Is White a Cool Color? You Bet It Is! (But It Can Be Warm, Too.)

Here's how to sift through your options and pick the perfect white paint color for your space.

Whether it's an aspirational choice you've pulled from Pinterest or just a hunch you have, somehow you just know: White paint is the obvious choice for your updated space. Now you need to find the right shade of white, and you're finding it surprisingly challenging. Sound familiar? A lot of people have landed in this situation.

Most paint brands offer several options for white paint, and the larger paint brands can have dozens of choices to choose from. All those different shades of white paint—Snowbound versus Pure White versus Oxford White, among hundreds of others—could lead an indecisive soul to spend hours agonizing over the right pick. No more! To simplify the process of picking a white paint color, we spoke with Leigh Spicher, the national director of design studios for homebuilder Ashton Woods.

"People are drawn to white for a lot of great reasons," Spicher says. "It's also fair to say that it just goes with anything." White paint is popular, but it's not a one-size-fits-all solution. To find the right white paint color for your space, read on for an easy how-to guide that will have you painting in no time.

How to Pick White Paint Colors

Understand Undertones

Spicher says her greatest guidance usually involves helping clients understand the difference between cool whites and warm whites.

"That's where I like to start the discussion about white paint colors: 'Do you want your home to have a warm feeling or a cool feeling?'" Spicher says.

Cool whites have a little bit of a blue undertone; warm whites will be yellowish. Mixing the two is one of the biggest mistakes Spicher sees. Think warm white painted kitchen cabinets with a glossy, cool, almost-blue white backsplash. If you enter a room with lots of white and wonder what feels off about it, it's likely because the room blends warm and cool whites.

"You start to mix those things, then your vibe, your room, starts to feel a little mismatched," Spicher says. "It's really important that you start with an undertone."

Pick a cool or warm white, then stick with that undertone on everything from flooring to backsplashes and window treatments. A consistent undertone will give your space a cohesive, coordinated feel, while a mismatched one might feel amateurish or sloppy.

Consider Lighting

"The other important piece to consider when choosing whites is the lighting in your room," Spicher says.

You may not consider this when you're picking out colors, but your lamps or light fixtures can also affect how the paint looks on your walls. Again, this is about undertones. Take care to choose lighting with a warm or cool undertone, and then pick a complementary white paint color. Or adjust your fixtures and bulbs to match the undertone after the walls are painted to give the room that polished, well-planned feel.

The temperature of light—whether it's warm or cold—is measured in Kelvins, Spicher says. A lower number of Kelvins mean warmer lights, and a higher number means cooler lights. If you pair the Kelvins listed on your lightbulb packaging with the undertones of your white paint color of choice, you'll all but guarantee a great match.

Give It a Good Finish

Finish is more about lifestyle than looks. "Think about how you're going to live in the space, because that's really what paint finish is all about," she says.

Flatter sheens—mattes and the like—are more difficult to clean. Glossy or semi-gloss finishes make for easier wipe-downs. Spicher, who has two dogs, has a semi-gloss finish on the baseboards in her home so she can scrub them when needed.

"I really try to encourage our homeowners to personalize their spaces," Spicher says. "When you're designing your room, don't worry about what your neighbor has."

In other words, your childless, pet-less neighbors might have a beautiful eggshell or matte white wall, but they don't have to worry about wiping off muddy paw prints or stray crayon marks; if your household skews messier, a semi-gloss finish might be best for your white paint.

Call in Reinforcements if Needed

"I think it's really important to work with a professional," Spicher says. "I'm working to renovate my own cabinets in a new white shade. I'm a professional designer of 20 years, but I'm still the first person at the paint store counter, asking for suggestions. They help me to understand the different undertones of the paint and the color wheel and how they're going to work together."

Paint store pros are there to answer questions. Working with them can mean the difference between getting the right paint color the first time and having to make several return trips to the store. If it's within your budget, working with a designer can get you even better results. Understand what you want from a room—if you want it to feel warm or bright, elegant or playful—and talk it through with a pro to find the right shade of white.

"It's hard to go wrong with white," Spicher says. "People really do get overwhelmed by the choices, but once they narrow it down to a few that they like, it would be hard to make a bad decision."

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