Painting in ‘White’

I was on a zoom call yesterday evening with a client undergoing a whole house renovation. She asked me about decorating with white. What did I think about using a bright white downstairs and a softer white upstairs?


Shades of white are often considered a go-to safe option when lots of decisions are being made and/or the budget is tight and/or a client would like to live in a space first before splashing out (decoratively and ££s speaking) on any colour additions

I was reminded when my client asked this seemingly straightforward question, that nothing is ever simple, especially when you’re talking ‘white’ paint

So, as a follow-on from this conversation I thought I’d share a few tips and tricks in time for the weekend (in case any of you out there are planning a decorating fest before the clocks go back and we all spend even more time indoors 

Number 1 rule – as with any paint colour always test, test and test again. Money spent on samples may seem like an unnecessary overspend but, believe me, it’ll be far more costly (include your time in this) to have to re-decorate post hasty-paint-colour-choice

Inexpensive lining paper (buy a roll or two from any DIY store) is perfect for paint swatches. Remember the following:

  1. go large on your swatches
  2. always paint more than one coat (most paint samples allow for two large swatch coats)
  3. trim off excess paper around your swatch so that you see just the colour
  4. write the name/make/serial number of each colour on the reverse of the sample
  5. look at your swatch/es in both natural (day) light and electric light / at all times of day / and, if possible, in all weathers / all over the room in question (flat against the wall unless it is a floor paint in which case lay it on the floor), including near any windows, the middle of each wall and also in the corners, to see as many variations of the colour as possible. You get the gist: the thing with light is that, as it bounces off surfaces in different directions, it adds to or detracts from the intensity of the colour. This is what provides the magic when done right!
  6. avoid, if possible, viewing your swatch against a strong colour as this will skew your swatch colour
  7. try out your swatch with all your samples – tiles, flooring, wood finishes, kitchen surfaces, fabric choices etc to check that it sits right in your interior scheme and, again, in all different lights; in particular natural and electric
  8. if you only have access to swatch cards, take the swatches off the card background (not forgetting to write the paint reference on the reverse!) so that the card colour doesn’t influence the swatch itself
Which ‘white’? –
There are now so many brands and so many ‘whites’ out there – every brand has a ‘pure’ white which differs from the other brands so there’s that for starters. Hunting for a ‘true’ white amongst the options can be exhausting
Then there are whites with hints of – yellow, apricot, pink, blue, green and so on.
A rule of thumb is to avoid too yellow a white in a sunny south-facing room unless  you are fine wearing sunnies inside, and avoid using too ‘green’ a white in a north-facing room unless you really love green (the cold northern light exaggerates the green). And, as with choosing anything for your home, if there’s a niggle of doubt when you view your swatch then ditch it and try another
There are some fabulous paint showrooms out there but keep in mind that what looks good in a showroom may not work for you at home – again down to lighting -Showrooms tend to be overlit compared to our own homes, so don’t make any firm decisions until you’ve tried the swatches in your own home
Many paint cards helpfully place whites in their colour groupings to make life easier for you. This means that you can choose a whole colour palette, from dark to light, for your home safe in the knowledge that your choices come from the same colour family
Paint finishes –
Once you have chosen your ‘white’ please don’t forget to take into account the finish of the paint which can alter (dramatically) how a colour looks, with different paint finishes having differing *sheen levels. The most obvious contrast here would be between a high gloss finish and a super matt finish
If the paint card itself doesn’t show these different finishes (Little Greene do) then make a trip to the paint store, where there will usually be samples of different finishes displayed
Make sure to choose the right finish for the job so that you get the best out of your paint (for example a washable paint in high traffic areas such as a hallway and living area)
Thankfully, Eco credentials are pretty much a given in 2020, with new stringent rules about VOCs (volatile organic compounds) in place, but for those of you who are particularly sensitive to paint odours you should see how a paint sample smells prior to committing to a whole paint job. If in doubt opt for a low odour or even odourless paint. Make sure you do your research to avoid misery post paint-job
Lastly, if you really are totally stumped, invest in some ‘colour consultancy’ which is often available either in-store or in the comfort of your own home via a recommended interior decorator or designer.
Have fun!

[* read this super helpful article by Dulux about different ‘sheen’ levels:]