. {mantel, trim, walls} and it is very soft. If you still really want a contrast, I would pick my top five, and put them all on the wall (labeled as a test run) next to chantilly. Look at it in different lights in the space you plan to use it, in different times of the day. That should help you make a clear call. I hope that helps you make your choice… good luck! ;}

  22. Charlotte says:

    I would like to take that giant leap to white walls and trim but struggle with having dark antique furniture and a sofa and chair that are a dark olive. Any ideas how to transition without painting the antiquie furniture which is not an option.

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  26. Ashley says:

    We are currently renting and for the first time in along time have white walls everywhere! My landlord REALLY likes her white walls which I have had such a hard time with until now. These rooms are beautiful! I have been inspired :)