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Choosing the right white

From the Resene decorating blog

It may be the most popular colour, but when it comes to nailing down which shade you want, white is the hue that’s most often struggled with. Here are some tips to help you hone in on the right one.

White is arguably the most versatile colour when it comes to painting interior spaces, and for good reason. It is extremely easy to live with, it feels crisp, clean and fresh, and it pairs with just about any colour, pattern and texture. But, despite its adaptable nature, the choice for which white paint is right isn't nearly as simple as it seems. Resene Colour Consultant Brenda Ngatai says the most common question she gets asked by homeowners is, ‘which white do I choose for my home?’

Layering multiple whites in a room

Using character whites

Lounge: Layering multiple whites – even if it’s the same colour, just in different strengths – can create a neat effect and add depth to your space. Wall, shelf and skirting board in Resene Black White, checkerboard painted floor in Resene Black White and Resene Triple Black White, coffee table in Resene Westar, large bowl in Resene Gumboot and Resene Saltpan, geometric plant pots in Resene Saltpan and Resene Quarter Chicago, ombre plant pot in Resene Celeste (top), Resene Terrain (middle) and Resene Cobblestone (bottom), woven pendant lamp in Resene Despacito and large basket (with plant) in Resene Double Sea Fog. Project by Annick Larkin, image by Bryce Carleton.  Sitting room: Character whites – those with additional depth thanks to their nuanced undertones – make for a much richer space than your typical true white. Plus, you won’t need to worry about these hues making your walls feel glaring or cold. Back wall in Resene Merino, left wall in Resene Alabaster, floor in Resene White Pointer, DIY artwork in Resene Quarter Tea, Resene Double Ash and Resene Half Truffle, tall vase in Resene Parchment, lamp in Resene Tapa and wall hooks in Resene Double Ash. Project by Gem Adams, image by Melanie Jenkins.

“Deciding to go for white is just the first step,” says Brenda, “but deciding on the right white is another task altogether.” As soon as you lay eyes on the hundreds of whites and off-whites that Resene has to offer, it is obvious that white is not a one-size-fits-all situation.

At the most simplistic level, whites can be split into two main categories: warm and cool. It is important to determine which temperature of white will work best in your home. The first question you will need to ask yourself is, do I want my space to feel cool and crisp or warm and bright? Applying a cool white or a warm white paint to the walls, will give a room a dramatically different feel, and both can have their advantages and disadvantages.

Warm whites, such as Resene Half Spanish White, Resene Quarter Thorndon Cream and Resene Eighth Pearl Lusta, all have brown, yellow-green or red-violet undertones. These warm undertones will create a more homely atmosphere, ensuring a space feels cosy and intimate. Warm whites work best in rooms that don’t get a lot of sun and pair beautifully with warm timber floors in woods such as rimu or matai. But under other lighting conditions, certain warm whites may look too creamy, yellow or – at worst – dated.

Cool whites, such as Resene Black White, Resene Barely There and Resene Alabaster, all have black, grey or blue undertones which can make a room that’s bathed in natural light feel expansive, lofty and fresh. This group of whites is best suited to homes that have a contemporary or minimalistic aesthetic. And for rooms that are heavy on artificial light, cooler whites such as Resene Half Concrete, Resene House White or Resene Quarter White Pointer are all great options to dilute the warm glow of a bulb. However, some cool whites can also feel clinical or cold under certain conditions.

The most important factor in determining how a white will look in your home is lighting, as it will dramatically change the tone and look of a colour in situ. Even if a particular white looks great on a swatch, it can be a whole different story once you get it on your own walls.

Whites complement an earthy green colour scheme

Just because you’re opting for a mostly white colour palette in your home doesn't mean it has to be boring. Layer one white on top of another and break up a large white wall by painting a tonal mural. Lower wall in Resene Half Joanna, upper wall and toetoe grasses in Resene Quarter Alabaster, cabinet in Resene Half Truffle, lamp in Resene Mondo (base) and Resene Planter (shade), table in Resene Highball and vases in Resene Iko Iko and Resene Highball. Project by Kate Alexander, image by Bryce Carleton.

The best strategy is to pick up a few Resene testpots in your shortlisted whites and either paint a generously sized swatch directly on the wall before finalising your colour decision or, better yet, a piece of card that you can move around. Resene colour consultant Brenda Ngatai also recommends painting the entire contents of a Resene testpot in two coats over an A2 piece of card, leaving a border around the outside. “Pin it up to the wall, move it around, test it in corners and at different times of the day and evening to make sure your chosen colour works in all settings.”

Your choice of light bulbs can have a huge effect on your chosen paint colour. Standard warm white bulbs will pick up on the yellow tones in a white and amplify them, so a simple and inexpensive fix is to simply change out the warm white bulbs for a daylight or cool white option to reduce or eliminate this effect.

When bright natural light is pouring into an interior space, opt for cooler whites such as Resene Half Black White or Resene Double Alabaster, as their undertones will to help diffuse the light. However, if natural light is blocked by trees or buildings then opt for warmer whites such as Resene Quarter Bianca, Resene Quarter Rice Cake or Resene Merino to infuse warmth into the space.

Mixing it up

If you are worried that painting your whole home in white might feel too boring or institutional, one easy solution is to vary the whites you choose by picking multiple strengths from the same family. For example, apply light and bright Resene Half Sea Fog in the main living area and hallways as furnishings and art will pair beautifully with the crisp colour. Then, opt for the warmer, refreshing tone of Resene Sea Fog in the bathroom and the cosier, more restful hue of more pigmented Resene Double Sea Fog for your bedrooms. On the trim and ceiling, opt for Resene Quarter Sea Fog to reflect more light back down into the room.

Top tip: You can vary the whites you use in a room and mix ones from different ‘families’, but its best to make sure they are kept either all warm or all cool. For example, a bedroom painted in Resene Merino with trims in Resene Rice Cake and a soft wheaten-coloured carpet, lots of plump pillows dressed in natural linen and ivory coloured curtains on the windows will look inviting, restful, decadent and luxurious.

Selecting the right finish

The right finish is just as important as the right hue. It is recommended that you use a flat finish on the ceiling such as Resene Ceiling Paint or Resene SpaceCote Flat, an eggshell or satin finish like Resene SpaceCote Low Sheen or Resene Zylone Sheen on the walls; and a semi-gloss finish such as Resene Lustacryl on trims and doors (and floors if you paint them) to help provide contrast and architectural interest in a room.

Choosing whites for outdoor spaces

A serene white bedroom

Patio: When picking a white for the outside of your home, choose one or two shades darker than you would pick for painting your interior walls, as the sun tends to make the pigment look more washed out than it really is. Wall in Resene Half Villa White, decking in Resene Woodsman Mid Greywash, ottoman base and side table in Resene Double Pravda, large plant pot in Resene Aura, small plant pot and vase in Resene Bi Hoki, ladder and tray in Resene Peace, ‘plus’ pattern painted on ottoman cushion in Resene Peace, and ‘plus’ pattern on square cushion in Resene Kandinsky. Project by Laura Lynn Johnston, image by Bryce Carleton.  Bedroom: The right white for you might even be a white-based wallpaper, such as sweet woodsy design of Resene Wallpaper Collection EAR102.

“Where possible, it is best to avoid using semi-gloss or gloss paints on walls and ceilings as they will highlight any surface imperfections. In comparison, matte or flat paints reflect light back differently and help to minimise the appearance of blemishes. “As a rule, the higher the gloss level, the higher the reflectance – that is, the more light that will bounce off a wall and back into the room,” explains Resene Technical Expert Jay Sharples.

Higher gloss paints are recommended for bathrooms, kitchens and laundries as they generally complement the reflective surfaces and floors found in these rooms, and they’re usually spaces that demand extra durability from their painted. Low gloss, flat and satin finishes are popular for living areas and bedrooms where the lower sheen finish complements soft furnishings, artworks and dècor and will keep your chosen white from feeling too glaring.

What about outside?

On the exterior of your home, the exact same rules apply when it comes to choosing the right white. However, because natural day light tends to soak up pigment and make it look ‘washed out’, it is best to consider a stronger strength of the colour you are looking at to ensure the end result is exactly what you had envisaged. For example, while a double or triple strength version of your preferred Resene white might not even look white at all on the swatch because of the amount of pigment in it, it’ll look much purer once it’s on your exterior and reflecting our harsh sunlight.

While there are hundreds of whites to choose from, the Resene The Range Whites & Neutrals collection is the best place to start. Available in palettes or as a fandeck, it has a whole range of neutrals from whites and off-whites through to black and near-blacks.

Resene Despacito

Resene Aura

Resene Woodsman Mid Greywash

Resene Peace

Resene Bi Hoki

July 28, 2020

Visit your local Resene ColorShop and the expert staff will be happy to help you choose the right white for your home or use the Resene Ask a Colour Expert service.

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