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Which white should you use?

Today, I thought I would talk about whites because it's a question that comes up so often in various conversations I have with clients, friends and other designers.

If you've already decided that you want to paint the inside of your house or a particular room white for whatever reasons, the choice of which white comes down to a few different things:

· What's the style of your house and whether you need a cool or a warm white and sometimes they're interrelated?

· What other items will live in the space – for eg, what colour will the sofa be, the rug, the curtains etc?

· What sort of lighting is there in the space – taking into account both natural and artificial light

The answers to these questions will really help point you in the right direction to choose the right white!

What is a cool or a warm white (and what style of home most suits which)?

Cool whites tend to have a little bit of black pigment or sometimes a little bit of blue, green, or purple in varying amounts and they tend to be quite cool to look at. In contrast, warm whites have yellow, red or orange pigment added and in that way, they're called warmer whites. And in the middle of those you have obviously a neutral white which has no pigment, it's just a pure white. Scroll down to the end of this blog post to see examples of the three!

Over the last few years, modern homes have commonly used cooler colours. Often if you have a grey based foundation or all white, then cooler white usually work really well. In contrast warmer whites are very common in traditional style homes. Please note that there have definitely been a bit of a change in modern homes to warmer hues with travatine and other warmer elements making a comeback. Neutrals can work for almost any style of home.

So, that's a very simplified approach of when you would apply the different whites and again it depends on the rest of the palette in the furnishings and artworks etc: you do have to take this in context with everything else that's going on in the space. So, the next step is which company has the best whites.

Dulux Natural White used here

Let there be light!

Lighting plays a humungous role in how we actually see colours. If you have a cool colour on the walls and you put in cool LED downlights, you’re going to feel like you’re in a dentist’s waiting room! Uncomfortable!! Usually a mix of bulbs sort of evens the overall effect out in terms of lighting. I personally like warmer bulbs for lamps and other mood lighting and a more neutral (more daylight-like) level of warmth for downlights and other task lighting. I’ve never been a fan of cool lighting.

In terms of natural light, this can be more nuanced. How much direct sunlight you get into the house may help steer you to choosing a white. For eg, if you have a south facing living area, you might want to go a little warmer with your white (but don’t over reach….or it may end up feeling dated and blah if its too cream!). Sunlight – and the affect it has on wall colour – changes over the course of the day. So in the mornings your walls may look like a much different tone to how they look in the afternoon. Gloomy days cast a different light to bright sunny days too!

And of course, as the day turns to night and you introduce artificial lighting, the colours will change again. This is why we really encourage clients to put up test patches or swatches on different walls and observe them over the course of a couple of days. It’s great to check that you know how the colours will change over this time and that you’re happy with how they look.

Holy moly! How many paint companies are there!!!

I know, right? Welcome to my world! So the main names in paint companies in Australia are Dulux, Taubman, Porter's paints, Resene, Murobond and Haymes.

They all have a range of different products and they all have a range of different colors. Now, when it comes to my own projects, I have tried a lot of these companies and their color options and their products in the past. I have experimented over the years, done additional training, and talked to other professionals in the industry about the pros and cons for each one. In the end, I nearly always go with Dulux. The reason is that as an interior designer there are so many things I’ve got to be across. It's not just the paint colors, it's wallpapers, it's door handles, flooring, carpet, curtains, furniture, and lighting (soooo many things!) and I don't think anyone can be an expert in everything. So, I see myself as a generalist and I think it's better if I choose a company that I can get to know very well be confident when I give my recommendations.

The other reason I choose Dulux is that painters are very familiar with that product and the colors. It's easy to get, it's just a bit of a no-brainer for them. The other one is Thurman which they like using as well. Other companies try to assist with these ‘hurdles’, for eg I know Resin will arrange to have paint delivered to the site to make things easier for their paint to be used. Using Dulux is like having a common language amongst all the parties which makes communication easier and misconceptions less. Dulux is easy to access for everyone. Clients can easily get swatches or sample pots themselves if they want to test it out colors.

The other thing is that Dulux does have a fantastic range of colors. I haven't ever been in a situation where they haven't had a color that would be perfect for the project. So, in terms of you know quality of product, range, accessibility, and just that familiarity across many sectors I just end up going with Dulux 99.9% of the time. That's not to say the other companies aren't fantastic that's just my own decision over many years of doing what I do.

Dulux Lexicon used here

OK….down to the nitty gritty: what are my go-to whites?

So, what are my three go-to whites? So, what's my cool white, what's my warm white, and what's my neutral white?

If I’m doing a newer more modern kind of project and we're doing a sort of greys as a foundational base, I will probably go with a cooler white. Now, the white that I would use if I need a cool white would be the Lexicon range. Lexicon full strength is actually very cool, bordering on frostbite! But I have used it to great effect so it's just knowing when is the right time to use it. Usually, I do tend to soften it a little by going with a Lexicon half or a Lexicon quarter if I need the cool whites. So, that's my go-to cool white and you can easily get the samples from Bunnings or anywhere to see if this is going to work for your project.

If you need a neutral white my go-to is Vivid White. It has no pigment added to it and it's also often referred to as ‘ceiling white’. Everyone can easily imagine a white ceiling as we’ve all seen hundreds of them – it’s a handy reference point! So, if you are doing lots of different clean colors in your other furnishings and things going into the house, Vivid White might really work perfectly for you. It just depends again on the style of the house, the rest of the furnishings, and the concepts going in but that's my neutral go-to white, Vivid White.

Now, my warm white (and I’ve fallen in love with this one over the last couple of years!) is Natural White by Dulux. When you get the sample swatch it looks a little bit cream but when you get it up on the wall, it’s the softest most beautiful white in the world. I absolutely love it. It goes with oak beautifully, and with so many warm or ‘dirty’ colors really beautifully.

So, they are my go-to whites.

And if you just need to choose a goddamn white they're the three go-to ones that I use a lot of the time. Now, obviously different projects can be nuanced and in those cases, we would look at the other whites that are available. But if you're a homeowner and you just want a simple kind of recipe for success that's it, you can't really go wrong with those whites listed above.

Trends much?

I’ve been watching what sort of trends are coming out from Milan and other big trade events and I’ve noticed warm tones are making a comeback. Big time! You would have seen for sure all the blushes and the terracottas, and all the boucle fabrics are quite warm, and colours like mustard are quite popular as accents etc. My prediction is that we will be seeing a move to more of the warmer whites over the next few years!

So, there you go! If you just need to choose a goddamn white and just be able to get on with your project they're the three whites that are my go-‘s depending on the other factors listed above.

I’d love to hear your feedback: which did you end up using and how did it pan out? If you have friends that are renovating and they need a bit of a hand choosing this, don't hesitate to share this blog!

Need help choosing your colours? Click here to learn how we can help!


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