How to choose the right white paint colour

Choosing the right white paint colour isn’t an easy task.
There are so many options to choose from: cool whites, warm whites, and literally hundreds of undertones.

And then it also depends on your space, no 2 rooms will look the same with the same white paint colour.

It sounds a little overwhelming, doesn’t it?
But don’t worry, I’ll break down everything from undertones and room direction to easy tricks to choose the right white paint colour.

What you’ll find here

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How to choose the right white paint colour

Hi, I’m Nadine

Interior design expert, globetrotter and the creative mind behind this blog and NH.DESIGN.

I’m originally from Germany but have been living abroad for over 10 years, from Canada and the UK to Sweden.

So I ask myself the question what “home” means every day.
I have made it my mission to help as many people as possible to find their own answer to this.

Join my creative world on Instagram @nhdotdesign or find out more about me

The room's direction matters when you're trying to choose the perfect white

The first and most important thing you have to determine when choosing a white paint colour is which direction the room you want to paint is facing.
Whether a room is facing north, south, east or west makes a huge difference in how the colour looks and how the room feels.

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Pro Tip

To figure out which direction the room faces is easy: stand by the window in the room, open google maps and watch the little compass in the bottom right.

Warm whites for north-facing rooms

North-facing rooms get minimal natural light making them quite dark and cold.
That’s why you should choose a warm white, meaning a white with warm undertones like red or orange. These undertones will create a soft and cosy look and help to even out the sometimes harsh shadows north-facing rooms can have.

Best warm whites:
White Dove (Benjamin Moore)
Pure White (Sherwin Williams)
NCS S0804-B50G

Cool whites for south-facing rooms

Whites for south facing rooms are the opposite to north facing ones (duh, obviously). They naturally get more daylight and are warmer and brighter.
That’s why you should choose a cool white, meaning a white with cool undertones like blue, grey or violet. These undertones will create a crisp and clean look and make sure the room looks white, not yellow.

Best cool whites:
Super White (Benjamin Moore)
Extra White (Sherwin Williams)
NCS S1005-B

What about east and west facing rooms?

Now to the question (almost) nobody is answering: but what about east or west facing rooms?
If your room is one of these you’re in luck, you pick from any kind of white! That doesn’t make it easier, does it? Then keep reading to find out about “seeing” the undertones and to learn 4 simple steps to choose the right white paint colour.

Best whites for any space:
Chantilly Lace (Benjamin Moore)
High Reflective White (Sherwin Williams)
NCS S0500-N

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Pro Tip

Decide if you want a warm, more traditional look in your room and choose a warm white. For a more crisp and modern look go with a cool white.

The White Guide by NH.DESIGN is a helpful resource to choose the right white paint colour.

The White Guide

Not every white is the same, and choosing the right one isn’t easy.

Learn everything about undertones and how to pick the perfect white paint colour for any room in your home with my White Guide.

Undertones and how to "see" them

When choosing the right white paint colour you’ll often hear designers, paint suppliers and painters talk about undertones. And when explaining warm (like red) and cool (like blue) undertones it totally makes sense, but actually seeing these undertones when looking at a white paint sample isn’t that easy.

A lot of people make the mistake to paint patches of their current walls to decide which white paint colour to choose. But the existing wall colour will reflect on the white and change its colour slightly.

The trick is simple:
Stick and peel samples + white sheet of paper = accurately “seeing” undertones

When you lay paint samples on a white surface, and I mean real white, not a cabinet or countertop or table that could also have undertones, it’s a lot easier to tell what colours are mixed in with the white.

Nadine, founder of Malmö-based interior design studio NH.DESIGN.

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4 easy steps to choose the right white paint colour

The next time you’re choosing a white paint colour follow these 4 simple steps to guarantee that you’ll choose the right one.

Step 1
Figure out which direction your room faces and how much daylight it gets.

Step 2
Decide if you want to go with the rules of thumb mentioned above about warm whites for north facing rooms and cool whites for south facing rooms.
Interior design is very much about personal preference so if you like a cool and crisp look and have a north facing room, by all means use one of the versatile whites from my guide to keep it that way.

Step 3
Get samples, either actual paint or the more sustainable and less expensive option of stick & peel.
Make sure get 4 samples of each paint colour because you should use 1 sample per wall to see how the colour changes during the day.

Step 4
Watch the space during different times of the day for a couple of days.
To make sure the white colour you choose if the right one you should see the samples in different weather conditions and different times of the day.

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Pro Tip

When getting samples (actual paint or peel & stick ones, always get 4 and stick/paint them to all 4 walls in the room to see the colour in different light conditions.

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